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.



Any percipient organism able to acquire a degree of awareness and obtain some understanding of its environment and invironment.

The first who emphasized the peculiar situation of the observer was R.J. BOSCOVICH in his "De Spatio et Tempore" (1758). In R. FISCHER's words: "BOSCOVICH claimed that the observer can never observe the world as it is – only the interface (or difference) between him and the world… the observer does not see the world as it is: only a "transform ", that depends of his own state of internal motions, will be accessible to him in principle" (1991, p.96). Basing himself on experiences on sensory attenuation, FISCHER ends up with a "principle of neurobiological relativity ", according to which "changes in states of consciousness… reflect perceptual- conceptual adjustments, i.e. relativistic transformations to the changing ratio of internal vs. external excitation" (p.99).

An observer always selects some elements from the set of all possible (for him/her) observations. He/she is thus what J. WHEELER (quoted by F. DAVID PEAT, 1988, p.37) calls a "participator". Why and how this selection is made, is a very basic foundation for the ulterior use, reliability and validity of the obtained conclusions. The weight of the "participator" in the observation process depends, under other aspects,on his/her relative size in relation to the observed phenomenon: this explains, for instance, why celestial mechanics looks so "objective". But there are also physio- and psychological distortions. These became a serious concern for all thoughtful systemists and cybernetists.

In synthesis: "… in making an observation, the observer is operating as a cybernetic control and communication system for the observed system " (R. GLANVILLE, 1979, p. 37).

In turn, the observed system reacts to the observation act. Thus the observed system "can no longer be thought as an independent and isolated system in the classical scientific sense"(Ibid)

The permanent use of some controls may provoke a progressive resistance of the controlled factor. This has been observed in the numerous cases in which a parasite or pathogen evolved new strains, resistant to ever-growing doses of the control drug.

A way out of this problem could be the application of the control factor in an irregular way in time, thus avoiding the constant exposure that leads to pest resistance. Another way is to apply the control factor only when a threshold of infestation is crossed.

This model could be useful every time a control is proposed in a naturally fluctuating situation.

H.von FOERSTER, and H. MATURANA and F. VARELA developed a systemic-cybernetic concept of the percipient conditions of any observer. According to this viewpoint, an observer perceives basically anything in function of her/his own internal organization, physical and/or cerebral-mental.

According to von FOERSTER: "Qualities that we believe finding in objects lie within the observer". As an example, he uses: "Obscenity: I show a picture to somebody and ask him if it is obscene. He says "Yes". As a result, I now know something about him, but not about the picture" (1992, p. 85). We must however start by believing that the picture does exist! In any case, as noted by J.J. GIBSON: "The observer and his environment are complementary. So are the set of observers and their common environment" and "The environment persists in some respects and changes in other respects. The most radical change is going out of existence or coming into existence" (1986, p.15).

Moreover, we need to find out how these Foersterian "qualities" came in existence within the observer and even how the observer himself came into existence. The autopoiesis and organizational closure concepts give merely some inklings into these topics.

Another theory of the observer has been developed by G. JUMARIE (1980). Its basic features are:

- Any system can be defined only in relation to a given observer. Thus the same object would be perceived differently by different observers;

- An observer receiving information from his/ her environment uses it to modify his/her internal structure. JUMARIE comments: "This axiom merely systemize the fact that all systems are more or less adaptive".

- To a higher degree of knowledge that an observer has of his/her environment corresponds a higher capacity to extract information from it.

- Any universe is blind to itself, i.e. unable to observe its own transformations. According to JUMARIE, this proposition is equivalent to GÖDEL's theorem relative to the incompleteness of the formal systems.

All this, when duly pondered, is more or less subtly related to the organizational closure concept.


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