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.


AUTOPOIESIS (S. BEER on levels of) 1)2)4)

In his paper on "Suprahuman Autopoietic Systems", F. ROBB explains in the following way BEER's views on emergent levels of autopoiesis

"Beer (1975) in specifying the conditions of viability of systems, conceptualizes the social world as containing "esoteric boxes" which, when strung together, form larger organizations. These esoteric boxes are not closed systems but they are more often than not ultrastable, resistant to change, and are "designed for survival". The connections between these subsystems are complex beyond understanding, transient, and unstable. It is the networks of connections that are dubbed "metasystems", and effective control over the assemblage can be achieved only if these metasystems can be defined and formalized, or as Beer puts it, "institutionalized". The design of a metasystem required to ensure an organization's viability entails that it should be capable of absorbing the variety generated by its lower-order systems and by the environment of the whole.

"The metasystem uses a higher-level logic and higher-order values than used by the object systems and these are the means of containing variety and of realigning the objectives of the esoteric boxes so that they serve higher-order objectives. Left to themselves, the subsystems will suboptimize and will not contribute to anything but their own survival. In any social organization there may be many levels of recursion.

"Beer's esoteric boxes appear to have all the properties of autopoietic systems. They are processors of self-production. They appear to be, before intervention organizationally closed. The institutionalization of their metasystems, which Beer calls for, may be seen as the attempt to open them so that their autopoiesis is destroyed and their processes directed toward the autopoiesis of the greater whole.

"To Beer, the intervention is made in order to understand internal structure and behavior and to redesign the metasystemic relations required if the autopoiesis of the whole is to be sustained. In this way, the "designed" metasystem is seen as a necessary artefact required to ensure that the whole satisfies the needs as expressed by the objectives of the highest (in logical order) level. Without this intervention the lower-order needs may be satisfied temporarily but at the very great risk that the metasystemic interconnections will be severed or dissolve as the whole disintegrates" (1989, p.59)

It should be pointed out that:

1- Subsystems' autopoiesis is probably not "destroyed ", but more or less embedded and modified according to the autopoietic needs of the whole.

2- The autopoiesis in levels concept could likely be applied to all levels of complexity, starting possibly with the atom and the molecule.

3- Referring to "Suprahuman Autopoietic Systems ", Robb himself emphasized that it is in no way obvious that social metasystems can be widely controlled by individuals. The opposite is quite more probable.

4- Beer's well known attempts to create global monitoring systems at the national level in various latin-american countries (Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela) may even seem somewhat paradoxical, knowing his own skepticism about the "surrogate worlds we manage" (1973).


  • 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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