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.
Upshot: In view of Kenny’s clinical insights, Hug’s notes on the intricacies of rational vs. a-rational “knowing” in the design sciences, and Chronaki & Kynigos’s notice of mathematics teachers’ meta-communication on experiences of change, this response reframes the heuristic power of bisociation and suspension of disbelief in the light of Kelly’s notion of “as-if-ism” (constructive alternativism. Doing as-if and playing what-if, I reiterate, are critical to mitigating intra-and inter-personal relations, or meta-communicating. Their epistemic status within the radical constructivist framework is cast in the context of mutually enriching conversational techniques, or language-games, inspired by Maturana’s concepts of “objectivity in parenthesis” and the multiverse.
Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: We agree on the need to explore a concept of social autopoiesis that goes beyond a strictly human-centered concept of social systems as autopoietic communicative systems. But both Hugo Urrestarazu and Niklas Luhmann neglect the importance of semiosis in understanding communication, and this has important implications for the question of a more general approach to social systems.
This paper undertakes a theoretical investigation of the “learning” aspect of science as opposed to the “knowledge” aspect. The practical background of the paper is in agricultural systems research – an area of science that can be characterised as “systemic” because it is involved in the development of its own subject area, agriculture. And the practical purpose of the theoretical investigation is to contribute to a more adequate understanding of science in such areas, which can form a basis for developing and evaluating systemic research methods, and for determining appropriate criteria of scientific quality. Two main perspectives on science as a learning process are explored: research as the learning process of a cognitive system, and science as a social, communicational system. A simple model of a cognitive system is suggested, which integrates both semiotic and cybernetic aspects, as well as a model of self-reflective learning in research, which entails moving from an inside “actor” stance to an outside “observer” stance, and back. This leads to a view of scientific knowledge as inherently contextual and to the suggestion of reflexive objectivity and relevance as two related key criteria of good science.
In philosophy, there is an as yet unresolved discussion on whether there are different kinds of kinds and what those kinds are. In particular, there is a distinction between indifferent kinds, which are unaffected by observation and representation, and interactive kinds, which respond to being studied in ways that alter the very kinds under study. This is in essence a discussion on ontologies and, I argue, more precisely about ontological levels. The discussion of kinds of kinds can be resolved by using a semiotic approach to ontological levels, building on the key semiotic concept of representation. There are three, and only three, levels of semiosis: nonor protosemiotic processes without representation, such as physical or causal processes, semiotic processes with representation, such as the processes of life and cognition, and second-order semiotic processes with representation of representation, such as self-awareness and self-reflexive communication. This leads to the distinction between not two, but three kinds of kinds: indifferent, adaptive and reflexive kinds, of which the last two hitherto have not been clearly distinguished.
This paper has a dual purpose. On the one hand, it suggests ways of making autopoietic theory more precise and more operational for concrete communication analysis. I discuss concepts such as distinction, system, bound- ary, environment, perturbation, and compen- sation. The explication of the concepts is ba- sed on catastrophe theory, and in order to make them operational I emphasise their affinity to traditional semiotics and communi- cation theory. On the other hand I propose changes to the semiotic tradition in order to incorporate insights from autopoietic theory, namely that the human condition is characte- rised by the phenomenon of self-reference and therefore also by the unavoidability of para- doxes. Firstly, this means that truth cannot be a basic semiotic concept; instead the notion of stability is suggested. Secondly, in order to act in a paradoxical context, we need to unfold the paradox in time, which again calls for a dynamic theory of meaning.
Upshot: For communicating second-order science, von Foerster’s ethical imperative provides a viable starting point. Proceeding from this, we plead in favour of emphasising the common grounds of diverging scientific opinions and of various approaches in second-order science instead of focussing on the differences. This will provide a basis for communication and stimulate scientific self-reflection.
The author compares the development of constructivist approaches in two national communities of communication researches, France and Germany. Radical approches are nearly unvisible in the French community, here social constructivism relies mainly on action and speach theory.
It is characteristic of Heinz von Foerster’s approach to the cybernetics of cybernetics that it combines a sense of tight reasoning with the acknowledgment of fundamental ignorance. The article attempts to uncover an epistemological relationship between the reasoning and the ignorance. The relationship is provided for by a razor which reads: what can be described in relation to its composition, is described in vain in relation to its substance. The razor asks for second-order terms instead of first-order terms, or for ontogenetics instead of ontology.