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Website Archive

We know how important recordings of research trajectories are. Thus, we intend to keep our records as long as possible public accessible.

This section is a collection of former website entries (in their original format and content) and a testimony for the people who also helped to establish the Bertalanffy Center through their achievements.

Systems Theory today

As pre-studies have shown a lot disciplines have adopted system theory for their needs, but some of the changed theories are already far away from the original intention. On the one side the development in the different disciplines is positive, on the other side this leads to contradicting positions followed by misunderstandings and building up new boarders that are weakening the prime intention of system theory. System theory always was meant to be an integrative tool for all sciences and to have a dialog between scientific disciplines.

The focus of the research project lies on the reception of system theory after Bertalanffys dead. Based on the theory arising from biology the developments in different disciplines will be investigated.

The key question is, if Bertalanffys and Weiss’ system theory still plays a role in science today and especially if there are contributions that broaden or reduce the concept.

As system theory generally influences the development of various disciplines and the concepts of how we deal with society and environment, the knowledge of how system theory is understood today is of paramount importance.

System theory today is a research project supported by the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF) Grant P18149-G04 to Rupert Riedl (1925–2005), who unfortunately passed away shortly after the research project was initiated. Riedl was one of Bertalanffy’s students in 1940s post-war Vienna and later on actively emphasized the importance of “Systemtheorie” (system theory) and “Längsschnitttheorien” (longitudinal-section theories)―not only in biology, but also in other sciences and in humanities as well. His emphasis on the importance of establishing a theoretical biology was also influenced by Bertalanffy. Later on, Weiss also exerted an influence on Riedl.

The project ended in July 2007.

Vienna 2011 | Ludwig von Bertalanffy 110 Aniversary

In 2011 there was the 110th anniversary of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s birthday. Thanks to sufficient funding, the BCSSS could organise two LvB 110 Events on 9 and 10 November 2011 and invite renown systems theorists from abroad.

On the eve of a one-day symposium David Pouvreau held a public lecture on General systemology as founded and developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy – An hermeneutical system. David Pouvreau who just finished his dissertation work on Ludwig von Bertalanffy at the EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales) in Paris presented the core message of his findings: the General System Theory of Ludwig von Bertalanffy is neither a philosophical doctrine nor a scientific theory but , as a system that interpretes “reality” in order to guide action according to specific values, is grounded in philosophy and, with regard to science, seminal.

David Pouvreau during after-lecture discussion and Wolfgang Hofkirchner (photo: Alexander Laszlo)

David Pouvreau is the first author of the BCSSS Book Series “Exploring Unity Through Diversity”. His “ultimate biography” of Ludwig von Bertalanffy is also due to his doctoral research.

For this event a lecture hall was found that belonged to the then Zoological Institute of the University of Vienna and was used by Ludwig von Bertalanffy himself: Lecture Hall Number 42. The event was held in cooperation with the Department for Theoretical Biology of the University of Vienna, a follow-up institution of the Zoological Institute that Bertalanffy was affiliated to and helped to restore after World War II.

Entrance of Lecture Hall 42 (photo: Alexander Laszlo)

The second event to which the public lecture formed the prelude was the first experts meeting the Bertalanffy Center organised. The symposium was titled “Systems thinking: what’s it for?” and was devoted to the discussion of the past and future of the systems movement. For the programme and list of participants click here.

The morning session was reserved for individual presentations.

Rainer E. Zimmermann, recent member of the BCSSS Scientific Council, making his presentation (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Participants (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Plenum (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Plenum, Joseph Brenner (second from the right) speaking (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Elohim Jiménez-López, Vice-President of the BCSSS, giving his address (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

While listening to the presenters Stefan Blachfellner began to draw a picture of the development of systems theory approaches. Participants were later on invited to make additions.

Stefan Blachfellner drawing the time-line (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Add-ons made by participants (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Stefan Blachfellner acted as facilitator of the afternoon group work. In four parallel groups three topics were dealt with consecutively: where are we now? Where do we want to go? Which steps are the most promising ones to take?

Introduction in group working (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Presentation of a working group (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Another working group’s presentation (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Part of a group result (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Individual presentations as well as working group discussions showed the significance of General System Theory sensu Bertalanffy as well as others to date: the commitment of system thinkers to transdisciplinary research for the sake of a humane world society.

Vienna 2001 | Bertalanffy’s 100 Anniversary Conference (BAC 2001)

Bertalanffy Anniversary Conference 2001

The very first call to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Bertalanffy’s Birthday were essentially concerned with the conceptual of General Systems Weltanschauung as an indispensable framework needed for helping the humans to search how to make sustainable the dynamics of their civilization. The first announcement was diffused in the following terms:

The prevailing civilization is proclaimed nowadays as if it were a conclusive proof of wonderful achievements attained by humans learning successfully to industrialize everything through superb advances of scientific knowledge and magnificent technological innovations carried out by means of their intelligent performances.

Besides, it is announced as the definitive evidence of the human supremacy, which in practice, encourages many decision makers to organize their affairs according to utilitarian aims, taking advantage of all kinds of things and phenomena (located or happening on the planet), as if everything (billions of humans comprised) were no more than resources available.

