Principia Cybernetica Electronic Library
Principia Cybernetica Web

Principia Cybernetica Electronic Library

This electronic library provides free, downloadable copies of basic books on cybernetics and systems science.

There are relatively few good books on the domain of cybernetics and systems. Moreover, many of those books are out of print, and therefore difficult to find. As part of the Principia Cybernetica mission of making cybernetics and systems thinking better known, we have decided to republish some of these books electronically, so that everybody can profit from their ideas. Most of the books we selected are broad in scope, non-technical, and require little or no mathematics.

The following books are as yet available in our library:

  • Claude E.Shannon (1948), "A mathematical theory of communication," Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp. 379-423 and 623-656, July and October, 1948.

    A long, technical paper proposing the foundations of what was to become the theory of information. (A note on this edition is available elsewhere.)

  • W. Ross Ashby (1956): An Introduction to Cybernetics, (Chapman & Hall, London).

    Still the only real textbook on cybernetics and systems, explaining the basic principles with simple mathematics and exercises. In spite of its age, the thinking behind this classic is still very modern.

  • Ashby, W. R. (1960). Design for a Brain: The Origin of Adaptive Behavior. Wiley.

  • Ashby, W. R. (1981). Mechanisms of intelligence: Ashbys writings on cybernetics. Intersystems Publications.

  • Magoroh Maruyama (1963): The Second Cybernetics: Deviation-Amplifying Mutual Causal Processes, American Scientist 5:2, pp. 164--179.

    A classic paper about the importance of positive feedback processes in causal networks

  • Valentin Turchin (1977): "The Phenomenon of Science. A cybernetic approach to human evolution" (Columbia University Press, New York).

    This is the book that introduced the theory of metasystem transitions: the evolutionary emergence of levels of control, from unicellular organisms to human culture and society.

  • Joël de Rosnay (1979): "The Macroscope. A new world scientific system", (Harper & Row, New York).

    An easy to read introduction to the systems view of the world: background and basic concepts, illustrated by examples in organisms, economy and ecology.

  • Francis Heylighen (1990): Representation and Change. A Metarepresentational Framework for the Foundations of Physical and Cognitive Science, (Communication & Cognition, Gent).

    A relatively non-technical analysis, inspired by systems theory, of the abstract, cognitive structures behind basic theories of physics such as quantum mechanics and relativity theory.

  • Aerts, D., Apostel L., De Moor B., Hellemans S., Maex E., Van Belle H., Van Der Veken J. (1994), Worldviews: From Fragmentation to Integration, (VUB Press, Brussels).

    A short book defining the concept of a "world view" and emphasizing the need for interdisciplinary integration via a number of research proposals.

  • John E. Stewart (2000): Evolution's Arrow: The direction of evolution and the future of humanity (Chapman Press, Australia)

    An important contribution to the theory of metasystem transitions, explaining how and why evolution progresses in the direction of cooperative systems of greater scale and evolvability, from molecules via single-cell and multicellular organisms up to global society.

  • F. Heylighen (2001): "Complexiteit en Evolutie", lecture notes in Dutch for an introductory course at the VUB.

In addition to these monographs, which discuss a specific subject in depth, Principia Cybernetica Web also offers a number of article collections:

Copyright© 2014 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Jul 29, 2014 (modified)
Jun 8, 1999 (created)


Reference material

Prev. Next

Ashby's book "Introduction to Cybernetics"

"The Macroscope", a book on the systems approach

"The Phenomenon of Science", a book on MSTT

About "Representation and Change"

Special Issue on "The Quantum of Evolution"

Workbook of the 1st Principia Cybernetica Workshop


  • Book suggestion, Comment by Rolf Nordlund
  • Hey, where is Wiener?, Comment by Edward Daniel Bukowski, PhD, MD

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