Purpose: In order to develop transdisciplinary working across the disciplines, clear epistemological foundations are required. The purpose of this paper is to show that sociocybernetics to provides the required unifying metadisciplinary epistemological foundations and transdisciplinary frameworks. Design/methodology/approach – The authors note that second-order cybernetics provides a metadisciplinary framework for discerning the causes and cures for the schisms within the natural and cognitive sciences. The particular contributions of sociocybernetics are to extend the second-order understandings to unify the social sciences and, by incorporating extant sociological theory back into the transdisciplinary pursuits of cybernetics and systems theory, to enlighten and enrich those pursuits. Findings: In order to highlight the power and fruitfulness of these contributions from sociocybernetics, the authors problematise, deconstruct and reconstruct key concepts concerned with human communication. To do this, they take as central the question, What is a symbol? and present a sociocybernetic, transdisciplinary solution. In doing so they make clear the epistemological poverty of approaches in cognitive science that are based on the thesis that brains and computers are both physical-symbol systems. Originality/value – The paper contributes to the metadisciplinary and transdisciplinary aims of cybernetics and, in particular, uses a sociocybernetic analysis to enlighten foundational issues in cognitive science.
Purpose: This paper aims to present an approach from first principles to the design of learning experiences in interactive learning environments, that is learning designs in the broadest sense. Design/methodology/approach – The approach is based on conversation theory CT, a theory of learning and teaching with principled foundations in cybernetics. The approach to learning design that is proposed is not dissimilar from other approaches such as that proposed by Rowntree. However, its basis in CT provides a coherent theoretical underpinning. Findings: Currently, in the world of e-learning, the terms instructional design and learning design are used to refer to the application of theories of learning and instruction to the creation of e-learning material and online learning experiences. The paper examines the roots of the two terms and discusses similarities and differences in usage. It then discusses how the processes of learning design fit into the larger processes of course, design, development and delivery. It goes on to examine the concept of a learning design pattern. Originality/value – The paper contends that, whilst learning design patterns are useful as starting-points for individual learning designs, learning designers should adopt the cybernetic principles of reflective practice – as expressed in CT – to create learning designs where received wisdom is enriched by contextual feedback from colleagues and learners.
Context: There is a long-running dispute within musicology regarding the relationship between music and language. The widespread acceptance of the position that music and language are distinct communicative modalities has encouraged the development of semiotic approaches that are similarly distinct. Problem: What would a semiotic theory look like that, while accepting the distinction of the modalities, unifies the semiotic approach under a single banner, together with logic? Method: The theory proposed for this role is that of the “semiotic eigencycle,” the workings of which are explored in terms of von Foerster’s trivial machines by considering musical temperament, and then in terms of non-trivial machines through an analysis of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony nr. 6 “Pathétique.” Results: The result is a view of music as an expression of a cognitive modality alongside those of natural language and logic, each of which constitutes irreducible phases of a single cognitive semiotic process. Such an approach allows music to inform semiotics as much as semiotics informs musicology. Implications: One of the unexpected implications of this view is that it suggests a way to understand the objective/subjective dichotomy as a construction, which may be of assistance in the maintenance of a methodological rejection thereof in more general discourse. Constructivist content: The article relies on the ideas of eigenforms and eigenbehavior, first proposed by von Foerster. The radical constructivist framework of von Glasersfeld is adopted throughout and forms the basis of much of the reasoning.
Preface: The exploration on which this work rests was begun towards the end of 1959. The subsequent record of it owes much, in its early stages, to the friendship and encouragement of Lord Russell, who was one of the few men at the beginning who could see a value in what I proposed to do. It owes equally, at a later stage, to the generous help of Dr J C P Miller, Fellow of University College and Lecturer in Mathematics in the University of Cambridge, who not only read the successive sets of printer's proofs, but also acted as an ever-available mentor and guide, and made many suggestions to improve the style and accuracy of both text and context. In 1963 I accepted an invitation of Mr H G Frost, Staff Lecturer in Physical Sciences in the Department of Extra-mural Studies in the University of London, to give a course of lectures on the mathematics of logic. The course was later extended and repeated annually at the Institute of Computer Science in Gordon Square, and from it sprang some of the context in the notes and appendices of this essay. I was also enabled, through the help of successive classes of pupils, to extend and sharpen the text. Others helped, but cannot, alas, all be mentioned. Of these the publishers (including their readers and their technical artist) were particularly cooperative, as were the printers, and, before this, Mrs Peter Bragg undertook the exacting task of preparing a typescript. Finally I should mention the fact that an original impetus to the work came from Mr I V Idelson, General Manager of Simon-MEL Distribution Engineering, the techniques here recorded being first developed not in respect of questions cf logic, but in response to certain unsolved problems in engineering.
