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Cybernetic orders of self-referential feedback


Global Economy of Truth as a Ponzi Scheme (Part #8)


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There is an intriguing pattern of similarity between the above instances and the distinctions made by cybernetics, especially knowledge cybernetics, between orders of feedback (Maurice Yolles, Knowledge Cybernetics: a new metaphor for social collectives, Journal of Organisational Transformation and Social Change, 3, 2006).:

Of particular relevance is the sense in which the higher levels necessarily preclude to an ever greater degree the posssibility of questioning and negative feedback. This may be recognized in terms of ever higher orders of the certainty offered by confirmation bias. Beyond the requirements for double loop learning, as variously advocated, the arguments of Maurice Yolles and Gerhard Fink point to the potential role of system comprehension in terms of third-, fourth- and fifth-order cybernetics (Generic Agency Theory, Cybernetic Orders and New Paradigms, 2014):

First order cybernetics: It is the systems sciences, and notably cybernetics, that explore negative feedback loops between the elements of well-bounded systems leading to an objectivist positivist approach. Cybernetics was initially the study of the "objective" control of machines (artificial and natural). Heinz von Foerster (Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics, 1991) has however suggested a form of "zero-order cybernetics" when activity becomes structured; when 'behaviour' emerges, but without reflection upon the 'why' and the 'how' of this behaviour. Cybernetics is then implicit

Second order cybernetics: This extends cybernetics to include the interface with the observer, the "subjective" feature of cognitive methodology -- a theory of the observer based on functional-constructivism. Partly inspired by the work of Gestalt psychology, the question that emerged was the extent to which an inner representation of the outer world was a valid portrait of the macrocosm "outside"? How should this internal microcosmic representation be used in order to avoid illusions and abusive action?

That which is observed cannot be neatly abstracted and separated from the observer's own biological, nervous and cerebral structuration (cf Sara B. Jutoran. From Observed Systems to Observing Systems, 1985/2005). Related explorations are associated with constructivist epistemology (Humberto Maturana, Paul Watzlawick and Ernst von Glasersfeld), the hypercycle (Manfred Eigen) and the self-referential calculus (Francisco Varela, A Calculus for Self-reference, International Journal of General Systems, 2, 1975, pp. 5-24). A journal is now devoted to the issues of second order cybernetics, autopoiesis and cyber-semiotics (Cybernetics and Human Knowing).

Third order cybernetics: Because of the intimate connection with reflection on social constructivism and constructivist epistemology, the use of "second order cybernetics" has been interwoven with various proposals for a "third order cybernetics". David Pocock (Loose Ends), offers a critique of such usage in family therapy -- an obvious example of "mutable worlds". Another discussion speculated on the distinction: 1st order cybernetics is spectacular; 2nd order cybernetics is simulating potential fields with request/response; 3rd order cybernetics is potential fields. Note also the discussion by Kent D Palmer (On the Social Construction of Emergent Worlds: the foundations of reflexive autopoietic systems theory, 1996).

In principle this represents the current state of the art. Here the observer is understood to be part of a coevolving system -- the focus is on how observers and systems co-evolve across different social systems. The dominant discourse isunderstood to be reproduced and transformed through local interactions. As noted by Chris Lucas (Complexity Theory: Actions for a Better World, 2001):

This is a more intrinsic (embodied) methodology and shows the ongoing convergence of all the various systemic disciplines, as part of the general world paradigm shift noticed recently towards more integrated approaches to science and life. In 21st Century systematics, boundaries between systems are only partial and this implies that we must evolve with our systems and cannot remain static outsiders. Thus our mental beliefs echo our systemic behaviours, we co-create our realities and therefore internal and external realities become one. Understanding this mutual control, exhibited by us on our world and our world on us, takes us into the metaview outlined here, where we can see ourselves as being part of the system under examination.
Fourth order cybernetics: Helpfully summarizing the contrasts between the above, M. Zangeneh and E. Haydon (The Psycho-Structural Cybernetic Model, Feedback, and Problem Gambling: a new theoretical approach, International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1, 2, 2004) propose a fourth order cybernetics as follows:
Central to this effort is the application of a unique, critical theory inspired by the works of Anthony Giddens (1971, 1990; see discussion on modernity and reflexivity) and John Francois Lyotard (1979; see discussion on postmodernity) to the cybernetic theoretical framework. The epistemological orientation of the theory proposed here is that of multiple realities shaped by social, cultural, economic, ethnic, gender and disability values, which centralize on the asymmetric power relations in society

Fourth order cybernetics is thus understood as concerned with how multiple realities are shaped by, and impinge upon, power relationships within society.


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