This book, published in 1976, presents an entirely original approach to the subject of the mind-body problem, examining it in terms of the conceptual links between the physical sciences and the sciences of human behaviour. It is based on the cybernetic concepts of information and feedback and on the related concepts of thermodynamic and communication-theoretic entropy. The foundation of the approach is the theme of continuity between evolution, learning and human consciousness. The author defines life as a process of energy (...) exchange between organism and environment, and evolution as a feedback process maintaining equilibrium between environment and reproductive group. He demonstrates that closely related feedback processes on the levels of the behaving organism and of the organism’s nervous system constitute the phenomena of learning and consciousness respectively. He analyses language as an expedient for extending human information-processing and control capacities beyond those provided by one’s own nervous system, and shows reason to be a mode of processing information in the form of concepts removed from immediate stimulus control. The last chapter touches on colour vision, pleasure and pain, intentionality, self-awareness and other subjective phenomena. Of special interest to the communication theorist and philosopher, this study is also of interest to psychologists and anyone interested in the connection between the physical and life sciences. (shrink)
Cybernetics saturates the humanities. Norbert Wiener’s movement gave vocabulary and hardware to developments all across the early digital era, and still does so today to those who seek to interpret it. Even while the Macy Conferences were still taking place in the early 1950s, talk of feedback and information and pattern had spread to popular culture – and to Europe. The new science created a shared language and culture for surpassing political and intellectual ideas that could be relegated to (...) a pre-computing tradition, and it refracted or channelled currents developing in fields from manufacturing to human physiology. It produced conceptions of the political world, as well as new forms of historical consciousness. It offered frameworks for structuralist thought, but also for policies regarding manufacturing and technology, international relations, and governmental decision-making. But the rising sense of the breadth, importance, and even shock of cybernetics long remained understudied, even as its intellectual assemblages continued to, well, relay. In devices and the so-called ‘digital humanities’, a refracted legacy of cybernetics is also visible. From mainframes to category-frameworks, cybernetics is everywhere in our material and intellectual worlds, even as the name and its meaning have faded. To the extent that cybernetics permeates the human sciences and our culture at large, it remains opaque – an only partially visible legacy often deemed too complex to form a simple object of historical narrative. This special issue on cybernetics in the human sciences outlines the history and stakes of cybernetics, as well as the possibilities of returning to it today. (shrink)
Considers that in ecosystem, landscape and global ecology, an energetics reading of ecological systems is an expression of a cybernetic, systemic and holistic approach. In ecosystem ecology, the Odumian paradigm emphasizes the concept of emergence, but it has not been accompanied by the creation of a method that fully respects the complexity of the objects studied. In landscape ecology, although the emergentist, multi-level, triadic methodology of J.K. Feibleman and D.T. Campbell has gained acceptance, the importance of emergent properties is still (...) undervalued. In global ecology, the Gaia hypothesis is an expression of an organicist metaphor, while the emergentist terminology used is incongruent with the underlying physicalist cybernetics. More generally, an analytico-additional methodology and the reduction of the properties of ecosystems to the laws of physical chemistry render purely formal any assertion about the emergentist and holistic nature of the ecological systems studied. (shrink)
Context: Second-order cybernetics and its implications have been understood within the cybernetics community for some time. These implications are important for understanding the structure of scientific endeavor, and for researchers in other fields to see the reflexive nature of scientific research. This article is about the role of context in the creation and exploration of our experience. Problem: The purpose of this article is to point out the fundamental nature of the circularity in cybernetics and in scientific (...) work in general. I give a point of view on the nature of objective knowledge by placing it in the context of reflexivity and eigenform. Method: The approach to the topic is based on logical analysis of the nature of circularity. Mathematics and cybernetics are both fundamentally concerned with the structure of distinctions, but there can be no definition of a distinction without circularity, since such a definition would itself be a distinction. The article proceeds by explicating the structure of reflexive domains D where the transformations of the domain are in one-to-one correspondence with the domain itself. Results: I show that every element of a reflexive domain has a fixed point. This means that eigenforms arise naturally in reflexive domains. Furthermore, a reflexive domain is itself an eigenform (at a higher level. This supports the context of a second-order science that would study domains of science as part of a larger cybernetic landscape. Implications: The value of the article is in its concise reformulation of the scientific endeavor as a search for eigenforms in reflexive domains. This new view of science is promising in that it includes the former worlds of apparent objectivity and it embraces those newer worlds of science where the theories and theorists become active participants in the ongoing process of creating knowledge. Constructivist content: I argue that the perspective of reflexive domains constitutes a new way to think about the practice of science, with observers deeply imbedded, and objectivity understood as the mutual search for eigenforms. (shrink)
