International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.



1. "The spontaneous transformation of a set of components from a less coherent state, where the space-time correlation between them is confined to mean free path and mean relaxation collision times, to a more coherent state exhibiting novel, global, dynamical space-time behavior" (R. SWENSON, 1989, p.188).

2. "Any process whereby the variety and/or constraint of a system changes" (F. HEYLIGHEN, pers. comm.).

Emergence implies discontinuity and innovation in the construction of complexity (W. KARGL, 1991, p.579).

G. PASK, for instance described functional emergence as the recognition "by an external observer" that "a device or agent has acquired a new distinction, concept, structure" (P. CARIANI, 1993, p.28).

SWENSON comments that this new coherent state is: "many order of magnitude greater than mean free path and relaxation times; inaccessible to, not locatable in, and not reducible to the individual or summative behavior of the separated atomisms" (i.e. elements or components); "the spontaneous creation of a new set of macroscopic constraints that reduce accessible microstates from some initial set Mn to some much smaller subset Ms, to yield a new irreducible level of dynamical space-time behavior. By the transformation Mn to Ms, emergence is always a progressive, asymmetrical time-dependent transformation of matter away from equilibrium" (p.189).

Emergent systems are thus always more complex and less stable than their components. They derive from the appearance of an emergent attractor. Ch. LAVILLE's concepts about vortexes (1950), and recently D. McNEIL toroidal model of the system (1993a and b), suggest that such attractors are produced by opposing energetic fields.

HEYLIGHEN states: "The emergence of systems of (partially) conserved distinctions cannot be deduced from the properties of lower-level "microscopic" distinctions, but may be understood as a process of self-organization, governed by variation and selective retention" (1989, p.382).

J.P. CHANGEUX in turn states: "The highest levels (of organization) emerge progressively throughout biological evolution. They superpose and embed the inferior levels, themselves selected during former evolutive steps (1992, p.707).

HEYLIGHEN also writes: "… such a process will necessarily change the identity of the system itself. It might therefore also be called a system transition. This is a qualitative change, where a new organization or system appears, with properties (potential appearances) that did not exist in the old system. The more usual ("quantitative") dynamical evolution of a system, on the other hand, is merely a transition within the constrained variety of possible appearances, where neither constraint nor variety undergo any change" (Ibid).

This concept is quite different from SWENSON's, but closer to PRIGOGINE's. Here dynamical evolution (or better, adaptation or accomodation) remains in accordance with the organizational closure of the system, which is replaced, or at least transformed, in case of emergence.

Examples may better emphasize differences.

A running athlete accomodates him/herself to the effort by breathing rapidly and strongly, but only for a short time.

One who must go to live for years in some high altitude place, adapts permanently his/her respiratory capacity to this change.

The first animals who left the oceans underwent a radiative evolution of emergent types, changing branchial for aerial pulmonar breathing.


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

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Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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