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Systems Research and Behavioral Science

Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)


Published online in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI:10.1002/sres.855

& Research Paper

Is Paul A. Weiss’ and Ludwig von


Bertalanffy’s System Thinking Still
Valid Today?
Manfred Drack 1,2* and Wilfried Apfalter 2,3
1
Department of Theoretical Biology, University of Vienna, Wien, Austria
2
Department of Neurobiology and Cognition Research, University of Vienna, Wien, Austria
3
Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna, Wien, Austria

The roots of what is today called general system theory (GST) can be traced back to Vienna
of the early 20th century. Here, in the 1920s, Paul Weiss performed experiments in the
Viennese Prater Vivarium (a privately founded research institution devoted to exper-
imental biology) and found that his results were totally incompatible with the prevailing
mechanistic concepts dominating the biologists’ way of thinking. Therefore, he proposed a
system view. At about the same time, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, coming from philosophical
grounds, tried to overcome the dispute in biology of vitalism versus mechanism by
developing an organismic concept. They met each other and discussed the biological
concepts when Bertalanffy was still a student. Rupert Riedl knew both scholars personally
and thought that their ideas were of paramount importance not only for the biologist’s
world view. Thus, he initiated a research project called ‘System Theory Today’, in which
the developments in system theory in the last three decades should be investigated. The
focus of the project here described lies in the reception of system theory after Bertalanffy’s
death in 1972. Further developments as well as reductionistic tendencies are to be
addressed. As our preliminary studies have shown, many disciplines have adopted
system theory for their needs, but some of the modified theories diverge from the original
context. On the one side the development in the different disciplines is positive, on the
other side it leads to contradictory positions followed by misunderstandings and building
up new borders that are weakening the prime intention of system theory. System theory
was always meant to be an integrative tool for all sciences, aiming for a dialogue between
scientific disciplines. Based on the theory arising from biology, the developments in
different disciplines (from mathematics to engineering, from medicine to economics, but
especially life sciences) will be investigated. The key question is whether Bertalanffy’s and
Weiss’ system thinking still plays a role in science today and especially if there are

* Correspondence to: Manfred Drack, Department of Theoretical Biology, University of Vienna, Althanstraße 14, 1090 Wien, Austria.
E-mail: manfred.drack@univie.ac.at

Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


RESEARCH PAPER Syst. Res.

contributions that broaden or reduce the concept. To complete the picture, the recently
recovered Bertalanffy estate, which is now hosted by the University of Vienna, will play an
important role. The working hypothesis is that what was made out of GST is a consider-
able reduction of the original concept. In this paper, an overview of the research work in
the project will be given. It starts with system concepts in 1920s biology and the thoughts
of Weiss and Bertalanffy. Therefrom the basic concepts are extracted to be compared with
the contemporary developments of GST. Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords Paul Weiss; Ludwig von Bertalanffy; General System Theory; History and
Development of GST; Vienna

