Publication 2905

Glanville R. (1995) A (cybernetic) musing: Control 2. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 3(2): 43–46. Fulltext at
Excerpt: In our classical view, control is of a controlled (thing) by a controller. Often there is an implication that the controlled is more powerful than the controller, so that there is amplification. Usually control is towards some goal – a set of conditions, possibly progressive, to be attained – although we probably all know some control freak for whom the goal (or rather, the purpose) is just to control. The controller is seen, in this understanding, as causing the controlled to behave in particular ways. In the Cybernetics of Cybernetics, we modify this understanding of control. In effect, we ask Juvenal’s question: “But who will guard the guardians? ” and we expect an answer! Thus, we ask what it is that controls the controller. For, in a model (and it is a model) that is based on control, in which control has the position of primacy, this is not a question that can be long left unasked: to do so would be a matter of both inconsistency and laziness, and would show a lack of diligence and rigour- indicating a mammoth disregard for our subject. The general answer is, of course, obvious. The controller is controlled, itself, by that which the controller controls (the controlled). Immediately, the relativity of the roles of controller and controlled become apparent: what we have, traditionally, thought of as the controlled can equally be seen as the controller (controlling) – it just depends on where we are looking from. There is terminological confusion, but it diminishes if we remember that controller and controlled are both roles that we (the even-present observer, but that will have to wait for another column) ascribe.


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