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The Miller team legacy--role models for cosmopolitan scholars and innovative futurists.


There are those who join our earthly pilgrimage and shine like stars in the firmament. They impact our lives and expand our thinking. Such a stellar couple were Dr and Mrs James Grier Miller who have moved beyond us (SRBS Obituaries, 19:1, 2002; 20:1-2, 2003). Those in the behavioural and system sciences, as well as university administration, have now had a few years to reflect on the extraordinary Miller legacy. Beyond their two sons and three grandchildren, their bequest to humanity is most eminent in the field of scholarship and higher education. United personally over six decades, it is their contributions as a professional team that we honour in this memorial issue of Systems Research and Behavioural Science. Each contributor to these pages presents a different dimension of Jim and Jessie's life work. As a close colleague and friend during their last 20 years of their lives, I would like to focus here on just two aspects of their gifts to us--namely, as role models and innovators. For those readers unfamiliar with their impressive biographies, a 24-page summary appeared on the website of the International Society for the Systems Science (


Not too many people are concerned about the mind and its myriad applications. But Jim and Jessie provide mindstretching examples of scholarliness and research. Their utter dedication to the professional development of themselves and others never wavered. In the field of writing, it all began with him at 12 years of age as editor, and her at 14 years as the associate editor for the Lakewood High School newspaper in Ohio. They worked well together, dated, gradually falling in love with one another and married in 1938. Jim, as a psychiatrist and psychologist, with the assistance of Jessie, a psychiatric social worker and editor, shared their insights in over a 100 scientific and scholarly articles and 9 books. Their journalistic collaboration extended to the founding in 1956 of a publication, entitled Behavioral Science; this continued until 2003 when its sequel Systems Research and Behavioral Science still listed 'J.G. Miller' on its cover as founding editor ( Going back over the 48 volumes of the former, and the 20 volumes of the latter, the considerable contributions of the Miller team stands out as our inheritance.

But it is the scholarly books produced by this special couple which are so impressive. It started with the first work with J.G. Miller's name, Unconsciousness (Miller, 1942), followed by Assessment of Men (Miller, 1948) which described young Captain Miller's evaluation efforts with US Office of Strategic Services field agents (Miller, 1996). Jim's efforts as author, teamed with Jessie as his behind-the-scenes editor, climaxed with the monumental Living Systems, some 1102 pages with illustrations of living systems theory (Miller, 1978). Fittingly, he dedicated it, To Jessie, Colleague in every line--that volume received worldwide recognition and university adoptions. Even in their old age, these two intellectuals never stopped writing for it appears they finished two more manuscripts, unfortunately yet to be found by their family. Their long-time collaborator and editor, Pat Cathcart, worked with them on the completion of their autobiography, appropriately titled, A Miller's Tale. However, a seminal book has been published about the founders of systems science with a chapter devoted to Jim Miller (Hammond, 2003). The Millers hoped their 'magnus opus' would be Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts, intended as a sequel to their Living Systems classic. However, this lost work with Jessie as the lead co-author was only published in monograph format and in their journal as a three-part series (Miller and Miller, 1993-1995).

The Millers were truly soulmates in every sense--once when his wife was in a coma for months, her husband alone could hear her talking to him and seemingly willed her back to share his final years. Perhaps their unique partnership was summed up best by Dr Martin Chamberlain, former vice chancellor of the University of California-San Diego: Jessie was an ideal foil for Jim's energies and ideas. She was supportive but not competitive, as she easily could have been. Her skills helped him with a string of successes, yet she was capable of taking the lead as their joint 12 volume work on systems science demonstrated.... Who can deny that both contributed to their amazing achievements! ... During Jim's many prestigious academic appointments, other colleagues like Dr Kenneth Haygood, recall Jessie as the 'hostess-in-chief', whose social acumen brought together diverse groups and viewpoints.... Artist Dennis Davidson who did many of their LST illustrations remembers how well Jim and Jessie worked together, noting the dedication to their vocation, the efficiency of their work as a team and their devotion to each other! This was confirmed again by another admirer, Dr. Elie Shneour, who spoke of this exceptional team, with Jessie as the loving force behind Jim's achievements. Dr Richard Atkinson, former president of the University of California, reminisced about his happy hours with the Millers at the University of Chicago, as well as Jim's mentoring of his career as a psychologist.

