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.



"A transmission line of information structures that have engrained within them means of dealing with the environment" (S. GOONATILAKE, 1991, p.1).

This concept is inspired by F. VARELA: "(The) structures are richly interconnected and the autonomy of the lineage is maintained through time. The information which is transmitted may generally be classified as genealogical communication, which conservative structures are transmitted down through different channels" (Ibid)

This means that flow lines are vehicles for species and societies autopoiesis, within evolution.

According to E. JANTSCH such channels could be DNA, a neural memory or artefacts (1980, p.197).

The concept of flow line tries to synthetize the very general process through which all types of systemic characteristics are conserved and transmitted through time.

GOONATILAKE enriches the concept as follows: "The flow lines vary as to their degrees of rigidity or flexibility. The inner cores are less flexible than the outer ones. The outer cores respond to the environment more rapidly than the inner core. The inner core, however, limits the nature of responses of an outer core to changes in the environment" (Ibid, p.3).

He distinguishes three different types of flow lines:

- the genetic ones;

- the neural-cultural ones;

- the exosomatic ones (p.118-120).

The first line is basic for the existence of the second and the second in turn is the condition for the emergence of the third one. "One could depict the evolving information flow as a core which gradually adds on concentric envelopes" (p.132-3).

And: "In all flow lines categories there is a phylogenetic tendency for an increase of information and complexity" (p.131).

He also observes that exosomatic (i.e. technological and cultural) flow lines in human societies tend swiftly to escape to human control and to become a very complex set, with its own internal logic. Quoting D. MICHIE he states: "Increasingly, the information line from computer to computer would assume an autonomy of its own, in view of the extensive need for growth of new information sources and large data bases" (Ibid, p.116). We have already witnessed some incidents of this type, as f. ex. The "automatic" crashes in stock markets provoked by cascades of pre-registered stop orders. The Internet is starting to exhibit such autonomy, a feature that does not please everybody!

GOONATILAKE also notes that flow lines coevolve with the information environment (p.125).

In some sense, his work is convergent with SABELLI's process theory and MEYER's evolutive acceleration.


  • 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).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

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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