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.


COMPLEXITY (Laws of) 1)3)

J. WARFIELD enounces 17 "laws of complexity" (1995 a, p.123-52), which he discusses extensively (For details see reference – for many of the concepts involved see corresponding entries). The so-called laws are in fact mainly directing concepts and principles for the study of complex issues by groups. They should thus be better termed: "Principles for the study of complex issues". Hereafter a somewhat condensed and adapted statement of these "laws"

- "Triadic compatibility: The human mind is compatible with the demand to explore interactions among a set of three elements, because it can recall and operate with seven concepts, these being three elements and their four combinations.

- "Requisite parsimony: Every individual's short- term brain activity lends itself to dealing simultaneously with approximately seven items." (Law of triadic compatibility). Attempts to go beyond this scope of reasoning are met with physiological and psychological limits that preclude sound reasoning.

- "Structural underconceptualization: No matter what the complex issue, and no matter what the group involved in its study, the outcomes of ordinary group process (i.e. process in which computer support for developing the formal logical structure of the issue is lacking) will be structurally underconceptualized.

- "Organizational linguistics drift: As an organization grows, linguistic separation grows both laterally and vertically in the organization. At the higher vertical levels, metaphors and categories become progressively disconnected from the relevant components at lower levels, leading to decisions based on perceived relations between categories that are not borne out by the relations between category members.

- "Validation: The validity of a science depends upon substantial agreement within the scientific community of meaning at its highest grade, i.e. meaning attained through Definition by Relationships.

- "Diverse beliefs: Whatever the group, whatever the complex issue being considered by the group, at the outset of group consideration of the issue, the individual members of the group will have quite diverse beliefs about the issue, and the probability is high that this situation will remain undiscovered and uncorrected, in the absence of a group learning experience using a methodology whose power to produce the necessary learning has been scientifically validated.

- "Gradation: Any conceptual body of knowledge can be graded in stages, such that there is one simplest stage, one most comprehensive stage (reflecting the total state of relevant knowledge), and intermediate stages whose content lies between the two extremes.

(Warfield draws three corollaries from this "law": a corollary of relative congruence, one about diminishing returns and one about the need to restrict "virtual worlds ").

- "Universal Priors: The human being, language, reasoning through relationships, and archival representations are universal priors to science" (i.e., there can be no science without each of them).

- "Inherent conflict: No matter what the complex issue, and no matter what the group involved in its study, there will be significant inherent conflict within the group stemming from different perceptions of the relative significance of the factors involved in the complex issue".

- "Limits: To any activity in the universe there exists a corresponding set of limits upon that activity which determines the feasible extent of the activity. (Here again, WARFIELD states corollaries):

Corollary of active limits: For any particular situation, the set of limits can be partitioned into two blocks: an active block and an inactive block;

Corollary of movable limits: The set of limits can also be partitioned into these two blocks: movable and fixed;

Corollary of discretionary action: The movable subset of limits can be partitioned into these two blocks: movable through discretionary action by people, and autonomously movable;

Corollary of shifting limits: The membership of the active blocks and the inactive blocks of the partition changes with time.

- "Requisite saliency: There is an underlying logic awaiting discovery in each design situation that will reveal the relative saliency of (the various) situational factors.

-"Success and failure: There are seven critical factors in the "success bundle" for the design process. Inadequacy in anyone of these factors may cause failure. The seven factors are: leadership, financial support, component availability, design environment, designer participation, documentation support, and design processes that converge to informed agreement.

- "Uncorrelated extremes: No matter what the complex issue, and no matter what the group involved in its study, the initial aggregate group opinion concerning the logical pattern of the factors involved in the issue and the Final aggregate group opinion concerning the logical pattern of the factors involved in the issue (i.e., the views at the two extremes of the appplication of the Generic Design Science, before and after) will be uncorrelated; showing that significant learning can take place through the application of the generic design process.

- "Requisite variety: A design situation embodies a requirement for requisite variety in the design specifications. Every design situation S implicitly represents an (initially unknown)… dimensionality such as either:

1) the behavior of the target is outside the control of the designer (the target is underspecified), or

2) the behavior of the target cannot be compatible with the designer's wishes (the target is overspecified).

Only if the behavior of the design should be what the situation can absorb and which the designer can control, can the design process apply the law of requisite variety iteratively, taking in account the dynamics of the situation.

- "Forced substitution: Underconceptualization and inherent conflict lead to policy vacuums in an organization into which autority injects forced substitution for absent and in adequate conceptualization, in order to avoid institutional paralysis and for self-protection.

- "Precluded resolution: Forced substitution in organizations is dominated by the combination of:

- structural underconceptualization

- inherent conflict and diversity of beliefs

- dysfunctional organizational linguistics, which combine to preclude resolution of complex issues.

- "Triadic necessity and sufficiency: Relations are characterized by the number of distinct relational components, but no matter how many such components a relation may have, the (complex) relation can always be expressed by component relations having no more than three relational components; but triadic relations exist that cannot be expressed in terms solely of dyadic and monadic relations".

This last proposition quite unexpectedly at first sight seems to be related with the three bodies problem.


  • 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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