With their relocation to their San Diego hilltop home in 1984, the Millers hosted regular academic seminars at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club which included prominent speakers, such as their friend, Jonas Salk. Often, their family members and close companions would gather for social events, or on more formal occasions to mark milestones in their lives, such as their 50th Wedding Anniversary or their 80th birthdays. After Jessie's death, we assembled one last time to celebrate her life with Jim. I commented of her multiple roles as scholar, editor, wife and mother. But the most moving observation came from Stephanie Miller who spoke of her beloved grandmother as her role model and guide.


This quiet dynamic duo were productive and foresighted in so many ways. Perhaps the Miller's most unique competence was their abilities to synthesize information and create knowledge by moving beyond narrow and artificial academic divisions. They were holistic and interdisciplinary in their thinking. It was evident at the University of Chicago where Jim headed the department of psychology and chaired the Committee on Behavioral Science, a term that he originated. In explaining that concept, his only regret was that biology was not included with the social sciences under that 'umbrella terminology'. But he went on to the University of Michigan where he directed the multidisciplinary Mental Health Institute. From there, for the next 30 years, Jim again served as editor and Jessie as associate editor for Behavioral Science, the official Journal of the International Society for Systems Science. On their editorial board, they brought together the best minds in anthropology, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, political and systems sciences, plus experts in mathematical biology, behavioural models, simulations, computer science, information systems and communications, mathematics, accounting, management and even hierarchy theory. Thus, the Miller editorial team covered such eclectic topics and fields of inquiry, remaining themselves on the leading edge of academic pursuits (University of Louisville).

Their creative involvement was in many arenas as Jim (JGM) and Jessie travelled worldwide. Here is a sampling of the scope of their service:

* 1946--JGM appointed Chief Medical Director of new Clinical Psychology Section of the Veteran's Administration, and inaugurated a national training program for clinical psychologists which involved a consortium of 40 universities. Jim remained active as a researcher and physician in the VA hospital system into his retirement years. 'The VA Training Program in Clinical Psychology' proved to be the single most important development in post World War II psychology and decisively changed the orientation of American psychology from academic science to a science-based profession', according to Wade Pickern, Historian and Director of Archives and Library Services for the American Psychological Association.

* 1952--JGM appointed Chair, Committee on Behavioral Sciences, University of Chicago to promote integrative and interdisciplinary research in the sciences of life, biological and social sciences. A Theory Group is organized that concentrates on systems and cybernetic concepts concerning levels of complexity of biological and social systems, emphasizing cross-level hypothesis. Subsequently, Jim publishes their findings in American Psychologist (Sept. 1955) under the title, 'Toward a General Theory for the Behavioral Sciences'.

* 1955--the Millers relocate to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where JGM became director of new Mental Health Research Institute in their School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. Until 1967, he directed the groundbreaking basic research in the behavioural sciences.... When in January 1956, he inaugurated with Jessie and others the journal, Behavioral Science, anthropologist, Margaret Mead served as co-editor. In that same year, shortly after the launching of the U.S.S.R.'s Sputnik, President Richard Nixon appointed Jim to head a leadership task force to determine if the United States was lagging behind the Soviets in both the behavioural and space sciences. The distinguished committee published a 1958 report entitled, National Support for the Behavioral Sciences. Then Jim, along with Professor Rensis Likert, was invited to address the President's Science Advisory Committee on these findings, probably the first such discussion of human sciences before that august body.

* 1961--JGM is asked by the US State Department to arrange an official exchange between American and Russian scientists. In conjunction with the Academy of Sciences, he became official host for the Soviet delegation.... In 1963, the Association of American Medical Colleges invites Jim to address medical administrators on coping with information overload. On the basis of his recommendations, the Interuniversity Communications Council is formed, now known as EDUCOM with Miller as its first administrator. Today that organization links together 500 universities in North America, not only in medicine but also in all academic disciplines. Under Jim's leadership two information technology networks became operational--EDUNET and BITNET, forerunners of the Internet (Brown et al., 1967).

