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)"A set of signs for communication of the features of some entity or system" (J.Z. YOUNG, 1974, p.298).

2)"Any structure (pattern, picture, model) whether abstract or concrete, of which the features purport to symbolize or correspond in some sense with those of some other structure" (D. Mac KAY, 1969, p.161).

3)" A set of concepts and rules that must be used in creating a description from a certain point of view, or from a certain class of points of view that are equivalent with respect to some conditions, that are characteristic of the representation" (G. DALENOORT, 1989, p.15).

4) The result of our ways to observe reality and construct models of it (inspired from J.J. GIBSON).

The definition by YOUNG shows that the production of any type of model depends on the type of code being used. A representation is thus senseless for someone who ignores the code.

Mac KAY adds the following comment to his definition: "The physical processes concerned in the formation or transformation of a representation are thus distinguished from other physical processes by the element of significance which they possess when conceived as representing something else."

"For any given structure there may be several equivalent representations, defined as such through possessing certain abstracts features in common" (Ibid).

Mac KAY's concept of representation is practically equivalent with the systemic concept of model.

According to DALENOORT: "Whereas the term 'description' usually refers to a single system or model, the term 'representation' refers to classes of systems, and the characteristics of the set of concepts and rules involved" Moreover he distinguishes:

"- causal representations versus goal-directed representations, and

"- representations according to different levels of aggregation" (Ibid., p.15).

J.L.LE MOIGNE quotes J. LADRIERE: "In representation there are, as to say, two types of presence: the effective presence of a person, an object, an action, and the indirect presence, mediatized by the former, of a reality that does not belong to the field of direct perception" (1977, p.45).

J.L.LE MOIGNE adds that what he calls "systemography" aims at "representing the object as significant and as a functioning organism" (Ibid). In other words, any representation is an "ad hoc" observer's representation.

The problem of representation raises very difficult epistemological and ontological questions. J.J. GIBSON, for instance, who proposed an ecological approach to (visual) perception, even states that: "The efforts made by philosophers and psychologists to clarify what is meant by a representation have failed, it seems to me, because the concept is wrong … (A picture) is not a substitute for going back and looking again. What it records, registers, or consolidates is information, not sense data" (1986, p.280).

Of course, it becomes information and, as such, can be modified by further observation, because of the capacity for interpretation by some observer, in his/her own terms, thus "making sense" of it.

On the question as if we are somehow able to reach reality through our constructed representations of it, F. BONSACK states:

"First of all we must avoid the trap implicit in the ambiguity of the term "representation". What is a representation? The global and instantaneous perception that I have at this moment of the scene that surrounds me? The succession of perceptions that I obtain by inspecting successively details of this scene? The checkings that I may perform by a closer inspection, by manipulatimg or testing some of the objects? or yet, the organized models of the world that I construct myself, in order to integrate, organize and interpret as a coherent whole all these instantaneous perceptions, together with all those about which I received indirect information?

"If we say that we have access only to representations, it may be suggested that a representation is its own measure, that it can be verified only by comparing it to another representation – which is not really a verification, as both are prejudiced in the same way. However, such is not the case if we take in account the different possible levels of representation. I am able to correct a first global perception by focusing my attention upon certain details; by manipulation and testing I may correct my world's image if it is not compatible with certain new experiences obtained either by global instantaneous perception, or in detailed perception, or because I have conducted some more or less sophisticated manipulations.

"Thus, my criterion is not merely the inter subjetive consensus, it is firstly and mainly the correspondence of this different levels of representation. I may well concord with the over helming majority about a geocentric model of the world, but this will not curtail new discovery, or a new interpretation of known data, which show that such a model is not the best and that another one is simpler, more coherent and more fruitful. The decisive coincidence is not between theoretical discourses or even descriptive ones of the scientist. It is between what this discourse predict and which is effectively perceived through experience" (1990, p.155-6).

In any case, and to put in a simple way as done by A. KORZYBSKI: "The map is not the territory" (which does not mean, of course, that the territory does not exist. And, as noted by A.L. GOUDSMIT: "… external world and internal representation are assigned different Russellian logical types" (1989, p.169).

Synthetically, any consensus – at least any scientific one – needs to pass POPPER's falseability test, again and again. It could be said however that the nature and idoneity of such tests is again a matter of consensus among scientists. Thus, our conclusions are still… inconclusive and probably will remain inconclusive for ever: a "decisive" coincidence is not necessarily a definitive one.


  • 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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