Publication 7594

Steier F. (1988) On cybernetics as reflexive understanding. Continuing the Conversation 13: 7–8. Fulltext at
Excerpt: I propose then to mean when I say cybernetics, the art and science of reflexive understanding, for this makes clear the circularity that has been the hallmark of cybernetics by specifying what cyberneticians most generally do. Please note that reflexive is generally understood in two ways, both involving a turning back into a self. The distinction hinges on the circuit through which this turning back takes place. Reflex actions (such as the knee-jerk), as we usually think of them, involve being in a situation without reflecting. We are certainly interested in this kind of understanding, the kind that emerges from immersing yourself in a situation and knowing how to behave. Such a circuit might be thought of as a small-circuit reflexivity. On the other hand, second-order cybernetics has certainly allowed a long-circuit reflexivity, including a reflective knower in the act of understanding in a situation, for it is this reflexivity that has allowed cybernetics to indeed be applied to itself. In fact, it is precisely through a long-circuit reflexivity that assumptions embedded in a small circuit can be questioned – perhaps allowing the small-circuit reflexivity to become “short-circuited” and exploding our assumed and tacit world.

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