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Cybernetics: A proposal for the field, part 1

This paper is to be delivered in three parts; the first one purports to give a reprise of the
field of cybernetics both in their history and content detailing what first and second order
cybernetics are and at the same time proposing areas into which they can be expanded. In the
second part, the ideas of the cybernetics of social systems in general (both human and animal)
and of human cognition and psychic systems are developed as a third and fourth order
respectively. Finally, on the third article, the cybernetics of the Universe will be expounded in a
fifth order, which takes into account the idea of the observer and which states that consciousness
is the fundamental reality and that the Universe is a transcendental system that can engage in self
observation and mutual observation, when it observes other systems.
Returning to the objectives of this first part, an initial definition and an etymology of
cybernetics will be given; then, a brief history of it will be put before the reader, including the
development of the field in the United States, England and Russia. The first order, that of
machines will be explained and its main features detailed: They are goal oriented systems, which
is set forth by an observer, that is, they are teleological and they are systems that create things
other than themselves (allopoietic).
The second order consists of living systems, which are observing systems and are
teleonomical, that is, they set their goals by means of their interaction with their environment and
they are autopoietic, for they produce their own components. To conclude, some precisions will
be made regarding the methodology of first and second order cybernetics.
1. Initial definition of Cybernetics
Cybernetics is derived from kybernetes, the Greek word for steersman and has been
understood as an interdisciplinary approach to organization, irrespective of a system's
material realization (Web Dictionary of Cybernetics and Sytems). Many have understood this
idea in different ways: as "a science concerned with the study of systems of any nature which are
capable of receiving, storing, and processing information so as to use it for control" by
Kolmogorov; as "the art of steersmanship"; "deals with all forms of behavior in so far as they are
regular, or determinate, or reproducible"; by Ashby, as
"a branch of mathematics dealing with problems of control, recursiveness, and information" by
Gregory Bateson as "the science of effective organization" by Beer, among many other notables
(American Society for Cybernetics).
My personal definition is that it is the study of organization in all possible systems by
means of communication processes. It is useful to make some precisions: First, by studying
organization, the subject matter of cybernetics is not so much what systems consist of, but what
is their behavior. Second, the object of study of cybernetics is not to be exhausted as it can range
from simple to complex systems and can comprise those that have yet to be invented or
discovered, hence, the idea of all possible systems. Third, as communication is the thread that
will help gather an understanding of all systems, concepts like variety, control, information and
goal-directedness are universal to all studied systems.
2. A brief history of Cybernetics
First order cybernetics originated when the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation sponsored a
series of interdisciplinary meetings which lasted from 1944 to 1953 and reunited noted post war
scholars like Norbert Weiner, John von Neumann, Warren McCulloch, Claude Shannon, Heinz
von Foerster, W. Ross Ashby, Arturo Rosenblueth, Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead.
Weiner was one of the primary participants of the conferences, as his work on servomechanisms
and artillery target mechanism during World War II sparked his interest in feedback and purpose;
in 1948 he published his book Cybernetics, in which he summarized the basic principles of the
discipline and gave one of the most known definitions (Heylighen and Joslyn).
As time passed and the objective approach of cybernetics consolidated in computer
science, a focus on autonomy, self-organization, cognition and the role of the observer in
modeling a system consolidated in the 1970s. This became known as second order cybernetics
(Heylighen and Joslyn). The distinction between first and second order cybernetics was made by
Heinz von Foerster in Cybernetics of Cybernetics stating that the cybernetics of observed
systems we may consider to be first-order cybernetics; while second-order cybernetics is the
cybernetics of observing systems(Von Foerster, 1979).
First order cybernetics studied systems from a passive and objective perspective, while
the second order recognizes that observer and observed cannot be separated and the observations
will depend on their interactions; this latter approach has become part of the foundations of
cybernetics (Heylighen and Joslyn). An important concept for second order cybernetics is what
theoretical biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela conceived as autopoiesis or
self-construction, the defining feature of living systems, which is a series of processes by
means of which a system maintains itself by creating its own components, constantly recreating
itself.(Maturana and Varela, 2012) This concept has had a lot of transcendence within general
systems theory, second order cybernetics and the social sciences, where attempts have been
made to apply it to social systems.