INTRODUCTION the more important advocates of system theory,


Weiss and Bertalanffy, came up with their ideas
According to Rupert Riedl, who was the initiator in the Austrian capital one could refer to their
of the here described research project, system thinking as the ‘Viennese school’ of system
theory is one of the most important issues when it theory.
comes to theory, not only in biology. Riedl was a Apparently the scope of system theory became
student of zoology in Vienna where he took narrower in the last decades, and as the systems
lectures in classes of Ludwig von Bertalanffy at approach is important to our world view with all
the time just following World War II. Bertalanffy its consequences, Riedl started a project for
first presented his thoughts on general system tracing back in detail the development of GST.
theory (GST) in 1937 at the University of Chicago, In this paper, the origin of the system thinking
but the first paper was published only 12 years of Weiss, Bertalanffy and Koestler is roughly
later in 1949 although it was meant to appear in described. Thereafter, an overview of the
1945. Thus, Rupert Riedl has, as he liked to say, research project ’System Theory Today’ is given
‘osmotically absorbed’ the ideas of the founding with some first results. Furthermore, the current
father of GST. During his time as a Professor in state concerning the Bertalanffy archive is briefly
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Riedl came in close mentioned.
contact with Paul Weiss from the Rockefeller
University. Weiss received his education, first in
engineering and later on in biology, in Vienna.
During the time working on his PhD thesis, he THE ‘VIENNESE SCHOOL’ OF SYSTEM
found that the predominant approach to describ- THEORY
ing behaviour in animals as a mere mechanistic
phenomena was not sufficient and needed to be Paul A. Weiss (1898–1989)
replaced by a system view. The third person to
whom Riedl liked to refer when concerned with In 1918, Paul Weiss began his studies in mecha-
system matters is Arthur Koestler. Koestler, who nical engineering at Vienna’s Technische Hochs-
also spent part of his youth in Vienna, developed chule, now called Vienna University of Technol-
his own concept of a system theory some decades ogy, but 1 year later he decided to study biology at
after Weiss’ and Bertalanffy’s first notions. the University of Vienna. For Weiss’ background
Furthermore, he was the organizer of a sym- and professional career see, for example Brauck-
posium in Alpbach (Tyrol, Austria) in 1968, mann (2003). Soon Weiss obtained one of the
where he brought together scholars of various highly regarded positions at the Biologische
disciplines who thought ‘beyond reduction- Versuchsanstalt (’Prater Vivarium’ labora-
ism’—which was also the title of the conference tories)—a privately funded research institution
proceedings (Koestler and Smythies, 1969). Since situated in the Prater, a Viennese recreation area.

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
DOI:10.1002/sres

538 Manfred Drack and Wilfried Apfalter


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Supervised by Hans Przibram and Berthold himself who referred to developing organisms as
Hatschek, Paul Weiss received his PhD for experi- ‘systems’ and their specific developmental beha-
mental studies on the resting postures of butter- viours as system behaviours as early as in 1899
flies in response to light and gravity (Weiss, 1922) (Mocek, 1998, pp. 321–322). Furthermore, the
from the University of Vienna. The results con- concept of cascaded hierarchies of develop-
tradicted the rather mechanistic tropism theory mental dynamics was broadly debated in the
of Jacques Loeb, which Weiss later expressed as Vivarium laboratories.
follows: The results from studies on the living In his work of 1925, Paul Weiss contradicted
organism ‘proved totally incompatible with the the idea that activities in life could be explained
mechanistic doctrines—or rather rationaliz- by physics and chemistry alone without further
ations—of animal behaviour prevailing at that requirements: whether or not physical or chemi-
time’. Moreover, Weiss ‘saw a way of reconciling cal terms could replace biological ones, the laws
them [his findings] fully with the then flourishing of complex issues will never be fully replaced
epistemology of modern physics’ (Weiss, 1977). (Weiss, 1925, p. 170). In his early work, we can
‘The experiments totally confirmed theoretical already find the basis of a hierarchical order
conclusions. It could be demonstrated that necessary to allow actions (like locomotion) of an
knowing the efficacy of single factors within a animal as a whole. With each level (physical or
complex allowed for unequivocally drawing chemical reaction, single muscle fibre contrac-
conclusions about the efficacy of the entirety tion, contraction of a muscle, movement of an
from which we previously isolated single parts; organ, motion of the organism), new character-
all positions [of the butterflies] turned out to be istics would appear that could not be described
demonstrable as coming off the entirety of those simply by the lower levels alone. In focusing
partial effects, an exclusive efficacy of one single exclusively on quantitatively splitting the whole
factor was never observed’ (Weiss, 1922, p. 19). into the lower level elements, these higher level
An elaborated version of his PhD thesis was characteristics would be lost. This would also be
published in German (Weiss, 1925) and 34 years true for inorganic entities like molecules or
later translated to English (Weiss, 1959). Paul atoms. In the chapter ‘laws of systems’, Paul
Weiss explained in 1977: ‘The 80-page article Weiss proposed: ‘As a system, we want to define
stated the basic premises and principles of a each complex that, when parts of it are modified,
holistic systems-theory which I could derive cogen- displays an effort to stay constant with regard to
tly from my own studies of animal behavior and its outside’ (Weiss, 1925, p. 183). In other words,
from cognate trends such as ‘‘Gestalt’’ Psychol- the state of a system should be stable, that is
ogy so as to define in detail the scientific distinct from and within the outside conditions.
characteristics by which a singled-out fraction As he interprets, a constant system state in the
of nature can rightfully be accorded the desig- whole, when parts are altered, could only be
nation of ‘‘system’’’ (Weiss, 1977, p. 18). achieved by inverse changes in other parts, which
Paul Weiss’ first formulations towards a is done by the system itself (system reaction). He
biological system theory dealt especially with continued: ‘The cases of regulation and adap-
the determination of phases in which dramatic tation are typical system reactions of the organ-
changes in the phenotype are still possible. He ism. They are so widespread that their mere
consequently understood the step by step and existence suffices to make the organism recog-
dynamic explication of the body plan as a nizable as a system’ (Weiss, 1925, p. 183). Con-
product of increasing networking between inter- sequently, he described organisms as systems.
acting and thereby developing systems and not, In addition to the application of mechanistic
like Hans Driesch (a former student of Ernst concepts of interacting single parts, he con-
Haeckel) in his so-called vitalism, as a product of sidered it to be essential to deal with a system as a
an organizing power about which Driesch spoke whole, because system reactions (e.g. concerning
in terms of an unobservable entelechistic prin- functions and development) could only be
ciple of life. However, it actually was Driesch adequately understood by taking into account

