Arthur D. Hall

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Arthur D. Hall (1925March 31, 2006) was an American electrical engineer and a pioneer in the field of systems engineering. He is known as father of the "picture telephone" an author of a widely used engineering 1962 textbook Methodology of Systems Engineering.


  • Systems engineering is most effectively conceived of as a process that starts with the detection of a problem and continues through problem definition, planning and designing of a system, manufacturing or other implementing section, its use, and finally on to its obsolescence. Further, Systems engineering is not a matter of tools alone; It is a careful coordination of process, tools and people.
    • A.D. Hall (1965) "Systems Engineering from an Engineering Viewpoint" In: Systems Science and Cybernetics. Vol.1 Issue.1
  • For any given set of objects it is impossible to say that no interrelationships exist.
    • Hall and Fagen, "Definition of System," in Walter F. Buckley (1968) Modern Systems Research, p. 82
  • It is time to employ fractal geometry and its associated subjects of chaos and nonlinear dynamics to study systems engineering methodology (SEM). Systematic codification of the former is barely 15 years old, while codification of the latter began 45 years ago... Fractal geometry and chaos theory can convey a new level of understanding to systems engineering and make it more effective
    • A.D. Hall III (1989) "The fractal architecture of the systems engineering method", in: Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part C: Applications and Reviews, IEEE Transactions on Volume 28, Issue 4, Nov 1998 Page(s):565 - 572

Definition of System, 1956[edit]

Source: Arthur D. Hall and Robert E. Fagen (1956), "Definition of System", in: General Systems, Vol. 1 (1956). p. 18-28; Republished in: Walter Buckley (2008) Systems Research for Behavioral Science: A Sourcebook, p. 81-92
  • The plan of the present paper is to discuss properties of systems more or less abstractly; that is to define system and to describe the properties that are common to many systems and which serve to characterize them all.
    • p. 18: Introduction
  • Unfortunately, the word "system" has many colloquial meanings, some of which have no place in scientific discussion. In order to exclude such meanings, and at the same time provide a starting point for exposition we state the following definition:
    A system is a set of objects together with relationships between the objects and between their attributes.
    Our definition does imply of course that a system has properties, functions or purposes distinct from its constituent objects, relationships and attributes.
    • p. 18: Italics quote cited in: Thorbjoern Mann (1992) Building Economics for Architects. p. 140
  • For any given system, the environment is the set of all objects whose behaviour is influenced by the behaviour of the primary system, and those objects whose behaviour influences the behavior of the primary system.
    • p. 20 cited in: Baleshwar Thaku eds. (2003) Perspectives in resource management in developing countries. p. 54
  • In our definition of system we noted that all systems have interrelationships between objects and between their attributes. If every part of the system is so related to every other part that any change in one aspect results in dynamic changes in all other parts of the total system, the system is said to behave as a whole or coherently. At the other extreme is a set of parts that are completely unrelated: that is, a change in each part depends only on that part alone. The variation in the set is the physical sum of the variations of the parts. Such behavior is called independent or physical summativity.
    • p. 23
  • Synthesis of systems is much more difficult. Here science and engineering begin to take on aspects of art. A systems designer or planner not only must construct systems that work harmoniously individually and in tandem, he must also know a lot about the environment that the system is intended to match. Consideration of environmental factors requires foresight and experience; no one can ever foresee all the variables of importance and a choice of which to include is often a difficult one to make.
    • p. 28

A methodology for systems engineering, 1962[edit]

Arthur David Hall (1962) A Methodology for Systems Engineering. Van Nostrand. p. 5

  • It is hard to say whether increasing complexity is the cause or the effect of man's effort to cope with his expanding environment. In either case a central feature of the trend has been the development of large and very complex systems which tie together modern society. These systems include abstract or non-physical systems, such as government and the economic system. They also include large physical systems like pipe line and power distribution systems, transportation and electrical communication systems. The growth of these systems has increased the need not only for over-all planning, but also for long-range development of the systems. This need has induced increased interest in the methods by which efficient planning and design can be accomplished in complex situations where no one scientific discipline can account for all the factors. Two similar disciplines which emerged about the time of World War II to cope with these problems are called systems engineering and operations research.
  • For a given system, the environment is the set of all objects outside the system: (1) a change in whose attributes affect the system and (2) whose attributes are changed by the behavior of the system.
    • p. 61 cited in: Clute, Whitehead & Reid (1967) Progressive architecture. Vol.48, Nr. 7-9. p. 106
  • Every part of the system is so related to every other part that a change in a particular part causes a changes in all other parts and in the total system
  • A system is a set of objects with relationships between the … in may be described generally as a complex of elements or components directly or indirectly related in a causal network, … Also, we are mainly interested in systems within which some process is continually going on, including an interchange with an environment across the boundary. It is generally agreed that when we deal with the more open system with a highly flexible structure, the distinction between the boundaries and the environment becomes a more and more arbitrary matter, dependent upon the purpose of the observer.
    • Cited in: Addison C. Bennett (1978) Improving management performance in health care institutions: a total systems approach.. p. 40

Metasystems Methodology, (1989)[edit]