This position is widely accepted: In the prologue to Autopoiesis, The Organization of the Living in Maturana and
Varelas Autopoiesis and Cognition, Stafford Beer embraces the idea of social systems as being autopoietic. Also,
Niklas Luhmanns theory of social systems applies autopoiesis to society.
Cybernetics also developed in the United Kingdom with Grey Walter and W. Ross
Ashby, whom can be accounted as first order cyberneticians and then transitioned to second
order cybernetics by means of the scholarship of Gordon Pask and Stafford Beer (Pickering,
British cybernetics was less centered on computing and more interested in the study of
the human brain, Ashby and Walter were psychiatrists, the former built a homeostat, a device
capable of adapting itself to the environment; while the latter built his famous Turtle, a robot
built with sensors, which exhibited adaptive behavior. Pask centered more on theories of learning
and teaching, and his ideas have been rediscovered in other disciplines, Beer applied cybernetics
to management and created the Viable System Model, a schema for organizations that is
modeled after the human nervous system (Pickering, 2010).
Cybernetics also developed in the Soviet Union, albeit in a different way. From 1947 to
1954, the year after Stalin died, cybernetics was subject to constant attacks, and with other
disciplines it was called a bourgeois pseudoscience. A decade after this period, it was broadly
accepted by scientists, philosophers and bureaucrats, seen as the science best t to build the
future Communist society(Peters, 2012). By mid-1960s it was a flourishing discipline in the
Soviet Union, while it had fallen out of fashion by that time in the United States and England;
from this time to the early 1970s, this discipline was normalized into the ideological discourse,
noted practitioners were Alexey Andreevich Lyapunov (1911-1973), Victor Glushkov (1923-
1982) and Alexander Yakovlevich Lerner (1913-2004).
Gerovitch analyzed the rise and development of Russian cybernetics in three periods: a)
categorical rejection of cybernetics under Joseph Stalin (194853); b) embrace of cybernetics as
a reformist-oriented science under Nikita Khrushchev (195564); c) Retooling and diffusion of
cybernetics into the service of the status quo and state power under Leonid Brezhnev (196480)
(Gerovicht, 2002).
3. First order cybernetics
a. Scope: Machines as observed systems
Umpleby compiles a list of definitions of first order cybernetics, to which Wieners is
added; this item is useful to determine the scope of first order cybernetics (Umpleby, 2001)
(Wiener, 1965):
Table 1.
Varela and Maturana distinguish allopoietic from autopoietic machines (living systems); the
former is defined as machines that have as a product of their function something different from
themselves. Because they are not the product of their own function, but instead are used for a
purpose, allopoietic machines (hereafter machines) are controlled systems. The notion of
machines as controlled systems connects with Wiener, who centers on their control and
communication; now, to control something is to determine its purpose, therefore, Pasks notion is
also addressed. Maturana and Varela coincide with this direction when they say: Man made
machines are all made with some purpose This aim usually appears expressed in the product
of the operation of the machine, but not necessarily so (Maturana and Varela, 2012).
Because the purpose of the machines is set by their creators and users, it can be said that
first order cybernetics is teleological. It is precisely because of this fact that machines are
observed and not observing systems, thus arriving at von Foersters definition. It can be
concluded then that first order cybernetics is the study of organization (observation, and
teleology by means of communication) in machines that produce things other than themselves
and that interact with an observer that studies them or determines their purpose.
