Although psychology was not his primary discipline, Heinz von Foerster made many valuable contributions to psychology which are still being assimilated. In this paper, I briefly review those contributions and set them in context. I then comment more generally on both how cybernetics has influenced psychology in the past and how it may be hoped and expected to do so in the future.
This paper is a collection of thoughts, notes, and gnomic utterances on the nature of morality, its nurture and education. The basic stance taken is presented as an argument. Epistemological considerations tell us that morality is beyond reason. Insofar as we are committed to a moral stance, then we are, in our daily lives, acting more or less effectively as moral agents and are both students and teachers of morality. Insofar as we can, we attempt to control and regulate our lives and our worlds. With the perspectives of a natural scientist, a social scientist and a mathematician, we compute and understand our worlds as models, mechanisms. Here, reason is used as a tool to guide our actions. The general science or praxis of such reasoned action is usefully distinguished as a distinct discipline, cybernetics or governance. That is, the theories and philosophies of the cybernetician are lived. In this sense, we are all cyberneticians, in worlds that we construct, maintain, and control. If reason addresses itself to itself, it becomes mindful of the unknown and recognizes that belief is prior to reason. Beliefs are the control processes which regulate our actions as we regulate the world. As controllers, we are capable of self-programming. Biological and sociological considerations lead us to recognize our nature as allopoetic other-constructed, heteronomous systems as well as autopoetic self-constructed, autonomous systems. Beliefs in the form of commands, rules, propositions, convey emotive and cognitive meaning. They allow access to higher states of consciousness, where, reflexively, they stand as absolutes, eternal truths. The cybernetics of consciousness is coextensive with sorcery and mysticism. Ecstasy and agony, power and fear, ignorance and wisdom are their poles. Philosophy is the love of wisdom which leads to love.
For several years now, the author of this paper has worked in the broad field of education: as student and teacher, as research worker and scholar. His activities have brought him into contact with a number of fields of knowledge and academic disciplines: psychology, biology, cybernetics, sociology, philosophy, mathematics and the physical sciences. As a student and practitioner, there was a practical need to deal with the several fields and disciplines and their inter-relations in a coherent or otherwise systematic way. From the beginning there was a search for unity, for fundamental principles. With further exposure to the various fields and disciplines, there was the recognition that the search in question had exercised men’s minds for millennia; that from a very early stage, there had been critical debate as to the existence or knowability of such fundamentals; that there had been innumerable attempts to map them out or in other ways capture them in the net of reason and that the debate continues, in a lively manner. This paper is an attempt to shed light on the debate by the judicious juxtaposition of knowing by acquaintance personal knowing and propositional knowledge that is, public knowledge, addressed to users of truth assertive, objectivity claiming languages Brent, 1978. The main thesis developed is that all knowing is personal knowing and that public knowledge is a secondary or derived phenomenon. The forms of public knowledge can be characterised by classification, more or less adequately; the form of personal knowing can be characterised in a content independent manner only. The essential content of personal knowing cannot be so characterised; it will always evade any attempt to capture it in the form of propositional knowledge. This thesis is by no means new or original. What is original is the bringing together, in one place, the work of philosophers on the nature and forms of knowledge, the work of psychologists, cyberneticians and others on cognition and some of the ideas, dictums and practises of those whose main concern is with the use of personal knowledge as a way of life or as a path to enlightenment.
This paper discusses the nature of mathematical thinking from the viewpoint of cognitive psychology. This is followed by a discussion of the practical needs and problems associated with mathematics teaching in Primary Schools. Some necessarily cautious and speculative recommendations are made. Where appropriate, reference is made to the literature on mathematics teaching and associated methods and materials. The author also has opportunity to refer to his own experiences as a teacher of mathematics, in a Primary School. Finally, there is a discussion of the emerging media in education and their likely impact on a new generation of teachers and pupils.
Open peer commentary on the article “Luhmann and the Constructivist Heritage: A Critical Reflection” by Eva Buchinger. Upshot: I acknowledge the value of Buchinger’s contribution to my understanding of Luhmann’s theory of social systems and seek some clarification and elaboration concerning specific issues. In particular, I raise some questions about the concepts of meaning processing and of psychic systems and persons, with reference to related ideas developed by Gordon Pask and myself. I also question how Luhmann uses the term “autopoiesis.”
This paper presents a thesis about how the logic of life can shed light on how to understand the complexity of life in such a way as to how allow some degree of predictability about how possible futures for mankind might unfold. The expression ‘the logic of life’ is used to refer to how the abstract truths of cybernetics can be used to delimit both what is possible ontologically and also what is possible epistemologically. The ontological limits may be thought of as first order truths about observed systems that delimit what may happen and what may be done. The epistemological limits may be thought of as second order truths about observing systems that delimit what they may come to know. The expression ‘the complexity of life’ refers to the perceived complexity of a human observer’s world.
The paper highlights the need for education that is truly enlightening, an education that provides reflexive awareness of what it is to be a human social actor, one that is empowering for self-determination, one that makes clear the nature of ethical choices, in particular, the choice between, on the one hand, selfless service for the greater good or, on the other hand, the pursuit of short-term personal goals. The paper sets itself in the context of the many problems that are facing humankind globally in the 21st century. The main thesis is that an education for awareness is a necessary part of any putative solutions for dealing with the global problems holistically. I set out in outline the curriculum for such an education. In spirit, the curriculum in itself is not new. What is innovative is the use of concepts from cybernetics to to give form and content to that curriculum.
Context: The field of psychology consists of many specialist domains of activity, which lack shared foundations. This means that the field as a whole lacks conceptual coherence. Problem: The aim of the article is to show how second-order cybernetics can provide both foundations and a unifying conceptual framework for psychology. Method: The field of psychology is overviewed. There is then a demonstration of how cybernetics can provide both foundations and a unifying conceptual framework. This entails defining some key cybernetics concepts and showing how they have already permeated the field, largely implicitly, and showing how, when made explicit, they can unify the field. Results: I show how concepts from second-order cybernetics can unify “process” and “person” approaches within psychology and can also unify individual psychology and social psychology, a unification that also builds conceptual bridges with sociology. Implications: The results are of value for bringing order to an otherwise inchoate field. They afford better communication between those working in the field, which is likely to give rise to new research questions and more effective ways of tackling them. Constructivist content: Central to the article is a reliance on concepts taken from the constructivist perspective of second-order cybernetics.
Context: Although there are rich descriptive accounts of skill acquisition in the literature, there are no satisfactory explanatory models of the cognitive processes involved. Problem: The aim of the paper is to explain some key phenomena frequently observed in the acquisition of motor skills: the loss of conscious access to knowledge of the structure of a skill and the awareness that an error has been made prior to the receipt of knowledge of results. Method: In the 1970s, the first author implemented a computer program model of the cognitive processes involved in learning and skill acquisition, based on a series of empirical investigations. Recently, with assistance from the second author, the model has been reviewed, updated and re-implemented. Result: The model provides a constructivist account of skill acquisition and associated phenomena. Implications: The model adds to the understanding of motor skill acquisition and will be of interest to researchers and practitioners in physical therapy and sports science. It is also provides a constructivist cognitive architecture that can be fruitfully contrasted with non-constructivist cognitive architectures well-known in cognitive science.