[opening paragraph]: For the past decade or so, I have been engaged in a research project of sorts, examining the consequences and entailments of operating – in effect, living – from a second order cybernetic perspective. This engagement has included, as domains of interest, practices such as researching, “helping” (organizational consultancy, community development, family therapy, etc.), and teaching/ learning. However, I have also been concerned with blurring the distinctions between these different practices (such as, research as intervention, helping as research (or, at least, helping as reflective practice), etc.). Of course, this has involved my own work as a kind of autoethnography of second order cybernetic practice – but it has also involved work with diverse others. It has, for example, involved students studying a change process in their own organizations, with all of the reflexive issues involved in such an endeavor. This last, from a cybernetic standpoint, involves bearing in mind my own relationship to the students, as they become “subjects” and “researchers” (as do I) in the same interview process. My questions to them provide opportunities for a reexamination (and change of) their own research/ managerial work, as well as for mine.
Context: The relationship between design and science has shifted over recent decades. One bridge between the two is cybernetics, which offers perspectives on both in terms of their practice. From around 1980 onwards, drawing on ideas from cybernetics, Glanville has suggested that rather than apply science to design, it makes more sense to understand science as a form of design activity, reversing the more usual hierarchy between the two. I return to review this argument here, in the context of recent discussions in this journal regarding second-order science (SOS). Problem: Despite numerous connections to practice, second-order cybernetics (SOC) has tended to be associated with theory. As a result, SOC is perceived as separate to the more tangible aspects of earlier cybernetics in a way that obscures both the continuity between the two and also current opportunities for developing the field. Method: I review Glanville’s understanding of design, and particularly his account of scientific research as a design-like activity, placing this within the context of the shifting relation between science and design during the development of SOC, with reference to the work of Rittel and Feyerabend. Through this, I summarise significant parallels and overlaps between SOC and the contemporary concerns of design research. Results: I suggest that we can see design research not just as a field influenced by cybernetics but as a form of SOC practice even where cybernetics is not explicitly referenced. Implications: Given this, design research offers much to cybernetics as an important example of SOC that is both outward looking and practice based. As such, it bridges the gap between SOC and the more tangible legacy of earlier cybernetics, while also suggesting connections to contemporary concerns in this journal with SOS in terms of researching research. Constructivist content: By suggesting that we see design research as an example of SOC, I develop connections between constructivism and practice.
Context: The design of academic conferences, in which settings ideas are shared and created, is, we suggest, of more than passing interest in constructivism, where epistemology is considered in terms of knowing rather than knowledge. Problem: The passivity and predominantly one-way structure of the typical paper presentation format of academic conferences has a number of serious limitations from a constructivist perspective. These limits are both practical and epistemological. While alternative formats abound, there is nevertheless increasing pressure reinforcing this format due to delegates’ funding typically being linked to reading a paper. Method: In this special issue, authors reflect on conferences that they have organised and participated in that have used alternative formats, such as conversational structures or other constructivist inspired approaches, in whole or in part. We review and contextualize their contributions, understanding them in terms of their connections to constructivism and to each other. Results: While this issue is of relevance across disciplinary boundaries, contributions focus on two fields: that of cybernetics/systems, and that of design. We identify the way that conference organization is of particular importance to these fields, being in self-reflexive relationship to them: the environment of a design conference is something that we design; while a conference regarding systems or cybernetics is itself an instance of the sorts of process with which these fields are concerned. Implications: Building on this self-reflexivity and, also, the close connection of design and cybernetics/systems to constructivism, we suggest that conference organization is an area in which constructivism may itself be understood in terms of practice (and so knowing) rather than theory (and so knowledge. This in turn helps connect ideas in constructivism with pragmatic fields, such as knowledge management, and recent discussions in this journal regarding second-order science. Constructivist content: As a setting for the creation of new ideas, the design of conferences is of importance where we understand epistemology in constructivist terms as a process of knowing. Moreover, the particular fields drawn on - design and cybernetics/systems - have close connections to constructivism, as can be seen, for instance, in the work of Ranulph Glanville, on which we draw here.
First paragraph: In class I presented the view that the book we are assembling should be thought of at least in part as a handbook for making a scientific revolution, where the field to be revolutionized would be the social (behavioral) sciences. This view assumes that cybernetics has much to contribute to social science and that this promise has not yet been realized. Because of this disparity, I first interpreted the phrase “cybernetics of cybernetics” as the application of cybernetics principles to achieve acceptance of cybernetics theory by the relevant disciplines. That is, use cybernetics as the theory to guide the revolution.
In Robert Trappl’s opening remarks on the first day of this conference he raised the issue of the usefulness of the theories that we debate with each other at these conferences every two years. Stafford Beer in his address made a similar point when he suggested that we confront the way things are. I follow their lead by suggesting that we really know quite a lot about how to solve social problems and how to make social organizations more effective. But for some reason we are not using the knowledge we have. Why we do not make better use of our current knowledge is the issue that I would like to explore. My method of exploring will be to investigate the history of ideas in the field of cybernetics and general systems theory.