Context: Both Luhmann and Pask have developed detailed theories of social systems that include accounts of the role of learning. Problem: Rather than see the theories as competing, we believe it is worthwhile to seek ways in which a useful synthesis of the two approaches may be developed. Method: We compare the two approaches by identifying key similarities and differences. Results: We show it is possible to make useful mappings between key concepts in the two theories. Implications: We believe it is worthwhile for social scientists to be familiar with the two theories and that it is not a case of “either/or,” rather, it is a case of “both/and.”
In the late 1950's Gordon Pask constructed several electrochemical devices having emergent sensory capabilities. These control systems possessed the ability to adaptively construct their own sensors, thereby choosing the relationship between their internal states and the world at large. Devices were built that evolved de novo sensitivity to sound or magnetic fields. Pask’s devices have far-reaching implications for artificial intelligence, self-constructing devices, theories of observers and epistemically-autonomous agents, theories of functional emergence, machine creativity, and the limits of contemporary machine learning paradigms.
Problem: This paper argues for the inclusion of a cybernetic-constructivist approach to the art of painting and for an understanding of principles that coincide with constructivism that operate within the creation of paintings and other works of art. It argues that an understanding of cybernetic-constructivist principles improves creative practice rather than merely analyzes outcomes. Method: Written from the point of view of a longtime practitioner rather than from the point of view of an academic proponent of art theory or art history, the paper draws on insights of second-order cyberneticians whose principles help to understand what a painting is and to determine its status as an object among objects which communicates itself simultaneously as not-an-object. These principles form an outlook as they become enfolded in sensibility, and through this outlook, the problem of being a painter can be addressed, the range of invention can be apprehended and broadened, and creativity can be mindfully activated. It addresses how painting and explained and how painting can co-create meaning with a viewer. Results: It is proposed that inquiry into painting may be of value in teaching us more about constructivism, as paintings provide stable, manifest and accessible physical outcomes of constructivist praxis, and that an application of cybernetic and constructivist principles to painting can advance the understanding of painting. Implications: Understandings of painting as well as other art forms can be better understood through including a broad cybernetic perspective in examining painting as a process and as a medium through which conversation takes place between observers, These understandings may have value in improving creative effectiveness among viewers and producers of art works. These understandings may have value for practitioners of other creative enterprises, and have potential to expand understandings in art history and art theory by emancipating it from being in service as a cultural emblem.
In recent years, I have found an unexpected revival of interest in cybernetics amongst artists and designers. However, the cybernetics they are aware of seems to be the pre1968 variety brought to public attention in the Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition. I have been wondering how to capitalise on this interest, to bring an updated cybernetics to artists and designers. One move to this end was compiling and editing a double issue of Kybernetes on Cybernetics and Design (Glanville, 2007b). Meanwhile, preparing for the 50th anniversary of the founding (in 1958) of the Biological Computer Laboratory at the May conference of the American Society for Cybernetics, 2 I came to realise the importance of the 9th year of each decade in the story of cybernetics. We can form the history of cybernetics around years ending in 8 – until cybernetics more or less disappeared from popular awareness. The history is, of course, familiar, but the familiar is re-formed by re-centring its focus. More importantly, we can propose a way forward for cybernetics in 2008: develop our association with artists and designers, in such a manner that we can introduce our more recent, and relevant, insights. The serendipitous launch in Vienna in November 2007 of the Gordon Pask archive provides further impetus. Pask’s work, rarely touched on in this journal, is the subject of considerable scrutiny in art and design, in part because of his own performance and output as an artist. Thus, even though history contains no predictive causal mechanisms, we may take a lesson from history in order to move forward. I hope you will find this background helpful in reading the rest of the column.
Approaches Pask’s conversation theory from a sociological perspective. Pask’s vision of conversation as a self-organising process can help our understanding of the emergence of social order out of social interaction. Through conversation, human beings would be able to construct a shared reality which would be the common setting of their social life. But modern societies are only partially based on conversational interaction. Many of their structural traits are not a result of conversational agreements, but of the unintended consequences of conscious (inter)actions. In these societies, the main source of social order at the macro level is not intentional action, but the dissipation of intentional action. This phenomenon generates the dissipative structures that represent the objective frame of social life. The main purpose of this paper is to review the theoretical work of Gordon Pask from a sociological point of view, in order to appraise its potential as an instrument adequate for social analysis.