This article is about ‘genogeographic’ maps produced by late-Soviet geneticists and published during post-Soviet time. It focuses on the visual and numerical techniques scientists used to project genetic data onto geographic space. Rather than discussing their representational character, I follow these visuals as ‘folded objects’, describing the layering and realigning of measurements and temporalities as well as the shifts in the practices and meanings of genetics. In the 1970s Soviet biological anthropologists transformed scattered data points by means of spatial statistics (...) into visually coherent maps for a ‘genogeographical atlas’, by interpolating data for the entire USSR territory. Computer-aided modelling rendered ‘populations’ as systemic entities and enacted specific cybernetic versions of population, evolution and difference. Tracing the history of their making helps one in understanding what these folded objects hold in store, in terms of data ranging from Russian imperial and colonial anthropology, through early Soviet traditions, to cold war technologies. Folded into those maps in intricate ways, they have co-shaped post-Soviet human genetics as an ever-active site for possible reinscriptions of difference. (shrink)
Context: The term “second-order cybernetics” was introduced by von Foerster in 1974 as the “cybernetics of observing systems,” both the act of observing systems and systems that observe. Since then, the term has been used by many authors in articles and books and has been the subject of many conference panels and symposia. Problem: The term is still not widely known outside the fields of cybernetics and systems science and the importance and implications of the work associated (...) with second-order cybernetics is not yet widely discussed. I claim that the transition from cybernetics to second-order cybernetics is a fundamental scientific revolution that is not restricted to cybernetics or systems science. Second-order cybernetics can be regarded as a scientific revolution for the general methodology of science and for many disciplines as well. Method: I first review the history of cybernetics and second-order cybernetics. Then I analyze the major contents of von Foerster’s fundamental revolution in science and present it as a general model for an alternative methodology of science. Subsequently, I present an example of practicing second-order socio-cybernetics from within. I describe some consequences of doing science from within, and I suggest some new horizons for second-order cybernetics. Results: Second-order cybernetics leads to a new foundation for conducting science and offers important contributions for a new way of organizing science. It expands the conception of science so that it can more adequately deal with living systems. Implications: Second-order cybernetics extends the traditional scientific approach by bringing scientists within the domain of what is described and analyzed. It provides models of research processes for when the scientist is within the system being studied. In this way it offers a new foundation for research in the social sciences, in management science, and in other fields such as the environmental sciences or the life sciences. Keywords: Epistemology, general scientific methodology, cybernetics, social sciences, action research, Heinz von Foerster. (shrink)
In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the "bodies" that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans "beamed" _Star Trek_-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In _How We Became Posthuman,_ N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age. Hayles relates three interwoven stories: how information lost (...) its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman." Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel _Limbo_ by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems. Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, Hayles shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, _How We Became Posthuman_ provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in our virtual age, and of where we might go from here. (shrink)
Is cybernetics good, bad, or indifferent? SherryTurkle enlists deconstructive theory to celebrate thecomputer age as the embodiment of difference. Nolonger just a theory, one can now live a virtual life. Within a differential but ontologically detachedfield of signifiers, one can construct and reconstructegos and environments from the bottom up andendlessly. Lucas Introna, in contrast, enlists theethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas to condemn thesame computer age for increasing the distance betweenflesh and blood people. Mediating the face-to-facerelation between real people, allowing (...) and encouragingcommunication at a distance, information technologywould alienate individuals from the social immediacyproductive of moral obligations and responsibilities. In this paper I argue against both of thesepositions, and for similar reasons. Turkle''scelebration and Introna''s condemnation of informationtechnology both depend, so I will argue, on the samemistaken meta-interpretation of it. Like Introna,however, but to achieve a different end, I will enlistLevinas''s ethical philosophy to make this case. (shrink)
How we learn to interpret our experiences influences the sorts of experiences we seek. In other words, habits of mind become habits of action. Cybernetics, as a way of thinking, changes how we act. My testimony demonstrates that the appeal of cybernetics remains strong today, for those who are lucky enough to stumble across its beauty, as I was. Cybernetics contributed to the theoretical foundation and conceptualization of my dissertation, and it positively influences my teaching, whether I (...) am teaching cybernetics explicitly or not. While I am fortunate to be able to integrate cybernetics in my work, what delights me most is living it in my every day. (shrink)
