Ludwig von Bertalanffy

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Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy (September 19, 1901, Atzgersdorf near Vienna, Austria – June 12, 1972, Buffalo, New York, USA) was an Austrian-born biologist known as one of the founders of general systems theory (GST). GST is an interdisciplinary practice that describes systems with interacting components, applicable to biology, cybernetics, and other fields. Bertalanffy proposed that the laws of thermodynamics applied to closed systems, but not necessarily to "open systems," such as living things. His mathematical model of an organism's growth over time, published in 1934, is still in use today.

Von Bertalanffy grew up in Austria and subsequently worked in Vienna, London, Canada and the USA.

Contents

Biography

Ludwig von Bertalanffy was born and grew up in the little village of Atzgersdorf (now Liesing) near Vienna. The Bertalanffy family had roots in the 16th century nobility of Hungary which included several scholars and court officials.[1] His grandfather Charles Joseph von Bertalanffy (1833–1912) had settled in Austria and was a state theatre director in Klagenfurt, Graz, and Vienna, which were important positions in imperial Austria. Ludwig's father Gustav von Bertalanffy (1861–1919) was a prominent railway administrator. On his mother's side Ludwig's grandfather Joseph Vogel was an imperial counsellor and a wealthy Vienna publisher. Ludwig's mother Charlotte Vogel was seventeen when she married the thirty-four year old Gustav. They divorced when Ludwig was ten, and both remarried outside the Catholic Church in civil ceremonies [2].

Ludwig Von Bertalanffy grew up as an only child educated at home by private tutors until he was ten. When he went to the gymnasium/grammar school he was already well trained in self study, and kept studying on his own. His neighbour, the famous biologist Paul Kammerer, became a mentor and an example to the young Ludwig.[3] In 1918 he started his studies at the university level with the philosophy and art history, first at the University of Innsbruck and then at the University of Vienna. Ultimately, Bertalanffy had to make a choice between studying philosophy of science and biology, and chose the latter because, according to him, one could always become a philosopher later, but not a biologist. In 1926 he finished his PhD thesis (translated title: Fechner and the problem of integration of higher order) on the physicist and philosopher Gustav Theodor Fechner.[3]

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