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
DOI:10.1002/sres

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the system as a whole. In his work on ‘morpho- scholarship was granted to him for 1 year. He
dynamics’ (Weiss, 1926, p. 5), Paul Weiss con- came back from America in 1938 and lived in
sequently defined biological form as ‘the typical Vienna until 1948 when he decided to perma-
localization, for example arrangement and allo- nently go to North America.
cation of different sub-processes within the Bertalanffy studied history of art and philos-
respective material systems’, so that already ophy in Innsbruck (Tyrol, Austria) from 1920 to
the fact ‘that at this location these and only these 1924 and in Vienna from 1924 to 1926. In the
and at that location those and only those course of his studies, he focused mainly on
processes are introduced is ‘‘form’’ for us; we philosophy, where his teachers were Robert
do not have to wait until those different processes Reininger and Moritz Schlick; he also attended
actually create a certain spatial gestalt’. In this Rudolf Carnap’s study group, for details see
context, he developed a field theory in develop- Brauckmann (2000), Hammond (2003) or Hofer
mental biology (‘morphogenetic fields of organ- (1996). Based on first-hand knowledge about the
ization’) and programmatically declared: ‘All Vienna Circle, he concluded that the logical
field laws can be conceived as special cases of positivist’s scientism was not valid. In contrast,
general system laws’ (Weiss, 1926, p. 27), using he himself referred to Immanuel Kant (Critique
the word ‘field’ as a term for prospective terrains of Pure Reason A51/B75) and liked to say that,
of organ formation. though theory without experience is mere
Paul Weiss advocated system thinking on a intellectual play, experience without theory is
broad and deep basis, as this quotation demon- blind (Bertalanffy, 1969, p. 101). But Bertalanffy
strates: ‘It is an urgent task for the future to raise recognized the 1920s in Vienna as a time of high
man’s sights, his thinking and his acting, from his intellectual intensity from which many develop-
preoccupation with segregated things, phenom- ments started that later became important
ena and processes to greater familiarity and (Bertalanffy, 1967).
concern with their natural connectedness, to the Already during his days as a student in
‘‘total context’’. To endow the epistemological Vienna, Ludwig von Bertalanffy had met Paul
foundations for such a turn of outlook with the Weiss. They discussed system issues in biology,
credentials of validation by modern scientific Weiss with an experimental and Bertalanffy with
experience, is thus a major step towards that goal’ a philosophical background (cf. Drack et al.,
(Weiss, 1977, p. 19). in press, Pouvreau and Drack, 2007). Five years
after Bertalanffy’s death, the 79-year-old Paul
Weiss remembered these times: ‘It was in those
Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901–1972) days that a sparkling Viennese student, a little
more than 3 years my junior, approached me for a
In his youth, Bertalanffy lived in his mother’s meeting—Ludwig von Bertalanffy. We met in
estate outside of Vienna next to Paul Kammerer, coffeehouses and ‘‘milked’’ each other. I soon
one of the most prominent experimenters of the found that his thinking and mine moved on the
‘Prater Vivarium’. Being a neighbour and friend same wavelength—his coming from philosophi-
to the family, Kammerer time and again talked to cal speculation, mine from logical evaluation of
the young Ludwig about biological matters and practical experience. And so it remained for half a
introduced him in vivisection and anatomy of century, each of us hewing his separate path
plants and animals. Therefore, Bertalanffy was according to his predilection. That is, I kept on as
probably well aware of the attitude in which the empirical experimental explorer, interpreter,
science was performed at the Vivarium labora- and integrator, for whom the ‘‘system’’ concept
tories. At the end of World War I, the family, due remained simply a silent intellectual guide and
to financial losses, temporarily left Vienna and helper in the conceptual ordering of experience,
moved to Zell am See (Salzburg, Austria). In while he, more given to extrapolations and broad
1924, Ludwig von Bertalanffy returned to Vienna generalizations, and bent on encompassing the
and lived there until 1937 when a Rockefeller cosmos of human knowledge, made the theory

