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.


TIME 1)3)

The concept of persistent existence, duration and succession induced by our perception of the sequentiality of events.

Trying to define time is one of the most vexing task in any lexicographical endeavor. Any definition always turns out to be somehow circular, as in the given one. We should indeed have to define "persistent", "duration", "succession", "sequentiality" and even "event", all of which implies time flow.

The following definition from the American Heritage Dictionary shows the same flaw under a different guise: "A nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future".

Past and future do not exist "anywhere", are only imaginary dimensions of our present consciousness, while present is fleeting, cannot be stopped or catched.

E.von GLASERSFELD observes that time dimension is expressed by verbs. He states: "This springs from the fact that, when we are analysing a verb, we are dealing with a conceptual situation which, under all circumstances, is made up of a sequence of discrete operational steps: it is, in fact, this very sequentiality that makes the situation expressible by means of a verb. That this should be so with verbs designating activity, process or change of any kind, seems obvious: and on closer inspection it becomes clear that it is so also with verbs that designate a state – for without there being a sequence of at least two operational steps which yield the same result (i.e. between which there is no relevant difference that might be registered as "change"), we cannot speak of "state" (1988, p.7).

Time seems to be part of a complex psychic frame of reference. It is not really separable from matter, energy and space. As noted by KORlYBSKI, we cannot imagine some matter transformation (nor even permanence), energy manifestation or space frame outside the time dimension.

As expressed by R.L. ACKOFF and F.E. EMERY, time should be "defined by what it does, not what it is in some metaphysical or physical sense" (1972, p.257). This is in accordance with von GLASERSFELD's views.

The following comment by H. PATTEE illustrates at least partly KORZYBSKI's point: "Time in physics is an irreductible concept, but by no means arbitrary. It is one member of the coherent set of concepts, including space, momentum and energy, that forms the language of physical laws" (1978, p.59).

Information does not enter in PATTEE's set, obviously because it refers only to the relation of the observer with the phenomena, through material or energetic markers.

P. MANZELLI for instance, writes: "… the conceptualization of time is principally derived from energylinformation relationships, that include the sensible experience of the observer into the description of the global reality" (1993, p.33).

As information is a modulation of some forms of energy… in time, and as energy itself flows, we seem finally enmeshed within a semantic vicious circle, which possibly indicates that in our groping for a better understanding, we are vainly trying to disrupt a unitary cosmic frame.

Irrespective of its "real" meaning – for example in thermodynamic terms – time is for us basically a perception.

W. PANKOW writes: "Being is becoming, Self-transcendent systems are time-generating systems" (1976, p.21).

Within the frame of his extended thermodynamics, I. PRIGOGINE (1973, p.561) has finally put some order in this conceptual and semantic morass, as he distinguishes "three levels in the description of time:

- time associated with motion

- time associated with entropy (irreversibility)

- time associated with dissipative structures"

About the first level he states: "From NEWTON to MAXWELL and EINSTEIN, time was reduced to a parameter in the dynamical description of the world: irreversibility was only a illusion" (1984, p.61).

PRIGOGINE also makes the following all-embracing observation: "… our physical world has a broken temporal symmetry, There exist classes of initial conditions which are admissible while their time-inverse is not" (1986, p. 207).

The basic fact about time seems thus to be that it is the most basic "marker" of cosmic asymmetry, This we perceive through its irreversibility, but also its accumulative historical significance.

Finally, the nature – and even possibly the existence – of time will remain an enigma until someone discovers some mechanism through which so-called 'objective' or 'real' chronological time could be accurately connected with physiologically and psychologically perceived time.

In any case, time is a basic property and reference frame of complex systems, Time is somehow equivalent to causality: it is its guideline.


  • 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).

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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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