b. Goal-orientedness: Teleology
Control can be understood as the operation of a system comprised of a controller and a
controlled. These subsystems interact in the following way: 1) The controller may change the
state of the controlled system in any way, including its destruction, 2) the action that the
controlled system has in relation of controller is the formation of a perception in the latter about
the former. This relationship can be expressed in the following schema (Principia Cybernetica

Picture 1
The formation of a perception that a controlling system makes of a controlled one is
composed of: an agent, the controller, a representation of the controlled system and the flow of
information between them. This can be represented in the following manner (Principia
Cybernetica Web):
Picture 2
The flow of information limits the possible actions of the agent; the control relationship
operates on a feedback loop which starts with action (controller to controlled) and is followed by
perception (controlled to controller) and is asymmetrical: the controlled can only influence the
representation of it made by the controller, but the former can effectively control the latter. The
control relation, although asymmetrical, it operates as a feedback loop (Principia Cybernetica
The operation of a system presupposes a goal, which can be understood as a projected
reality which determines a process and yet it is something that may or may not come to be; goal-
directedness is the avoidance or elimination of deviations from an unchanging state, which can
be taken as a stable equilibrium upon which the system must return after disruptions are
4. Second order cybernetics
a. Scope: Observing systems
Repeating the method used to ascertain the scope of first order cybernetics, Umplebys
list of definitions will be anew used to construct a notion the second order (Umpleby, 2001):
Table 2
Maturana and Varela define autonomy as the: Self-asserting capacity of living systems
to maintain their identity through the active compensation of deformation. This idea leads to the
concept of autopoiesis which is the feature of all living systems; and which can be understood as
a machine that produces its own components and occupies a space in which it carries out its
processes; these types of machine are teleonomical, for they have an apparent purpose or project
of organization. If living systems are purposeless in the sense that they are not observed as in the
first order, then what is the reason of being of Pasks definition? This is solved by Maturana in
his treatment of cognition (Maturana and Varela, 2012):
A cognitive system is a system whose organization defines a domain of
interactions in which it can act with relevance to the maintenance of itself, and the
process of cognition is the actual (inductive) acting or behaving in the domain.
Living systems are cognitive systems, and living as a process is a process of
cognition. This statement is valid for all organisms, with and without a nervous
Because the study of living systems includes cognitive processes, then Pasks definition
of a modeler applies because a system that observes can determine the purpose of a first order
system that can only be observed; this domain is not entirely exclusive to human beings seeing
that there are animals capable of using tools. As it was said in the part pertaining to the history of
cybernetics, second order cyberneticians acknowledge that no systems can be studied objectively
and that the observer plays a crucial role; this means that a definition of second order cybernetics
must have within itself the idea of an observer.
In asking what the properties of the observer are, Von Foerster realizes that any
observation made entails another act of observation of said observation and it leads to a problem
akin to the Liars paradox. To address these deficiencies, he uses Pasks ideas of orders of
analysis and comes to the conclusion that an observer enters the studied system by stipulating its
purpose, and by stipulating his own purpose on the observed system. This brings forth Humberto
Maturanas famous theorem: Anything said is said by an observer.
Second order cybernetics is then the study of observing systems on two levels: First, in
the organization in autopoietic machines, which are able to build their own components, and
possess cognizance which allows them to observe and control other machines; second, in
understanding the derivation of knowledge as a process in which an autopoietic system observes
a system by interacting with it setting both its purpose and that of the observed. Second order
cybernetics is a cybernetics of cybernetics.
b. Goal orientedness: Teleonomy
First order cybernetic systems are teleological: their goals are established by an observer;
on the other hand, autopoietic systems have as their goal their survival, that is, the maintenance
of its essential organization. This latter goal, plus other secondary goals that reinforce it are
comprised by the adaptation to the organism to its environment by means of structural coupling.
This is to be understood as teleonomy.
It was stated that goal-directedness was to be understood as the suppression of deviations
from a goal state. In the case of autopoietic systems, this state is survival and the act of
constantly achieving this state is teleonomy. This is done by means of cognition as perceptually
guided action that creates a repertoire of actions to be implemented in response to certain stimuli
chosen by the system based on a history of structural couplings with the environment.
Survival is a state of stable equilibrium, to which a system is to be returned after any
deviation, and the repertoire of actions and the guidance of action based on the posing and
answering of actions imply a diminution of variety.
To summarize goal-directedness in first and second order systems: Allopoietic systems
are teleological because they have an observer state their purpose, while autopoietic systems, are
teleonomical, because their goal is determined by their interaction with their environment; both
teleonomy and teleology share the feature of equifinality, that is, differing initial states
eventually return to the same final state, which implies a diminution of variety. Their difference
resides in the fact that the former returns to its equilibrium point without intervention, while the
latter cant (Principia Cybernetica Web).
