Sophisticated systems do more than merely receive and transmit information. They also discriminate between different kinds of information and make decisions that result in the transmission of another form of information within the system and beyond it as well.


The example of a Post Office is often used to illustrate this discriminatory ability. The Post Office is a processor and carrier of information. It receives huge volumes of messages which it treats according to pre-determined rules (i.e. first class mail, or air mail, parcel post, etc.). The postal authorities are not aware of anyone message, but only of classes of messages. But if a message sender desires that the post office be especially aware of an important message, a request is entered with the Postal Service for a special classification, such as registered mail. The sender now is certain that special attention will be given to his message during its transfer through the postal system.


Some systems are not only "aware" of special cases, but can be "conscious" of what to do when special cases arise. Consciousness can be understood in informational terms, according to Deutsch. Most messages - or information - are primary, that is, they are information coming into a system. The system classifies this information according to what information appears to be most important. In effect, the classifications may be thought of as secondary messages in the system - an abstraction of the primary message.  Such abstractions are quite specialized. A historian might add a revolutionary event to a list of revolutionary events without reaching any special conclusion about the event he has classified. But a government might classify a revolution in relation to a structure of policies toward a particular country, or a number of countries. This information would be of great importance and proper classification would be essential to the structure of decisions that the government might have to make about the country or countries in question. The information about the revolution, then, becomes attached to other information. It is symbolized in a special way, and this kind of symbolization Deutsch calls a "secondary message."


It should be stressed that the government's classification needs to be more than merely filing information. A whole body of prior decisions has to be "scanned" and some evaluatory processes instigated. All of this, as Deutsch says, is essentially a feedback process consisting of "structures, circuits, channels, switching relationships ... "  We may, Deutsch thinks, be able to identify such structures and circuits, but this is not always possible. Nonetheless, if a critical process appears to be taking place, then the presence of these circuits and structures in political systems can be said to exist in a functional sense. What is certain is that if consciousness in any system is to take place, the system must be capable of receiving and classifying information.



Storage, memory, will

Consciousness cannot take place, according to Deutsch, unless the system can store information. The storage of information as well as the recall of information, involves "memory." Memory is not a neutral function and thus must be considered separately from storage. Memory involves what might be called "loaded storage" - that is, data that is remembered is not remembered merely as a "fact" but instead in the fact is contained an idea of what kinds of action the fact implies. This kind of memory is never "stable" since new information may modify the "fact-action" memory.


No system can function successfully if the fact-action memory is completely opened. Some pattern of values has to dominate the fact-action memory process. If a system is always analyzing and up-dating all external information, it will never be in a position to act on the information it has. In order that a system will operate, it must have what Deutsch calls "will." Deutsch defines will "in any sufficiently complex net, nervous system or social group"  as


the set of internal labels attached to various stages of certain channels within the '(information-memory) net, which are represented by these labels as relatively unchanging, so that we merely trip the purpose and the reaction follows automatically . . . . Will may be called the set of internally labeled decisions and anticipated results, proposed by the application of data from the system's past and by the blocking of incompatible impulses or data from the system's present or future.


Deutsch's description of "will" as internal labels and anticipated results is different from the common understanding of "will" or "free will." Will or free will is often understood as a kind of independence in making a decision occurring at some point in the decision making process. Will in this lattersense is the opposite of determinism, as Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, the pioneering general systems' theorist, has observed. Will for Bertalanffy is an "arbitrary" deviation from the "normal curve."  While Bertalanffy does not think the existence of will can be objectively demonstrated, he believes that there is proof of determinism, at least in small scale models. If determinism is an automatic decision, as Bertalanffy indicates, then will appears


Will in a system may be thought of as a kind of "imprinting system." Fact-action memories are stabilized in the system over long periods of time. This is what gives "will" to the system. An example might be given in the area of military defense. Atomic weapons systems exist and have been equipped with the "will" to respond to missile attacks from outside by unleashing nuclear missiles on the attackers. The system is willed to respond in this way.




Sustaining System


Action Systems


Various Subsystems




Potential Action System


Specific Action Systems


Nation-State Sustaining Systems


International Sustaining Subsystems