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.
Open peer commentary on the article “Cybernetic Foundations for Psychology” by Bernard Scott. Upshot: Scott’s proposal is well-founded and opens interesting possibilities. We selected some critical aspects of his argumentation and discuss them in the context of the constructivist perspective. We highlight as Scott’s “blind spot” his statement - presented without further argument - of the need for a conceptual and theoretical unification of psychology from the perspective of second-order cybernetics. We find this especially worrisome as it is based on only one version of cybernetics.
A series of articles has recently appeared in which implications of second-order cybernetics for the practice of family therapy have been discussed. In this article, we attempt to advance the discussion by addressing ideas that we think have not been adequately emphasized thus far. Specifically proposed are ideas about conditions that might facilitate the emergence of consciously pragmatic strategy informed by the kind of systemic wisdom that delicately balances natural systems without the benefit of human planning. It is argued that a shift in the personal habits of knowing and acting that typically organize individual human experience is required. After attempting to specify what this shift might involve, implications of these ideas for the practice of family therapy and for human action in general are discussed.
The paper recalls some skeptical comments Norbert Wiener made regarding the potential use of cybernetics in social sciences. A few social scientists were seduced by cybernetics from the beginning, but cybernetics never really caught on in sociology. The paper argues that one reason for this may lie in the mathematical theory of communication entertained by early cybernetics. This theory which maintains that there are probability distributions of possible communication is at odds with the sociological theory’s idea of a communication driven by improbable understanding. Yet the move from first-order cybernetics to second-order cybernetics, by re-entering the observer into the very systems she observes, provides for a bridge between cybernetics and sociology.
Upshot: Ranulph Glanville’s musings about cybernetics are statements of wonder as much as careful reconstructions of the core ideas of cybernetics. In Vol. III of his Black Boox all 39 of them are collected, which appeared between 1994 and 2009 in the Journal, Cybernetics and Human Knowing. If Heinz von Foerster said that the ideas of second-order cybernetics are nowadays to be found just about everywhere in everyday life, Glanville is not that sure about this.
The paper is a reading of Martin Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Even) by means of Ranulph Glanville’s notions of black box, cybernetic control and objects as well as by George Spencer-Brown’s notion of form and Fritz Heider’s notion of medium. In fact, as Heidegger was among those who emphasized systems thinking as the epitome of modern thinking, did in his lecture on Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom a most thorough reading of this thinking, and considered cybernetics the very fulfilment of modern science it is interesting to know whether second-order cybernetics, as it was not known to Heidegger and as it delves into an understanding of inevitable complexity and foundational ignorance, falls within that verdict mere modernity or goes beyond it. If modern science in its rational understanding considers its subjects to be objects sitting still while being observed, then indeed second-order cybernetics is different. It looks into the observer’s interactions with black boxes, radically uncertain of where to expect operations of a self, but certain that we cannot restrict it to human consciousness.
The book uses the method and categories of systems theory (inspired by Niklas Luhmann) in a scrutiny of the evolution of the main semantic trends of modern society and its influence in the formation of the systemic boundaries of the social systems of society. The book is an investigation of the meaning of the functional differentiation according to its semantic symptoms and evolution. In order to reconstruct the semantic evolution of basic modern socio-economic categories the book is divided according to the three classic branches of the political philosophy of the classic tradition, the Aristotelian division also conserved in Hegel’s own distribution of the themes of his “Sittlichkeit” – family, civil society and the state. Thus, in “The Individuation of Modern Society” the author explores the classic notion of oikós and its opposition to the pólis, the evolution of the concept of utility in modern times and its importance to the formation of the modern political economy and the economic system as an autonomous functional system, the idea of “civil society,” its meaning in the Hegelian description of the social modernity, the fragmentation of XVIIIth century civil society according to the use of the term “Entzweiung” in the Hegelian philosophical vocabulary, and the formation of the concept of the nation as a self-referential condition of the political system. The book finishes with a discussion of Niklas Luhmann’s theory of functional differentiation and his concept of the political system. Relevance: The book applies second-order cybernetics to the analysis of the evolution of modern social systems, especially in the case of the formation of self-referential conditions for the observation and reproduction of the systems.
The classical formulation of the object of ethics refers to a knowledge of the rules of the adaptation of the human species to their natural environments, to normative expectations supposed in the others and to the biographical evolution of the self. Accordingly, a doctrine of the duties was edified on three pillars, embracing a reference to the duties towards nature, towards the others and towards oneself. Notwithstanding the fact that human action obeys to a variety of factors including bio-physiological conditions and the dimensions of the social environment, ancient and modern metaphysical models of ethics favored the commendatory discourse about the predicates “right” and “wrong,” concurring to ultimate goals. The ethical discussions consisted chiefly in the investigation of the adequacy of the subordinate goals to the final ends of the human action or in the treatment of the metaphysical questions related to free will or determinism, the opposition of the intentionality of the voluntary conduct of man to the mechanical or quasi-mechanical responses of the inferior organisms or machines. From a “second order” approach to the ethical action and imperatives, I propose with this book a critical analysis of the metaphysical and the Kantian ethics. Relevance: In “Ethics and Second-Order Cybernetics” (1992) Heinz von Foerster referred the importance of the application of his notion of “second-order cybernetics” to ethics and moral reasoning. Initially, second-order cybernetics intended an epistemological discussion of recursive operations in non-trivial machines, which were able to include in their evolving states their own self-awareness in observations. The application of his views to ethics entails new challenges. After H. von Foerster essay, what I mean with “second-order ethics is an attempt to identify the advantages of the adoption of his proposal, some consequences in the therapeutically field and lines for new developments.
How may mental activity be conceptualized within the context of the epistemology engendered by cybernetics, and how may that epistemology account for imagination? I argue for an epistemology of imagination that both distinguishes imagination, understanding and interpretation, and unites all three concepts in a dialogical circle of ideas. The processes of distinguishing these concepts (and the processes that give rise to and describe mental activities) are dialogical processes. As dialogical, they fall within the scope of Heinz von Foerster’s work on second-order cybernetics.