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INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SYSTEMS AND
Edited by Charles François
München: K. G. Saur 1997.
450 pp. HB. approx. € 210.00/sFr 361.00. ISBN 3-598-11357-9
This work gives, for the first
time, a complete overview of the field of Systems and Cybernetics,
as it developed from its beginnings more than 40 years ago up to
It covers at the same time very
general and well known basic concepts and much more information
on the subject, until now scattered among hundreds of papers presented
in international or national meetings, most of them completely out
of reach of the majority of scholars. While redacted in English,
it contains also a considerable store of valuable information gathered
from sources in various other languages e.g. Dutch, French, German,
Italian, Russian, Spanish, etc.
The work contains nearly
- 3,000 entries in alphabetical order
- a considerable quantity of verbatim quotes
from hundreds of authors
- more than 1,200 specific references
- general information about Systems and Cybernetic Societies in
- principal journals in the field.
(Source: K.G. Saur
A Celebration of Charles Francois International Encyclopaedia
of Systems and Cybernetics, a Sort of
Self-referential Work of Reference. (by Ranulph Glanville): download
Take a look inside the Encyclopedia:
Reproduced with permission
by K. G. Saur
A group of members of various systemics societies who meet every
two years in the Austrian town of FUSCHL (near SALZBURG).
The Fuschl Group basic tenet is that systems concepts should be
applied in a useful manner to the better co-participative
(i.e., with the effective participation of all the stakeholders)
management of human systems. Its mentor is B. BANATHY.
The members, generally about 20 of them, organize themselves in
workshops around some 3 or 4 pre-defined thema. Some months before
the meeting, each member mails to the others an "input paper"
in which she/he states her/his views on the subject she/he selected
as of her/his main interest. However, no so-called papers are presented
at the meeting, which is entirely dedicated to "open conversations".
At the end of the meeting, each workshop offers a statement of its
views about the debated subject. A general report is prepared later
on for the International Federation for Systems Research,
which sponsors the meetings.
The members commit themselves to use and promote the practical proposals
and methods produced by the "conversations".
Some of the main thema of the recent conversations have been:
- Development in systemic terms
- Models for a better education
- Models for a better social organisation
- Methodology of co-participative design
Supplementary Fuschl conversations are organized during interim
periods, in other countries (Spain, Greece, United States, etc
The Fuschl Group also sponsored the publication of the "International
Systems Science Handbook" (1993), whose edition was organized
by R.RODRIGUEZ DELGADO, founder of the Spanish Society for General
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
The character of something which is related to, or pertinent, in
relation with an investigated issue.
Elements, events, environment are considered
relevant for a system if, at least in some cases and sometimes,
they exert an influence on its behaviour.
Of course, criteria of relevance are defined by the observer
and his/her specific viewpoint. They are thus never absolute and,
in many cases, may even be illusory.
From a systemic viewpoint, we could tentatively distinguish:
Underconceptualized relevance: Relevance is considered only
from a very narrow viewpoint by an individual or a small group merely
interested in an ill-understood and/or ill-conceived circumstantial
and very limited issue. In most cases no serious research
is done, or taken into account. In some, serious (or spurious) research
may even be used as an ad-hoc tool to further some dubious objective.
This type of viewpoints is very common in day-to-day politics.
Broad relevance: Relevance is considered in a long term
and wide embracing perspective. This supposes a clear defintion
and a broad inquiry about the system considered and also
of the motives, expectations and goals of all the stakeholders.
However, research excessive in a scope and in time may lead to procrastination.
In big issues, as for example great public works, the limits
of relevance should be clearly defined, justified and explained.
Overconceptualized relevance: Relevance is considered in
such a vast space and time perspective that it becomes
for any practical purpose.
In such cases, red-hot issues may remain unattended while
spurious research and abstract debates linger unconclusively on.
A good understanding of systems and their conditions of existence
and survival is instrumental in defining criteria
of relevance at any level.
On the contrary, the lack of appreciation of the relevance of some
events or elements for a given system leads to unwarranted
simplifications and, at times, very costly errors.
See: "Underconceptualization"; "Invisibility"
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
The process of piling up of some class of elements
in a system due to a positive feedback in its production.