This kind of performance has created a new, but a rather paradoxical perspective for the future development of humankind. The intelligence that has been making possible every day more scientific and technological advances, until now, seems to be unable to deal with the many and very complex problems that are arising as side effects of the same civilizing process:

pollution by means of pesticides, chemicals, sewage and garbage that causes damages to vital properties of natural elements: water, air, soils; which together with massive deforestation and destruction of animals habitats are causing the extinction of many species, holes in the ozone layer, and climate’s changes due to green house effects. Waste of valuable resources, which is the cause of depletion of non-renewable mineral reserves & energy reserves. Export of capitals from less developed nations to highly industrialized ones, export of inflation & recession and unfair trade that increase wastage & underemployment of human potentiality, unemployment,… that generate not only poverty, but also social situations ‘infected’ with xenophobia, racism, non declared apartheid de facto, religious & ethnical intolerance…; weakening of human motivation, lack of ethics, poor social solidarity; increasing drug-addiction & neurosis; which altogether increase the misery of billions of people affected by new diseases and the aggravation of ancient ones. This dramatic panorama being tragically worsened by arms’ traffic employed for destroying cultural accomplishments, social ambiances and natural environments in order to make monetary profits.

These are old problems that cannot longer be ignored. In fact many scientists and professionals are already convinced that collective endeavours organized through co-operation are strictly necessary for comprehending the terrestrial circumstances and tackling them knowing in advance the human possibilities. Such kind of efforts would create the necessary circumstances for finding out a way forward that should aim at making sustainable the development of a new kind of civilization, which must be supported by humanitarian commitments in order to maintain the terrestrial circumstances that are making possible the presence of life, to support the harmonious evolvement of biodiversity everywhere and to allow every human to develop his/her humane potentiality.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy as a biologist was the first to undertake a mathematical rigorous approach to the understanding of biochemical synergies, which led him to develop the concept of SYSTEM. The idea of system, though it seems to be intrinsic to human thinking, started to be employed explicity and effectively after Bertalanffy, Boulding, Gerard and Rapoport constituted the Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory in 1954. Since then, the concept of system has been spread quickly among people engaged in actions related to various scientific domains & technological fields, dealing with diverse human concerns.

At present thousands of professionals are using the systems approach, presumably for improving functionally factories, enterprises, public and private organizations and all kinds of entities that have been created in order to deal more efficiently with all kinds of human concerns. At the same time the number of increasingly difficult global problems continuously grows. Such a contradictory situation has arisen and won’t disappear while the decision making continue being organized for maintaining the civilization trends though they have become frankly unsustainable

Bertalanffy around the 1960s claimed that this civilization was on the verge of collapse, as it had been already commented by Herbert G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Lewis Mumford, Arnold Toynbee,… Until today, in the year 2002, the new set of values, based on a General Systems WELTANSCHAUUNG as it was suggested by Bertalanffy, has not been rejected by the scientific community, but neither has been adopted for being implemented.

How much risky has become the perspective for 6 billion of human beings at the turn of the 3rd millennium? Nobody knows how much time is left for avoiding the collapse of the prevailing civilization and even less is known when and how the human species might disappear after the happening of such a disruption.

Anyhow every systems practitioner might start immediately to examine how every human could contribute to find out what are the planetary commitments of the human species.

The very first proposal for this celebration was presented (*) as a “Transdisciplinary Workshop about the need of learning to cope with the global crisis that faces humankind at present”. It was derived from thoughts expressed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy:
“…the overall fate of the world depends on the adoption by humanity of a new sort of values based on a general systems Weltanschauung.  “We are seeking another basic outlook: the world as organization. This (outlook) would profoundly change the categories of our thinking and influence our practical attitudes. We must envision the biosphere as a whole…with mutually reinforcing or mutually destructive interdependancies. We need a global system of mutually simbiotic societies, mapping new conditions into a flexible institutional structure and dealing with change through constructive reorganization.”

This proposal assumed that the celebration would be essentially concerned in searching how to answer:

Why, how and what for should we create a WELTANSCHUUNG (worldview)?

as criteria generated by Bertalanffy’s Systems Thinking in order to determine what system science should be for.

Then, it was suggested that the whole event might become explicitly a renewed endeavor of the Systems Community toward the development of a General Systems WELTANSCHAUUNG (worldview), needed as an indispensable framework for continuously searching how to make sustainable the presence of humanity in time and in space. Such a suggestion arose necessarily after being recognized that during millennia humans have been involved in an unconscious adventure without realizing that their world have been always growing disorderly.

A second proposal considered that this celebration would comprise:
Bertalanffy – personality and research;
Methodology – the General Systems Approach;
The Tools (Dynamic Systems, Beyond Dynamic Systems, Cybernetics, Second Order Cybernetics),
Ideas from Application Fields (Physical Systems, Biological Systems, Social Systems) and
Future Perspectives (A Unified View? and Lessons from Specialists?)
BAC 2001 took place despite there was not time enough to evaluate properly these two appraisals. Neither have the organizers the resources needed for organizing them consistently and harmoniously.

Besides other difficulties emerged from time to time during some necessary inquiries and exchange of views causing some uncertainty about the whole celebration, which looked as if it were a risky meeting.

After all it can be argued that altogether this celebration was again another confrontation between the two main contradictory interpretations that have been determining the features of the Systems Movement:

* The BOTTOM ==> UP approach which evolved from the “systems analysis”, engendered by the relatively ancient analytical way of thinking conceived by Galileo Galilei through his “Metodo Resolutivo”. This stream has in fact determined the trajectory of the Western civilization along the last four centuries while being diversely developed, though it has been inconsistently implemented. This approach has been recently reinforced by the whole set of technical methods known as “operational research” whose pragmatic features have been causing numerous incoherent conditions.

