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Purpose ‐ The study of anticipatory systems assumes the existence of two distinct types of systems in nature. Some systems anticipate the future and such anticipation forms part of the system itself, while other systems, however, do not anticipate and solely rely on past states. This article aims to argue that this distinction is inadequate given the current understanding of fundamental physics and it seeks to propose instead that all systems need to be considered fundamentally anticipatory.Design/methodology/approach ‐ The analysis centers on showing how classical and quantum mechanics implies the concept of anticipatory system by showing how systems are relational and inherently anticipatory because of the potential interaction from a given reference frame of another system.Findings ‐ This article shows the fundamental relationship between the physical state of the system and its energy, first in classical mechanics and then in quantum mechanics. This serves, first, to remind that energy is arbitrary and so is the system, and second, that the role of potential energy is precisely one of anticipation of interaction with another system at the boundaries.Research limitations/implications ‐ This article shows there is a fundamental concept of anticipation built in the concept of a closed system, but open systems can get around the analysis presented.Practical implications ‐ Systems engineering and decision theory fields may benefit from a renewed understanding of the role of anticipation in systems.Originality/value ‐ This analysis contributes to the fundamental understanding of the concept of anticipation, systems, and their fundamental role in physics.