When this process turns exponential, for the lack of a countervailing
negative feedback, it may easily destroy the affected system,
as for example in run-away population explosions. This is
due to a double cause:
- internal clogging of the system, whose functions become
impaired, due to its excessive density;
- starvation of the elements, deprived of a sufficient environmental
flux of resources to maintain themselves. The death of
the starving elements within the system, poisons it.
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
"Any structure has a minimum size, which is
its "nucleus" (K.BOULDING,.1956, p.70)
"which results of a "mysterious initial act of nucleation"
BOULDING states that the term comes originally from physics, but
has a quite wider sense. He writes: "Once a nucleus
has been formed, it is not too difficult to understand how additions
to the structure are made. The formation of the nucleus
itself, however, presents many problems which are quite different
from those involved in the growth of an already established
He gives the example of the crystal, whose minimal nucleus
is, by necessity, an ordering of atoms which, as individuals are
not crystals and cannot be a nucleus. He adds: "In the
case of the cell the problem of nucleation is almost completely
On this matter, some important progress has been made since 1956.
See "Autogenetic system precursor"; "Morphogenesis".
BOULDING also points out that the same phenomenon appears
under the guise of social innovators "those mysterious individuals
who establish religions, cultures, nations techniques and ideas"
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
Anyone who transmits information to other people. A.LOTKA,
taking up an idea also emitted by A.KORZYBSKI (1933, 1950), writes:
"Man is the only animal who in any considerable measure bequeaths
to his descendants the accumulated wisdom of past generations. Evolution
in this case proceeds not merely by the slow process of selection,
but is immensely hastened by the cumulative and continuous growth
of a body of knowledge exempt from the law of mortality which
sets a term on the life of the individual" (1956, p.379)
To a greater or lesser degree, we are all communi-cators and it
is mainly this function which shapes society.
From the viewpoint of evolution, we could speak of a kind
of collective lamarckian heredity of acquired mental characters.
The existence of communicators in non-human systems has not be researched
to any great extent, save in ethology. However the presence, at
the genetic level, for example, of elements, specific
bearers of the communication function seems to be essential
to explain organizational closure and autopoiesis
in living systems. The same question is also latent within
the ecological hypothesis of the "planet system" ("Gaia")
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
Any percipient organism able to acquire a degree of awareness
and obtain some understanding of its environment and
The first who emphasized the peculiar situation of the observer
was R.J.BOSCOVICH in his "De Spatio et Tempore" (1758).
In R.FISCHER's words: "BOSCOVICH claimed that the observer
can never observe the world as it is - only the interface
(or difference) between him and the world
the observer does
not see the world as it is: only a "transform", that depends
of his own state of internal motions, will be accessible
to him in principle" (1991, p.96). Basing himself on experiences
on sensory attenuation, FISCHER ends up with a "principle of
neurobiological relativity", according to which "changes
in states of consciousness
adjustments, i.e. relativistic transformations to
the changing ratio of internal vs. external excitation" (p.99).
An observer always selects some elements from the set
of all possible (for him/her) observations. He/she is thus
what J.WHEELER (quoted by F.DAVID PEAT, 1988, p.37) calls a "participator".
Why and how this selection is made, is a very basic foundation
for the ulterior use, reliability and validity of
the obtained conclusions. The weight of the "participator"
in the observation process depends, under other aspects,
on his/her relative size in relation to the observed phenomenon:
this explains, for instance, why celestial mechanics look so
"objective". But there are also physio- and psychological
distortions. These became a serious concern for all the thoughtful
systemists and cybernetists.
H. von FOERSTER, and H.MATURANA and F.VARELA developed a systemic-cybernetic
concept of the percipient conditions of any observer. According
to this viewpoint, an observer perceives basically anything
in function of her/his own internal organisation,
physical and/or cerebral-mental.
