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 unity realized through a closed organization of production processes such that (a) The same organization of processes is generated through the interaction of their own products (components) and (b) a topological boundary emerges as a result of the same constitutive process" (M. ZELENY, 1981, p.6).

ZELENY comments his definition as follows:

"… the organization of components and component- producing processes is maintained invariant through the interactions and flux of components" (Ibid.).

F. ROBB thus resumes MATURANA's basic concept: "Autopoietic systems are characterized by circular relations which give rise to and maintain their autopoiesis. They define themselves, they are irreductible objects in nature, not defined by observers, they are self producing and self-maintaining, they emerge from instabilities, and they have properties not possessed by their components" (1990, p.394).

The comment about "irreductible objects of nature" is intriguing: it could possibly be considered as a base for a systemic ontology.

However, when H. MATURANA and F. VARELA write: "Living systems, as physical autopoietic machines, are purposeless systems" (1980, p.86), one wonders if there may be a danger that some could interpret autopoietic machines as solipsistic (or autistic!) machines.

Seemingly, an autopoietic observer, for instance, must, to begin with, construct his/her internal organizational closure, even if this process begins before birth, in the guise of physiological organizational closure through genetic and generative heredity.

As conjectured by ZELENY, any autopoietic system would need to be a society, whether of cells in a living system, ants in a anthill, neurons in the brain, human beings in an organization, and even possibly in a near future elemental robots in systems of distributed artificial intelligence.

It has also be argued, by F. ROBB, that: "…there are strong reasons to believe that ever higher order social processes can emerge" (1990, p.394).

Biotopes as well may be considered up to a point as autopoietic systems, when not seriously disturbed by outside perturbations.

Amanda GREGORY states: "The autopoietic system is structurally coupled to its environment: it responds to environmental perturbations by producing a feasible set of responses, in such a way to maintain its autopoietic state, from which the environment selects" (1996. p.571)

Thus the autopoietic system is equipped to oppose a strong resistance to change.

Accordingly, A. GREGORY examines in her paper the difficult relation between external evaluators and the (internal) managers of human organizations, which autopoietic character at times leads them to be highly resistant to change.


  • 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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