* The TOP ==> DOWN approach derived from the organismic or gestalt assumption, which led Bertalanffy to confirm first of all the validity of a reconceived holistic way of thinking needed unavoidably for comprehending how living beings perform as open systems. An approach that in addition has become indispensable for conceiving properly and making functional any social system that were considered necessary for cooperatively organizing diverse human performances. It is an approach that aims at clearly seeing the forest for the trees, in order to identify first the whole before trying to recognize its parts and the way these parts are dynamically interrelated.

BAC 2001 never intended to recognize every aspect of the whole Bertalanffian thinking, mainly because it would be impossible to examine in four days what he thought from the 1920s until 1972. However, most participants started to recognize “though not necessarily to agree“ what might be the impact of Bertalanffian Systems Thinking in the seriously troubled situation of the human society, which Bertalanffy forecasted more than 30 years ago.

Anyhow, BAC 2001 was an ideological confrontation supported by the following claim:
“The trend we have spoken of appears to be toward science, that is, appropriate conceptual models of reality, without neglecting or denying human concerns. If this is so, science is more than the accumulation of facts and technological exploitation of knowledge in the service of the Establishment: it may still be able to present a grand view and to become deeply humanistic in its endeavour. If we achieve as much as contributing a bit toward humanization of science, we have done our share in the service of society and civilization”. [Bertalanffy, L. von: “Robots, Men and Minds. Part One: Toward a New Image of Man ” (page 114) 1967]”


Ludwig von Bertalanffy 110 Events

Here you find D. Pouvreau’s public lecture:

General systemology as founded and developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy – An hermeneutical system (pptx)

And here is the pool of presentations at the symposium:

E. Jiménez-López: Renewed Bertalanffian systems may overcome the perversity of the civilized (?) homosphere generated by the crisis of human values (docx file); and the  introduction of Stafford Beer’s Presidential Address to WOSC 1993 (doc)

A. László: The Humanistic Bases of Systems Thinking (pdf); for Apple users only the Keynote file zipped

M. Ramage: Bertalanffy amid the seven schools: multiple traditions within systems thinking (pptx)

H. Knyazeva: The Contribution of the Russian Scientific Schools to the Development of Systems Thinking (pptx)

R. E. Zimmermann: Ground & Existence Revisited: On Morin’s Approach to Systems (ppt)

J. Brenner: Of Logic and Systems: Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Stéphane Lupasco (ppt) and the draft text version as doc file

B. Zehetmayer: Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Talcott Parsons: The emergence of (social) systems theory

M. Mulej: Promotion of systemic/cybernetic behavior by ISO 26000 on social responsibility (ppt) and the text version as docx file

And here are related documents by the participants:

G. Chroust says this document is in line with Mulej’s presentation: First responders in regional disasters – A social responsibility (pdf)

And here you find photos of the working groups’s results (all shot by Stefan Blachfellner):

Encyclopedia of Systems Science and Cybernetics Online (ESSCO)


The cover of the 2nd print edition of BCSSS Honorary Member Charles François’ Encyclopedia

Charles François, author of the two volumes edition of the International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics – the second edition of which was published by K. G. Saur in Munich in 2004 – handed over the continuation of the encyclopedia to the next generation. The BCSSS took that task over in close collaboration with the International Federation for Systems Research (IFSR).

View the concept written in 2008 by Stefan Blachfellner (co-authored by Wolfgang Hofkirchner).

A master thesis at the Faculty of Informatics of the Vienna University of Technology in 2013 explored current open-source research platforms allowing collaboration for tasks relating to the build-up of an encyclopedia. The thesis is written in German. The abstract is in English. Load the full thesis down here.

vorpfade Kopie

Poster of the Master Thesis. Click on the picture to download pdf.

The International Academy for Systems and Cybernetic Sciences (IASCYS) commissioned BCSSS Scientific Council member Rainer Zimmermann, member of IASCYS, to establish an editorial committee on behalf of the Academy.

Negotiations with De Gruyter (the follow-up publisher of K. G. Saur) had been started long ago by BCSSS Board member Gerhard Chroust, Secretary General of the IFSR. An agreement is near. The Bertalanffy Center is ready to sign, as soon as the support of the online edition has been clarified.

Vienna 2012 | European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research 2012 (EMCSR 2012)

From 10 to 13 April 2012 the Campus of the University of Vienna was the venue of the EMCSR 2012. 168 academics and practitioners attended the conference as well as 17 journalists (13 of whom were in training at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, Hagenberg) (click here  and here for videos about the conference!).

The set-up

In plena and in 19 symposia and a PhD colloquium in five parallel tracks the discussion focussed on the self-understanding of a diverse field of systems thinking, cybernetic thinking, complexity thinking, network thinking and else and the reflection of aims, scope and tools of this multitude of approaches. This was attempted  by reflecting similarities as well as differences in the underlying, basic assumptions, on the one hand, and by assessing the impact of research based on these assumptions on society, on the other. The chair, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, laid out a framework for such a discourse (click here or on the picture below).

Logo of the EMCSR 2012 (Prof. Michael Keller, Gestaltung, München)

The contributions were asked to be accordingly written and/or presented in a way that makes understanding across disciplinary boundaries easy. Sessions were opened to different formats than conventional paper presentations only. Reports fed back to the starting point by trying to find answers to questions such as: have we actually made a step forward to the understanding of different fields and common features characteristic of our transdisciplinary way of thinking? Have we actually made a step forward to the understanding of the relation between underlying assumptions and how they enable us to practically affect the problem solving capability with regard to challenges of our time?