According to von FOERSTER: "Qualities that we believe finding
in objects lie within the observer". As an example,
he uses: Obscenity: I show a picture to somebody and ask him if
it is obscene. He says "Yes". As a result, I now know
something about him, but not about the picture" (1992, p.85).
we must however start by believing that the picture does exist!
in any case, as noted by J.J.GIBSON: "The observer and his
environment are complementary. So are the set of observers
and their common environment" and "The environment
persists in some respects and changes in other respects. The most
radical change is going out of existence or coming into existence"
Moreover, wee need to find out how these Foersterian "qualities"
came in existence within the observer and even how the observer
himself came into existence. The autopoiesis and organisational
closure concept give merely some inklings into these topics.
Another theory of the observer has been developed by G.JUMARIE (1980).
Its basic features are:
- Any system can be defined only in relation to a given observer.
Thus the same object would be perceived differently
by different observers;
- An observer receiving information from his/her environment
uses it to modify his/her internal structure. JUMARIE comments:
"This axiom merely systemize the fact that all systems are
more or less adaptive".
- To a higher degree of knowledge that an observer has of
his/her environment corresponds a higher capacity to extract
information from it.
Any universe is blind to itself, i.e. unable to observe its
own transformations. According to JUMARIE, this proposition
is equivalent to GÖDEL's theorem relative to the incompleteness
of the formal systems.
All this, when duly pondered is more or less subtly related to the
organizational closure concept.
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
1) An operation intended "to make the components
of a system increasingly fused and interactive" (B.BANATHY,
2) The state of a whole whose components are closely
W.C.ALLEE et al write: "Division of labour an integration are
associated principles. Integration has no function unless
there are differentiated parts that must act in relation
to the whole. Specialization of function cannot occur unless
the specialized parts are coordinated. Efficient homeostasis
follows an increase in the special functions of the integrated
parts. These principles apply to every organismic
level, from the cell to the ecosystem, but
are particularly well exhibited by the population of a colony
of social insects (Quoted by Ch.H.LAWSON, 1963, p.114).
R.N.ADAMS states: "
when a level is formed it not
only receives inputs from its components but also
involves self-organization at each emergent higher level"
An yprogress towards integration supposes constraints: any
integrative operation specifies well defined interactions
among parts, generally by preventing other interactions.
M.DODDS and G.JAROS write: "Integration
and order, it tends towards simplicity and cohesion
It also supposes the emergence of a higher level communications
network, whose links precisely define the newly instated constraints.
Composite systems are less integrated than complex systems.
Complexity is indeed closely related to integration since
the better specified and more precise definitions of interactions
tend to lead towards more differentiation of the various
parts of the system, which thus becomes more heterogeneous.
Integration of very complex systems is more difficult and
costly, as the number of components and subsystems
increases, since more - and more complex - regulators are
necessary to maintain homeostasis.
Integration is, in principle, an irreversible process or
state. The break-up of the prescribed interactions
- even when crossing quite narrow limits - leads to the systems
The integration process is linked to the progressive emergence
of constraints within the system: rules of behaviour
of the elements, rules for their interactions.
In ASHBY's terminology, an integrated system is more or less richly
There is an optimum level of integration for any specific
system, which is, unfortunately, very difficult to perceive and
still more so, to specify. Below this level, the system is
not as efficient as it could be. Above it, it becomes clogged and
slow to react to any inside or environmental disturbance.
In any case, the system retains its adaptability and efficiency
only when it still counts with sufficient redundancy.
(c) K. G. Saur 1997
||SAINT MATTHEWS PRINCIPLE
"For whosoever hath not, from him
shall be taken away even that he has" (Matt. 13.12)
This New Testament quote, remembered by R.MARGALEF, has been translated
by him in terms of an ecological principle as follows: "When
two systems interact, information increases relatively more
in that one which is already more complex, as it seems to
feed from the more simple and may assimilate it" (1980, p.28).
Or "The system bigger in terms of acquired information
is always able to make better use of information; that is
to say to assimilate and multiply it" (p.27).
MARGALEF considers this principle as "
valuable in ecology as well as in General Theory of Systems.
It could contribute to sharpen the gradients of any property
that may be interpreted as an information carrier" (Ibid).
Indeed, the principle accounts for the progressive evolutive build-up
of more complex systems, by integration of simpler
ones: Industrial take-over and absorption of archaic tribes by bigger
human groups are examples.
SIMON's Hora and Tempus Parable
(c) K. G. Saur 1997