Recently, historians have focused on Warren S. McCul¬loch’s role in the cybernetics movement during the 1940s and 1950s, and his contributions to the develop¬ment of computer science and communication theory. What has received less attention is McCulloch’s early work in neurophysiology, and its relationship to his philosophical quest for an ‘experimental epistemology’ – a physiological theory of knowledge. McCulloch’s early laboratory work during the 1930s addressed the problem of cerebral localization: localizing aspects of behaviour in the cerebral cortex of the brain. Most of this research was done with the Dutch neurophysiolo¬gist J. G. Dusser de Barenne at Yale University. The con¬nection between McCulloch’s philosophical interests and his experimental work can be expressed as a search for a physiological a priori, an integrated mechanism of sensation.
In this paper, I describe what I consider to be some of the similarities between semiotics and second-order cybernetics. Particular attention is paid to the importance of interpretation and recursion in both fields. A distinction is made between the concept of representation in representational realism and representation as the stand-for relationship. Two models derived from cybernetic theory, ‘a recursive theory of communication’ and ‘levels of experience, ’ are discussed from a semiotic perspective and possible educational implications are described
Beyond the descriptions of ‘viability’ provided by Beer’s Viable System Model, Maturana’s autopoietic theory or Luhmann’s communication theory, questions remain as to what ‘viability’ means across different contexts. How is ‘viability’ affected by the Internet and the changing information environments in a knowledge-based economy? For Luhmann, social systems like businesses are coordination systems that do not ‘live’ as viable systems but operate because they relieve human beings from environmental complexity. We situate Beer’s concept of viability with Luhmann’s through analyzing the way that ‘decisions’ shape organizations in an information environment. Howard’s (1971) metagame analysis enables us to consider the ‘viable system’ as an ‘agent system’ producing utterances as moves in a discourse game within the context of its information environment. We discuss how this approach can lead to an accommodation between Beer’s practical orientation and Luhmann’s sociological critique where the relationship between viability, decision and information can be further explored.
Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model is the best known of the many cybernetic models he constructed over a career spanning more than 50 years. He explored the nec¬essary conditions for viability in any complex system whether an organism, an organi¬zation or a country. Although the model was first applied in his work in the steel industry, many further applications were made during his later work as a consultant. The best known of these was when he was invited by President Salvadore Allende of Chile in 1970 to model the social economy of that country. That experiment was brutally cut short in 1973 by the CIA assisted coup during which Allende was killed and Pinochet’s dictatorship installed. The model itself draws on mathematics, psychology, biology, neurophysiology, communication theory, anthropology and philosophy. It was first expressed in mathe¬matical terms in ‘The Cybernetic Factory’; next it was described in neurophysiological terms in Brain of the firm; and finally according to logic and graphic presentation in Heart of Enterprise and Diagnosing the System for Organizations. This last version is the one that is most accessible. It enables people to address organizational issues in a way that skirts the usual categories and organization charts and gets down to the actual necessary functions, no matter who is performing them. With this model people can get a boost as they diagnose or design an organizations. One aspect is to discover what the organization’s critical variables are and to find or install the homeostats that will show that they are maintaining equilibrium. Within that context, the model will help you ascertain that the principle functions and communications channels are in place and can function effectively. A crucial aspect of the VSM is that it is recursive; that is that the same relationships can be traced from the shop floor to the corporation or from the village to the country. Two examples will be discussed: a small business and the Chilean work from the 1970s. It is hoped that this will encourage people to imagine a world that works much better than it does now and where management is not defeated by complexity.
In this paper, we review McCulloch’s legacy, from his early work in neurophysiology, and its relationship to his philosophical quest for an ‘experimental epistemology’ to his role in the cybernetics movement during the 1940s and 1950s and his contributions to the development of computer science and communication theory. There are three parts in chronological sequence. First, the period up to his work at Yale University with Dusser de Barenne, where he concentrated on the experimental study of the functional organization of sensory cortex. Second, the time of his Psychiatric Chair at the University of Chicago and the organization of the Macy Foundation Conferences. To this period corresponds the genesis and publication of the most influential and quoted work by McCulloch and Pitts: A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Neurons Activity. Third, the period of his research activity at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology where he, Lettvin, Maturana and Pitts produced epochmaking papers on epistemological neurophysiology, the modelling of the reticular formation and other work with da Fonseca and Moreno-Díaz. We finally refer to the International Conference that took place in McCulloch’s memory at the 25th anniversary of his death. Our main conclusion is that McCulloch’s writings are still a source of inspiration from neurophysiology to artificial intelligence and robotics.
