Principia Cybernetica Web

Principles of Systems and Cybernetics

Principles or laws play the role of expressing the most basic ideas in a science, establishing a framework or methodology for problem-solving. The domain of General Systems and Cybernetics is in particular need of such principles, since it purports to guide thought in general, not just in a specific discipline. Unfortunately, the few generally used principles of the domain, such as the law of requisite variety, or the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, are typically ambiguous or controversial, and lack coherence with each other.

The heart of the Principia Cybernetica Project lies therefore in the establishment of a set of clear and coherent Principles of Cybernetics. As Principles, they should have the following properties:

The word "principle" is derived from the Latin principes (he who goes first) or primo (first). Principles are primary or primitive in that something can follow from them. They are the beginning to a system of thought, axiomatic (although we want to avoid the formal sense of that term).
Principles should be simple almost to the point of being self-evident or tautological.
Principles should have virtually universal applicability within the domain of Cybernetics and Systems Science.

The preliminary set of principles we propose are based on and expressed in terms of a set of primitive concepts of systems and cybernetics. Some of the principles have a long and venerable tradition in Cybernetics and Systems Science, while others are novel to Metasystem Transition Theory. Our analysis will on the one hand critically assess existing principles, clarifying their meaning, on the other hand try to formulate new principles which may generalize or interconnect known laws.

The ultimate goal is to arrive at a network of concepts and principles similar to a formal system, with "axioms" implicitly defining primitive concepts, definitions of higher order concepts, and "theorems", derived from the more primitive axioms and definitions. The fundamental principles, like all good axioms, are supposed to be self-evident. Their implications, like most theorems, on the other hand, may be far from trivial, and sometimes even counter-intuitive.

Reference: Heylighen F. (1992): "Principles of Systems and Cybernetics: an evolutionary perspective", in: Cybernetics and Systems '92, R. Trappl (ed.), (World Science, Singapore), p. 3-10.

Copyright© 1994 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn,

Mar 22, 1994 (modified)
Aug 1993 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory

Prev. Next

Occam's Razor

The Identity of the Indistinguishables

The Principle of Causality

Downward Causation

Blind Variation and Selective Retention

The Principle of Autocatalytic Growth

The Principle of Selective Variety

The Principle of Recursive Systems Construction

The Law of Requisite Variety

Law of Requisite Constraint

The Law of Requisite Knowledge

Law of Requisite Hierarchy

The Principle of Incomplete Knowledge

Principles of Reasoning with Uncertainty

The Red Queen Principle

The generalized "Peter Principle"


Add comment...