Due to his strong preferences for formal languages, for machine environments, for cognition and learning processes, and for epistemological issues, Gordon Pask probably came closest to the BCL work of Heinz von Foerster, which concentrated mostly on these domains as well. Pask produced a stream of radical breakthroughs that he accomplished from his early publications onwards. Most of these breakthroughs can be considered as genuinely new, even for todays’s intellectual environments. Many of his ideas are still waiting to be adapted and accommodated to the current technological and cognitive landscapes. For the first time, this book grants broad access to a research program within the radical constructivist tradition that has so far not found the attention that it already richly deserved in recent decades.
This paper aims to enrich our understanding of the history and substance of cybernetics. It reviews the work of three British cyberneticians – W. Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask – paying attention particularly to the materiality of their practice – the strange and fascinating devices and systems that were at the heart of their work – and to the worldly projects they pursued – scientific, technological, artistic, organizational, political and spiritual. Connections are drawn between cybernetics and recent theoretical work in science and technology studies, in the hope of illuminating key features of both. The paper concludes by suggesting that the antidisciplinary impulse of contemporary science studies might find inspiration in the work of cyberneticians – that theory does not have to remain confined to the realm of theory.
Open peer commentary on the article “The Banathy Conversation Methodology” by Gordon Dyer, Jed Jones, Gordon Rowland & Silvia Zweifel. Upshot: The Banathy Conversation Methodology (BCM) offers an approach to organizing and facilitating conversation groups among individuals self-identified as interested in a particular topic. As someone who would like to see more conversation integrated into academic conferences, I propose two extensions of BCM for consideration by the authors: one is an extension to the theoretical underpinnings, namely the conversation theory of Gordon Pask, and the other is an extension to the tools and techniques, namely the group syntegration process developed by Stafford Beer. If the authors do not like the direction these extensions might take BCM, I would be interested in their assessment of the circumstances under which alternative approaches to conversation groups might be more or less useful.
The article focuses on music and art projects of the British cybernetician Gordon Pask from the 1950ies to the end of the 1970ies. These projects are seen as embedded in Pask’s general scientific work. Project Musicoulour is described as a learning machine which produces light effects according to the variety of the performance of a piano player. Thus theatres and dancing halls became cybernetic laboratories. Another example of Pask’s activities in the field of art was Fun Palace, which was described as a system for encouraging the creative behaviour that is necessary in an automated society. Participation of the audience was a key element of project Fun Palace and a projected central part of it, the Cybernetic Theatre. Finally the Colloquy of Mobiles, Gordon Pask’s most famous installation which has been prepared for the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity, is discussed.
This paper reviews ideas developed by the late Gordon Pask as part of his Conversation Theory CT. CT uses theories of the dynamics of complex, self-organising systems, in conjunction with models of conceptual structures, in order to give an account of conceptual coherence for example, of a theory or a belief system as a form of organisational closure. In Pask’s own terms, CT is concerned both with the kinematics of knowledge structures and the kinetics of knowing and coming to know. The main features of Pask’s ways of modelling conceptual structures and processes are presented. The author goes on to present a summary two cycle model of learning, aimed to capture some of Pask’s key insights with respect to conceptual coherence and the organisational closure of conceptual systems. Parallels are drawn with other work in epistemology classic cybernetic studies of self-organisation and the concept of autopoiesis. The two cycle model is then applied recursively to generate learning cycles and conceptual structures at different levels of abstraction, as a contribution to Pask’s work on the topology of thought. Finally, the model is applied reflexively. That is, its own form is considered as a topic for conversation and conceptualisation. Carrying out such a reflection provides a coherent way of characterising epistemological limits, whilst retaining a clear sense of there being an in principle unlimited praxeology of awareness.