Wrap-up plenum (photo: emcsr)

The conference manager, Stefan Blachfellner, facilitated the overall process.

Stefan Blachfellner, conference management, managing editor of the proceedings (photo: emcsr)

Keynote speaker Edgar Morin on complex thinking for a complex world 

Edgar Morin, former Director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), going to celebrate his 92nd birthday this year, gave a talk with the Counsellor of the French Embassy in Vienna listening. He talked about reductionism and a way of thinking that disjoins. They are obstacles for changing the world in the right direction. Though it is rather uncertain that current societal trends will change, he said, there is still hope for humanity to master the global challenges. He referred to experiences made in history when fighting Nazism (click here for the full video of his keynote).

Edgar Morin (photo: emcsr)

The BCSSS awarded Morin with the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Award in Complexity Thinking. Prof. Rainer E. Zimmermann held the laudatio (click here for the text and click here for the video of the ceremony).

This document was signed and handed over to Edgar Morin together with a glass object

The keynote was sponsored by the BCSSS and Univ. Prof. Dr. Hubert Christian Ehalt, Wien Kultur.

Keynote speaker Ervin László on information and coherence in nature and the cancer of human-world incoherence

Ervin László, founder of the Club of Budapest, founder of the Giordano Bruno Globalshift University, warned that the window of opportunity for change is shrinking day by day. Current societal developments distort the planetary system. Information can help establish a coherent overall system (click here for an interview).

Ervin László in interview with Szabados Gabor (photo: emcsr)

PowerPoint slides of Ervin László’s keynote. Click on each image to enlarge

This keynote was sponsored by the Bertalanffy Center, too.

Keynote speaker Péter Csermely on crisis responses and crisis management

Péter Csermely, specialist in network theory, author of the book “Weak Links”, demonstrated that we can learn from biology. His working group at Semmelweis University in Budapest identified creative nodes in cellular networks. The adaptation potential of networks is optimal when the tradeoff between the effect of adaptation and the possibility of adaptation is well balanced (click here for the full video of his keynote).

Péter Csermely with interviewer Sandra Woehs (photo: emcsr)

The book “Weak Links”

The PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded here.

A short interview with OE1 from ORF in German can be found at this link.

Keynote speaker Péter Érdi on forty years in biocybernetics

Péter Érdi from Kalamazoo College in Michigan and the Wigner Research Centre for Physics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences gave a memorial lecture on Luigi Ricciardi, a long-standing participant in the EMCSR, who passed away last year, against the background of the development of systems thinking in biology.

Péter Érdi (photo: emcsr)

Keynote speaker Merrelyn Emery on open or closed systems? – bridging the gap

Merrelyn Emery held the traditional W. Ross Ashby Memorial Lecture sponsored by the International Federation for Systems Research (IFSR). She outlined the major developments of open systems theory and confronted closed system conceptions from an engineering perspective.

Merrelyn Emery explaining the theories during her talk (photo: emcsr)

The basic text can be found here.

Round table on the past, present and future of cybernetics and systems research

A round table about the history and the future of different approaches to systems was hosted by Carlos Gershenson from the Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas y en Sistemas at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.

Carlos Gershenson (photo: emcsr)

Keynote speaker Péter Érdi stressed the importance of the ideas of the founders of systems theory and cybernetics. Others brought modern developments to the fore. Helena Knyazeva stressed complexity, Stefan Thurner underlined complex adaptive systems, and keynote speaker Péter Csermely accentuated networks. Csermely placed emphasis on scientists being humble and open to the discussion of approaches that compete with their own ones. One point of such a discussion was touched by Alexander Laszlo – the relationship between predictability and emergence (click here for the full video of the round table).

Round table. From the left Helena Knyazeva, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Péter Érdi, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Stefan Thurner, Medical University of Vienna, Péter Csermelyi, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Alexander Laszlo, Giordano Bruno GlobalShift University, Washington (photo: emcsr)

See Gershenson’s summary here.

The Ludwig von Bertalanffy Young Scientist Award

The Bertalanffy Center donated a prize of € 1.000,00 for the PhD day. Four applicants out from six made it, eventually, to the conference. The PhD Colloquium and Award Committee included representatives of the International Academy of Systems and Cybernetic Sciences (IASCYS), the Giordano Bruno Globalshift University (GBGU) and the BCSSS. A decision was taken based upon the reviews and based upon an evaluation of the performance of the competitors. The Ludwig von Bertalanffy Award for Young Scientists went to Jessica Dylan Foley from Ireland “in recognition of the most promising transdisciplinary research demonstrating the principle of Unity through Diversity”.

Members of the PhD Colloquium and Award Committee: Pierre Bricage, IASCYS, Alexander Laszlo, GBGU, Peter Fleissner, BCSSS (photo: emcsr)

The winner of the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Young Scientist Award, Jessica Dylan Foley from Trinity College, Dublin (photo: emcsr)


Every participant is encouraged to submit a full paper. Extended abstracts that were accepted for presentation shall be elaborated and reworked in the light of the discussion at the meeting. For the publication the Bertalanffy Center founds a new open access online journal for transdisciplinarity called “Systems. Connecting Matter, Life, Culture and Technology”. The editor-in-chief is Univ.Prof. Dr. Manfred Füllsack, professor for systems sciences at the University of Graz. Managing editors are Stefan Blachfellner and Robert Bichler.

