"A journey in the realm of systems"

Home Page

The Way
(Site Navigation


The Way of Systems

Time & Space Compression


Time and Space Compression

Simulation is a discipline for developing a level of understanding of the interaction of the parts of a system, and of the system as a whole. The level of understanding which may be developed via this discipline is seldom achievable via any other discipline.

After some consideration regarding a meaningful way to put System, Model, and Simulation in an appropriate perspective I arrived at the following distinction.


A system is an entity which maintains its existence through the mutual interaction of its parts. A system exists and operates in time and space.


A model is a simplified representation of a system over some time period or spatial extent intended to promote understanding of the real system.


A simulation is the manipulation of a model in such a way that it operates on time and/or space to compress it, thus enabling one to perceive the interactions that would otherwise not be apparent because of their separation in time or space. This compression also provides a perspective on what happens within the system, which, because of the complexity of the system, would probably otherwise not be evident.

Types of Simulation

There are essentially two types of simulation, continuous and discrete. And, to say there is somewhat of a controversy over these two would be more than just an understatement. A controversy which I understand, and don't understand, at the same time. It seems like both camps want to be "right" and the rest of the world should learn to sing their tune. Bah humbug!

They're both right, in a way, yet it seems they refuse to have the lenses in their glasses fixed. As Ben Kuipers said in "Qualitative Reasoning," "In most ways, and at most times, the world changes continuously." With considerations for Einstein's Theory of Relativity this seems to make sense. So what's the difficulty? The difficulty lies in being disconnected from our own thoughts and actions. It's very much akin to the difference between "Espoused Theories" and "Theories in Use" as defined by Chris Argyris.

Consider a rather mundane example, like filling a bathtub with water. I can turn on the faucet and fill the tub with a continuous stream of water, or I can fill it with buckets of water. Either way the tub gets full, yet one method would be viewed as continuous filling and the other as discrete. The operative word here is "viewed." Whether things are continuous or discrete is a matter of perception on the part of the observer over the time frame of the observation. This is very similar to the way electrons seem to act as particles or waves depending on the manner in which one chooses to look at them.


Discrete Simulation * Continuous Simulation

theWay of Systems * Feedback * Musings
Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger