This article considers W. Ross Ashby’s ideas on the nature of embodied minds, as articulated in the last five years of his career. In particular, it attempts to connect his ideas to later work by others in robotics, perception and consciousness. While it is difficult to measure his direct influence on this work, the conceptual links are deep. Moreover, Ashby provides a comprehensive view of the embodied mind, which connects these areas. It concludes that the contemporary fields of situated robotics, ecological perception, and the neural mechanisms of consciousness might all benefit from a reconsideration of Ashby’s later writings.
Purpose: In line with the cognitive viewpoint on the phenomenon of information, the constructivist tradition based on Maturana and Varela’s theory of knowing, and some aspects of Shannon’s theory of communication, the purpose of this paper is to shed more light on the role of information, data, and knowledge in the cognitive system (domain) of the observer. Design/methodology/approach – In addition to the literature review, a proposed description of the communication and knowledge acquisition processes within the observer’s cognitive system/domain is elaborated. Findings: The paper recognizes communication and knowledge acquisition as separate processes based on two roles of information within the observer’s cognitive system, which are emphasized. The first role is connected with the appropriate communication aspects of Shannon’s theory related to encoding cognitive entities in the cognitive domain as data representations for calculating their informativeness. The second role involves establishing relations between cognitive entities encoded as data representations through the knowledge acquisition process in the observer’s cognitive domain. Originality/value – In this way, according to the cognitive viewpoint, communication and knowledge acquisition processes are recognized as important aspects of the cognitive process as a whole. In line with such a theoretical approach, the paper seeks to provide an extension of Shannon’s original idea, intending to involve the observer’s knowledge structure as an important framework for the deepening of information theory.
The failure of modern science to create a common scientific framework for nature and consciousness makes it necessary to look for broader foundations in a new philosophy. Although controversial for modern science, the Peircean semiotic, evolutionary, pragmatic and triadic philosophy has been the only modern conceptual framework that can support that transdisciplinary change in our view of knowing that bridges the two cultures and transgresses Cartesian dualism. It therefore seems ideal to build on it for modern biosemiotics and can, in combination with Luhmann’s theory of communication, encompass modern information theory, complexity science and thermodynamics. It allows focus on the connection between the concept of codes and signs in living systems, and makes it possible to re-conceptualize both internal and external processes of the human body, mind and communication in models that fit into one framework.
Bruni J. (2014) Expanding the self-referential paradox: The Macy conferences and the second wave of cybernetic thinking. In: Arnold D. P. (ed.) Traditions of systems theory: Major figures and contemporary developments. Routledge, New York: 78–83. https://cepa.info/2327
According to the American Society for Cybernetics (2012), there is no unified comprehensive account of a far-reaching narrative that takes into account all of the Macy Conferences and what was discussed and accomplished at these meetings. This chapter will thus propose how group dialogues on concepts such as information and feedback allowed the Macy Conferences to act as a catalyst for second-order systems theory, when fi rstorder, steady-state models of homeostasis became supplanted by those of self-reference in observing systems. I will trace how such a development transpired through a conferences-wide interdisciplinary mindset that promoted the idea of refl exivity. According to N. Katherine Hayles, the conferences’ singular achievement was to create a “new paradigm” for “looking at human beings … as information-processing entities who are essentially similar to intelligent machines,” by routing Claude Shannon’s information theory through Warren McCulloch’s “model of neural functioning” and John von Neumann’s work in “biological systems” and then capitalizing on Norbert Wiener’s “visionary” talent for disseminating the “larger implications” of such a paradigm shift. From this perspective, the most crucial work would achieve its fruition after the end of the Macy conferences. Yet the foundations for such work were, perforce, cast during the discussions at the conferences that epitomize science in the making and, as such, warrant our careful attention.
Clarke B. (2014) John Lilly, The Mind of the Dolphin, and Communication Out of Bounds. Communication +1 3: article 8. https://cepa.info/1124
In this essay I develop a systems-theoretical observation of John Lilly’s cybernetics of communication in his 1967 work “The Mind of the Dolphin.” The eight-year-old project that “The Mind of the Dolphin” recounts for public consumption details his aspiration to achieve an unprecedented breakthrough beyond companionate communion to fully abstract linguistic communication across species boundaries. Between 1959 and 1968 Lilly wagered and lost his mainstream scientific career largely over this audacious, ultimately inconclusive bid to establish and document for scientific validation “communication with a nonhuman mind.” In that effort, however, he mobilized the best available tools, a cutting-edge array of cybernetic concepts. He leaned heavily on the information theory bound up with first-order cybernetics and operated with heuristic computational metaphors alongside the actual computers of his era. Relevance: As I will elicit through some close readings of his texts, Lilly also homed in on crucial epistemological renovations with a constructivist redescription of cognition that may have influenced and motivated his colleague Heinz von Foerster’s more renowned formulations, arriving in the early 1970s, of a second-order cybernetics.
