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.



The state of a living system who perceives (is aware of) his/her own inside knowledge of inside or outside phenomena and possesses the ability to formulate it for him/herself and for communication with others.

Many definitions have been given of consciousness, probably because the subject is so difficult to grasp. The given definition has no pretense to be the only possible, nor even to be a very satisfactory one. In any case, it implies the existence of an internal microcosm, reflecting the external macrocosm and the perception of the difference between both.

R. FISCHER describe consciousness as "…. narrative self-awareness" (1992, p.230).

G. PASK has been quite more specific: "A process is potentially conscious if it is organizationally closed, informationally open, and if information is transferred across distinctions that are computed as required to permit the execution of the process" (1979, p.214).

E. SCHWARZ indicates the three following attributes of consciousness:

"1. Existence manifested and felt in space and time through the dialogue between the object (the actual status of the system) and the image of this status in the (conscious being);

"2. Self-knowledge, as outcome of the self-referential dialogue;

"3. Autogenesis: self-production of its own rules, which means increase of autonomy" (1992, p.763).

This last point is very close to P. VENDRYES concept of autonomy.

B. RUSSELL gave of consciousness the curious following description: "The belief that makes us feel that the image is a sign of something else than itself" (1926, as quoted by J.P. CHANGEUX, 1992, p.709).

Consciousness seems however to depend basically of the capacity of self-description. H. MATURANA (as quoted by R. FISCHER) states::"… if an organism can generate a communicable description of its interactions and interact with the communicable description, the process can, in principle, be carried out in a potentially infinite recursive manner, and the organism becomes an observer. It can describe its interactions and communicate its description to others or to itself, and through the very same process it can describe itself describing itself" (MATURANA, 1979, in R. FISCHER, 1976, p.32).

H. Harry KLOPF writes: "Consciousness involves an awareness of self and is therefore an emerging property of brains, a property that is acquired as experience and learning provide increasing information with which to define the self, the environment and their relationship. In accordance with this definition, newborn infants are conscious only to a slight degree, if at all. (We can speak of degrees of consciousness just as we can speak of degrees of clarity of definition of the self and the environment, etc.)".

The author makes another important observation: "There has been a tendency in the past to confuse responsiveness in living systems with consciousness" (1972, p.37).

I. ALEKSANDER in turn states: "Consciousness is very heavily dependent on having a learning system that can represent the world more or less as it is. A.I. has always tried to do the representation at a symbolic level – so it has lost mental imagery, which seems to me to be the crux of consciousness" (Quoted by C. DAVIDSON, 1993, p.25).

K. BAUSCH speaks of consciousness as "embodied awareness". This implies that awareness can (but won't in all cases) trigger some behavior. This depends on the already constructed frames of references. In human beings, these include existing rational evaluations, but also values and norms, which do not necessarily have a rational foundation.

The effects of quite variable levels of consciousness in many different individuals and their resulting more or less coordinated and conscious action, is quite a difficult subject.

There seems to be now a growing consensus that consciousness is a complex emergent process in man, that results of the progressive resonance or synchronization between the thalamus and different parts of the cerebral cortex (A. CLERREMANS, 2000, p.83).

Brain; Evolutionary and planetary consciousness


  • 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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