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.
Much scholarship in the history of cybernetics has focused on the far-reaching cultural dimensions of the movement. What has garnered less attention are efforts by cyberneticians such as Warren McCulloch and Norbert Wiener to transform scientific practice in an array of disciplines in the biomedical sciences, and the complex ways these efforts were received by members of traditional disciplines. In a quest for scientific unity that had a decidedly imperialistic flavour, cyberneticians sought to apply practices common in the exact sciences – mainly theoretical modeling – to problems in disciplines that were traditionally defined by highly empirical practices, such as neurophysiology and neuroanatomy. Their efforts were met with mixed, often critical responses. This paper attempts to make sense of such dynamics by exploring the notion of a scientific style and its usefulness in accounting for the contrasts in scientific practice in brain research and in cybernetics during the 1940s. Focusing on two key institutional contexts of brain research and the role of the Rockefeller and Macy Foundations in directing brain research and cybernetics, the paper argues that the conflicts between these fields were not simply about experiment vs. theory but turned more closely on the questions that defined each area and the language used to elaborate answers.
Six arguments against the view that conscious experience derives from a material basis are presented, none of which is entirely new taken in isolation but whose conjunction is compelling. These arguments arise from epistemology, phenomenology, neuropsychology, and philosophy of quantum mechanics. It turns out that any attempt at proving that conscious experience is ontologically secondary to material objects both fails and brings out its methodological and existential primacy. No alternative metaphysical view is espoused (not even a variety of Spinoza’s attractive double-aspect theory). Instead, an alternative stance, inspired from F. Varela’s neurophenomenology is advocated. This unfamiliar stance involves (i) a complete redefinition of the boundary between unquestioned assumptions and relevant questions ; (ii) a descent towards the common ground of the statements of phenomenology and objective natural science: a practice motivated by the quest of an expanding circle of intersubjective agreement.
Context: Humberto Maturana has generated a coherent and extensive explicatory matrix that encompasses his research in neurophysiology, cognition, language, emotion, and love. Purpose: Can we formulate a map of Maturana’s work in a manner that is consistent with the systemic matrix it represents and that serves as an aid for understanding Maturana’s philosophy without reifying its representation? Method: Our arguments are based on experience gained from teaching and presentations. Results: We present a map that that represents Maturana’s main contributions as clusters of notions clustered according to how we see them to be related to each other as a projection of a matrix of ideas onto a two-dimensional space. We claim that there are many paths through these clusters of ideas. Though ideas relevant to individuals are obtained from various partial perspectives, a deep understanding of any element is dependent on an understanding of the whole matrix. Furthermore, we summarize the contributions to this special issue on Maturana.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to outline an integrative, high-level, neurocomputational theory of brain function based on temporal codes, neural timing nets, and active regeneration of temporal patterns of spikes within recurrent neural circuits that provides a time-domain alternative to connectionist approaches. Design/methodology/approach – This conceptual-theoretical paper draws from cybernetics, theoretical biology, neurophysiology, integrative and computational neuroscience, psychology, and consciousness studies. Findings: The high-level functional organization of the brain involves adaptive cybernetic, goal-seeking, switching, and steering mechanisms embedded in percept-action-environment loops. The cerebral cortex is conceived as a network of reciprocally connected, re-entrant loops within which circulate neuronal signals that build up, decay, and/or actively regenerate. The basic signals themselves are temporal patterns of spikes (temporal codes), held in the spike correlation mass-statistics of both local and global neuronal ensembles. Complex temporal codes afford multidimensional vectorial representations, multiplexing of multiple signals in spike trains, broadcast strategies of neural coordination, and mutually reinforcing, autopoiesis-like dynamics. Our working hypothesis is that complex temporal codes form multidimensional vectorial representations that interact with each other such that a few basic processes and operations may account for the vast majority of both low- and high-level neural informational functions. These operational primitives include mutual amplification/inhibition of temporal pattern vectors, extraction of common signal dimensions, formation of neural assemblies that generate new temporal pattern primitive “tags” from meaningful, recurring combinations of features (perceptual symbols), active regeneration of temporal patterns, content-addressable temporal pattern memory, and long-term storage and retrieval of temporal patterns via a common synaptic and/or molecular mechanism. The result is a relatively simplified, signal-centric view of the brain that utilizes universal coding schemes and pattern-resonance processing operations. In neurophenomenal terms, waking consciousness requires regeneration and build up of temporal pattern signals in global loops, whose form determines the contents of conscious experience at any moment. Practical implications: Understanding how brains work as informational engines has manifold long-reaching practical implications for design of autonomous, adaptive robotic systems. By proposing how new concepts might arise in brains, the theory bears potential implications for constructivist theories of mind, i.e. how observer-actors interacting with one another can self-organize and complexify. Originality/value – The theory is highly original and heterodox in its neural coding and neurocomputational assumptions. By providing a possible alternative to standard connectionist theory of brain function, it expands the scope of thinking about how brains might work as informational systems.