5. Differences between the scope of first and second order cybernetics
Although both deal with machines, there are a set of differences between first and second
order cybernetics. This can be summarized in the following schema:
Table 3
First order machines are heteropoietic because they produce something different from
themselves, by means of human design; this is a feature of inert systems, which are not able to
build their own components, and which purposes are determined by an observer, therefore they
are observed systems. At the same time, the way in which these systems were studied before the
introduction of second cybernetics was attempting to isolate the observer from the description of
his observations. Second order machines produce only themselves, therefore they are living and
their purpose is determined by the feedback with their environment. They can be cognizant and
capable of self-description, which means that they observe and can, to a degree, use first order
6. Information
The concept of information was first posited with Claude Shannon, whose work gave
way to information theory; in it, functional communication is based on a pre-established code
with a limited number of possible outcomes of signs; therefore information implies a choice that
reduces uncertainty (Brier, 2008).
Entropy is a measure of this uncertainty and is taken as the measure of the amount of
information conveyed; the more is known about the message to be produced by the source, the
less entropy and the less the information. To Norbert Wiener entropy is viewed as disorder and
information is viewed as negative entropy, which can then be defined as organization (Brier,
Brier criticizes that both information theory and cybernetics because their objectivity rests on
metaphysics and produce a functionalism that does not take into account free will, emotions and
first person experience; another concept of information to be taken into account is that pertaining
to Gregory Bateson, which can be stated as the difference that makes a difference (Brier,
2008). Ashby coincides with the importance of difference in cybernetics, although he does not
equate it to information, he says: The most fundamental concept in cybernetics is that of
difference, either that two things are recognizably different or that one thing has changed with
time (Ashby, 1965).

a. Differentiation (Order+Balance+Harmony)
In order to better understand information in the Batesonian sense, it must be said that
human cognition is creative in nature, therefore, a differentiation is not an existing quality of
reality, but a way in which the latter is understood by humans; that is, people make sense of
reality by distinguishing one thing from the other, thus we differentiate.
However, this action has an internal logic and coherence, that is, information is congruent
with itself and is subject to the existence of a pattern, a proportion and a viable combination of
both; these measures will be called Order, Balance and Harmony.
The Oxford Dictionary defines order as the arrangement or disposition of people of
things in relation to each other according to a particular, sequence, pattern or method and
pattern as regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in the way in which something
happens or is done (Oxford Dictionary). Oliver defines it as an arrangement of a set of entities
that is produced by the correlation, according to a rule, of one arrangement of these entities with
another arrangement independent of the first (Oliver, 1951). Both definitions have the
following elements: a) ordered entities (people or things), b) a rule or pattern under which the
objects are arranged, c) a relationship between the ordered objects.
The idea of order does not exist outside of human beings as, scientific and other social
criteria notwithstanding, what to one person constitutes as order might appear to another as
disorderly; that is, it is a construction of the human mind (Oliver, 1951). In this tenor of things, it
might be said then that the dichotomy between of order and disorder is inexact because it is not
, therefore, one might instead talk about different types of order.
Because it is subjective in nature, created by the cognitive organization of the observer,
several factors like interaction of the environment and life experience act as an influence on its
establishment; however, in social systems, there can be consensus regarding acceptable types of
order: examples of this can be found from scientific laws describing phenomena to social norms
of behavior; notions of order then, are of dialectic nature.
Garcia Maynez interprets Oliver: Order is the submission of a set of objects to a rule or
a system of rules which application creates among said objects, the relationships that allow the
goals of the orderer. This definition presupposes: A set of objects, an ordering pattern, the
submission of the former to the latter, the relations that derive from such submission to the

It does not comprise precise criteria to the totality of human beings.
ordered objects and the goal pursued by the orderer; another presupposition that can be added is
the relationship that the ordered have with the orderer and the pattern (Garcia Maynez, 1974).
He also distinguishes between the creation and the effective accomplishment of an order
when it is to be applied by an observer to a system, and says that there are 3 stages: conceiving
the order, electing the means to achieve the goal, the effective accomplishment of the projected
order(Garcia Maynez, 1974).
Balance can be understood as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the
correct proportions; proportion is also defined as: a part, share, or number considered in
comparative relation to a whole (Oxford Dictionary). This idea is used more in the arts than in
the sciences, but like the notion of order, it is relative to the human observer and extends to his
behavior. In design, balance is a principle that seeks the reconciliation of opposing forces in a
composition that results in visual stability.
