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.
Upshot: For communicating second-order science, von Foerster’s ethical imperative provides a viable starting point. Proceeding from this, we plead in favour of emphasising the common grounds of diverging scientific opinions and of various approaches in second-order science instead of focussing on the differences. This will provide a basis for communication and stimulate scientific self-reflection.
Context: This conceptual paper tries to tackle the advantages and the limitations that might arise from including second-order science into global climate change sciences, a research area that traditionally focuses on first-order approaches and that is currently attracting a lot of media and public attention. Problem: The high profile of climate change research seems to provoke a certain dilemma for scientists: despite the slowly increasing realization within the sciences that our knowledge is temporary, tentative, uncertain, and far from stable, the public expectations towards science and scientific knowledge are still the opposite: that scientific results should prove to be objective, reliable, and authoritative. As a way to handle the uncertainty, scientists tend to produce “varieties of scenarios” instead of clear statements, as well as reports that articulate different scientific opinions about the causes and dynamics of change (e.g., the IPCC. This might leave the impression of vague and indecisive results. As a result, esteem for the sciences seems to be decreasing within public perception. Method: This paper applies second-order observation to climate change research in particular and the sciences in general. Results: Within most sciences, it is still quite unusual to disclose and discuss the epistemological foundations of the respective research questions, methods and ways to interpret data, as research proceeds mainly from some version of realistic epistemological positions. A shift towards self-reflexive second-order science might offer possibilities for a return to a “less polarized” scientific and public debate on climate change because it points to knowledge that is in principle tentative, uncertain and fragmented as well as to the theory- and observation-dependence of scientific work. Implications: The paper addresses the differences between first-order and second-order science as well as some challenges of science in general, which second-order science might address and disclose. Constructivist content: Second-order science used as observation praxis (second-order observation) for this specific field of research.
Open peer commentary on the article “The Circular Conditions of Second-order Science Sporadically Illustrated with Agent-based Experiments at the Roots of Observation” by Manfred Füllsack. Upshot: I address Füllsack’s main conclusions in his article regarding the meaning of second-order observations. Especially envisaged are the epistemological and ontological difficulties raised by his scrutiny of the merging between systemic-internal conditions of second-order reflexivity and the thematic-theoretical accounts of selection, intentionality and purposiveness in evolutionary systems.
Open peer commentary on the article “Second-Order Science: Logic, Strategies, Methods” by Stuart A. Umpleby. Upshot: The evaluation of what (we think) we knew is an urgent and evolving issue. The issues discussed by Umpleby have been raised earlier, particularly in the social sciences. Arguably, in some quarters they are exaggerated. But an awareness of observer effects is of great importance and is greatly enhanced by second-order cybernetics applied more widely as second-order science.
Open peer commentary on the article “Second-Order Science: Logic, Strategies, Methods” by Stuart A. Umpleby. Upshot: Second-order science requires a specific methodology. It thereby reverses the classical observer-observed relation in favor of the observed - i.e., the first-order observers - if the principle of autopoiesis is acknowledged.
Open peer commentary on the article “Cybernetics, Reflexivity and Second-Order Science” by Louis H. Kauffman. Upshot: This commentary reflects broadly on the concept of eigenform and reflexive domains, focusing on the idea that second-order science is neither the same as nor completely distinct from ordinary living.
Open peer commentary on the article “Design Research as a Variety of Second-Order Cybernetic Practice” by Ben Sweeting. Upshot: I claim that the parallels between design research, second-order cybernetics (SOC) and second-order science (SOS), as discussed by Sweeting in the target article, are more explicit in digital design. The discussion of SOC and SOS can point towards the creation of an epistemological foundation to digital design, where self-reflexivity and the inclusion of the observer are central questions.
Upshot: I present reflections on the particularities of second-order science in response to the commentaries on my paper, as well as comments on the limitations of verbal analytical attempts to grasp the implicit circularity of observer-inclusion.
Problem: The inclusion of the observer into scientific observation entails a vicious circle of having to observe the observer as dependent on observation. Second-order science has to clarify how its underlying circularity can be scientifically conceived. Method: Essayistic and conceptual analysis, sporadically illustrated with agent-based experiments. Results: Second-order science – implying science in general – is fundamentally and ineluctably circular. Implications: The circularity of second-order science asks for analytical methods able to cope with phenomena of complex causation and “synchronous asynchrony,” such as tools for analyzing non-linearly interacting dynamics, decentralized, clustered networks and in general, systems of complex interacting components.