by Gerhard Chroust

The terrible events between 1914 and 1945, World War I, the world economic crisis and World War II, induced scientists like Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Norbert Wiener, W. Ross Ashby and their colleagues to offer a way out: holistic rather than fragmented thinking. This led to two new sciences: systems theory and cybernetics. In 1980 the International Federation for Systems Research (IFSR) was founded as a federation of all systems societies. The celebrations of its 25th anniversary provided a chance to look at the successful history of the IFSR and at the current and future state of the systems sciences.

The celebration of the 25th anniversary of the IFSR were held in Vienna on 19 April 2006 during the European Meeting of Cybernetics and Systems Research. The opening presentation was given by Secretary General Prof. Gerhard Chroust (University of Linz, Austria), who described the aims, goals, structure, projects and achievements of the IFSR. The designated president of the IFSR, Prof. em. Matjaz Mulej, University of Maribor, Slovenia, then gave the traditional Ross Ashby Memorial Lecture. The rest of the day was devoted to a review of past and present activities of the IFSR and an outlook into the future.

Left to right: Gerhard Chroust, secretary general; Matjaz Mulej, president; Gerard de Zeeuw past secretary/treasurer and past president; and Gary Metcalf, vice-president.
Left to right: Gerhard Chroust, secretary general; Matjaz Mulej, president; Gerard de Zeeuw past secretary/treasurer and past president; and Gary Metcalf, vice-president.

Matjaz Mulej chose the title ‘Systems theory – a worldview and/or a methodology’, and argued that the immensely growing knowledge of humankind causes unavoidably narrow specialization of individuals, with every profession working in a partial field. Knowing and using parts alone rather than wholes is not enough. Warnings about the problems of oversights, one-sidedness and their consequences were voiced millennia ago, but have been neglected by specialists in a variety of professions who fail to recognize that specialization is not sufficient.

As Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972) – the father of general systems theory – emphasized, systems thinking is not a profession but a world view. It is a matter of education, values, culture, ethics, and norms of behaviour, added to every single field of professional knowledge.

The IFSR was based on the recognition that in order to respond to global problems, synergistic cooperation between all scientific societies working on systems theory and cybernetics is necessary. With support from the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research, it was founded on 12 March 1980, with three members. These were the Society for General Systems Research, now ISSS (its president, Prof. J. Klir of the USA, became the first president of the IFSR); the Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies (its president, Prof. Robert Trappl of Austria, became the first vice-president); and the Systeemgroep Nederland (its representative, Prof. Gerard de Zeeuw of Netherlands, became the first secretary treasurer).

The aims of the federation were to stimulate activity associated with the scientific study of systems, and to coordinate such activities on the international level. Since 1980 the federation has grown to 32 members from 25 countries on all continents. Past and present major contributions to the field of systems research are:

  • the Journal of Systems Research and Behavioral Science (Editor-in-chief: Prof. M. C. Jackson), publishing original articles on new theories, experimental research and applications relating to all levels of living and non-living systems;
  • the IFSR International Book Series on Systems Science and Engineering (editor-in-chief: Prof. George Klir), founded in 1985, publishing high-quality scientific papers on systems sciences
  • the Fuschl Conversations (started in 1980 by Bela H. Banathy), which provide an alternative to conventional conferences by offering a collectively guided disciplined inquiry into issues of social/societal significance by scholarly practitioners in self-organised face-to-face teams. Since 1980 they have been held biannually in Fuschl, near Salzburg, Austria and replicated in many other places to an estimated total of forty or fifty
  • The First International Congress of the IFSR (14-17 November 2005 in Kobe, Japan) under the chaimanship of Prof. Jifa Gu, Prof. Y. Nakamori, and Prof. G. Chroust, was the first international systems conference to be held in Japan. It established a foundation for understanding and collaboration between Japanese and non-Japanese systems professionals
  • the Ross Ashby Memorial Lecture at the bi-annual EMCSR-Conferences, sponsored by the IFSR
  • a Web site and newsletter (Editor-in-chief and Webmaster: Prof. Magdalena Kalaidjieva, recently succeeded by Prof. G. Chroust).

Recent and current projects of the IFSR include:

  • acquiring, archiving and scientifically analysing the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Legacy in cooperation with the Bertalanffy Centre for the Study of Systems Science, Austria (Prof. Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Salzburg);
  • an electronically accessible International Encyclopaedia of Systems and Cybernetics based on Charles François’ book version (Prof. Günther Ossimitz)
  • planning an Academy of Systems Sciences and Cybernetics (Prof. Jifa Gu and Prof. Matjaz Mulej)
  • collecting and analysing data on courses in systems sciences to develop a basic common core (Prof. G. A. Swanson)
  • networking the archives of pioneers of systems science and cybernetics (Prof. Gerhard Chroust, Gary Metcalf)
  • connecting systems scientists in Asia and the West (Prof. Jifa Gu).

The anniversary event was recorded and the video will be published on DVD in 2007.

Link:
http://www.ifsr.org

Please contact:
Gerhard Chroust
Kepler University, Linz, Austria,
E-mail: gc@sea.uni-linz.ac.at

Matjaz Mulej
Univerza v Mariboru, Slovenia
E-mail: mulej@uni-mb.si

Next issue: October 2019
Special theme:
Smart Things Everywhere
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