Proportion then refers to the relative size and scale of the various elements in a design,
seeing the relationship between objects, or of parts of a whole; proportion is discussed in terms
of context or a standard (Jirousek).
Picture 3

In an analogue way to the notion of order, balance can presuppose: a set of things or
people to be balanced, the proportion for achieving balance, the submission of the object to the
proportion, the relations that derive from such submission to the balanced objects, the relation
between the balanced and the balancing agent, the relation between the balanced and the
proportion and the goal pursued by the balancing agent. And the conception and the

Image found here:
implementation of balance comprises conceiving the balance, electing the means of achieving
the goal and the accomplishment of the goal.
The mediation between patterns and proportion brings forth a third idea which will be
called Harmony; which can be defined as the conjunction between order and balance in a
compatible relation, that is, its the combination between a pattern and a proportion that do not
exclude each other and are able to function together. As a starting point it is important to note
that Order and Balance cannot function without each other and thus, to stand by themselves,
once has to presuppose a minimal pattern or proportion in each, which means that by themselves,
they are already a harmonious combination.
In the same vein, to conciliate Order and Balance, Harmony presupposes in itself a viable
combination of Order and Balance, which can be considered an application of the Good
Regulator Theorem for to solve the problem of the conjunction of a pattern and proportion,
Harmony must have within itself a viable conjunction of both.
This means that Harmony is self-referential (specifically, recursive) in two ways: First, to
stand by themselves, Order and Balance must be harmonious combinations and this have internal
patterns and proportions; second, viable Harmony applies the before mentioned theorem. This
also means that Information is has an internal congruence and logic that is product of a viewpoint
as Order, Balance and Harmony lie within the observer that conceives them.
Harmony presupposes by analogy the same elements that Order and Balance do, and also
follow the same rule for the observer in conceiving and applying it to an object or subject.
Harmony can be explained with the following examples:
A standard chess configuration has a pattern that consists of 16 pieces per player aligned
in 2 scores of 8 pieces and it has a proportion seeing that each player has the same amount of
pieces arranged in a way that gives none of the opponents a starting advantage over the other;
moreover, the group of pieces between each player is arranged in a way that they have an
internal pattern and proportion, as each piece has a specific relation with one another. Now,
suppose that the following arrangement is in place:
Picture 4
In this case there is order but not balance between black and white (assuming the players
have a similar level of skill), that is, there is a pattern but there is no proportion; although each
group of pieces has an internal order and balance, they are not compatible. In this case there can
be order without balance, but there cannot be balance without order, therefore, their relationship
is asymmetrical.
To show that there can be multiple ways to order and balance and to combine both, the
Chess960 variant can be used as an example. Created by Bobby Fischer, it has the same pieces
and boards that the standard chess game but it has new rules that allow the retaining of castling
options and can result in 960 possible positions. The intention of this variant is to eliminate the
advantage created by the memorization of opening moves, forcing players to rely on their talent
and creativity. Here are two possible board positions given by the Chess960 variant:
Picture 5
Both of these boards have order and balance internal and external, indeed they have a
pattern that orders the pieces of each of the players and a proportion that gives them equal
chances of winning.
b. Meaning assignation (the incorporation of Biosemiotics)
Semiotics concerns itself with the study of signs in the broadest of senses, which are not
to be analyzed as an isolated phenomena, but study them in relation to how meaning is
constructed and reality and represented. It has a dual origin: as there are a linguistic and
philosophic tradition that have formulated different approaches to the study of signs; however,
the one that will be used for this study is the philosophical view of C.S. Peirce.
Peirce conceives signs as an irreducible triad; to him, a sign is something which stands
to somebody for something in some respect or capacity (Feibelman, 1970), that is, it is a
reference frame by means of which a cognitive system can give a value or a meaning to
something, having differentiated it from other things.
To Peirce, semiotics is the equivalent of logic, the latter which he defines as the science
of the general necessary laws of signs only another name of semiotic, the quasi-necessary, or
formal doctrine of signs (Feibelman, 1970). This means that Semiotics or Logic is the study of
the rules of the appropriate meaning assignation to a differentiated object in order to use it as a
reference, which is subsumed into a repertoire of signs that make up the knowledge and
experience of the cognizing subject; knowledge, experiences and languages are then sign based
and are subject of construction and reconstruction.
