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.



"Some state of the world at a given instant, focused from the viewpoint of some definition of a system" (M. LIU.1990, p. 40).

According to LIU we look for "… a representation of the world from a selected viewpoint and in relation to a predefined study objective. We prefer the term "situation" to the one of "state", in view that this latter one tends to be restricted to the description of the inside of the system, while a "situation" describes the system, its boundaries and its environment" (Ibid).

Of course, neither the "state", nor the "situation" can ever completely be described.

What we call a situation is merely the imperfect result of a set of simultaneous or nearly simultaneous perceptions, associated in a manner as coherent as possible, and to which an observer is able to give a global meaning.

A situation relates generally to the instantaneous state of a complex entity. R. ESPEJO stresses that: "… the complexity of the situation is defined by the number of non-equivalent outcomes recognized by the viewpoint in the situation" (1988, p.140). The viewpoint may be individual or shared through constructed consensus among various observers. In any case: "Individuals only see 'sides of a situation', never the whole of it; indeed there is no viewpoint that can capture in full the variety of a situation… not least because human activities are constantly being created and recreated by the people participating in it" (Ibid, p.139).

Moreover, a situation is only a fleeting event in a chain of events.

The observation of succesive situations allows to perceive a system or a process in course of transformation.

However, the coherence that may be perceived in the situation also depends on the previous knowledge by the observer of the constraints prevailing in the observed universe. This knowledge may be insufficient, for example because of the lack of historical data, or the inexistence of some means of observation, or due to some prejudices.

In these (very general) cases, the situation is partly "invisible" in G.de ZEEUW's sense (1992), and the observer may be led to a false evaluation and thus induced to commit mistakes. In St. BEER words: "He is playing a game of incomplete information" (1968, p.279).

According to R. ESPEJO: "… The complexity of the situation is defined by the number of non-equivalent outcomes recognized in the situation by the viewpoint" (1988, p.140)…. or by the different viewpoints of the participating observers during a period of time.

J. WARFIELD, inspired by G. VICKERS, recommends the use of the term "situation" in "replacement for the more commonly-used "problem", because: "It has been frequently observed that a problem is, invariably, a human construct not subject to observation. A situation, on the other hand, is at least partly observable, if not fully so. Inherently, it is dynamic, changing with time, and its observation is not limited to anyone individual. On the contrary, because it is often distributed in space and time, observation by various observers is often essential to its understanding. Moreover this term keeps the door open to exploration, while problems often harden into too-narrowly-defined frames of reference" (1990, p.9).


  • 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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