When confronted with issues dealing with first and second order cybernetics, it seems that the manner of defining the former has been somewhat caricatured. The second appears to sometimes give rise to conclusions which are almost opposite to those of Wiener by questioning the possibility of a control for a system. We find in Wiener’s research a prefiguration of the autonomy concept, which, in our opinion, could bring an explanation – and a solution – in cases where control elicits some perverse effect; an acceptance of positive feedback if it serves a desired purpose; the central importance held for him by ergodic theory that we use in an addendum on imbalanced strange attractors control; the idea of a knowledge which may be the fruit of the control; an interest for logical paradoxes he put in relation to communication in nervous system; and already the notion of dialogue in the core of the relation man/man or man/machine. Of course, Wiener did not accord an equal development to all his insights, but we have not yet finished scrutinizing his writings. First and second order cybernetics perhaps form an agonistic/antagonistic couple of which neither element could overshadow the other.
Purpose: Yerkish is an artificial language created in 1971 for the specific purpose of exploring the linguistic potential of nonhuman primates. The aim of this paper is to remind the research community of some important issues and concepts related to Yerkish that seem to have been forgotten or appear to be distorted. These are, particularly, its success, its promising aspects for future research and last but not least that it was Ernst von Glasersfeld who invented Yerkish: he coined the term “lexigrams,” created the first 120 of them and designed the grammar that regulated their combination. Design: The first part of this paper begins with a short outline of the context in which the Yerkish language originated: the original LANA project. It continues by presenting the language itself in more detail: first, its design, focusing on its “lexigrams” and its “correlational” grammar (the connective functions or “correlators” and the combinations of lexigrams, or “correlations”), and then its use by the chimpanzee Lana in formulating sentences. The second part gives a brief introduction to the foundation of Yerkish in Silvio Ceccato’s Operational Methodology, particularly his idea of the correlational structure of thought and concludes with the main insights that can be derived from the Yerkish experiment seen in the light of Operational Methodology. Findings: Lana’s success in language learning and the success of Yerkish during the past decades are probably due to the characteristics of Yerkish, particularly its foundation in operational methodology. The operation of correlation could be what constitutes thinking in a chimpanzee and an attentional system could be what delivers the mental content that correlation assembles into triads and networks. Research implications: Since no other assessment or explanation of Lana’s performances has considered these foundational issues (findings), a new research project or program should validate the above-mentioned hypotheses, particularly the correlational structure of chimpanzee thinking.
Context: Meeting Ernst von Glasersfeld for the first time in 1985, when about 70% of his work had still to be conceived, written and published, was a great stroke of fortune for me; it was based on my collaboration with Silvio Ceccato that had started in 1981 and it profoundly influenced my contributions to radical constructivism in the following 25 years of our friendship. Problem: Presenting the details of how it all began can shed a light on the development of constructivist ideas. Method: Anecdotes from 1979 to 1985 about how I came to meet Silvio Ceccato in Milan in 1981 and the influence of these events on preparing the 1985 meeting with Ernst von Glasersfeld, also in Milan. Results: The article describes the timeline of 50 years of publications by von Glasersfeld, an anecdote about a connection between Ceccato and the University of Zurich in the 60s, the attempt to present Ceccato’s ideas as compatible and complementary with the neuroscience discourse in 1985, von Glasersfeld’s opinion about this attempt, and this attempt’s potential influence on the emergence of a new concept in neuroscience, “EEG microstates.” Implications: The events and facts reported in the article help us to understand some aspects of an early phase in the development of radical constructivism, especially the relationship between Ceccato, von Glasersfeld and other members of the Italian Operational School such as Bruna Zonta, Felice Accame, and the author himself.
