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.



The concept of organizational closure does not mean that the system is isolated, nor even that it is closed or nearly closed.

No system can survive without assimilation of various classes of inputs flowing from its environment: matter, energy, information.

However, the system could not survive if these inputs should disorganize it and destroy its cohesion and identity (something which however happens frequently in the real world).

Organizational closure refers to the conservation of the systems basic structures and processes. This is obtained through its capacity, thanks to internal operators activity (corresponding to operational closure) to:

1° – transform its inputs to make them useful to its correct functioning (assimilation). It should be noted that "inputs" are not to be given the same meaning as in the behaviorist direct deterministic view of "the stimulus for a specific response".

2° – transform its internal states to compensate, if needed, any disequilibrium resulting of the absorption of foreign elements (adaptation).

These transformations may be cyclical, or hypercyclical, but the number of possible states is necessarily limited, while however it may be very high.

VARELA states: "It is as if once the closure of the system is achieved… it automatically takes care of the generation of its internal regularities" (1984, p.26). Or "… inputs become a perturbation or noise when they are no longer necessary to the systems' organization." (GONELLA, 1976, p.312).

On the other hand, organization should not be confused with structure: "(The system's) organizations are the necessary relations which define the system and its structure… are the actual relations between the components which integrate the system as such. Thus exdefinitione the organization is invariant while a system maintains its identity without disintegration; structures can vary provided they satisfy the organizational constraints" (VARELA, 1975, p.25).

And moreover… "From an input type stance, a system is adaptative because it is optimally fitted to a given world. From a closure type stance, a system is adaptative simply because its organization is maintained invariant through changes of structure which do not violate constraints" (p.27).

Such a state of affairs may however block necessary adaptations when the "given world" undergoes some basic change. Accordingly, G. BROEKSTRA states: "Organizational closure is essentially a non-equilibrium concept akin to autocatalysis and underlies the ordering principle of order through fluctuation" (1993, p.78).

One wonders if VARELA would have admit this extended interpretation, at least for biological systems.


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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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