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
DOI:10.1002/sres

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[general system theory] itself and the applica- theoretical biology: when he started his theor-
bility of it to many areas of human affairs his etical program, he actually was convinced that
prime concern. Does not this confluence here, biology’s right to exist as a science required a
once again, prove the ‘‘hybrid vigor’’ of the theoretical background which was not yet
merger of ideas that, coming from a common established. For him, biology of this time was
source, have converged upon common ground, not much more than some kind of natural history
albeit by separate routes—the one offering a in a pre-critical stage. This he wanted to change
distillate of a life of study of living systems, the with the aid of his organismic system theory.
other the extensive elaboration of an intuitive Having developed his own approach to
philosophical ideology, tested in its pertinence to theoretical biology during the 1920s and 1930s,
human evolution?’ (Weiss, 1977, pp. 18–19). he was the first academic to receive a habilitation
In his summary book on GST, Bertalanffy put it (grand university teaching license) in ‘theoretical
this way: ‘The present author, in the early [19]20s, biology’ at the University of Vienna in 1934
became puzzled about obvious lacunae in the (Hofer, 1996, pp. 12–15). The basis for this
research and theory of biology. The then habilitation was volume one of his book on
prevalent mechanistic approach [. . .] appeared ‘theoretical biology’ (Bertalanffy, 1932). Therein,
to neglect or actively deny just what is essential in after having criticized mechanism and vitalism in
the phenomena of life. He advocated an ‘‘orga- biology he argued for an organismic biology.
nismic’’ conception in biology, which empha- The organismic viewpoint emphasized that
sizes consideration of the organism as a whole or organisms are highly organized entities, meticu-
system, and sees the main objective of biological lously embedded in their respective environ-
sciences in the discovery of the principles of ments and biologists should find out how this is
organization at its various levels. The authors performed. Ludwig von Bertalanffy tried to
first statements go back to 1925–26’ (Bertalanffy, implement his organismic program in various
1969, p. 12). studies on metabolism, growth and the bio-
Supervised by Moritz Schlick, Ludwig von physics of the organism. One step in this
Bertalanffy wrote his PhD thesis (Bertalanffy, direction was the so-called theory of open
1926) about concepts of the German physicist and systems and steady states, which essentially
philosopher Gustav Fechner. This thesis was con- was an expansion of conventional physical
cerned with intriguing questions, namely whether chemistry, kinetics and thermodynamics. As he
higher units, which from Fechner’s point of view notes, he did not stop on the way once taken, and
on nature would actually integrate the living so he developed an even more comprehensive
organism, could be methodically investigated in generalization that he called ‘GST’. His tendency
a quite abstract manner, whether they could be towards generalization can already be detected
empirically verified, and to what degree an induc- in his PhD thesis. Some years later, Ludwig von
tive metaphysics would be reasonable for sciences Bertalanffy put it this way: ‘I presented it [GST]
(Brauckmann, 2000, p. 2). Although coming from first in 1937 in Charles Morris’ philosophy
philosophical grounds, a bigger part in his thesis seminar at the University of Chicago. However,
is dealt with biological questions. at that time theory was in bad repute in biology,
After graduating, he wrote many papers in the and I was afraid of what Gauss, the mathema-
field of theoretical biology. In 1928, for example tician, called the ‘‘clamor of the Boeotians’’. So I
he published a book on a ‘critical theory of left my drafts in the drawer, and it was only after
morphogenesis’ (Bertalanffy, 1928), which the war that my first publications on the subject
acquainted him especially with the Berlin Society appeared’ (Bertalanffy, 1969, p. 90). Actually, it
for Scientific Philosophy around Hans Reich- appeared in 1949 in German language (Berta-
enbach—a counterpart to the Vienna Circle lanffy, 1949).
around Moritz Schlick—and opened contacts In his definition of what a system is he only
to Gestalt psychologists. Brauckmann (2000, IX) later included the environment: ‘A system may
describes the attitude of Bertalanffy towards a be defined as a set of elements standing in