Context: In his work on neurophenomenology, the late Francisco Varela overtly tackled the well-known “hard problem” of the (physical) origin of phenomenal consciousness. Problem: Did he have a theory for solving this problem? No, he declared, only a “remedy.” Yet this declaration has been overlooked: Varela has been considered (successively or simultaneously) as an idealist, a dualist, or an identity theorist. Results: These primarily theoretical characterizations of Varela’s position are first shown to be incorrect. Then it is argued that there exists a stance (let’s call it the Varelian stance) in which the problem of the physical origin of primary consciousness, or pure experience, does not even arise. Implications: The nature of the “hard problem” of consciousness is changed from an intellectual puzzle to an existential option. Constructivist content: The role of ontological prejudice about what the world is made of (a prejudice that determines the very form of the “hard problem” as the issue of the origin of consciousness out of a pre-existing material organization) is downplayed, and methodologies and attitudes are put to the fore.
Purpose: At Silvio Ceccato’s suggestion, I invited Ernst von Glasersfeld to the “Séminaire Leibniz” which took place in Brussels, in February 1961. The paper he delivered then, Operational Semantics: Analysis of Meaning in Terms of Operations, was included in a Euratom internal report and is published here for the first time. Conclusion: These early works clearly show von Glasersfeld’s methodological and philosophical coherence as well as his faithfulness to Ceccato’s endeavour.
Upshot: Paul Braffort was in charge of the research department GRISA (Groupe de Recherches sur l’Information Scientifique Automatique) in EURATOM when Ernst von Glasersfeld joined Silvio Ceccato’s group in the early 1960s. With these responsibilities he provided the initial funding for the work on language analysis that later Ernst brought to the US. In his essay Braffort describes von Glasersfeld’s professional involvements in France and Italy.
Upshot: The three OPCs are instructive and inspiring, in particular for their pursuing of the question-generating function of Luhmann’s approach. Whereas Müller elaborates three broad perspectives (inventors, interpreters, and readers of constructivism), Scott concentrates on three specific socio-psychological issues (meaning, person, autopoiesis) and Whitaker addresses especially autopoiesis. In the response I first deal with specific issues and then with Müller’s three perspectives.
Context: Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic social systems is increasingly receiving attention in the scholarly dispute about constructivism. Problem: The paper explores the transition from Kant’s “transcendental/empirical” to Luhmann’s “system/environment” distinction to provide a deepened understanding of Luhmann’s constructivist approach. Method: Luhmann’s construction of reality via the system/environment distinction is discussed with respect to preceding concepts provided by philosophical and system/cybernetic scholars such as Kant, Husserl, Piaget, von Glasersfeld, von Foerster, and Maturana & Varela. The innovativeness of Luhmann’s approach is then critically evaluated. Results: Luhmann’s contribution to constructivism is innovative only in the context of his stringent theory architecture of autopoietic meaning-based systems. Implications: The text is a contribution to the positioning of this approach as part of the philosophical and systems/cybernetics constructivist heritage.
Upshot: Written by recognized experts in their fields, the book is a set of essays that deals with the influences of early cybernetics, computational theory, artificial intelligence, and connectionist networks on the historical development of computational-representational theories of cognition. In this review, I question the relevance of computability arguments and Jonasian phenomenology, which has been extensively invoked in recent discussions of autopoiesis and Ashby’s homeostats. Although the book deals only indirectly with constructivist approaches to cognition, it is useful reading for those interested in machine-based models of mind.
Context: In this empirical and conceptual paper on the historical, philosophical, and epistemological backgrounds of second-order cybernetics, the emergence of a significant pedagogical component to Heinz von Foerster’s work during the last years of the Biological Computer Laboratory is placed against the backdrop of social and intellectual movements on the American landscape. Problem: Previous discussion in this regard has focused largely on the student radicalism of the later 1960s. A wider-angled view of the American intellectual counterculture is needed. However, this historical nexus is complicated and more often dismissed than brought into clear focus. Method: This essay assembles a historical sequence of archival materials for critical analysis, linked to a conceptual argument eliciting from those materials the second-order cybernetic concepts of observation, recursion, and paradox. Results: In this period, von Foerster found the “positive of the negative” in the social and intellectual unrest of that moment and cultivated those insights for the broader constitution of a new cognitive orientation. Implications: As a successful student of his own continuing course on heuristics, von Foerster left the academic mainstream to ally his constructivist epistemology with the systems counterculture.