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 ability of a system to maintain its identity, in spite of the progressive replacement of its elements.

This concept, practically equivalent to autopoiesis, was enounced in 1951 by J.W.S. PRINGLE in these terms:

(An open system) "has the following properties:

1. It is a steady-state equilibrium, each unit appearing to be constant only because it is being formed and destroyed at the same rate;

2. Either or both processes are subject to variations;

3. The rate of formation and the rate of destruction of each unit depend on different functions of the quantity present, and on the environmental conditions.

"These features imply a property of the units which may be called "replication"; that is, the presence of a unit in the system causes more similar units to appear, with an accompanying increase in order which is balanced at steady – state equilibrium by the decrease in order involved in their destruction" (1956, p.92).

Self-reproduction is one of those ambiguous terms in cybernetics and systemics. W.R. ASHBY, who died before the autopoiesis concept was fully explored, could write in 1962: "… before we start to consider the question of the self-reproducing system, we must recognize that no organism is self-reproducing" (1981, p.72).

His argument was that the reproduction of a system could never occur without a movilizing interaction with some other system or with a specific environment and stated that "the adjective "self-reproducing" is highly objectionable semantically and logically" (p.72).

This did not deter him to dedicate his paper to the "Self-reproducing system". He came to the clear conclusion that self-reproduction terminology should be used only for cyclical processes of the type "A reproduces B, then B reproduces C, and then C reproduces A" (p.78) and recognized that "Such a cycle is of course extremely common in the biological world" (p. 79)… where "All sufficiently large systems will become filled with self-reproducing forms" (p.79).

Thus, genuine self-reproduction is always an endogenous process, and the exogenous production of a whole copy or the original system, as for example in some of J.H. CONWAY's Games of Life, should not be called self-reproduction, as it depends of an algorithm external to the original configuration itself, which, by the way, is also the case in biological (not self-) reproduction.

ASHBY was, after all, on his own way toward organizational closure and the hypercycle.


  • 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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