Manfred Füllsack, Editor-in-Chief (photo: emcsr)

Robert Bichler, Senior Lecturer, Department of Communication, University of Salzburg (photo: emcsr)

The future of the EMCSR

It is the vision of the BCSSS that the next European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research will have an even stronger focus on the foundations of the different approaches to sort out which fundamental assumptions are helpful or needful to actually affect the course of civilisational development.

For the first time the European Union for Systemics (EUS/UES) and the World Organisation for Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC) have become partner of the event. The International Academy for Systems and Cybernetic Sciences (IASCYS) did not only play an essential part in the PhD day but welcomed five new academicians. Robert Trappl, became the new President of IASCYS.

40 years for EMCSR – Robert Trappl, new President of the IASCYS (photo: emcsr)

The IFSR hosted afterwards a reflecting session with the aim to strengthen cooperation among different scientific societies and invited all partner organisations of the EMCSR 2012. Partner organisations were five national societies of four European countries (Austria, Greece, Spain, Ukraine), one European society and, in total, six international societies (like the ISSS, the International Society for the Systems Sciences, whose predecessor was founded with Ludwig von Bertalanffy participating).

In the forthcoming EMCSR even more organisations of the systems movement shall be involved.

The Rector’s first deputy, Univ.Prof. Mag. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, University of Vienna, assured the continuing commitment of their university – which has been hosting the conference series since its beginning – to support EMCSR and serve as hub for other institutions to join in.

Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, representative of the patron of EMCSR, the Rectorate of the University of Vienna (photo: emcsr)

Also the City of Vienna declared its support.

Welcome address of DI Omar Al-Rawi, Vienna University of Technology alumnus, on behalf of the Mayor of Vienna at the social dinner (photo: emcsr)


Thanks goes to Robert Bichler, Manfred Drack, David Horvath, Jürgen Lenk, Esther Nowy and Lena Putz who assisted on site. The registration was organised by the Austrian Computer Society.

Manfred Drack (photo: emcsr)

On the right David Horvath, next to him Lena Putz, partly hidden by Jürgen Lenk in the foreground (photo: emcsr)

Esther Nowy (photo: emcsr)

Reconstruction of and addenda to Bertalanffy’s General System Theory as a headstone of a new philosophical anthropology

Bertalanffy’s scepticism towards the reductionist, mechanistic approach of modern life sciences, soon lead him to a highly censorious position regarding its impacts on the social sciences and humanities, given that both seemed to assume those approaches rather unconsidered. The multidisciplinary approach in his General System Theory (GST) from its earliest stages of development related life sciences with philosophy, anthropology, psychology, psychiatry and sociology and  designed a fertile and integrative scientific tool that is applicable to all disciplines.

The present project intends to follow Bertalanffy’s transdisciplinary paradigm in tackling the reconstruction of its philosophical-humanistic approaches and – where necessary – to supplement it on the basis of “new” – in the sense of rather unknown – documents in relating it to current developments. In this context Bertalanffy’s estate constitutes an inestimable scientific value. Special emphasis will be given

  • to Bertalanffy’s ideas on the overcoming of the “Cartesian dualism” of body and mind,
  • to a critical stocktaking of those social sciences and humanities having adopted GST with an analysis of the respective explanatory power, and finally
  • to an elaboration of the fundamental deviations between the ontology of nature and the ontology of society following Bertalanffy’s ideas.


Birgit Zehetmayer discovering an as-yet unknown transcript of relevance to the project while working in the archive (photo: Gerd Müller)


The cover of that transcript

The study is performed by Mag. Birgit Zehetmayer (Sociologist) under supervision of Univ. Prof. Dr. Reinhold Knoll (Institute of Sociology, University of Vienna) and ao. Univ. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hofkirchner (Institute of Design and Technology Assessment, Vienna University of Technology) and is partly funded by the City of Vienna, Municipial Department 7 (Culture and Research), including the Hochschuljubiläumsfonds.

Birgit Zehetmayer (left) presenting some findings during the LvB 110 Symposium (photo: Günther Ossimitz)

Vienna 2013 | Ludwig von Bertalanffy Symposium

“Emergence: System – Evolution – Information”

was the title of the second LvB Symposium held by our Center. It was organised in co-operation with the Austrian Computer Society Working Group Information Studies. About 25 guests attended the symposium which took place from 5 to 6 December.

This time five experts from different fields were invited to testify to uncommon sense as to foundations of systems thinking. Particular assumptions were presented – to start from the most general and end up with the most specific – as to how the Big Bang needs to be reconsidered; how systems at all come into being and expire; how nature developed into human history; how economic systems unfold; and how the social, biological and psychological work together in human systems:

  • German physicist and philosopher, Rainer E. Zimmermann made the distinction between initial emergence and emergence, thereby harnessing the difference between nothing and non-being;
  • expert in transdisciplinary studies, Joseph Brenner from Switzerland and the United States, introduced a new meaning of the term “distems” when describing the mechanisms by which systems arise and fall apart according to the prevalence of one or the other side of real contradictions;
  • sociologist Heinz-Jürgen Niedenzu from the University Innsbruck meticulously demonstrated the failures of both biologistic and culturalistic approaches to the emergence of norms in human society from pre-human precursors;
  • Swiss Emeritus Kurt Dopfer proved that mainstream economics is based on unquestioned, false, assumptions such that they cannot account for the evolution of economic systems;
  • and Walter Kofler, sociomedical expert and now professor at the First Moscow State Medical University, tried to overcome difficulties Ludwig von Bertalanffy was confronting when developing his hierarchical systems theory with the aim to contribute to a solution of the body-mind problem that yet is regarded as unsolved.