Purpose: The paper aims at examining whether George Herbert Mead’s theory of language is an appropriate candidate for developing a non-dualistic conception of experience and empirical research. Problem: Josef Mitterer has limited his theory of a non-dualizing way of speaking to criticizing dualistic positions in philosophy and sciences but has not developed a non-dualistic conception of empirical research. To do this, the task is to forego the notion “description” as a remainder category of dualism to develop a new understanding of language. Findings: Mead’s communication and action theory contains a non-dualistic nucleus. His gesture theory of communication allows us to distinguish action and speech and connect them in a non-dualizing way. Further research should especially focus on the relation between immediate and reflective experience in Mead’s work.
Purpose: The paper tries to explore the possibility of developing a theory of science that is compatible with the non-dualizing way of speaking. Problem: The difficulty of developing a non-dualism-compatible theory of science consists in the difference of the perspectives of the theory of science and the non-dualizing way of speaking. The non-dualizing way of speaking deals with descriptions as results of inquiries, whereas science theory thematizes the process of gaining descriptions in empirical research. If we want to reach compatibility between these different perspectives, we are led to the question of what kind of relationship exists between inquiry and description and what is the source of attaining knowledge. In respect of social sciences, there is the additional problem that a great deal of their objects are text; therefore the relationship between text and interpretation is relevant for the empirical research process of social sciences. Findings: George Herbert Mead’s theory of action and communication allows a productive approach to the above-mentioned problem to be found. Mead conceives of speaking as potential acting, as action that is initiated but not carried out. In this way, describing and inquiring can be connected non-dualistically. The source of gaining knowledge and descriptions is, however, according to Mead’s action theory, practical activities. Objects are not presupposed, but are results from action. New experiences and descriptions come from inquiries that are stimulated by action problems and action inhibition and the endeavor to overcome the inhibition. Implications: The result of the argumentation is that Mead’s conception of action and language can serve to develop a theory of science that is compatible with non-dualizing thinking. The reason for this is that in Mead’s conception, acting and speaking, experiencing and describing are not conceived of as categorical differences but are related to each other as executed and initiated.
This essay deals with question how we can understand and model the relationship between (constructivist) theory and the practical usage of this theory in a wide ranging and steadily growing field (coaching, education, public relations, journalism etc.). How is it possible to use and apply a communication theory which wants to offer a complex and non-trivial understanding of communication? How can one meet the challenge of a (necessary) reduction of complexity in the act of practical usage – that nonetheless preserves complexity and a notion of fundamental contingency? The upshot is all in all: constructivist communication theory lacks immediate prescription-like relevance for any kind of practice – but it can help and inspire, if applied with sensitivity and with an openness to surprise, to create informing irritations: these are not only differences that make a difference, but differences and effects that at least correspond in a functional way with the goals one wants to achieve.
Review of Bernhard Poerksen, The Certainty of Uncertainty: Dialogues Introducing Constructivism, translated from German by Alison Rosemary Koeck and Wolfram Karl Koeck, Imprint Academic, 2003, 192 pp., £14. 95/$29. 90. Bernhard Poerksen, a Junior Professor of journalism and communication theory at the University of Hamburg, has composed a very nice little book, consisting of interviews with some of the leading proponents of the constructivist school-which is probably not a school, but a convenient expression for some similarities between some writers, leaving apart their differences. His victims are Heinz von Foerster, Ernst von Glasersfeld, Humberto R. Maturana, Francisco J. Varela, Gerhard Roth, Siegfried J. Schmidt, Helm Stierlin, and Paul Watzlawick. He has taken the role of the television interviewer, using his favorite position face to face with a series of celebrities to pose all the questions which the viewer would like to pose himself, and pressing them on their logic and consistency. Poerksen is well acquainted with their works and well prepared, so that he can follow them to their pet areas, whether is in pragmatism, brain theory or therapy. Often his questions are what Heinz von Foerster calls positive, meaning that they are not based on a conflicting theory, but accept the point of view of the interviewee in order to clarify and elaborate. In this way, you can do propaganda for a theory even by criticizing it. Poerksen is a sympathetic interviewer, and as he is too young to be a competitor, he is getting an excellent treatment by his chosen theorists, according to the principle that an old cat will fight another old cat, but never a kitten.