This article re-examines some of the principal concepts of cybernetics — control, communication, feedback — and its preoccupation with the ‘coupling’ of human and machine in an increasingly automated world. Historically, the rise of cybernetics coincides with the so-called Space Age, where the kind of computerized control systems theorized in cybernetics were essential to the guidance and operation of the complex machinery required to place humans and machines in space. Taking the Apollo programme as a paradigmatic case (...) of accelerated technological evolution, the article looks at aspects of the human-machine relationship in Apollo and more specifically at the modes of interface — ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’ — which mediated that relationship. Despite a certain humanism of control which posits the human agent as the ultimate instance of perception, decision and action, it is argued that the evolutionary tendency detectable in the Apollo programme is towards the progressive marginalization, or ‘redundancy’, of the human agent. (shrink)
The history of British cybernetics offers us a different form of science and engineering, one that does not seek to dominate nature through knowledge. I want to say that one can distinguish two different paradigms in the history of science and technology: the one that Heidegger despised, which we could call the Modern paradigm, and another, cybernetic, nonModern, paradigm that he might have approved of. This essay focusses on work in the 1950s and early 1960s by two of Britain’s (...) leading cyberneticians, Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask, in the field of what one can call biological computing. My object is to get as clear as I can on what Beer and Pask were up to. At the end, I will discuss Beer’s hylozoist ontology of matter, mind and spirit. This material is not easy to get the hang of—but that is what one should expect from an unfamiliar paradigm. (shrink)
Well-known critics of AI such as Hubert Dreyfus and Michael Polanyi tend to confuse cybernetics with AI. Such a confusion is quite misleading and should not be overlooked. In the first place, cybernetics is not vulnerable to criticism of AI as cognitivistic and behaviouristic. In the second place, AI researchers are recommended to consider the cybernetics approach as a way of overcoming the limitations of cognitivism and behaviourism.
Interpretation of 3D seismic data involves the analysis and integration of many forms and derivatives of the original reflectivity data. This can lead to the generation of an overwhelming amount of data that can be difficult to use effectively when relying on conventional interpretation techniques. Our natural cognitive processes have evolved so that we can absorb and understand large amounts of complex data extremely quickly and effectively. However, these cognitive processes are heavily influenced by context and color perception. Seismic interpretation (...) can benefit greatly through better exploiting the positive aspects of visual cognition and through techniques designed to minimize the pitfalls inherent in the cognitive process. The interpretation of data also requires the ability to combine data analysis with knowledge and expertise that is held by the interpreter. It is this combination of visual perception techniques to see the information, combined with interpreter guidance to understand what is seen, that makes interpretation of seismic data effective. Geological Expression workflows that are data driven and interpreter guided enable us to see and effectively interpret the geology that is present in the seismic data. In effect this gives us a Cognitive Interpretation of the data. (shrink)
Artificial intelligence and the interrogation game; Scientific method and explanation; Godel's incompleteness theorem; Determinism and uncertainty; Axioms, theorems and formalisation; Creativity; Consciousness and free will; Pragmatics; A ...
Organizational cybernetics offers theoretical and methodological support for self-organizing communities seeking to contribute to the conscious evolution of society. Previous experiences with the Viable Systems Model (VSM) and Team Syntegrity (TS) illustrate ways of enabling social networks to create a shared language, reach democratic agreements, and develop knowledge networks.
Cybernetics as a usable past Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9497-x Authors Ronald R. Kline, Science and Technology Studies Department, 334 Rockefeller Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
It is asked to what extent answers to such questions as ?Can machines think??, ?Could robots have feelings?? might be expected to yield insight into traditional mind?body questions. It has sometimes been assumed that answering the first set of questions would be the same as answering the second. Against this approach other philosophers have argued that answering the first set of questions would not help us to answer the second. It is argued that both of these assessments are mistaken. It (...) is then claimed, although not argued in detail, that the following three approaches to the first set of questions are mistaken: (1) machines (and robots) obviously cannot think, feel, create, etc., since they do only what they are programmed to do; (2) on the basis of ah analysis of the meaning of the words ?machine? ('robot?, ?think?, ?feel?, etc.) we can see that in principle it would be impossible for machines (or robots) to think, feel, create, etc.; (3) machines (and robots) obviously can (or could) think, feel, etc., since they do certain things which, if we were to do them, would require thought, feeling, etc. It is argued that, once it is seen why approach (2) is mistaken, it becomes desirable to decline ?in principle? approaches to the first set of questions and to favor ?piecemeal investigations? where attention is centered upon what is actually taking place in machine technology, the development of new programming techniques, etc. Some suggestions are made concerning the relevance of current computer simulation studies to traditional mind?body questions. A new set of questions is proposed as a substitute for the first set of questions. It is hoped that attempts to answer these may provide us with new and detailed portraits of the mind?body relationship. (shrink)
The ideas and methods of cybernetics are increasingly penetrating the biological and medical sciences, and today we are justified in speaking of a new branch of science: biological and medical cybernetics. This branch already has a number of important and encouraging subfields.
