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 progressive buildup of the structural organization of a system and of the interrelations among its parts.

Already in 1952, A. TURING demonstrated, at least theoretically that some chemicals homogeneously distributed at the start, may, by reaction and diffusion, lead to different concentrations, which can then form spatial structures. Allegedly, and against what CASTI states, these "TURING structures" have been obtained in France in 1990. (S. DOUADY and Y. COUDER, 1993, p.32).

Morphogenesis, once started, is unavoidedly a systemic process. It is also a social one because it organizes the differentiation of parts, elements, individuals or subsystems that will have to interact during the whole existence of the system.

Morphogenesis thus defined takes place in a system already endowed with organizational closure. It consists in the progressive development of a set of catalytic hypercycles – i.e. periodic phenomena – which expresses its potential to reach a final level of dynamic stability.

During morphogenesis, any growth process remains closely channeled within maxima and minima limits (WADDINGTON's chreods). Structural organization may be modified, even deeply, through geometrical and topological transformations, but never in such a way as to alter the initial and basic identity of the system.

According to H.T. ODUM, morphogenesis is a result of progressive selection of successive loops which become stabilized if and when some outputs are repeatedly fed back into those functional circuits that are able to produce them anew. (see "reward loop"). As the initial cause of such circuits he sees "the initial proliferation of many possible connections more or less at random (which) constitues the choice generation" (1977, p.154).

The most significant part of this statement may well be "more or less": Absolute randomness is obviously impossible, as any system has some specific antecedents. (See the critique of von FOERSTER's "order from noise" experiment).

However ODUM's view introduces us into the social aspects of self-organizing systems.

For A. WILDEN, morphogenesis is the characteristic of a complex and evolving system which adapt itself by transforming its structures.

According to WILDEN the term should be reserved for the behavior of "complex systems, such as societies… No individual organism is able to adapt and develop itself outside of narrow limits – in view that any growth process is a positive feedback which must be inhibited – while the morphogenetic system can adapt itself by transforming its structures" (1972, p.58).

Again here, "narrow" remains a matter of definition.

It could possibly be said that any system undergoes a period of social organization (biological, neural or groupal of some kind), corresponding with its growth, before it reaches its mature state. Some basic original template creates and transforms the structures of the system in a repetitive process of at least partial destructuration and restructuration, i.e. reorganization of interrelations among elements. It would seem that this is confirmed by the research in developmental genetics by the 1995 Nobel Physiologiy laureates: E. LEWIS, C. NÜSSLEIN-VOLHARD and E. WIESCHAUS.

As this phenomenon is energy-dependent, it would be necessary to harmonize this concept with PRIGOGINE's one of dissipative structuration in systems faraway from equilibrium. The difference seems to be between some development limitations by pre-programming (for ex. genetic, technical, economic, or socio-cultural) and a nearly wholesale new programmation, after an overwhelming shattering of previous order through giant fluctuations induced by massive energy inputs.

A similar potential contradiction is latent in MARUYAMA's concepts of morphogenesis in systems which present "deviation- amplifying" processes (which could be – or not? equated to PRIGOGINE's giant fluctuations) and morphostasis in systems with mutual negative feedbacks.

Morphogenesis is system-constructive while morphostasis is system-stabilizing. But, if morphogenesis is not somehow constrained within channels (chreods), and limited in time, it becomes system-destructive, even if it may in some cases lead to the emergence of a more complex system.

Autogenetic systems precursor; Zero system


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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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