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By Gary Boyd

CONCORDIA University, Montreal Quebec Canada

At first glance, the juxtaposition of “CYBERNETICS” and “WHOLENESS” seems highly anomalous, because, as one can see from its literature, cybernetics deals with how living sub-systems regulate, steer and reproduce themselves, and produce other (eg. machine) subsystems which are steerable or self-steering or self-reproducing etc.

ALL that, has just to do with the behaviour and interaction of only PARTS!

Historically, it also seems anomalous, because cybernetics(“The SCIENCE of communication and control”) grew out of the long “project of the enlightenment” to, as objectively as possible, model the universe, and then use the model through conjectures and refutations in The Royal Society and elsewhere, recursively to improve itself, and ALSO to use the coherent scientific model as a basis for changing things & people to increase the happiness and well-being of ever more people.

Alas, in the nineteenth century the enlightenment project of science & technology was savagely attacked by the romantics: Goethe, Blake, Herder and Schopenhauer who put forward instead the cause of “Natural Philosophy” based on a mystical and possibly magical belief in “UNITY”. Although this led to a wonderful efflourescence of literature and art, it did very little for the material improvement of life. Curiously at the end of the twentieth century the “post-modermnists” and “deconstructionists” seem to be re-trying to repeat the romanticist's old strategy (with new words).

Fortunately, the world community of nineteenth century sciencers was undeterred and went on with building better models and theories - especially noteworthy were the contributions of Maxwell and Darwin which stood out as leading lights. With James Watt constucting one of the first man-made cybernetic controllers -the flyball governor, for steam engines etc. In the Early twentieth century attempts were made to bring scientific rationality and progress into even social and psychological studies. Watson's “behaviourism” was a stoical advance, and Skinner's version which in cybernetic terms makes use of a stochastic learning automaton model, is still valid within its limits, and is quite useful for training animals (including humanimals). Bill Powers “control theory” is a current cybernetic (negative-feedback learning hierarchy model) improvement on behaviorism. But neither deal very well with the strange recursion of modelling oneself.

Significantly, one of the great enlightenment thinkers made a very serious mistake: Descartes publicized his touchstone principle as “cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am). Unfortunately he didn't realise thast he couldn't think without the aid of language learned from others.

Now thanks to Wittgenstein (who demonstrated the impossibility of purely “private language”) Kenneth Gergen the Princeton social-psychologist, is able to point out clearly that what Descates should have said is: “Communicamus ergo sum!” (We communicate therefore we are!).

And this of course brings one back to cybernetics the science of communicontrol. WE communicate to do things (perhaps just to do things with ideas) -so there is always an element of control in communication. The socio-psychological(etc.)cybernetics of self-observing systems, has been named “second-order cybernetics” by Heinz Von Foerster. It is the cybernetics centred in learning about ourselves/changing ourselves type learning-conversations (Pask).

Now that science is re-introducing the centrality of WE (instead of the narcissisticism of I) perhaps we are getting back to “wholeness”? This revolutionary new kind of wholeness is the integrity of a community of common-language users.

It may go way beyond the users of scientific-English say, because there is a wider community of users of mathematics, and of various scientific languages. Moreover lots of people and machines speak several languages ;so the whole planetary socio-technical system is a kind of unitary actor. Humanlife is one distributed autopoietic actor.

At a more sustenantially basic level Lovelock with his “Gaia hypothesis” has modelled the living mantle of the world as a multi-loop cybernetic control system which maintains ocean salinity and atmospheric oxygen percentage pretty nearly constant over hundreds of thousands of years. These two Cybernetic systems :Gaia and the Cyborg composed of humanimals and their machines “Humanlife” have to live together IF AT ALL. SO now new cybernetic arrangements must be instituted to ensure that we don't kill Gaia (i.e. commit VIVICIDE -the suicide of all Life on Earth). If we manage to change our cultures so they conserve each other's variety and that of Gaia why then we will have a kind of “Wholeness” worth bragging about!

Hence my second-order cybernetic slogan:

Act to promote eco-CO-cultural symbiosis!

Professor Gary McI?. Boyd, Education (Educational Technology Graduate Programme) and Associate Director, Academic Liaison, Audio Visual Department, Concordia University, 1455 Demaisonneuve West. Montreal, Quebec, CANADA H3 G-1M8. tel (514)8483459. fax (515)848 4520.

  • Promote “Grace & Grudge” Networking for Global Eco-Co-Cultural SYMBIOSES: i.e. Cybersystemically help especially those who help others to sustain the desire and ability to go on desiring and being able to do likewise indefinitely, joyously!***


Good idea! However,

1/ in Kantian language I would say that the only way to >avoid the mistake of Romantics and of our contemporary neo-Romantics is to >consider Gaia as a regulative ideal, without claiming for it a privilege of >describing the world as it is.

2/ in respect of 'Naturphilosophie' you list >Schopenhauer, for whom this certainly was not a focus and poor Goethe, who >dreamed up various nonsenses such as 'Urpflanz' but on a whole when compared >with Schelling and Hegel, was almost a scientific saint.
3/ “Cogito ergo sum” was a result of an unfortunate >foundationalist drive on part of Descartes. Do we want to repeat the old >follies by once more looking for some “Communicamus ergo sumus” (use at >least plural)?

4/ How abou pluralism on the level of scientific >theories as well as on the level of universal regulative theories - no such >thing as universal focus is either possible (remember the categorial >framework?) or even desirable. > Gaudeamus igitur! >Zora & Vladimir Zeman

cybernetics_and_wholeness.txt · Last modified: 2020/07/27 15:38 (external edit)