The field of information technology is broadened up to the domain of ‘learning’ systems and cybernetics. In covering this extension of the field due recourse is made to the epistemological basis of theory construction. When so comprehended, information technology becomes a philosophical inquiry on a variety of social, scientific and technological issues. A new idea that we refer to as neuro-cybernetics is born. The term neuro-cybernetics is used to delineate the epistemological field of system and cybernetic study. (...) The above-mentioned phenomenological or the epistemic model of a cybernetic and system type is applied to flood control problem in Bangladesh. This example presents an application of the cybernetic model to a physico-human problem. This is the nature of socio-scientific system. In it, organically unifying relations occur between the environment and the human world, with the objective of controlling the perennial problem of floods by using interactive factors. (shrink)
At mid-career as a tenured professor of modern literature, I finally found cybernetics. It was a slow-rolling revelation, a protracted unraveling, for it took me quite a while to unwrap cybernetics’ conceptual core from out of the layers of adjacent or covering discourses that had obscured or forgotten their own origins in the fecundity of cybernetic ideas. Heinz von Foerster’s relation to the Whole Earth Catalog and the systems counterculture around CoEvolution Quarterly were instrumental for my subsequent cybernetic (...) development toward the work of Maturana, Varela, and Luhmann on the one hand, and Lovelock and Margulis on the other. (shrink)
The program of which the cybernetics conferences are a part is described as "an experiment in communication, still in progress," in which the emphasis is on informal and critical discussion rather than uninterrupted presentation of formal papers. The articles have a refreshing frankness about them. Included are an introduction and a summing up of the previous nine conferences by Warren S. McCulloch, and articles on brain activity, on measures of semantic information, and on the nature and acquisition of meaning (...) in language. ---D. S. (shrink)
There is no science that does not rest on a metaphysics, though typically it remains concealed. It is the responsibility of the philosopher to uncover this metaphysics, and then to subject it to criticism. What I have tried to show is that cybernetics, far from being the apotheosis of Cartesian humanism, as Heidegger supposed, actually represented a crucial moment in its demystification, and indeed in its deconstruction.
Goals, purposefulness, and appropriateness are philosophical categories that are rather widely employed in cybernetics. However, the needed exactness in the use of these concepts and, above all, of the concept "goal," is lacking. As a rule, writers employing that concept do not explain what precisely they designate as the "goal" in the functioning of a given cybernetic system. Does the system itself set the goal toward which the system "consciously" strives? Or does man set the goal for the automatic (...) machine? Or is movement toward a goal a process differing from the conscious striving of man but having something in common with the latter? (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the article “Designing Academic Conferences in the Light of Second-Order Cybernetics” by Laurence D. Richards. Upshot: Richards offers a variety of second-order concepts relevant when designing academic conferences. I insist and add on a few ideas. An emphasis for both: How can one design a space and structure that encourages deep conversations?