Problem: The paper investigates some reasons why RC has not become a mainstream endeavor. Method: The central assumptions of RC are summarized. Analysis is made of how each of these assumptions corresponds to other views, especially to intuitive beliefs that are widely accepted. Is RC consistent with these beliefs, supported by them, or incompatible with them? Results: The construction hypothesis is supported by the results of cognitive science and neurophysiology. However, the closed-system hypothesis and antirealism are in conflict with deeply rooted convictions of most people. Some ethical and educational aspects claimed by RC are generally accepted but they are not specifically implications of RC. Implications: In the near future, RC will probably not become the leading paradigm or a mainstream endeavor in the sciences or in philosophy.
In the visual arts, “representation” usually means a copy or reproduction of some original. In that context it is clear that the original is always something the representer has seen, something that is the product of ordinary visual perception. With the introduction of the term in philosophical writings, the spurious question has arisen whether or not representations could reproduce, replicate, or correspond to things-in-themselves. The question was long ago given a negative answer on logical grounds by neurophysiology. Most arguments on the topic could have been avoided if one had followed Mark Baldwin, the pioneer of cognitive psychology, and had used the term “presentation” which has the added advantage of being a viable translation of the German “Vorstellung.”
This chapter introduces the central concerns of Humberto Maturana’s theory of autopoiesis as they relate to the domain of psychotherapy. Several common terms which are redefined within his theory in an unusual manner are unpacked as to their idiosyncratic significance including the expressions, ‘linguistic behavior’, ‘languaging’, ‘structure determinism’, ‘organization’, ‘structure’ and others. The source material used for this exposition include not only the cited texts but also several workshops from which verbatim transcripts are often used in the form of brief quotations. I have attempted to stay as close to the original material as possible in order to convey both the meaning and the texture of Maturana’s work. This is not an easy theory to grasp, ranging as it does across several specialist fields from the neurophysiology of perception through social communication to epistemology. Nor are the implicative transitions from a theory of biology to the praxis of psychotherapy without complexity and controversy. Nonetheless, Maturana offers a novel theory of conversations which could form the basis of a much needed new paradigm for personal change.
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.
The paper presents a research programme for the neuroscience of consciousness called ‘neurophenomenology’ (Varela 1996) and illustrates it with a recent pilot study (Lutz et al., 2002). At a theoretical level, neurophenomenology pursues an embodied and large-scale dynamical approach to the neurophysiology of consciousness (Varela 1995; Thompson and Varela 2001; Varela and Thompson 2003). At a methodological level, the neurophenomenological strategy is to make rigorous and extensive use of first-person data about subjective experience as a heuristic to describe and quantify the large-scale neurodynamics of consciousness (Lutz 2002). The paper focuses on neurophenomenology in relation to three challenging methodological issues about incorporating first-person data into cognitive neuroscience: (i) first-person reports can be biased or inaccurate; (ii) the process of generating first-person reports about an experience can modify that experience; and (iii) there is an ‘explanatory gap’ in our understanding of how to relate first-person, phenomenological data to third-person, biobehavioural data.