Here you find useful links:

Zimmermann: Metaphysics of Emergence Continued: Collecting Critical Points (link to a paper comprising an outline of the project on Metaphysics of Emergence)

Brenner: “Distems”. Between Systems and Non-Systems (link to sections of his book “Logic in Reality” on emergence)

Niedenzu: Soziogenese der Normativität. Zur Emergenz eines neuen Modus der Sozialorganisation (link to a leaflet of his book with the same title)

Dopfer: Wirtschaft als komplexes evolvierendes System (link to a contribution to the Elgar Companion to Recent Economic Methodology: Economics in a cultural key)

Kofler: Lassen sich systemtheoriebedingte Begrenzungen eines bio-psycho-sozialen Medizinansatzes ohne Vitalismus umgehen? (link to the journal article: “Information” – from an evolutionary point of view)

Ludwigshafen 2013 | Metaphysik der Emergenz

The BCSSS was co-organiser of a conference on the philosophical foundation of emergence between the fields of science and arts. The Ernst-Bloch-Zentrum in Ludwigshafen, Germany, was the host, and the meeting lasted from 6 to 8 June 2013.

The event was arranged in memory of Jan Robert Bloch (the son of philosopher Ernst Bloch) who 25 years ago founded the Klymene working group in Germany. This group was devoted to the philosophical reflection of theories of self-organisation after Ilya Prigogine and René Thom.

Several members of the Bertalanffy Center contributed to the success of the meeting.

The opening lecture was held by BCSSS Scientific Council Member Rainer E. Zimmermann who introduced the outline of a new project on emergence.

Manfred Füllsack, the editor-in-chief of the BCSSS’s new journal “systems. connecting matter, life, culture and technology”, reasoned emergence inthe view of the observer.

Robert Jahn, BCSSS member, raised questions about different conceptions of the emergence of moral consciousness and showed the implications for information ethics.

BCSSS Fellow Manfred Drack, who worked together with the Austrian biologist Rupert Riedl, talked about Riedl’s conception of levels and the role of emergence in this approach.

José María Díaz Nafría, researcher at the University of León and visiting professor at the Munich University of Applied Sciences, another Fellow of the BCSSS, analysed how different models of explanation in physics, biology and social sciences deal with the problem of emergence.

The talks were given in German.

Here the programme of the whole conference.

León 2013 | Workshop | Open Systems Thinking

The University of León (ULE), Spain, offered a 20 hours extension course for its students on Open Systems Thinking. The programme was scheduled from 15 to 17 May 2013. Institutions involved included the National University of Distance Education (UNED) with its headquarter in Madrid. Accordingly, lectures were not only given face-to-face but also via online video conferences. Around 60 students enrolled and took an examination.

The Bertalanffy Center helped organise the workshop and its experts were invited to teach. Wolfgang Hofkirchner held the opening lecture with reference to Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

Click on the picture to link to the video of the lecture.


On the same site you will also find the presentation.

León 2013 | Advanced Training Course | University in the face of a complex world

On 15 May 2013, the School of Education of the University of León, Spain, held a training course for faculty members interested in transgressing their disciplines. Research and teaching strategies for confronting complexity were discussed, in particular, the role of systems theory as transdisciplinary methodology for the integration of sciences. From the BCSSS José María Díaz Nafría and Wolfgang Hofkirchner participated in the round table.


The Round Table from the right: Francisco Salto Alemany (ULE), Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic (Mälardalen University, Sweden), José María Díaz Nafría (Munich University of Applied Sciences), Enrique Díez Gutiérrez (ULE), and Wolfgang Hofkirchner (BCSSS)


Link to the video and the presentation of Wolfgang Hofkirchner: “Transdisciplinarity by complexity thinking”

On Emergence

Rainer E. Zimmermann presented in 2013 a research idea on emergence. It comprises three parts. The BCSSS will participate in the first part. Wolfgang Hofkirchner is the contact person on behalf of the BCSSS.

Vienna 2014 | Workshop | The Dynamical Basis of Social Emergence

In November 2014, the Bertalanffy Center hosted as Visiting Scholar John Collier from South Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. On 25 November 2014 he held a 3 hours workshop giving an overview of the concept of emergence (scientific and philosophical), a criticism of important approaches, a list of essential properties of emergence from a dynamical point of view and an outlook to the application of those ingredients to the problem of emergence of and in social systems. One important unanswered question was whether in social systems the term “dissipation” might be used to signify a dynamics different from the dissipation of energy in the thermodynamical sense.

John Collier on the right (photo: Stefan Blachfellner)

Please find the power-point presentation here.

Vienna 2014 | Workshop | Current Problems of Systems Theory

The BCSSS organised a small workshop for invited guests with Rainer E. Zimmermann on May 30, 2014.


Start of the workshop (photo: Wolfgang Hofkirchner)

Zimmermann stayed during spring term as Researcher in Residence with the Bertalanffy Center. In the workshop he provided an overview of the studies he carried out when being on site. In that context, he referred to the panel he organised at the conference on “Understanding Matter” in Palermo in April, to several discussions at the Vienna EMCSR in April, and to the IFSR Conversation he was invited to and which took place in Linz following the EMCSR.