* 1971--JGM appointed vice president of Academy for Educational Development, Washington D.C., with responsibility for international programs in instructional technology. As a US State Department consultant, he is sent to meet with government officials worldwide. Thus, began the planning for a global interconnection of educational institutions by electronic networks; subsequently, it would be known as the University of the World.... Jim is also selected as a White House consultant to prevent drug abuse, as well as a lecturer at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

* 1973--Having been a department chairman in several prestigious universities, as well as provost and vice president at Cleveland State University, JGM was chosen as President of the University of Louisville, a municipal institution of higher education in Kentucky. During seven years in that role, UL grew from 9000 to 20 000 students and its budget quintupled. The academic quality not only improved, but the Millers provided leadership in the establishment of the Systems Science Institute there. In appreciation for their outstanding services, the University later dedicated a building in their honour--James Grier and Jessie Louise Miller Information Technology Center.

* 1981--JGM joins faculty of the University of California, first as President of the Hutchins Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at UC-Santa Barbara, then as visiting professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioural Sciences at UCLA. Eventually he relocated to La Jolla and became an adjunct professor at UC-San Diego Medical School.

* 1984--JGM becomes a Faculty Fellow with Dr. Philip R. Harris in a NASA Summer Study on Strategic Planning for a Lunar Base held at the University of California's Space Institute (McKay et al., 1992). NASA officials are so impressed by their research that they issue an R.F.P. to both of them. The investigators joined forces and put together a team of 15 behavioural scientists who prepare an innovative proposal, Living Systems Applications to Space Habitation. The focus was upon assisting the International Space Station now in orbit, as well as a future lunar base. Unfortunately, the approach was too holistic and interdisciplinary for NASA's narrow engineering culture and organizational structure, so the project was never funded. Had it been undertaken, some of the Agency current management and cultural problems might have been prevented.

* 1988--JGM established the University of the World to interconnect institutions of higher education globally. Initially supported with IBM funding, his farsighted vision was to make it an electronic clearinghouse for scholarly exchange worldwide. In essence, Jim wanted to replicate his earlier national success with EDUCOM, but this time on an international scale. Through telecommunications, his hope was to bring the best professors input to foster modern learning among students and citizens in developing countries. For example, Miller wanted to bring an electronic version of the famed Harvard MBA programme to business students in less developed economies. With the assistance of the US State Department, he actually visited, often with Jessie, over 18 nations and got their heads of state to sign agreements to participate in this macroproject. The UW Board included many world renowned scholars, including Lord Perry, founder of the British Open University. While the concept was brilliant and futuristic, its complexity and comprehensiveness, as well as limited resources and his advancing age prevented the UW program from being fully implemented. UW was a seminal undertaking in distance education, eventually being achieved by a number of First World universities who now offer electronic education beyond their own national borders. The archives of the University of the World are now at the University of Louisville Library.

The high performing Miller team was involved in many professional development activities worldwide. Active in numerous professional societies, Jim gained honours and important posts in ten of them, as Fellow, Diplomate, Chairman or President. Together, they participated as speakers in wide range of conferences and symposia. Jim was invited to give distinguished lectures from the Chinese Academy of Science and Argentine Scientific Society to the Cybernetics Society of Austria and the Institute for Systems Science in Switzerland. However, the core of their professional contributions was on behalf of the International Society for Systems Science (, of which Jim was a founder (Miller, 1996). As expected, Jim's international consulting assignments were impressive--from the UN and WHO to a dozen foreign governments. His consultancies within the US Government were extensive.


In retrospect, the remarkable scholarly journey of the Millers began at Harvard University in the 1930's. Jim was so proud of that institution where he received two A.M. degrees, as well as an MD and PhD, while Jessie received her bachelors from Radcliffe and Master's from nearby Simmons College. Having been elected to Harvard's Society of Fellows, he began his teaching career there and at Radcliffe College. It was a Harvard faculty member, Dr Alfred North Whitehead, who had a major impact on the young intellectual and his wife. It was this professor who suggested initially that Jim develop a theory of living things that included both the biological and social phenomena.