To Peirce, the signs have the following elements: Representamen, the form which the
sign takes; interpertant, the sense made of the sign; object, something beyond the sign to which it
refers. Signs can be visualized in the following way (Chandler, 2007):
Picture 6
To exist, a sign must fulfill the following conditions: It must correlate with or represent
an object (representative condition); it must represent or correlate with that object in some
respect or capacity (presentative condition); the sign must determine an interpretant
(interpretative condition); the relation between sign, object and interpretant must be triadic
(triadic condition) (Liska, 1996).
The interrelation between the elements of the sign is called semiosis by Peirce; signs have
no final object, because an object can be another sign, and so on, or as he states in his principle
a sign is something by knowing which we know something more, and also, signs are context
dependent, they cannot exist in isolation (Eco, 1986). This has as a consequence a circular
causation process that leads to an infinite process of interpretation, which can be stated in two
ways: 1) The object of a sign can be another sign, and 2) the interpretant is nothing but a
representation, which as such has an interpertant (Brier, 2008) (Chandler, 2007).
As reality is experienced by the subject, it is then transformed by him into signs using
semiosis; this entails an interaction between external and internal factors: signs can be things
from the outside, but also an observer can define himself by means of signs. Therefore, the
usefulness of signs lies in their power to determine the possibilities of how the observers
interpret signs in their future activity (Brier, 2008).
Semiotics can be subsumed within cybernetics, for the latter discipline approaches all the
branches and orientations of the former. Cybernetics is especially able to handle semiotics
because of its inclination to circular causation processes, which implies a network of signs that
may go on to the infinite. Also, semiotics gives to cybernetics a complement to the idea of
information by giving substance to it by means of the idea of sign and the process of semiosis.
Cybernetics and semiotics have a strong complementary relation: to be able to assign
meaning to an object in reference to others, it is necessary to distinguish it from everything else,
which manifests itself as a flow of things, that is, meaning assignation presupposes
differentiation. Furthermore, there is a mutual causal relationship between the elements of
differentiation and the elements of semiosis: On one hand, the sign and its elements are
harmonious elements, that is, because they are differentiated one from the other, they have to be
viable combination of Order and Balance; on the other, the elements of differentiation are signs
and the product of meaning assignment, and specific patterns, proportions and conjunctions of
both can be used as signs.
7. Cognitive machines as an expansion of second order cybernetics
Now that the idea of information has been expanded, it is also useful to introduce into
second order cybernetics to the idea of cognitive machines: neural mechanisms that constitute
the cognitive system of more complex living systems. This notion is useful because it is the
foundation for a third order (human and animal sociability, the realm of mutually observing
systems) and fourth order cybernetics (the study of humans as reflexive self-observing systems),
which will be explained in the next article.
The importance of cognitive machines resides in the fact that they act as a link between
second and third and fourth cybernetics: concrete sign processing, mirror neurons and in the case
of humans, abstract sign processing (language) are of utmost importance in mutual observation,
while in self-observation, logical and experiential cognition, cognitive coherence and the
perception of self that is found in the cortical midline structure are relevant.
Cognitive machines can be defined as mechanisms that have a basis in a brain and that
store, retrieve, process and create information in order to carry out a specific function. They can
be equated with neural mechanisms that possess specific functions and that have been found in
both humans and other animals, all together they form a cognitive system. Two questions are to
be asked in understanding cognitive machines: First, what are the elements that constitute such
mechanisms? Second, what are the defining features of a cognitive system?
To answer the first question, cognition as information processing consists of
differentiating (Batesons difference that makes a difference) and assigning meaning of
something, which if repeated enough creates a repertoire of data that functions as a reference
frame; a cognitive machine in the first place has to be able to create new information, second,
this information has to be able to be stored in order to function as reference for future
information processing, third, that information has to be able to be retrieved and modified, as
new perceptions are created and challenge existing information.
Cognitive machines are formed by the physical mechanisms that allow information
processes (assorted neurons), the information that is processed (database), sign processing and
memory that allow information processing (primary programming) and the particular routines
that they do (specialized programming); the first one can be called physical component, while
the other three can be called informational component.
