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.



1) "The field of control and communication in the animal and the machine"(N. WIENER, 1948, p.19).

N. WIENER's original view is in fact quite mechanicist and corresponds to what became known as 1st Cybernetics or Cybernetics of the 1st order (The latter, including 2nd Cybernetics).

2) "The study of systems that are open to energy but closed to information and control – systems that are information tight" (W.R. ASHBY, 1956, p.5).

ASHBY's view is quite close to WIENER's: "Cybernetics deals with all forms of behavior insofar as they are regular, determinate or reproducible… What cybernetics offers is the framework in which all individual machines may be ordered, related and understood" (p.2).

WIENER's and in a lesser measure ASHBY's viewpoint, have aroused considerable resistance in human sciences researchers.

ASHBY himself however also wrote: "Cybernetics treats, not things, but ways of behaving. It does not ask, "What is this thing?" but "what does it do?"… It is thus essentially functional and behavioristic… The materiality is irrelevant, and so is the holding or not of the ordinary law of physics" (1956, p.1).

And, moreover: "The truth of cybernetics are not conditional on their being derived from some other branch of science. Cybernetics has its own foundations" (Ibid).

German cyberneticians, at least until 1970 preferred a quite formal view, as may be appreciated in the four following definitions by K. STEINBUCH, H. FRANK, F.von CUBE and G. KLAUS:

3) "Science of informational structures in technical and non-technical domains" (basically concerned with data treatment) (STEINBUCH, 1955, p.325).

4) "The theory and technique of systems which transform messages" (FRANK.1969, p.30).

5) "(the) mathematical and constructive treatment of general structural relations, functions and systems" (von CUBE, 1967, p.11-16).

6) "The theory of interconnectedness of possible dynamic self-regulated systems with their subsystems" (KLAUS, 1965).

The Russian cybernetician V.M. GLUSHKOV proposed in 1966 a quite similar technical concept of cybernetics:

7) "(the general theory of the transformation of information, and & the theory and principles of building various transformers of information" (1966),

GLUSHKOV included in his book theories of algorithms, of discrete automata, of self-organizing systems and of mathematical logic, V.G. DROZIN observes that "& its contents overlap somewhat with that of Computer Science as taught in our country" (i.e. U.S.) (1976, p.30),

8) "Discipline which studies regulations and communication in the living beings and the man-built machines" (J.de ROSNAY, 1975, p.93)

Quite significantly, de ROSNAY uses the word "regulation" in lieu of "control" used by WIENER, As a biologist he is more attuned to the non intentional aspect of regulation, This seems better if one remembers that many biologists, psychologists and sociologists reacted negatively to cybernetic "controls", that they considered a mecanicist reductionism, apt moreover to induce possible manipulations of human (and animal) behavior.

On the other hand, de ROSNAY adds: "A more philosophical definition, proposed by L, COUFFIGNAL in 1958, views cybernetics as "the art to ensure efficacy in action ", The word "cybernetics" has been reinvented by WIENER in 1948, from the greek word "kubernetes", which means pilot or steering wheel. One of the very first cybernetic mechanisms of velocity regulation in a steam machine, invented by James WATT and Matthew BOULTON in 1788, was called "governor"& Cybernetics has thus the same root as "government": the art of managing and lead highly complex systems. (Ibid).

From 1960 on, a less mechanicist view of cybernetics started to emerge, with St. BEER, G. PASK, H.von FOERSTER, M. MARUYAMA, H. MATURANA, and other researchers.

According to St. BEER: "& cybernetics studies the flow of information round a system, and the way in which this information is used by the system as a means of controlling itself: it does this for animate and inanimate systems indifferently. For cybernetics is an interdisciplinary science, owing as much to biology as to physics, as much to the study of the brain as to the study of computers, and owing also a great deal to the formal languages of science for providing tools with which the behaviour of all these systems can be objectively described" (1966, p.254).

One wonders if BEER would still have used the word "objectively", since it is now generally admitted that scientific knowledge may some sometimes be "falsified" (POPPER), and results of a consensual process through conversation (PASK). Of course and nothwithstanding, we still can safely postulate the existence of an objective reality and all this does not impair the usefulness of the cybernetics' models.

Further along BEER adds:"& cybernetics is precisely about organization – for this is the medium through which control is exercised, Therefore cybernetics may also be defined, as it has been by certain Russian writers as the science of effective organization" (Ibid., p.425).

In any case, BEER's view is not mechanistic: "Cybernetics begins where the possibility of algorithmization of the controlled system ends" (Quoted by V.G. DROZIN, 1976, p.28).

According to K, KRIPPENDORFF: "In cybernetics, theories tend to rest on four basic pillars: Variety, circularity, process and observation" (1986, p.20).

As stated by this author, variety is closely related to information, communication and control, Circularity is a necessary result of feedback, and leads to autopoiesis. Process is implied in feedback, communication, regulation and control, and observation is the basic condition for decision making and control.

Historical note: The word cybernetics was used for the first time by PLATO in the sense of "pilot's craft" or "the art of leading men", R, VALLEE states that, in 1834, the french physicist AMPERE used it in his "Essai sur la philosophie des sciences" to name the "study of the means of governing".

VALLEE adds: "In 1843, TRENTOWSKI did the same with the word kibemetiki in a book on management written in Polish ", and still: "(W.S. McCULLOCH) liked to put cybernetics under the aegis of DESCARTES who proposed in 1664, an interpretation of cybernetical type, involving feedback, within the framework of his theory of nervous transmission. On the contrary WIENER considered LEIBNIZ (1646-1716) as the patron of cybernetics" (1993, p.84).

Other important precursors of cybernetics were the Russian BOGDANOV (1921), the Rumanian Stephan ODOBLEJA (1938), as well as W. CANNON (1932). The French biologist P. VENDRYES discovered independently the mechanisms of homeostasis and autonomy (1942).

In fact, the cybernetic model is implicit in numerous concepts and artefacts, since Antiquity.


  • 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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