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
DOI:10.1002/sres

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interrelation among themselves and with [the] that he agreed with almost everything that
environment’ (Bertalanffy, 1969, p. 252). This Koestler had said, with the only exception of
definition is very general and differs from the Koestler’s tree-like model of holon genealogy
definition of Weiss, who refers to a behavioural (Koestler and Smythies, 1969).
reaction (see above).

WHAT WAS MADE OF GST?


Arthur Koestler (1905–1983)
First of all, it can be said that GST influenced
Koestler cannot be assigned directly to a many scientific fields and is still widely known,
‘Viennese school’ of system theory, although which is also reflected by the fact that there are
he studied engineering in Vienna at the same still conferences held by ISSS. But system theory
time that Weiss and Bertalanffy were already is used in different fields often in very different
discussing system matters. He is mentioned here ways. Especially in German-speaking countries,
because he also was concerned about the system theory is often connected to sociology
prevailing reductionism and thus developed because Niklas Luhmann used to refer to GST.
his own concept of system thinking. Discussing To this day, the development of system theory
system theory, Rupert Riedl often referred to since 1970 has not been systematically described,
Koestler and the Alpbach Symposium Koestler although there are some attempts, such as
organized in 1968 (Koestler and Smythies, 1969). Kratky and Bonet (1989) who tried to point out
Although he was not a scientist and without the new reductionism in system theory. Thereby
academic degree, thus often seen as ‘story teller’, the supposition was verified that scientific
Koestler managed to bring together many research across disciplines, especially concerning
important thinkers, such as L. v. Bertalanffy, V. system theory, does not play a big role and the
E. Frankl, F. A. Hayek, J. Piaget, W. H. Thorpe, C. dialogue between disciplines, even next to
H. Waddington and P. A. Weiss. Riedl acknowl- each other, is rather sparse. Thinking about a
edged the conference as an important intellectual common theory like GST is not widespread at
basis for further thinking. the moment. But still there are attempts to
Koestler was very much concerned over bridge the gap between various scientific fields,
behaviourism and the stimulus-response theory like the one of Riedl (2000), who liked to call those
which he completely rejected and sought to approaches Längsschnitt-Theorien (longitudinal-
replace by a non-mechanistic concept of the section theories).
human being and other systems. Central to his Riedl (personal communication) once stated
system thinking is the concept of the ‘autonom- that there are three aspects that have to be
ous holon’: ‘The organism in its structural aspect addressed within further research on the devel-
is not an aggregation of elementary parts, and in opment of system theory:
its functional aspects not a chain of elementary
1. GST developed in different ways in different
units of behavior. [. . .] The organism is to be
fields. Thus, expansions as well as incomple-
regarded as a multileveled hierarchy of semi-
teness must be pointed out.
autonomous sub-wholes, branching into sub-
2. It can be expected that the boom of inorganic
wholes of a lower order, and so on. Sub-wholes
paradigms continued, which possibly led to
on any level of the hierarchy are referred to as
an ontological reductionism that has to be
holons’ (Koestler, 1978, p. 304).
corrected.
No evidence was found that Arthur Koestler 3. Investigations must show how system theory
got in touch with Paul Weiss and Ludwig von
can confirm, correct and complete evolution-
Bertalanffy much earlier than in the 1960s.
ary epistemology and the theory of evolution.
Nevertheless, at the Alpbach Symposium Koes-
tler’s theory of ‘holons’ was well received by The working hypotheses in the current project
Ludwig von Bertalanffy, and Paul Weiss stated is that what was made of GST in the last three

