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.



A system of higher order in relation to some systems or subsystems of lower order.

While sometimes confused with "metasystern", it seems more related to models of concrete systems.

K. BERRIEN proposed some criteria for characterization of the suprasystem:

"Systems may produce useful or useless outputs, as determined by the suprasystem.

"Suprasystems select the outputs of their subsystems which are useful; contrarywise, the suprasystem rejects useless outputs from its own subsystems" (1968, p.33).

BERRIEN also considered that the universe could be represented as a nesting of systems, within systems, within systems; etc… Furthermore, the emergence of suprasystems corresponds to new levels of emergence of complexity. This view was later on confirmed by PRIGOGINE's emergent dissipative structurations at bifurcation points in systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium.

It also corresponds to J. STULMAN's concept of fields within fields, within fields… (1968-75)

R. VALLÉE writes: "… it is not surprising that the consideration of the pair subject-object, or subject-subject, that is to say of a super-system, at a meta-level, can bring great conceptual simplifications. This super-system, or universe, has the great advantage of being the one and only system to possess no border and, hence, no environment" (1992d, p.26). This total universe is however purely theoretical. The concept can be used only in a willful manner by deciding that the chosen super- or supra-system escapes from Gödelian limitations, i.e. by suppressing any supra-supra system, at the eventual risk to run into logical contradictions.

B. BANATHY gives a different definition of the suprasystem: "A system made up of a number of component systems" (1973, p.88).

The terms "supersystem" and "metasystem" also appear frequently in systemic literature, in a very close sense.

Obviously, many authors sensed this kind of hierarchic or embedding relation, in somewhat different shades of meaning and it should be very difficult and even inappropriate to decide in favor of one or another.

We should merely propose to use "metasystern" in the sense of "controlling, or relevant environment", while the "suprasystem" (or "supersystem"), in a somewhat different sense, should be the global environment of its component systems.

This is of course also debatable, because it is then no more than a system of higher level.

According to BERRIEN, an important property of the suprasystem is that it "… can slough off some noncontributing subsystems and encapsulate or generate replacements" (1968, p.85).

BERRIEN wrote that this is precisely a property of biological systems. It seems to be extensible to social systems.


  • 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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