The topics discussed included philosophical foundations of systems, e.g. the application of the terms “being”, “non-being” and “nothingness”, which necessitates a logic like the Heyting algebra – rather than a Boolean algebra – according to which the negation of the negation does not yield the original proposition; a new systems definition comprising the triple-c Model (cognition – communication – co-operation) as well as the dimensions of space and network, using the philosophical term “ground” for depicting the potential from which the actual emerges; the importance of Prigogine’s generalised 2nd law of thermodynamics and of Kauffman’s 4th law of thermodynamics.

Another topic focused on Zimmermann’s attempt to metaphorise the ideas of entanglement and decoherence and to make use of formalisms of quantum physics such that a heuristics for social systems could be concluded.

In the end, concrete examples of social space analysis were discussed regarding the micro-regional design of the Schöneberger Insel in Berlin and the macro-regional design of the Mediterranean.

Download the materials of the workshop:
the power-point presentation | systems chapter | ad quantum mechanics | ad schöneberger insel | ad culture of the mediterranean

Systems in Biology

The subtitle of the project is: How can early theoretical approaches contribute to current versions of Systems Biology?

In this project we aim to integrate the early system approaches of Paul A. Weiss and Ludwig von Bertalanffy with recent systems biology.


Paul Weiss worked at the Vivarium in the Vienna Prater, later called “Biologische Versuchsanstalt” (Vienna Institution for Experimental Biology). In 1945 it was destroyed. 

This research project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): P 22955-G17. Project leader is Manfred Drack.

The kick-off meeting of the project. Manfred Drack on the left.

The project ended in February 2015.

Further information can be found here.

Studies in Social Morphogenesis

The Centre for Social Ontology (CSO) carried out five workshops of experts from different fields in a yearly interval, starting in January 2012 and ending in January 2016. The goal was to advance the Social Morphogenesis approach Margaret Archer had come up with. Each workshop lead to the publication of one volume of contributions of the researchers. The series was contracted with Springer. It is titled “Social Morphogenesis”. Five books have been published.

Wolfgang Hofkirchner participated as collaborator.


The first volume is available. Archer, Margaret S., ed. (2013): Social Morphogenesis. Springer, Dordrecht. Click here to get to the publisher’s site and look inside the book.

Here is the abstract of Wolfgang Hofkirchner’s chapter in the first volume. It explores the relationship of “social morphogenesis” and Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s theory of morphogenesis:

“The chapter explores how close the concepts of morphogenesis and self-organisation are. Both can be seen to have natural science origins though applicable to the long-term history of societies, to events within societies and to contemporary society modernity seems to transform into. Both can be labeled descriptive, explanatory and normative at the same time. That view can be accomplished when resorting to dialectical philosophy, evolutionary systems theory and critical social systems theory, each based upon the former. The argument starts with a discussion of revolution, proceeds to reflexivity and ends up with the needs to grasp unity-through-diversity to respond to the complexity of the global age.”



The second volume is available. Archer, Margaret S. (ed.) (2014): Late Modernity. Trajecories of Social Change. Springer, Dordrecht. Click here to get to the publisher’s site and look inside the book.

Here is the abstract of Wolfgang Hofkirchner’s chapter in the second volume:

“Chapter 6 contends that the fact we find ‘morphogenesis unbound’ being a tendency of current societal development does not justify to call the latest social formation ‘morphogenic society’. What is indicated by ‘morphogenesis unbound’ is rather a crisis threatening the continuation of civilised life on Earth. This crisis can be overcome if and when reflexivity includes systems reflexivity, that is, the decentering of individual actors from themselves and the extension of their concerns to a supra-individual meta-level that serves as point of orientation of their common actions. Such a state of development would deserve the name ‘morphogenic society’ in contradistinction to the current state which tends to restrict self-reflection.”


The third volume is available. Archer, Margaret S. (ed.) (2015): Generative Mechanisms Transforming the Social Order. Springer, Dordrecht. Click here to get to the publisher’s site and look inside the book.

A review of volume 3 is here.

Here is the abstract of Wolfgang Hofkirchner’s chapter in the third volume:

“This chapter deals with ‘mechanisms’ from the perspective of critical systems thinking. ‘Mechanisms’ are rooted in self-organisation. Far from being mechanical, they are contingent dynamisms. They are the cause of the advent of Information Society; they are the cause for the reproduction of Information Society; and they are the cause for a transformation of Information Society.

After explicating critical systems thinking by referring to aims, scope and tools of social science, a critical review of positivist, interpretivist, postmodern and critical theories of the build-up of information society is given. All of them but the last ones focus on one side of a purported dynamism only instead of attempting to integrate several sides for which there is empirical evidence. An example of a dynamism is presented that is crucial for the advent of a Global Sustainable Information Society that would deserve the label ‘Morphogenic Society’. The description of this dynamism makes creative use of the terms ‘antagonism’, ‘agonism’ and ‘synergism’ and explains what the author calls the Logic of the Third.”


The fourth volume is available. Archer, Margaret. S. (ed.), (2016): Morphogenesis and the Crisis of Normativity. Springer, Dordrecht. Click here to get to the publisher’s site and look inside the book.

Here is the abstract of Wolfgang Hofkirchner’s chapter in the fourth volume:

“Chapter 12 has three sections. The first section puts ethics in a system-theoretical perspective. It deals with the basic question ethics seeks to answer: how are Is and Ought related to each other? Answers matter insofar as they provide different frames for analysing what goes wrong with morals in unbound morphogenesis.

The second section gives an evolutionary account of how moral values came (and still come) into existence. It presents anthropological considerations on the origin of morals. Animals seem to have no morals, at least in the human sense. How then could human morality emerge? An unsolved debate gets support from empirical research: it is about the specifics of human co-operation that makes the difference.

