Cybernetics of Cybernetics
FocusRecursively elaborative dynamics among entangled dynamic systems
- Knowledge is … current range of functional possibilities
- Knowing is … acting/responding appropriately
- Learner is … adaptive system
- Learning is … adapting, changing
- Teaching is … triggering
SynopsisThree popularly cited characterizations of Second-Order Cybernetics are:
- the Cybernetics of Cybernetics (i.e., the recursive application of Cybernetics to itself)
- the study of Cybernetics by people who recognize themselves to be part of the system they’re studying (or, the realization that there are no observerless observations)
- the study of organism-plus-environment as a single system
- Self-Reference – any instance of a system, rule, or discourse referring to itself. The concept is also invoked in mathematics, philosophy, systems thinking, computer programming, linguistics, and consciousness studies. Within Second-Order Cybernetics, Self-Reference is understood as recursive and as a necessary criterion for learning systems.
- Artificial Life (Christopher Langdon, 1980s) – the study of life processes and the attempt to recreate aspects of biological phenomena through computer, robotic, and biochemical simulations – which, among other things, has demonstrated that “living” and “learning” are not dissociated processes
- Sociocybernetics (Felix Geyer, 1990s) – a blend of Sociology and Complex Systems Research that embraces the insights of Second-Order Cybernetics. Sociocybernetics focuses on cooperative behavior.
- Xenobots (Douglas Blackiston, 2020s) – synthetic, programmable lifeforms that are composed of biological tissues and designed to perform specific functions. Some are self-replicating. The technology is evolving quickly.
CommentaryAlmost entirely, criticisms of Second-Order Cybernetics are based on either shallow readings or troublesome descriptions/applications.
Authors and/or Prominent InfluencesMargaret Mead; Gregory Bateson; Heinz von Foerster; Gordon Pask
Status as a Theory of LearningAs with Cybernetics, it is more correct to say that Second-Order Cybernetics offers a theory of learning than Second-Order Cybernetics is a theory of learning. The domain is too broad to constrain it to one focus – even when that focus is as expansive as “learning.”
Status as a Theory of TeachingSecond-Order Cybernetics is not a theory of teaching.
Status as a Scientific TheorySecond-Order Cybernetics easily meets our criteria for a scientific theory.
- Artificial Life
Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Second-Order Cybernetics” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.
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