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.


STIGMERGY 1)2)4)5)

The alternate and reciprocal transfer of structural and/or functional information from individuals to the system they are part of, or of the system to its environment, and conversely.

This notion was introduced by the French entomologist P.P. GRASSÉ (1959), who generalized it from the growing interactions he observed between the activities of the members of some insect societies (termites), as a result from the also growing perception by individuals of the results of these activities. The stigmergy process in these insects includes two phases. The first one is uncoordinated deposition of material on the available surface. However, the termites diffuse a specific scent at the construction places, which acts as an attraction factor where the activity is important. This provokes a more ordered concentration of insects, leading in turn to coordinated construction work.

PRIGOGINE found that stigmergy is a specific case of order by fluctuations and emergence of order parameters (1976, p.113-4).

Th. SEELEY observes: "The use of the shared environment as a communication pathway has certain attractions, including easy asynchronous transfer of information between individuals and virtually automatic transfer of information between any two individuals sharing some portion of the nest…

"Because the process of integration of a group is largely a matter of information flow from group to individuals, it may be that information flow through the shared environment has been natural selection's principal technique of integration in building superorganisms" (1989, p.550).

Indirect information by environmental cues and coalescence of collective oriented behavior seem to be a most important and quite general motor for progressive integration. This process is also obviously very common and active in human societies.

While stigmergy is in some sense inheritance of characters through environment, it is also clear that there must be a previous state of coadaptation between the environment and the individual members or group of members of a species. This is needed in order to trigger the activity of the individuals. Such activity could lead in some cases to changes in the environment and, eventually, new adaptations in the species.

The monkeys which learned in Japan to clean their tubers in salt water of the seaside, are possibly on their way to stigmergy through shared behavior

A process very similar to stigmergy has been described by D. SHÖN (1983, 1987) and J. BAMBERGER and D. SCHÖN (1991) and named by them "learning as reflective conversation with materials", In a note to J Bamberger, D. Schön used the expressions "reference entity" and "reference structure" and wrote: "a reference entity is situational… and takes something perceived and bounded in that situation as entity for use as comparison, projective model, prototype within that situation"(J. Bamberger, 2000, p. 15)

He adds however that "it cannot travel from situation to situation "(Ibid), Thus an agent-supposedly a living agent- is a necessary go-between.


  • 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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