Source: Arthur D. Hall III (1989) Metasystems Methodology; A New Synthesis and Unification. Pergamon Press, New York.
  • God made Homo sapiens a problem-solving creature. The trouble is that He gave us too many resources: too many languages, too many phases of life, too many levels of complexity, too many ways to solve problems, too many contexts in which to solve them, and too many values to balance.
    First came the law, accounting, and history which looks backward in time for their values and decision-making criteria, but their paradigm (casuistry) cannot look forward to predict future consequences. Casuistry is overly rigid and does not account for statistical phenomena. To look forward man used two thousand years to evolve scientific method - which can predict the future when it discovers the laws of nature. In parallel, man evolved engineering, and later, systems engineering, which also anticipates future conditions. It took man to the moon, but it often did, and does, a poor job of understanding social systems, and also often ignores the secondary effects of its artifacts on the environment.
    Environmental impact analysis was promoted by governments to patch over the weakness of engineering - with modest success - and it does not ignore history; but by not integrating with system design, it is also an incomplete philosophy. System design and architecture, or simply design, like science and engineering is forward-looking, and provides man with comforts and conveniences - if someone will tell them what problems to solve, and which requirements to meet. It rarely collects wisdom from the backward-looking methodologies, often overlooks ordinary operating problems in designing its artifacts, whether autos or buildings, and often ignores the principles of good teamwork.
  • The operational sciences hoped to nourish business management, which however largely ignored them, and the latter continues to be undernourished by the business schools which are fairly broad but shallow everywhere. By over focus on short-range financial values, business management in the United States has lost a dozen major markets to the Japanese, added pollution in all its forms, and enriched itself out of all proportion to its value as just one factor of production.
    Action science, developed by the social sciences over many years in relative isolation from the applied physical sciences, and which might otherwise have humanized them and made engineering more productive, was doomed to fail by being on one end of the two-culture problem wherein science and the humanities do not even speak the same language.
    I could go on listing a few dozen paradigms: art, law, computer software design, medicine, politics, and architecture, each addressed to a certain context, level, or phase, each good in itself, but each limited to the fields of its origin and its purposes. The methodological problem is the same as if, in designing any large system, each subsystem designer were left to design each subsystem to the best requirements he knew. The overall requirement might not be met; overall harmony could not be achieved, and conflict could ensue to cause failure at the system level.
    What is envisioned is a new synthesis, a unified, efficient, systems methodology (SM): a multiphase, multi-level, multi-paradigmatic creative problem-solving process for use by individuals, by small groups, by large multi-disciplinary teams, or by teams of teams. It satisfies human needs in seeking value truths by matching the properties of wanted systems, and their parts, to perform harmoniously with their full environments, over their entire life cycles
  • Has mankind evolved to a point that there exists, or that with creative additions and re-combinations of modest proportions, there can be shown to be available, a common systems methodology, in terms of which we can conceive of, plan, design, construct, and use systems (procedures, machines, teams of people) of any arbitrary type in the service of mankind, and with low rates of failure?
  • History becomes one model needed to give a rounded view of our subject within the philosophy of hierarchical holographic modeling, defined as using a family of models at several levels to seek understanding of diverse aspects of a subject and thus comprehend the whole.
    • p. 6
  • The basic functional elements of any automatic control system: sensing, converting, storing, communicating, computing, programming, regulating, actuating, and display (Chestnut, 1967). Many kinds of systems in being, speculated about, or even intuited, ranging from computers, most factory processes, communication systems, road networks, automatic farms, etc., have structures which can be invoked as zero-order matches to proposed sets of throughputs, especially for single- thread designs. This method of structuring is related closely to analogical design, of which a special form is called synectics.
    • p. 191

Quotes about Arthur D. Hall[edit]

  • A.D. Hall's (1962) classic account of the methodology was based on his experience with the Bell Telephone Laboratories. Hall sees systems as existing in hierarchies. In systems engineering, plans to achieve a general objective must similarly be arranged in a hierarchy, with the systems engineer ensuring the internal consistency and integration of the plans, The methodology itself ensures the optimization of the system of concern with respect to its objectives. This requires a number of steps, the most important being problem definition, choosing objectives, systems synthesis, systems analysis, systems selection, system development, and current engineering. With Hall, the system of concern is usually a physical entity.
  • The motives for conceiving modern systems engineering are to be found, at least in part, in past disasters. Arthur D. Hall III [1989] cites: the chemical plant leakage in Bhopal (1986); the explosion of the NASA Challenger space shuttle (1986) and the Apollo fire (1967); the sinking of the Titanic (1912); the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl (1986) and the disaster at Three Mile Island power plant (1979). He cites, too, the capture of markets by Japan from the U.S., the decline in US productivity and the failure of the US secondary school system. He identifies the millions of people dying of starvation every year while other nations stockpile surplus food, medical disasters such as heart disease, while governments subsidize grains used to produce high cholesterol meat, milk and eggs; and many more. One implication is clear: systems engineering faces challenges well beyond the sphere of engineering.
    • Derek Hitchins (2003) Advanced Systems Thinking, Engineering, and Management. p. 75-76
  • Arthur D. Hall (1962) identified five traits of the ideal systems engineer and these certainly still stand today; these traits are: (1) an affinity for the systems … (2) faculty of judgment, (3) creativity, (4) facility in human relations, and (5) a for expression. The specific role of the systems engineer has traditionally been rather inwardly focused, with considerations to environment and external systems. In this broader field of Engineering Systems, the systems engineering practitioners may need to re-evaluate their roles and responsibilities in the overall systems effort.
    • Donna Rhodes and Daniel Hastings (2004) "The Case for Evolving Systems Engineering as a Field within Engineering Systems" in: MIT Engineering Systems Symposium, March 2004.

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