The third section analyses the state of morals in today’s society. It comes to the conclusion that the neoliberal project resulted in a deep moral-ideological crisis.”


The fifth volume is available. Archer, Margaret. S. (ed.), (2017): Morphogenesis and Human Flourishing. Springer, Dordrecht. Click here to get to the publisher’s site and look inside the book.

Here is the abstract of Wolfgang Hofkirchner’s chapter in the last volume:

“The ‘good’, eudaimonic society is characterised here as a society that cultivates the commune bonum, the common good, the commons. The topicality of the issue of the commons does not come as a surprise, because the dangers of an anthropogenic breakdown of our societal life originate from rising dysfunctions regarding the commons. The commons are according to a social systems view defined as any emerging synergetic relations, which converges with defining it as a relational good as relational sociology does. In order to remove frictions in the functioning of the commons, a transformation is needed. Social morphogenesis can transform the current societal conditions into those of a true ‘morphogenic’ society in which a ratchet is set up: the flourishing of the actors conditions the flourishing of the society and vice versa. This transformation has to take into consideration a global, a sustainable and an informational imperative. The global sustainable information society is the concrete utopia of today.”

Xi’an 2016 | Workshop | Unified Theory of Information

During his stay at Xi’an Jiaotong University, Wolfgang Hofkirchner held on 6 April 2016 with students and faculty at the ICPI, the International Center for Philosophy of Information, a 3 hours workshop on his approach to information that is based upon systems thinking.

In the meeting room

Hofkirchner received from ICPI the title “Distinguished Researcher”.

The governance of communicative spaces in Europe in times of crisis

Asimina Koukou is writing a Phd thesis on “The governance of communicative spaces in Europe in times of crisis”. Her research concentrates on the role of social movements in the transformation of society through the use of social media. At the core of her work is the notion of public sphere – which is explored under a systems theoretical perspective – and its revitalization for the formation and design of a sustainable democracy and society. She is supervised by Professor Katharine Sarikakis (University of Vienna) and Professor Wolfgang Hofkirchner (Technical University of Vienna). Asimina Koukou is the recipient of the “Ludwig von Bertalanffy Phd Scholarship”, awarded by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (BCSSS).

By now, Asimina has actively conducted several stages of her research in the coverage of crisis in the European elite media, mostly focusing on the Greek and the British press. A paper is already under review process with the title “A ‘Banal’ European Public sphere? Framing the crisis by the European elite press” that was submitted in the International Journal of Press/Politics. In the meantime, Asimina is working on a paper that is entitled “The role of social movements in the governance of ICT Commons” and some preliminary results were presented in the ISIS Summit “The Information Society at the Crossroads: Response and Responsibility of the Sciences of Information” in Vienna, June 2015. In August 2015, Asimina was selected in an international competition and will participate in the summer school “Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research: Cybersystemic Possibilities for Governing the Anthropocene” in Germany, organised by International Society for the Systems Sciences.

Asimina assists in the publication of the online journal “Systema: connecting matter, life, culture and technology” and the book series “systems” (collegepublications). Finally she also contributes to the search of European funding for the further development of research projects at the BCSSS.

Humanism under attack

In the framework of co-operation of the Bertalanffy Center with the Centre of Social Ontology, one research project was finalised (Social Morphogenesis – the proofs of the 5th volume are currently verified) and a new one was commenced.

During the first week of January, the same group of co-workers at the CSO, International Advisory Committee members and collaborators led by Margaret Archer met in London at the ISRF (Independent Social Research Foundation). A workshop was held under the header “Humanism under attack”. Its aim was to explore and critically discuss human enhancement in the perspective of trans- and post-humanism. The publication of a first edited volume was agreed.

On 6 January 2017, Wolfgang Hofkirchner presented his contribution. The title was “Promethean Shame revisited – An ontological analysis of future imaginaries”. The term “Promethean Shame” was coined by Austrian philosopher Günther Anders to signify the “climax of dehumanisation” by the “hubristic self-humiliation” when humans construct machines that seem to outperform them and thus make them obsolete (my translations – W.H.). The first english translation of Anders’s essay on Promethean Shame is currently in print in the United States.

Emergent Systems Information and Society

The Research Group Emergent Systems, Information and Society contributed to the Foundations of Systems Science through elaborating on systems theoretical approaches towards techno-social systems, in particular, computerised systems.

It was a transdisciplinary group built upon the expertise of two scientific communities:

  • Researchers working in the field of evolutionary systems taking the General  Systems Theory as its starting point – that is, a field revolving around self-organisation and information, comprising systems philosophy, philosophy of information and philosophy of technology, theories of living systems and theories of social systems;
  • Academics and practitioners in the field of computer science in the perspective of its social context – that is, a field considering social responsibility of computer engineers, comprising social informatics (as it is called in Anglo-Saxon countries), “Informatik und Gesellschaft” (as it is called in German speaking countries), information studies, ICTs and society, and else.

The core issue of the research group was to contribute to the assessment of technologies that raise or might raise public concern. The problem analysis looked upon technological systems as part of social systems. The perspective of techno-social systems was underpinned by insights in systems evolution. Information technology was investigated with regard to its contributions for a global sustainable information society as a possible and needful step in the evolution of societies on Earth.

The research group was a joint initiative supported by the Leibniz-Sozietät der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, the International Society for Information Studies, and the BCSSS. It was founded to honour and continue the lifetime achievement of Prof. Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski.

You can access all past projects of the research group until April 2018.