Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to discuss the relevance of second-order cybernetics for a theory of architectural design and related discourse. Approach: First, the relation of architectural design to the concept of “poiesis” is clarified. Subsequently, selected findings of Gotthard Günther are revisited and related to an architectural poetics. The last part of the paper consists of revisiting ideas mentioned previously, however, on the level of a discourse that has incorporated the ideas and offers a poetic way of understanding them. Findings: Gotthard Günther’s conception of “You” is specifically valuable in reference to a theory of architectural design in the sense of an architectural poetics. Originality – The research furthers the field of architecture by contributing to it a new theory in the form of an architectural poetics. It addresses questions of design with a procedural framework in which critical engagement is an intrinsic principle, and offers an alternative to existing discourses through a poetry of architectonic order that is open to the future. Relevance: Second order approaches are at the center of discussion in this paper. The paper argues for a new theory of design based on second order approaches.
Westermann C. (2018) On delight: Thoughts for tomorrow. Technoetic Arts 16(1): 43–51. https://cepa.info/7742
The article introduces the problematics of the classical two-valued logic on which Western thought is generally based, outlining that under the conditions of its logical assumptions the subject I is situated in a world that it cannot address. In this context, the article outlines a short history of cybernetics and the shift from first- to second-order cybernetics. The basic principles of Gordon Pask’s 1976 Conversation Theory are introduced. It is argued that this second-order theory grants agency to others through a re-conception of living beings as You logically transcending the I. The key principles of Conversation Theory are set in relation to the poetic forms of discourse that played a key role in art as well as philosophical thinking in China in the past. Second-order thinking, the article argues, is essentially poetic. It foregoes prediction in favour of the potentiality of encountering tomorrow’s delights.
Since René Descartes famously separated the concepts of body and mind in the seventeenth century, western philosophy and theory have struggled to conceptualize the interconnectedness of minds, bodies, environments and cultures. While environmental psychology and the cognitive sciences have shown that spatial perception is ‘embodied’ and depends on the aforementioned concepts’ interconnectedness, architectural design practice, for example, has rarely incorporated these insights. The article presents research on the epistemological foundations that frame the communication between design theory and practice and juxtaposes it with scientific research on embodied experience. It further suggests that Asian aesthetics, with its long history in conceiving relations and art as interactive, could create a bridge between recent scientific insights and design practice. The article links Asian aesthetics to a discourse on ecologies in the post-Anthropocene, in dialogue with contemporary conceptions of time. It outlines an approach to the interconnectedness of minds, bodies, environments, the sciences and cultures, in favour of a future that is governed by creative wisdom rather than ‘smart’ efficiency.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper to discuss ethical principles that are implicit in second-order cybernetics, with the aim of arriving at a better understanding of how second-order cybernetics frames living in a world with others. It further investigates implications for second-order cybernetics approaches to architectural design, i.e. the activity of designing frameworks for living. Design/methodology/approach – The paper investigates terminology in the second-order cybernetics literature with specific attention to terms that suggest that there are ethical principles at work. It further relates second-order cybernetics to selected notions in phenomenology, pragmatism and transcendental idealism. The comparison allows for conclusions about the specificity of a second-order inquiry. In line with the thematic focus of this journal issue on the framing of shared worlds, the paper further elaborates on questions relating to the activity of designing “worlds” in which people live with others. Findings: The paper highlights that a radical openness toward the future and toward the agency of others is inscribed in the conception of second-order cybernetics. It creates a frame of reference for conceiving social systems of all kinds, including environments that are designed to be inhabited. Originality/value – The paper identifies an aesthetics grounded in the process of living-with-others as an ethical principle implicit in second-order cybernetics thought. It is an aesthetics that is radically open for the agency of others. Linking aesthetics and ethics, the paper’s contributions will be of specific value for practitioners and theoreticians of design. Considering second-order cybernetics as a practice generally dealing with designing, it also contributes to the wider second-order cybernetics discourse.
Whitaker R. (2004) Thanks for the Magic, Humberto. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 11(4): 93–97. https://cepa.info/3670
It is my opinion that Humberto Maturana’s contributions to the state of human knowledge about both humans and their knowledge are nothing short of monumental. At least that’s the magnitude of impact his ideas had on me, both as a doctoral student and in my various subsequent roles researching how information technologies interact with human cognitive capacities, interpersonal communication, and directed collaboration, for example. Though already familiar with the work of scholars like Ashby, Beer, von Foerster, Angyal, Bateson, and Pask, I had remained adrift in deciding how best to apply the wisdom of cybernetics to matters like group decision support.