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
DOI:10.1002/sres

542 Manfred Drack and Wilfried Apfalter


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decades is a considerable reduction of the Research (EMCSR), Matjaz Mulej clearly pointed
original conception. out this problem of overspecialization, which
also exists within the systems research com-
Our preliminary studies have shown that the munity (Mulej, 2006). In referring to Bertalanffy,
terminus system theory is widely and interna- who already claimed that overspecialization is a
tionally spread among various disciplines, but in problem we have to face, Mulej mentioned that
some fields the concepts already differ from the this current development makes it harder and
originators’ attitude. The linkage between var- harder to deal with problems on a global scale.
ious disciplines—usually thought to be fostered Generalists, who are able to see and work with
by GST—is not often visible. There are just a few connections where specialists are not, are needed
institutions around the globe trying to integrate in many areas, science as well as management.
perspectives from various disciplines. Yet it For a quick overview of the influence of GST,
seems that in certain attempts, for example we looked at the library of the University of
cellular automata in complexity research, the Vienna and in online bookshops for items found
behaviour of the whole is merely explained by its with the keyword ‘system theory’ (‘GST’ would
subunits’ properties. This might fit into Berta- have brought too few results) both in English and
lanffy’s definition of what a system is, but Weiss German up to the year 2004. This serves only for a
probably would not be comfortable with it. He rough insight into the dispersal of GST and more
once stated that a living system cannot be detailed analyses are needed for an elaborated
characterized only by complexity, ‘meaning examination. We tried to classify the more than
simplicity in large numbers, which could be 120 book titles found, and allocated them to their
more profitably studied singly and then added scientific disciplines. Although GST is meant to
up’. Furthermore: ‘organization has exactly the overcome the gap between scientific disciplines,
opposite connotation’ (Weiss, 1977, p. 43). this allocation was possible because most of the
The aim of this project is to draw a picture of books focused on only one discipline. Figure 1
the development of GST, especially since the shows the distribution of the texts with regard to
1970s. Based on the theory arising from biology, the various disciplines. What attracts attention is
the developments in different areas will be the large number of publications in the area of
investigated, the key question being whether sociology. This is due to the fact that Niklas
Bertalanffy’s and Weiss’ system theory still plays Luhmann used the term ‘Allgemeine System-
a role in science today and, in particular, if there theorie’ for his sociological theory, which trig-
are contributions that broaden or reduce the gered a number of publications from other
concept. The overview of the developments will authors—mostly in German. In addition, areas
show where and in which direction the theory like politics or religion are more or less directly
was developed further and where it was connected to Luhmann with little reference to the
simplified. GST founders. Prominent also is the mathemat-
The result of the study will contribute to a ical thread of system theory, but the use of system
better understanding of the problems at the theory in mathematics is very much different
interfaces between disciplines, which is import- from the concepts considered in sociology. These
ant because nature itself is not divided into two areas can easily be distinguished from one
physics, chemistry, biology and whatever other another and also the influence of GST in both of
disciplines man has invented. At any rate, the them is different. Interestingly enough the
interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary character biological area is rather small—although this is
of GST seems to have been overcome by the the area in which GST has strong roots.
accelerating developments in the single disci- To examine the significance of GST in the
plines with clear and sharp borders between scientific world, an investigation of the appear-
neighbouring research areas. ance of GST in journal papers of the last three
In his Ross Ashby memorial lecture at the centuries was done. For this purpose, the General
European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Search of the ISI Web of KnowledgeSM was used,