Clarke B. (2019) Finding cybernetics. World Futures 75(1–2): 17–28. https://cepa.info/6240
At mid-career as a tenured professor of modern literature, I finally found cybernetics. It was a slow-rolling revelation, a protracted unraveling, for it took me quite a while to unwrap cybernetics’ conceptual core from out of the layers of adjacent or covering discourses that had obscured or forgotten their own origins in the fecundity of cybernetic ideas. Heinz von Foerster’s relation to the Whole Earth Catalog and the systems counterculture around CoEvolution Quarterly were instrumental for my subsequent cybernetic development toward the work of Maturana, Varela, and Luhmann on the one hand, and Lovelock and Margulis on the other.
It is generally agreed that organisms are Complex Adaptive Systems. Since the rise of Cybernetics in the middle of the last century ideas from information theory and control theory have been applied to the adaptations of biological organisms in order to explain how they work. This does not, however, explain functionality, which is widely but not universally attributed to biological systems. There are two approaches to functionality, one based on etiology (what a trait was selected for), and the other based in autonomy. I argue that the etiological approach, as understood in terms of control theory, suffers from a problem of symmetry, by which function can equally well be placed in the environment as in the organism. Focusing on the autonomy view, I note that it can be understood to some degree in terms of control theory in its version called second order cybernetics. I present an approach to second order cybernetics that seems plausible for organisms with limited computational power, due to Hooker, Penfold and Evans. They hold that this approach gives something like concepts, certainly abstractions from specific situations, a trait required for functionality in its system adaptive form (i.e., control of the system by itself). Using this cue, I argue that biosemiotics provides the methodology to incorporate these quasi concepts into an account of functionality.
Díaz Nafría J. M. (2010) What is Information? A multidimensional concern. tripleC 8(1): 77–108. https://cepa.info/3624
Looking for an answer to the posed question, we will first go through a brief historical enquiry aiming at exploring the development of the uses given to the Latin word “information” from its Greek roots until its scientific formalisation in hands of the Mathematical Theory of Communication. Secondly and starting from the conceptual limitations of Shannon’s theory, we will put forward the most important theoretical demands claimed by many scientific and technical fields, directly concerned with the usage of information concepts. Such claims eventually entail an open critic to Shannon’s definition with different degrees of radicality, proposing a perspective change in which the different uses and disciplinary interests might be better represented. In order to foster an interdisciplinary approach aiming at gathering together the competing views of information and at bridging their theoretical and practical interests, a sketched glossary of concepts concerning information is proposed as an interdisciplinary tool.
A free-energy principle has been proposed recently that accounts for action, perception and learning. This review looks at some key brain theories in the biological (for example, neural Darwinism) and physical (for example, information theory and optimal control theory) sciences from the free-energy perspective. Crucially, one key theme runs through each of these theories – optimization. Furthermore, if we look closely at what is optimized, the same quantity keeps emerging, namely value (expected reward, expected utility) or its complement, surprise (prediction error, expected cost). This is the quantity that is optimized under the free-energy principle, which suggests that several global brain theories might be unified within a free-energy framework.
Gershenson C. (2021) On the scales of selves: Information, life, and Buddhist philosophy. In: Cejkova J., Holler S., Soros L. & Witkowski O. (eds.) Proceedings of the Artificial Life Conference 2021 (ALIFE 2021). MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 217–222. https://cepa.info/7619
When we attempt to define life, we tend to refer to individuals, those that are alive. But these individuals might be cells, organisms, colonies… ecosystems? We can describe living systems at different scales. Which ones might be the best ones to describe different selves? I explore this question using concepts from information theory, ALife, and Buddhist philosophy. After brief introductions, I review the implications of changing the scale of observation, and how this affects our understanding of selves at different structural, temporal, and informational scales. The conclusion is that there is no single “best” scale for a self, as this will depend on the scale at which decisions must be made. Different decisions, different scales.