Some Cybernetics (external link) & Systems Theory (external link)


Black Box (external link) | Closed System (external link) (see also Isolated system (external link)) | Cybernetics (external link) | Feedback (external link) | Feedforward (external link) | Open system (external link) | System (external link)

An eighteenth century French automaton

Reconciling the living with the inanimate world

  • Most of us are familiar with some principles of cybernetics and systems theory, even if our understanding is hazy.
  • James Lovelock's (external link) famous Gaia Hypothesis (external link) is a good example of a systemic concept.
  • Systems Theory and Cybernetics are sometimes seen as synonymous. They both enable us to reconcile different systems in a unified way.
  • They share important terms such as System (external link) and Feedback (external link).
  • Feedback (external link) refers to the process whereby observations of a given action can be continuously 'fed back' to modify its ongoing progress.
  • The word cybernetics (external link) derives from the ancient Greek word for oarsman on a boat.
  • In the 1940s we took the principle behind the human ability to 'steer' and applied it to produce automatic gadgets that are self-correcting.
  • All steering processes apply what is called negative feedback (external link) to respond to detected errors.
  • This approach is now known as first order cybernetics. It reflects an interest in systems of 'control'.

Beyond First Order Cybernetics

  • First order cybernetics is still used to make steering systems for ships but it informs countless other applications.
  • These include interactive video games, missile control devices, the regulation of economic systems, bio-feedback systems.
  • Many people interpret this with respect to stable system state first order cybernetics.
  • With respect to Communication it has been called second order cybernetics which is more akin to Systems Theory (external link).
  • They emphaisize the importance of relationships affecting the system statenegative feedback (external link) processes.
  • They showed that isolated systems (external link) do not occur in nature, therefore feedback is more essential than we realized.
  • Much of this feedback may also be in the form of positive feedback (external link), that may drive systems into a saturation state.
  • It also emphasized the importance of many more relations among the parts, their interactions, and their relationships to the whole.
  • This approach enables us to describe and monitor different levels of complexity in any system.
  • It enables us to describe the system in question, whilst reflecting how it behaves within the wider context.
  • Although this is not, intrinsically, a mathematical principle, many cyberneticians have used mathematical equations.
  • The biologist (e.g. Ludwig von Bertalanffy (external link)) used equations to understand how living 'systems' work.
  • Living Systems Theory (external link) is especially relevant to our research into metadesign and Attainable Utopias.
  • Third Order Cybernetics takes this understanding one step further: of the relationships affect the system state, then the type of relationshop must develop the stability of the system.
  • Third Order Cybernetics deals with the stability of the system; with respect to itself and with respect to the context.
  • Third Order Cybernetics is therefor about interfaccing, and regards the effect of the interaction on both sides.It means that it goes beyond the definition of the system.
  • Fourth Order Cybernetics takes this one step further: if the system is determined by its contact with its context, then the reverse applies also.
  • Fourth Order Cybernetics deals with, simultaneously, the system and its context. The principles involved are already implied in First Order Cybernetics.

Four Orders of Cybrnetics

#LevelThe kind of systems that are applicable at this levelDefining characteristics
1First Order Cybernetics'Self-steering' is assumed to be isolated from the act of observationNegative feedback functions as part of a mechanical process to maintain homeostasis
2Second Order CyberneticsThe process of 'self-steering' is now understood to to be affected by observer/s but this is insufficiently complex to encourage new values emergePositive and negative feedback can lead to morphogenesis
3Third Order CyberneticsThe process is understood as an interaction that affects / is affected by the observer. but does not address what this means for the response-ability of the participant observerValues emerge
4Fourth Order CyberneticsMultiple realities emerge by the freedom of choice of the creative observer, that determine the outcome for both the system and the observer. This puts demands on the self-awareness of the observer, and responsibility for/in action

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