Sheldon Richmond has written an insightful and exhaustive review of my book The Nature of the Machine and the Collapse of Cybernetics: A Transhumanist Lesson for Emerging Technologies. Richmond voices concerns regarding some suggestions I made about the future of humanity vis-à-vis a contemporary cybernetic reinstantiation in the form of Emerging Technologies. He suggests that future cybernetically rooted sciences can pose peril for the human condition. This reply is intended to clarify certain points that Richmond brings up, by means (...) of responding to his suggestion that cybernetics and transhumanism could be independently understood, and unveiling a metaphysical and ethical stance, shared by Richmond, critical to the observations I made regarding a “cybernetically organized mankind” made possible by Emerging Technologies. I identify Richmond’s position as precautionary in nature, for reasons perhaps m... (shrink)
Understanding the differences between scientific approaches to cybernetics is difficult because of the very different histories and intellectual traditions in Russia and the West, i.e. the U.S. and Europe. This paper, firstly, describes the peculiarities of the Russian style of scientific thinking, considering as an example Alexander Bogdanov’s theory in context of the Russian intellectual tradition. Secondly, the paper compares Vladimir E. Lepskiy’s and Stuart A. Umpleby’s theories of cybernetics looking at them through the prism of Russian and (...) American intellectual traditions. Western cybernetics of the second order includes biological and social versions. It arose from “experimental epistemology.” The goal was to understand the processes of cognition on the basis of neurophysiological experiments, as a result of which cyberneticians came to the conclusion that the observer cannot be excluded from science. Biological cybernetics is concerned with how the brain creates descriptions of the world. Little attention is paid to the world since it already is included in the perceptions of the observer. Social cybernetics is concerned with how people act in the world. Theories or descriptions are thought to be less important than appropriate actions. The Russian interpretation of second-order cybernetics develops its social version. The paper concludes that the differences described demonstrate the great potential for ideas from Russian and Western scientists to enrich further development of cybernetics and science in East and West. (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the article “Cybernetic Foundations for Psychology” by Bernard Scott. Upshot: Based on my personal and professional experiences as a university teacher of social work, systemic psychotherapy, and education, I suggest the concepts of third-order cybernetics and synergetics as a support to creating a more unified and integrated framework of psychology to better understand and deal with complex, self-organizing systems.
The Soviet Union had a long and complex relationship with cybernetics, especially in the domain of planning. This article looks at Soviet postwar efforts to draw up plans for the rapidly developing, industrializing, and urbanizing Siberia, where cybernetic models were used to develop a vision of cybernetic socialism. Removed from Moscow bureaucracy and politics, the various planning institutes of the Siberian Academy of Sciences became a key frontier for exploring the potential of cybernetic thinking to offer a necessary corrective (...) to Soviet planning. Researchers there put forth a vision of a dynamic Soviet economy managed through partially automated subsystems, which, while decentralized, would grant the central planning apparatus flexibility, a capacity for emergence, and overall solvency in the face of increasingly complex factors that required consideration. (shrink)
Any great new theoretical framework has an epistemological and an ontological aspect to its philosophy as well as an axiological one, and one needs to understand all three aspects in order to grasp the deep aspiration and idea of the theoretical framework. Presently, there is a widespread effort to understand C. S. Peirce's (1837–1914) pragmaticistic semeiotics, and to develop it by integrating the results of modern science and evolutionary thinking; first, producing a biosemiotics and, second, by integrating it with the (...) progress in cybernetics, information science, and system theory to create a cybersemiotics. In this paper, we focus on the understanding of the evolution of the universe that Peirce produced as an alternative to the mechanistic view underlying classical physics and try to place man in an evolving universe as a creative, aesthetical agent. It is true that modern non-equilibrium physics has made a modern foundation for a profound physical understanding of the basic evolutionary processes in the universe. But science still has not produced a theory that can explain how the creativity of the universe could produce signification, interpretation, and first-person consciousness. To this end, Peirce's thoughts on agapastic evolution coupled with the aesthetically influence of the growth of ideas and reasonableness on man could make a contribution. (shrink)
In the paper, a philosophical and methodological analysis of the evolution of cybernetics in the context of the development of scientific rationality is carried out. The evolution of cybernetics is represented as a movement from the methodology of “observable systems” and to the methodology of “observing systems” and to the methodology of self-developing reflexive-active environments. Special attention is paid to the formation of a new promising direction for post-non-classical cybernetics of self-developing poly-subject environments, which, given the correlation (...) with previous stages of cybernetics development, we define as thirdorder cybernetics. The analysis of the basics of the formation of third-order cybernetics was carried out with consideration of interrelated aspects: philosophical, methodological, theoretical, and methodical. We also provide model of self-developing poly-subject environments as well as a system of ontologies, defining the mechanisms of functioning of such self-organizing poly-subject environments and active elements that organize the communication space. The ontology system also makes it possible to integrate cybernetics of the first, second, and third order. Some sociohumanitarian trends in the development of cybernetics are considered: from an external observer to a distributed observer; from monodisciplinary to transdisciplinary approaches; from activity approach to subject-activity one, and further to subject-oriented approach; from information to active knowledge; from ethics of goals to ethics of strategic subjects. Potential opportunities for using third-order cybernetics are described, in order to improve the quality of solving a number of important scientific and practical problems of controlling social systems. Information is provided on the directions of approbation of a third-order cybernetics concept for improving state administration, based on a system of distributed situational centers, and there is its approbation at international scientific conferences. (shrink)