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.



C. HOLLING states: "The resilience and stability viewpoints of the behavior of ecosystems can yield very different approaches to the management of resources. The stability view emphasizes the equilibrium, the maintenance of a predictable world, and the harvesting of nature's excess production with as little fluctuation as possible. The resilience view emphasizes domains of attraction and the need for persistence" (1976, p.87).

There is however a serious criteria problem with the definition of "nature's excess production". It is coming evermore obvious that our lineal view of natural systems is flawed and that our appreciation of global ecological stability is therefore quite dubious (when it exists!). As a result: "The very approach… that assures a stable maximum sustained yield of a renewable resource might so change these deterministic conditions that the resilience is lost or reduced, so that a chance and rare event that previously could be absorbed can trigger a sudden dramatic change and loss of the structural integrity of the system" (Ibid).

Consequently, HOLLING proposes two complementary strategies for resources management: "The first would lead to the design of highly optimal systems in which fluctuations were minimized and explicit efforts were made to minimize the probability of failure – in short, a fail-safe strategy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that if, accompanying that strategy, is an explicit ability to maintain a stability region of a size large enough to contain any unexpected perturbation the system might receive" (p.89-90).

However the unexpected is, by its nature, very difficult to define and predict. Moreover, human systems tend generally to maximize growth and resist any regulation until slowed down, blocked or even destroyed by the consequences of its own abuse, as shown by numerous historic examples.

In HOLLING's opinion, it is "almost inevitable that an attempt to reduce fluctuations would, at the same time, cause a shrinkage of the stability region through the action of cultural or natural selection" (Ibid).

As a solution, HOLLING proposes a safe-fail strategy, that should "… optimizes a cost of failure and even assures that there are periodic "minifailures" to prevent evolution of inflexibility" (Ibid).

As an example, let us capture periodically a lesser number of whales, in order to have still whales around in a more or less distant future… Or suffer frequent small tremors in order to avoid the great destructive earthquake.

"Power laws".


  • 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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