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.



"That field of scientific inquiry whose objects of study are systems" (G. KLIR, 1993, p.27).

The word "science" has evoked a serious resistance among "hard" scientists, because of the very general and abstract meaning of "system", the supposed object of inquiry.

Still less adequate seems to be the expression "systems Sciences" (as it appears now in the official name of the "International Society for the Systems Sciences"), evoking a more or less unorganized ragbag of scattered disciplines, and encouraging systemists to seek "a politically correct shelter for their work under the umbrella of orthodox science" (D. Mc NEIL, 1993b).

This has been sensed by quite a number of "system scientists", as for instance L. TRONCALE, who considers this expression as merely "a collective non-specific term… and a questionable use of the term "science" similar to that found in "social science" (1984, p.45).

KLIR himself adds: "Unfortunately, this definition, which appears reasonable on the surface, only begs the question. To make it operational, and thus useful, we have to establish some broad and generally acceptable characteristics of the concept of a system."(Ibid). The whole of this KLIR 's paper on the subject is dedicated to a "guided tour" of this difficult task and can be used as an introduction to the subject.

Some interesting statements by KLIR:

"Classical science, which is predominantly oriented to thinghood properties, and systems science, which is predominantly oriented to systemhood properties, are two distinct perspectives from which scientific inquiry can be approached. These perspectives are complementary. Although classical scientific inquiries are almost never devoid of issues involving system hood properties, these issues are not of primary interest to classical science and have been handled in an opportunistic, ad hoc fashion…. While the systems perspective was not essential when science dealt with simple systems, its significance increases with growing complexity of systems of our current interest" (p.28-29).

On the role of the computer in relation to "systems science", KLIR states: "The computer has, in fact, a dual role in systems science. In one of the roles, it is a methological tool for dealing with systems problems. In the other role, it serves as a laboratory for experimenting with systems" (p.38).

(This last aspect is now becoming very Significant in the field of artificial life).

KLIR also states that the study of "systemhood" starts with the development of "… a comprehensive conceptual framework by which the whole spectrum of conceivable systems is divided into significant categories. The second step is to study the individual categories of systems and their relationships, and to organize the categories in a coherent whole. The third step is to study systems problems that emerge from the underlying set of organized systems categories. Finally, we address methodological issues regarding the various types of systems problems" (p.38).

"Simplification methods are crucial for dealing with phenomena of organized complexity. Since organized complexity is the prime territory of systems science, these methods playa key role… " (p.47).

F. HEYLIGHEN states: "Systems science (including cybernetics) is not a traditional disci pline concerned with the study of a particular domain, but a meta-discipline, concerned with the domain-independent modelling of general systems. (van GIGCH). As such, it does not aim to find the one true representation for a given type of systems (e.g., physical, chemical or biological systems) but to formulate general principles about how different representations of different systems can be constructed so as to be effective in problem solving" (1990a, p.423).

Should there be systems scientists? G. KLIR so believes: "The role of developing and applying the system hood expertise must be undertaken by a scientist of a different kind, a systems scientist, whose specialization is this very expertise" (1991, p.23). This seems at the same time correct and doubful. It is correct because we undoubtedly need people able to undertand, explain and, in many cases, manage complex systems. A systemic formation should be a very general feature of knowledge acquisition. This explains however why the idea could be questioned: If systems science becomes an academic specialty, it could promptly be relegated in some more or less secluded academic cloister and become lost for the millions who really need it.

Systems science is a meta- or trans-discipline (or, possibly better, a meta-methodology) for everybody and should not be simply reduced to a discipline status, even when and where it must be teached. In KLIR's words: "Systems science has also its own methodologies, which I view as a coherent collection of methods for dealing with those types of systems problems that emanate from a particular conceptual framework. Furthermore, systems science has its own meta methodology. Its purpose is to determine characteristics of individualmethods (such as computational complexity, performance, and range of applicability) and utilize these characteristics for selecting the right method for a given problem in a specific context.

"In spite of all its science-like characteristics, I argue… that systems science is not a science in the ordinary sense, but rather a new dimension in science" (1991, p.352).

This has much to see with the future of Systems science, another subject widely tackled by KLIR (1991, p.185-90). On one hand, concepts, principles, methods and models – i.e. the scientific aspects – should be constantly extended in order to increase complexity understanding for practical and theoretical uses. On the other hand, a general strategy and tactics should be devised to bring systems knowledge to those who could benefit from it – i.e. the sociological and ethical aspects, in terms of the systemists responsability.

According to G. ANDERSEN: "Systems sci ence can be considered as a human evolutionary system with emergent properties – the structure of the components changes over time and new information is created out of this process" (1995, pers. com.).


  • 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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