Volume 10 · Number 1 · Pages 7–15

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Second-Order Science: A Vast and Largely Unexplored Science Frontier

Karl H. Müller & Alexander Riegler

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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.

Key words: Philosophy of science, methodology of science, first-order science, second-order science, Science 2.0, Science II, new cybernetics, second-order cybernetics, scientific novelty, re-entry


Müller K. H. & Riegler A. (2014) Second-order science: A vast and largely unexplored science frontier. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 7–15. http://constructivist.info/10/1/007

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