Second Order Cybernetics

See First Order Cybernetics
See Third Order Cybernetics
See Fourth Order Cybernetics

The observer makes a difference...

  • A significant problem with first order cybernetics is that it assumed that some systems are 'closed'.
  • This black box (external link) approach is now discredited, because nothing is totally isolated.
  • Heinz von Foerster (external link) saw that first order cybernetics also, therefore, ignored the role of the observer.
  • He described a Second Order Cybernetics (external link), saying that it is a "cybernetics of cybernetics." (Von Foerster, 1991)
  • His understanding of this idea is inclusive of what we now call Third and Fourth Order Cybernetics.
  • This acknowledges that whole systems (not just parts) can change whilst they are being used. See his webpage (external link).

...because there are no 'closed systems'

  • The thermostatic control system was depicted as a first order system (i.e. as totally independent from its surroundings, therefore impervious to an observer).
  • This model tended to acknowledge only negative feedback (external link) and its compensatation for deviations from the target.
  • Even a Black Hole (external link) is not a black box, because it has (at least) a gravitational relationship with its neighbours.
  • The 'observer' could be the system designer or someone who adjusts the thermostat.
  • It could even be someone who doubts whether the thermostat is working and makes a comment.
  • Second order cybernetics (external link) therefore raises important issues of an ethical (external link) nature.

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