A second influence occurred later at the University of Chicago (1937-38) when Professor Enrico Fermi also urged Jim to work further on a theory of life and living things. He took Miller to the university's president, Maynard Hutchins and proposed the funding of a group of professors to develop an integrative theory for the social sciences. Under Jim's leadership, a think tank of 15 distinguished and diverse faculty members examined general and living systems theories. Under that aegis, this multidisplinary group concurred that living systems occur in hierarchies with the more complex made of lesser complexities, as matter is organized in nature with molecules and atoms making up the great variety of physical things in the universe. From that launch pad, James Grier Miller developed LST--namely, that the seven and eventually eight levels of living systems, each of greater complexity than the one before (cells, organs, organisms, groups, organizations, societies, supranational systems and finally the community, a system between organizations and societies). And the rest is career history, as Jim went on to identify 20 subsystems, and expand his creative thoughts and applications about living systems. Together with his talented spouse, both contributed to the systemic view in science and the humanities, helping to evolve new paradigms.

Early in the 21st Century when Jessie, the wind behind his sails, departed at age 87 for the Great Passage, Jim withdrew into a world of his own making. Within 3 months, at age 86, he joined his beloved on November 7, 2002, for their big reunion in the heavens. After sharing so much of themselves with humanity, the odyssey of these two loving and erudite people continues on, hopefully, for eternity. Their wholeness was indeed greater than the sum of their parts.
   The outcome of the world, the gates of the future,
   the entry into the superhuman--these are not
   thrown open to a few of the privileged or to one
   chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They
   will only advance to the advance of all together, in a
   direction in which all together can join and find
   completion in a spiritual renovation of the
   Earth... No evolutionary future awaits man
   except in association with all other men!

--Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Winner Calresco Award, International Society for Systems Science


Brown GW, Miller JG, Keenan TA. 1967. EDUNET--Report of The Summer Study of Information Networks. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Hammond D. 2003. The Science of Synthesis. University Press of Colorado: Niwot, CO. (

McKay DS, McKay MF, Duke MB. 1992. Space Resources. U.S. Government Printing Office (NASA SP-509, 5 Vols.): Washington, DC. In these NASA Summer Study proceedings, volume 4, Social Concerns, contains the Miller and Harris reports, including JGM's Applications of Living Systems to Earth, pp. 231-256 (5 volume set now available from

Miller JG. 1942. Unconsciousness. John Wiley and Sons: NY.

Miller JG. (OSS Assignment Staff). 1948. Assessment of Men. Rinehart and Company: NY.

Miller JG. 1978. Living Systems. McGraw-Hill: NY.

Miller JG. 1996. My role in the assessment program of the Office of Strategic Services. Behavioral Science 41(4): 245-262.

Miller JL, Miller JG. 1993-1995. Greater than the sum of its part, Behavioral Science 37(1): 1-38, 38(1): 1-72, 38(3): 151-188, 40(3): 171-269.

Miller JL. 1996. A look back at the systems society. Behavioral Science 41(4): 263-270.

The University of Louisville Library is depository of the Miller Archives (EM contact:bill.morrison@ This collection includes 20 video recordings of lectures and conversations with the founders of systems science: Kenneth Bailey, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Richard Ericson, Jay Forrester, Ralph Gerard, Wesley Leontief, Margaret Mead, James Grier Miller, Farrokh Mistree, Howard Odum, Ilya Prigogine, Anatol Rapoport, Kjell Samuelson, Paul Samuelson, G. A. Swanson, Herbert Simon, and Leonard Troncale.

Philip R. Harris *

Management/Space Psychologist, Author, La Jolla, CA, USA

* Correspondence to: Philip R. Harris, Management/Space Psychologist, Author, 2702 Costebelle Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037-3524, USA. E-mail: Philip R. Harris c/o
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Title Annotation:Tribute
Author:Harris, Philip R.
Publication:Systems Research and Behavioral Science
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
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