Perceptual mechanisms such as the senses, as well as spatiotemporal perception, sign
processing both as a concrete response (like body language) as well of abstract representation
(language) are examples of cognitive machines. Memory, which serves as a reference point for
general information processing, is also a cognitive machine, and has its form of sign processing
(which also exists as a cognitive machine). This might seem contradictory, as all cognitive
machines need memory for storage and retrieval and sign processing to create, transform and
transmit information; why are these independent cognitive machines and not only a general
feature of them?
This is because memory and sign processing as cognitive machines have a particular
nature regarding others: All these machines have in themselves a temporary memory that stores
information which is then channeled to the main memory; at the same time, all of them have a
form of sign processing (Joseph), which is then unified by the main one and used in tandem with
memory to make the whole multiplicity of systems work, which are all then unified under
consciousness and awareness. Because all these mechanisms imply within themselves memory
and sign processing memory; the latter as cognitive machines are self-referential.
In his essay Quantum Physics and the Multiplicity of Mind: Split-Brains, Fragmented
Minds, Dissociation, Quantum Consciousness Joseph states that the mind is a multiplicity of
systems that interact with reality in different ways and which are subordinated under one or two
of such systems, which are consciousness and awareness (Joseph).
Of this multiplicity, the cognitive machines that are to be preeminently studied by second
order cybernetics are: sign processing, spatiotemporal perception, memory which functions as
reference frame and consciousness which is the coordinator of all cognitive machines, among
others. Human cognition builds upon these existing structures and studies Intuition, Intelligence
and cognitive coherence, which are the subjects of fourth order cybernetics; while sign
processing, be it concrete or abstract, serves as a bridge between cognitive systems and is the
cognitive machine studied by third order cybernetics.
8. First and second order methodological aspects
One last aspect to study is that the division between first and second order cybernetics
only obeys history and content, but also methodology. First cybernetics worked from a detached
objective perspective in which the subject matter can be manipulated at will; while second
cybernetics recognizes that the observed system is an agent that interacts with the observer, thus
having a subjective interactive perspective. (Geyer and Van der Zouwen, 2001).
The fact that the observer affects the object of study by means of its observations has
several important consequences: For one, when studying a system, the observer has to account
himself as part of the observed system. Furthermore, there has to be a recognition that
knowledge is constructed and is subject to the culture, preferences and biases of who creates it
and modifies it.
Self-reference is then an important part of cybernetic methodology. This occurs on many
levels: Because information is a differentiation, it has Order, Balance and Harmony, all of which
act in self-referential manners cognitive systems, especially those of human beings are self-
referential because not only they operate on distinctions, but they make one between themselves
and the environment, that is, to have a dimension of self. Furthermore, language as a system of
signs, and also as a set of information is capable of statements and ideas that refer to itself.
An observer then, in analyzing an object has to take into account the fact that he is doing
so in order to include himself in such study, in order to understand the object of study that is
disturbed by his observation. The cognitive processes and mechanisms that he uses are self-
referential in varying ways, which influences the way in which knowledge is constructed the
latter being only a narrative that comes from a subjective viewpoint and which has a context and
its own congruence on that basis; knowledge cannot be considered to be objective.
Knowledge is information created by a subject that provides a frame that can be used to
interpret the subjects perception of what surrounds him; such information can be accepted and
modified by others in a dialectical system. Information on a first level-regardless of being shared
or nor- lies within the observer.
1. Cybernetics is a discipline that concerns itself with the organization of things and not so
much with their composition.
2. Historically, it has been divided into first and second order; this division operating
because of the subject-matter (machines-living systems), methodology (detached
observer-subjective) and goal directedness (teleology-teleonomy).
3. Information can be understood as the result of a differentiation and the assignation of a
4. Because of the relativity of the observer, the information that he generates has its own
rules and congruence.
5. Information as a differentiation possesses an inherent pattern, proportion and workable
implementation of the latter two.
6. Cognitive machines are an expansion of second cybernetics as they account for neural
systems of complex living systems and explain their cognitive processes.
7. Subjective perspective and self reference is vital within cybernetical methodology.
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