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.


CYBERNETICS (First Order) or CYBERNETICS (1st) 1)3)

There is some ambiguity in these terms.

The first cybernetics is WIENER'S control cybernetics.

According to H.von FOERSTER, the 1st order cybernetics is the theory of homeostatic systems, wherein the concept of regulation tends to replace the one of control.

However, self-regulation already implies organizational closure and so, we shift to cybernetics of 2nd order.

WIENER himself defined Cybernetics as "Control and Communication in the animal and the machine" in the very title of his Opus Magnum.

The basic instrument of control is feedback, the mechanism used in regulators, which permit the monitoring of deviations and their subsequent correction.

This mechanism can be found in natural as well as in artificial systems. However, it has been discovered, at least explicitely, in natural systems, only after its discovery, use and explanation in artificial ones.

The (unconscious) discovers of feedback were old-time craftsmen. The use and construction of regulators started to systematize from James WATT on and shifted from craftsmen to engineers.

Thus, the concept of control came to imply the idea of voluntary correction of some deviation and, during the last fifty years very numerous control devices of various types have been constructed.

The "reliable automaton" became the typical creation of cybernetics and its popular form, the "robot", imposed itself to the imagination of the man in the street. Meanwhile, psychologists, social scientists and ecologists began to mistrust this new science, whose apparent or at least potential aim was the perfect mechanistic control of everything, including man and society. The Orwellian nightmare seemed suddenly possible and menacing, as well as some others, readily described by science-fiction authors.

Rigorous planning and Skinnerian conditioning seemed to indicate real and practical ways to this perfect control, dreamed of by would be perfect controllers.

As WIENER states: "The thought of every age is reflected in its technique" (1948, p.49 of the Hermann Edition). Obviously, control in its algorithmical sense reflects the more or less totalitarian mind and spirit (and possibly the scientific "ubris") of many mid-20th century leaders in most fields.

The study of algorithmic control of artifacts and communication devices by WIENER, SHANNON and WEAVER, TURING, von NEUMANN and others, around 1945-1960 has been the core of the first cybernetics.

The basic problem was: "How to stabilize systems and maintain them in as strictly possible defined limits of behavior".

In H.von FOERSTER words: "First order Cybernetics developed the epistemology for comprehending and simulationg biological processes as, e.g. homeostasis, habituation, adaptation, and other first-order regulatory processes" (1974, p.16). This was of course quite better than the former: "How to lead a system to a final ideal and absolutely stable state". But it was still far from the 2nd. Order cybernetics, which tries to understand adaptive autonomy and, further, shifting adaptability.

W. Ross ASHBY and H.von FOERSTER started this 2nd. order cybernetics on its way during the fifties

As to the runaway and deviation amplifying processes resulting from non-compensated positive feedbacks, their study was seriously started in the sixties, especially by Magoroh MARUYAMA (1963, p.164-79), who called this, the 2nd. cybernetics (not to be confused with 2nd. order cybernetics).

As in the 1st. Cybernetics it is basically concerned with "the system to which is attributed qualities of objective reality, and to which the act of observation makes no difference (Of course scientists know that this is an over-simplification, but it is conveniently easy to handle)" (R. GLANVILLE, 1979, p.35).

As a result "… its shortcomings have been traditionally obscured"(Ibid).

"Reality" (Riddle of)


  • 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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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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