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
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Figure 1. To get a first impression about the influence of GST, we performed a keyword search for recent books in the area of
system theory and tried to allocate the 122 items to the according disciplines. (For further notes see text)

looking for the topic ‘general system$ theory’, Bertalanffy died. A slow decrease followed until
that is the singular ‘system’ as well as the plural 1990. But in 1991, the number of references
‘systems’ was included. As seen in Figure 2, the increased again and seems to have reached a
number of papers mentioning GST was never stable plateau until today. Of course it is of
really high (compared to e.g. ‘systems biology’, interest how this considerable increase in 1991
which shows 278 results for the year 2004 alone); can be explained. Before 1991, there was only
and it reached a first peak in 1973, the year after 1 year in which there were more results than in

Figure 2. Citations of ‘general system$ theory’ (General Search/ISI Web of KnowledgeSM) showing the number of papers
containing ‘general system$ theory’

Copyright  2007 JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 24, 537^546 (2007)
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544 Manfred Drack and Wilfried Apfalter


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1991. Why did the term become fashionable developments of GST. Hopefully, there will also
again? When investigating the works that be detailed information about contradicting
appeared in 1991, which in one way or another points of view in the correspondences. In any
referred to GST, there is not a single event that case, the archive will contribute much for tracing
could explain the jump. Papers from different back the development of system theory not only
areas, computer sciences as well as sociology, for the current project but also for any further
refer to GST. Interestingly enough, at the same research.
time the use of the term ‘organismic’ was sharply
increasing as well.
From the overall 314 papers from 1970 to 2004,
134 appeared in the 10 years between 1995 and ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
2004. These 134 papers are an important source
for further investigations in the project. Although This research is supported by Austrian Science
they do not necessarily reflect similar concepts Fund (FWF) Grant P18149-G04 to Rupert
under different names, the papers are at least Riedl. Unfortunately, Rupert Riedl (22.2.1925–
directly referring to GST and thus provide 18.9.2005) passed away shortly after the start of
insights on the trends towards elaborating or the project. We thank Ludwig Huber and Gerd B.
reducing contributions. Müller for providing the infrastructure for the
work. We are grateful to Debora Hammond for
her initiative and editorial guidance.

