The present issue is a memorial issue for Francisco Varela both as a scholar and as a colleague. Varela passed away in his home in Paris on May 28 2001. He was part of the editorial board of this journal and thus in this memorial issue we would like to look into his heritage. Most of the papers we present have authors that have known and worked with Varela in some period of their and his life: Ranulph Glanville, Louis Kauffman, Andreas Weber. Weber makes the case that Varela’s thinking can provide a foundation for biosemiotics and as such it provides a further foundation for the cybersemiotic project. Most interesting and promising is his comparison with Varela’s concept of the organism and Bruno Latour’s concept of quasi-objects. The other articles all have some relationship to Varela’s elaboration on the work of Spencer-Brown. Using the metaphor of the Uroboros, Marks-Tarlow, Robertson, and Combs explore the notion of re-entry in Varela’s ‘A Calculus for Self-Reference ’ and his contribution to a theory of consciousness. In their articles, Glanville and Kauffman reflect upon their experience working with Varela on joint papers.
Context: Non-dualistic thinking is an alternative to realism and constructivism. Problem: In the absence of a distinct definition of the term “description,” the question comes up of what exactly can be included in non-dualistic descriptions, and in how far the definition of this term affects the relation between theory and empirical practice. Furthermore, this paper is concerned with the question of whether non-dualism and dualism differ in their implications. Method: I provide a wider semantic framework for the term “description” by means of George Spencer Brown’s terminology in his calculus of indications as laid out in Laws of Form. The connection of descriptions and distinctions enables descriptions to comprise reflections and language as well as empirical observations. Results: Non-dualism can be thought of in different ways but still has essential elements in common with dualism. Implications: Non-dualism, as well as dualism, is an argumentation technique suitable for specific situations, but without significant differences in implications.
Open peer commentary on the article “Ontology, Reality and Construction in Niklas Luhmann’s Theory” by Krzysztof C. Matuszek. Upshot: Matuszek omits the decisive notions of autology and re-entry in order to construe and subsequently find Luhmann’s ontology. What is more, the whole endeavour to discover ontology in Luhmann’s work is questionable. It misses the point that a systems theory based on operative constructivism is obviously developed for researching ontogenetic processes.
The purpose of this essay is to sketch a picture of the connections between the concept self-reference and important aspects of mathematical and cybernetic thinking. In order to accomplish this task, we begin with a very simple discussion of the meaning of self-reference and then let this unfold into many ideas. Not surprisingly, we encounter wholes and parts, distinctions, pointers and indications. local-global, circulation, feedback. recursion, invariance. self-similarity, re-entry of forms, paradox, and strange loops. But we also find topology, knots and weaves. fractal and recursive forms, infinity, curvature and imaginary numbers! A panoply of fundamental mathematical and physical ideas relating directly to the central turn of self-reference.
This is an edited and translated transcript of a lecture by Niklas Luhmann in which he outlined the foundation of his systems theory based on the notion of difference and distinction. After a brief introduction to early theories of distinction, the central ideas of SpencerBrown’s Laws of Form as the most radical form of differential thinking are presented. For Luhmann’s systems theory, this has four important consequences. First, the system is the difference between system and environment. Second, the system can be defined through a single mode of operation. Third, every (social) system observes internally (i.e. within the system) its own system/environment distinction; there is a re-entry of the system/environment distinction into the system. Fourth, every social theory is part of the social domain and as such part of what it describes.
In recent years a new science frontier emerged under the umbrella term of second-order science which creates new and challenging problems through a characteristic re-entry-operation like in pattern of patterns, learning of learning, cybernetics of cybernetics or logic of logic, which works with and on building blocks or elements of traditional or first-order scientific research and which, due to this re-entry configuration, becomes inherently reflexive. In this article I will pursue the ambitious goal to develop a general methodology for second-order science which is needed for second-order analyses from their initial stages up to the final steps. This general methodology will be framed as a sequence of recombination operations which become the central task for a particular step in the design of second-order investigations.
Reflexive research can be grouped into five clusters with circular relations between two elements x ↔ x, namely circular relations between observers, between scientific building blocks like concepts, theories or models, between systemic levels, between rules and rule systems or as circular relations or x ↔ y between these four components. By far the most important cluster is the second cluster which becomes reflexive through a re-entry operation RE into a scientific element x and which establishes its circular formation as x(x). Many of the research problems in these five clusters in reflexivity research are still unexplored and pose grand challenges for future research.
Context: Many recent research areas such as human cognition and quantum physics call the observer-independence of traditional science into question. Also, there is a growing need for self-reflexivity in science, i.e., a science that reflects on its own outcomes and products. Problem: We introduce the concept of second-order science that is based on the operation of re-entry. Our goal is to provide an overview of this largely unexplored science domain and of potential approaches in second-order fields. Method: We provide the necessary conceptual groundwork for explorations in second-order science, in which we discuss the differences between first- and second-order science and where we present a roadmap for second-order science. The article operates mainly with conceptual differentiations such as the separation between three seemingly identical concepts such as Science II, Science 2.0 and second-order science. Results: Compared with first-order science, the potential of second-order science lies in 1. higher levels of novelty and innovations, 2. higher levels of robustness and 3. wider integration as well as higher generality. As first-order science advances, second-order science, with re-entry as its basic operation, provides three vital functions for first-order science, namely a rich source of novelty and innovation, the necessary quality control and greater integration and generality. Implications: Second-order science should be viewed as a major expansion of traditional scientific fields and as a scientific breakthrough towards a new wave of innovative research. Constructivist content: Second-order science has strong ties with radical constructivism, which can be qualified as the most important root/origin of second-order science. Moreover, it will be argued that a new form of cybernetics is needed to cope with the new problems and challenges of second-order science.
G. Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form is summarized and the philosophical implications examined. Laws of Form is a mathematical system which deals with the emergence of anything out of the void. It traces how a single distinction in a void leads to the creation of space, where space is considered at its most primitive, without dimension. This in turn leads to two seemingly self-evident “laws.” With those laws taken as axioms, first an arithmetic is developed, then an algebra based on the arithmetic. The algebra is formally equivalent to Boolean algebra, though it satisfies all 2-valued systems. By following the implications of the algebra to its logical conclusions, self-reference emerges within the system in the guise of re-entry into the system. Spencer-Brown interprets this re-entry as creating time in much the same way in which distinction created space. Finally the paper considers the question of self-reference as seen in Francisco Varela’s Principles of Biological Autonomy, which extended Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form to a 3-valued system.