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.
Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
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.
Luhmanian sociocybernetics is an observation of socio-communicative systems with a specific difference. It is a second order observation of observations understanding society as being ‘functionally differentiated’ into autonomous autopoietic subsystems or meaning worlds in the symbolic generalized media such as money, power, truth, love, art and faith. Only communication communicates and the social is communication. The social system creates products of meaning which do not represent an aggregation of the content of individuals’ minds. The bioand psychological autopoietic systems only establish boundary conditions for the sociocommunicative systems, they do not control the socio-communicative system in any way. Somehow the socio-communicative systems seem to develop on their own (by will?) although they have no body and no subject. The psychic system in Luhmann’s theory is thus not a Kantian or Husserlian transcendental ego in spite of Luhmann’s use of aspects of Husserl’s phenomenology (while at the same time destroying its philosophical frame). On the other hand, Luhmann works with an open ontology, combined with Spencer-Brown’s philosophy that making distinctions is what creates the difference between system and environment. Thus observation is basic to the theory-but where is the observer in the theoretical framework of system theory? The inspiration from Hegel is hidden here, where distinction, creation and evolution merge. Also, Hegel has been taken out of his metaphysical frame while Luhmann never took the time to finish his own. On the other hand, the father of the pragmatic triadic semiotic C. S. Peirce-also inspired by Hegel-explicitly confronted some of these problems. Like Bataille, Peirce sees a continuity between mind and matter and his Firstness contains pure feeling, meaning that there is also an inner experience aspect of matter. The article compares Luhmann’s and Spencer-Brown’s strategies with Peirce’s, the latter of whom built an alternative transdisciplinary theory of signification and communication based on a Panentheistic theory of knowing. Surprisingly it fits well with Spencer-Brown’s metaphysics, which makes it possible to establish a consistent foundation for system theory.
Context: Radical constructivism claims that we have no final truth criteria for establishing one ontology over another. This leaves us with the question of how we can come to know anything in a viable manner. According to von Glasersfeld, radical constructivism is a theory of knowledge rather than a philosophy of the world in itself because we do not have access to a human-independent world. He considers knowledge as the ordering of experience to cope with situations in a satisfactory way. Problem: Von Foerster and Krippendorff show that the central goal of a constructivist theory of knowing must be to find a way of putting the knower into a known that is constructed so as to keep the knower, as well as the knowing process, viable in practice. Method: The conceptual and philosophical analysis of present theories and their necessary prerequisites suggests that such foundation for viable knowing can be built on the analysis of what the ontological prerequisites are for establishing viable observing, cognition, communication and observer-communicators, and communication media and vehicles. Results: The moment an observer chooses to accept his/her own embodied conscious presence in this world as well as language, he/she must accept other humans as partly independently existing conversation partners; if knowledge and knowing has to make sense, he/she must also accept as prerequisites for our observation and conversation a pre-linguistic reality from which our bodies come and which our conversation is often about. Furthermore, we can no longer claim that there is a reality that we do not know anything about: From being here in conversation, we know that the world can produce more or less stable embodied consciousnesses that can exchange and construct conceptual meanings through embodied conversations and actions that last over time and exist in space-time and mind, and are correlated to our embodied practices. We can also see that our communication works through signs for all living systems as well as in human language, understood as a structured and progressively developed system of communication. The prerequisite for this social semiotic production of meaning is the fourfold “semiotic star of cybersemiotics,” which includes at least four different worlds: our bodies, the combination of society, culture and language, our consciousness, and also an outer nature. Implications: The semiotic star in cybersemiotics claims that the internal subjective, the intersubjective linguistic, our living bodies, and nature are irreducible and equally necessary as epistemological prerequisites for knowing. The viable reality of any of them cannot be denied without self-refuting paradoxes. There is an obvious connectedness between the four worlds, which Peirce called “synechism.” It also points to Peirce’s conclusion that logic and rationality are part of the process of semiosis, and that meaning in the form of semiosis is a fundamental aspect of reality, not just a construction in our heads. Erratum: The paper erroneously refers to “pleroma.” The correct term is “plemora.”
What Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) called “the alpha part” of his “existential graphs” for logic quite precisely prefigures a number of features of G. Spencer-Brown’s notational system in his book Laws of Form (1969). These two systems are compared and contrasted with each other and also with Euler-Venn diagrams. The significance of Laws of Form to other disciplines, in particular epistemology and the possibility of a metaphysical and even mystical understanding of knowledge, is discussed. Also, a modification is proposed of one of Peirce’s typographical notations to give it Laws of Form-like properties.
Horses represent a billion dollar industry with an alarming incidence of accidents, mostly resulting from the incorrect use of horse-human communication protocols. This study found significant gaps in research with respect to how horses and humans communicate and learn together. To respond to this gap, this dissertation addresses the topics of communication, learning and cognition in horse-human interactions utilizing the cybersemiotic model developed by Danish philosopher of science Søren Brier. The cybersemiotic model is a transdisciplinary research platform that addresses knowledge creation from an objective and subjective vision of reality. At the center of the model is semiosis, the sign system and spheres of signification through which living beings create meaning and make sense of the world. The methodological tools used in the study include Gregory Bateson’s theories of non-verbal communication and learning, based on the second-order cybernetic science view, as well as Humberto Maturana’s theory of autopoiesis and Evan Thompson’s concept of enactive cognition. The role of the inner life and consciousness in horse–human interaction is analyzed through the phenomenological, pragmaticist philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and his triadic conception of semiosis. The results of the study show the importance of constructing ethologically relevant communication protocols in equestrian activities, which also has implications in the larger question of ethics in the relationships of humans to non-human others and the ecology of the Earth at large. Relevance: Methodological tools used in the study include the biology of cognition, autopoiesis, second order cybernetics, and non-duality as expressed in the triadic semiosis of C.S. Peirce.
This article proposes a possible synthesis between the concept of structural coupling with the milieu, derived from the thought of Maturana and Varela, and the concept of semeiosis derived from Peirce. The purpose is to develop a vocabulary and conceptual framework in which to envisage the relationships among autopoietic systems i.e. organisms, against which communication can take place. By showing how the sign emerges from structural coupling, this article hopes to encourage (or reinforce) a gestalt shift in scholars of communication, away from a conduit metaphor of sending and receiving communications, and towards a grounding of communication in the relationships among organisms and their environment(s), which include other organisms. When these organisms engage habitually in what Maturana calls the “coor-dination of coordination of behavior,” and especially when this involves languaging of the human type, then the environment to which they are coupled also involves a system of signs, which, as Peirce demonstrates, is continually changed by the very interpretive actions which constitute it. Human languaging is “the play of signs” because play is a process of “co-imagining” in which organisms generate a repertoire of potential behaviors by placing themselves outside the immediate (‘serious’) context of adaptation/ structural coupling. But within the cooperative domain of human work i.e. the human collaborative structural coupling with its shared environ-ment or milieu, this “play of signs” can pass or fail the test of effectiveness. Humans engaged in cooperative work co-coordinate their structural couplings by way of conversationing, a co-coordination which depends upon their shared encounter with a Secondness or “otherness” with which they grapple together – an “otherness” which can never be known directly, but only approached by the work of fallibilist human cooperation.
In this issue of Cybernetics and Human Knowing we have a collection of papers devoted to the cybernetics and mathematics of Charles Sanders Peirce with a special focus on its synergies with Spencer Brown’s thinking. We hope that the theme in this issue reflects the extraordinary richness of C. S. Peirce’s work and his relevance to our present concerns and creativity in cybernetics. The theme is part of the journal’s development of the area of cybersemiotics where Peirce and Spencer-Brown each have delivered the logical foundations. The similarities in the focus on some of the deep foundational subjects are astonishing, amongst those especially the concept of the void or Firstness and the continuum plus the continuity of mind and matter!