BERTALANFFY ESTATE

In 2004, the Bertalanffy estate was found in a


REFERENCES
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Hofkirchner, 2006). When sent to Vienna, it
Bertalanffy, L. v. 1926. Fechner und das Problem der
consisted of six banana boxes full of books and Integration höherer Ordnung. PhD thesis, University
letters. The archiving is now complete, and as it of Vienna.
turns out the probably most interesting items are Bertalanffy L.v. 1928. Kritische Theorie der Formbil-
the nearly 600 letters from and to Bertalanffy dung. Abhandlungen zur theoretischen Biologie, 27,
dating from 1945 to his death. Correspondences Gebrüder Borntraeger: Berlin.
Bertalanffy L.v. 1932. Theoretische Biologie: Band 1: All-
with many important scholars of that time were gemeine Theorie, Physikochemie, Aufbau und Entwick-
found, and most of them are of valuable, that is lung des Organismus. Gebrüder Borntraeger: Berlin.
with scientific content. Besides that, many books Bertalanffy L.v. 1949. Zu einer allgemeinen System-
that belonged to Bertalanffy were found. It is not lehre. Biologia Generalis 19: 114–129.
quite clear whether the estate is complete or items Bertalanffy L. v. 1967. Robots, Men and Minds: Psychol-
ogy in the Modern World. Braziller: New York.
were lost, particularly concerning the letters. To Bertalanffy L.v. 1969. General System Theory: Founda-
take care of the newly established archive, which tions, Development, Applications, 14th paperback
is hosted by the Department of Theoretical printing, revised edition, 2003, Braziller: New York.
Biology, University of Vienna, and to foster Brauckmann S. 2000. Eine Theorie für Lebendes? Die
systems research, the ‘Bertalanffy Center for the synthetische Antwort Ludwig von Bertalanffys. PhD
thesis, University of Münster.
Study of Systems Science’ (BCSSS), based in Brauckmann S. 2003. The scientific life of Paul A. Weiss
Vienna, was founded in 2004. Further infor- (1898–1989), Mendel Newsletter (12): 2–7, viewed
mation can be found on www.bertalanffy.org. August 10, 2005, http://www.amphilsoc.org/
The letters will inform us about the connec- library/mendel/2003.htm.
tions and discussions of Bertalanffy with col- Chroust G, Hofkirchner W. 2006. Ludwig von Berta-
lanffy returns home. Systems Research and Behavioral
leagues in the field of biology as well as experts Science 23: 701–703.
from other disciplines. This exchange of ideas Drack M, Apfalter W, Pouvreau D (in press). On the
may contribute to the investigation of the further making of a system theory of life: Paul A. Weiss’s

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tion. The Quarterly Review of Biology. origins and genesis of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s
Hammond D. 2003. The Science of Synthesis: Exploring ‘‘General Systemology.’’ International Journal of Gen-
the Social Implications of General Systems Theory. Uni- eral Systems 36: 281–337.
versity Press of Colorado: Boulder. Riedl R. 2000. Strukturen der Komplexität: Eine
Hofer V. 1996. Organismus und Ordnung. Zur Genesis Morphologie des Erkennens und Erklärens. Springer:
und Kritik der Systemtheorie Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s. Berlin.
PhD thesis, University of Vienna. Weiss PA. 1922. Richtungbestimmende Einflüsse äusserer
Koestler A, Smythies JR (eds.). 1969. Beyond Reduction- Faktoren: Die Ruhestellung der Vanessiden. PhD thesis,
ism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences. Hutchinson: University of Vienna.
London. Weiss PA. 1925. Tierisches Verhalten als ‘Systemreak-
Koestler A. 1978. Janus: A Summing Up. Hutchinson: tion’. Die Orientierung der Ruhestellungen von
London. Schmetterlingen (Vanessa) gegen Licht und
Kratky K (ed.). 1989. Systemtheorie und Reduktionismus. Schwerkraft. Biologia Generalis 1: 165–248.
Wiener Studien zur Wissenschaftstheorie 3, (Edition Weiss PA. 1926. Morphodynamik: Ein Einblick in
S), 1st edn, Springer: Wien. die Gesetzte der organischen Gestaltung an Hand
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Reduktionismus. Wiener Studien zur Wissenschaftsthe- zur theoretischen Biologie 23, Gebrüder Borntraeger:
orie 3, Verlag der Österreichischen Staatsdruckerei: Berlin.
Wien. Weiss PA. 1959. Animal behavior as system reaction:
Mocek R. (ed.). 1998. Die werdende Form. Eine Geschichte orientation toward light and gravity in the resting
der Kausalen Morphologie. Basilisken-Presse: Marburg postures of butterflies (Vanessa). General Systems:
an der Lahn. Yearbook of the Society for General Systems Research
Mulej M. 2006. Ross Ashby memorial lecture: Systems 4: 19–44.
theory—a worldview and/or methdology. In Cyber- Weiss PA. 1977. The system of nature and the nature of
netics and Systems Research 2006, Trappl R (ed.). systems: empirical holism and practical reduction-
Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies: Vienna; ism harmonized. In A New Image of Man in Medicine,
xxv–xxvii. Vol. I: Towards a Man-Centered Medical Science,
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von Bertalanffy’s ‘‘General Systemology’’, and on its New York; 17–63.

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546 Manfred Drack and Wilfried Apfalter