Whitaker R. (2007) Informing design praxis via 2nd‐order cybernetics. Kybernetes 36(9/10): 1558–1569. https://cepa.info/7745
Purpose: This paper aims to present lessons learned in applying 2nd‐order cybernetics – specifically Maturana and Varela’s “biology of cognition” – to the actual design of interactive decision support systems. Design/methodology/approach – This consists of a review of the rationale and bases for applying 2nd‐order cybernetics in interactive IT design, the challenges in moving from theory to praxis, illustrative examples of tactics employed, and a summary of the successful outcomes achieved. Findings: The paper offers conclusions about the general applicability of such theories, two sample applications devised for actual projects, and discussion of these applications’ perceived value. Research limitations/implications – The applications described are not claimed to represent a complete toolkit, and they may not readily generalize beyond the scope of interactive information systems design. On the other hand, the examples offered demonstrate that 2nd‐order cybernetics can constructively inform such designs – advancing the focus of discussion from theory‐based advocacy to praxis‐based recommendations. Practical implications: The paper presents illustrative examples of the exigencies entailed in moving 2nd‐order cybernetics ideas forward from theory to praxis and specific tactics for doing so. Originality/value – This paper addresses the persistent deficiencies in both concrete examples and guidance for practical applications of 2nd‐order cybernetics theories. It will hopefully stimulate similar attempts to demonstrate such theories’ practical benefits.
Excerpt: Cybernetics is a word invented to define a new field in science. It combines under one heading the study of what in a human context is sometimes loosely described as thinking and in engineering is known as control and communication. In other words, cybernetics attempts to find the common elements in the functioning of automatic machines and of the human nervous system, and to develop a theory which will cover the entire field of control and communication in machines and in living organisms.
Winburn W. R. (1991) Cybernetics, teleology, and science. Cybernetics and Systems 22(5): 553–582. https://cepa.info/3760
Cybernetics has evolved far beyond the problems of servomechanics and simple models of purposive behavior into a substantial body of theory with potential for resolving long-standing controversies surrounding the role of teleological concepts and reductionism in scientific explanation. The diverse research contributing to modern cybernetics views natural adaptation, goal-directed behavior, and conscious purpose as varying expressions of circular causal, recursive, and system/environment relationships along a continuum of organized complexity. This mode of analysis suggests that hierarchy in the sciences springs from a hierarchy of causal circuits in the structure of teleological phenomena, for which the dual, part/whole nature at any particular level forces a bifurcation of discourse into distinct “logical types” according to the observer’s focus. The cybernetic paradigm may thus provide connecting tissue by which the full spectrum of explanation, from physicochemical to teleological, is joined in a coherent scientific framework constituting “reduction in principle” of living systems, even while truly meaningful translation of one science into another is precluded by the disparate logics of their subject matter.
Wolfe C. (1994) Making contingency safe for liberalism: The pragmatics of epistemology in Rorty and Luhmann. New German Critique 61: 101–127. https://cepa.info/2770
Excerpt: What must immediately surprise any reader new to the discourses of systems theory or what is sometimes called “second-order cybernetics” is the rather systematic reliance of this new theoretical paradigm on the figure of vision and, more specifically, observation. That surprise might turn into discomfort if not alarm for readers in the humanities who cut their teeth on the critical genealogy of vision and the look which runs, in its modernist incarnation, from Freud’s discourse on vision in Civilization and Its Discontents through Sartre’s Being and Nothingness to Lacan’s seminars and finally to recent influential work in psychoanalysis and feminist film theory. With the possible exception of Michel Foucault, no recent intellectual has done more to call into question the trope of vision than America’s foremost pragmatist philosopher, Richard Rorty. From his ground-breaking early work Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature onward, Rorty has argued that the figure of vision in the philosophical and critical tradition is indissolubly linked with representationalism and realism, where representationalism assumes that “making true’ and ‘representing’ are reciprocal relations: the nonlinguistic item which makes S true is the one represented by S, ” and realism maintains the “idea that inquiry is a matter of finding out the nature of something which lies outside the web of beliefs and desires, ” in which “the object of inquiry – what lies outside the organism – has a context of its own, a context which is privileged by virtue of being the object’s rather than the inquirer’s.” Instead, Rorty argues, we should reduce this desire for objectivity to a search for “solidarity” and embrace a philo-sophical holism of the sort found in Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, which holds that “words take their meanings from other words rather than by virtue of their representative character” and “transparency to the real.” Hence, Rorty rejects the representationalist position and its privileged figure, and argues instead that “Our only usable notion of ‘objectivity’ is ‘agreement’ rather than mirroring."
This paper examines the interdependence between paradigms and pedagogy. This relationship is explored by looking at the lifecycle of a transdisciplinary academic program, called Social Ecology. A number of intellectual themes emerge from the exploration, and their influence on pedagogic organisation and practice is discussed. The themes include the process of paradigm formation, the relevance of transdisciplinary courses (as against disciplinary or interdisciplinary courses) of study under postmodern conditions, and the appropriateness of second-order cybernetics in validating and organising transdisciplinary courses. The process of transdisciplinary paradigm formation and the differentiation of such a paradigm from a traditional Kuhnian perspective is discussed. The paper concludes with the proposition that a knowledge of second-order cybernetics would create a much more liberal climate in the academy, where the self-organising and changing nature of a complex, transdisciplinary, pedagogic paradigm, like Social Ecology, could be recognisable and thinkable.