About the Aspects

The aim of this website section — Aspects of Cybernetics — is to provide an entry for those first exploring cybernetics from different  points of view, different approaches to various topics. Aspects is here a name for cultural and scientific collaboration spaces — approaches, disciplines, paradigms, sectional fields or interests — in which cybernetics has proved relevant. It is a way for people as diverse as physicists and managers, robotic and legal designers, chemists and biologists, to have a first approximation to the relevance of cybernetics to their work. In this way Society members can gradually curate and interconnect many perspectives and explore the gamut of possibility in cybernetics.

An aspect is a result of a point of view on the world, a perspective from the field of attention, a descriptive portion of experience.

An aspect is always referential to an observer and to its context. It is a particular filtered, refracted, and relational perceptual descriptive selection from the field of possible observation as seen from a point of view of a person (or group). While it selects from the whole field it does not isolate, for example it sees the leaves but does not eliminate the beaches and tree. Aspects in turn produce a ‘situation’. An aspect is therefore a perceptual niche within the field of cosmic ecology formed by attention. A situation is a set of aspects to which an observer pays attention. Cybernetics is transdisciplinary and the whole of it can be applied to any aspect or situation.

— Angus Jenkinson FCybS

There are obviously innumerable ways of doing this. The current design is a tradeoff—it offers a few avenues for those interested to follow up in the Society, literature, and practices. Many experienced cyberneticians — and others doing advanced work — will inevitably cross more than one field of research or practice. They are typically at work in “other fields”, like management or ecology. it is our experience and analysis that both managers and ecologists — like many other practice and research fields — may be drawing on cybernetics even if unconsciously. 

Cybernetics can be described as a dancing partner or as a “fusion discipline”.  Fusion music might blend classical and jazz, or Indian Raga and jazz.  Fusion cooking also connects styles.  As a transdisciplinary science and action practice, cybernetics works with any of the sciences or design practices and also with combinations of them.  In this way it is typical of its practitioners, who tend to cross boundaries. As Gordon Pask said  talking about geology and then revealing that at school he had written songs for a musician:

You can’t do one thing at once, I never could. You can’t engage in [just] a geology career or a songwriting or writing career for that matter, without taking a holiday in the others… I don’t like holidays… the best one is to start another career.

— Gordon Pask: video recording in conversation with Bernard Scott FCybS

We hope to allow those competent in their fields to discover their relevance to cybernetics and the reverse and enrich their mix of disciplines.    

“… What held the Macy attendees together, what gave them a sense of common purpose was an overarching conception of what the world is like, how we should understand it, and how we should act in it.”

— Pickering 2015

Indeed, a remarkable feature of the original foundation of cybernetics is that it grew out of the collaboration of many brilliant people from a wide range of fields, from those making machines to those mending minds, those understanding nature and those understanding people in societies (and perhaps societies in people).  Those individuals returned to their various fields after the World War II and in the decade or two that followed . In many cases they radically transformed them.  The common discipline that enabled this transformation was often forgotten or relegated.  And therefore its role not only as a field of expertise in its own right but as a common language for scientific collaboration and indeed collaboration between science, design, and cultural practices was lost or diminished.

It is time to put this right.

A goal of the Cybernetics Society is to help scientists, designers and problem solvers develop a better understanding of how cybernetic principles play a part — or could do — in the fields of their interest.  

Cybernetics leads to a revisioning or modification of the core science.  That has happened in many disciplines over the last 70 years.

Design practices include architecture, management, government, the law, interior design, and furniture making. Indeed any field of purposeful activity including scientific research itself.  The sciences cross the gamut from physics and chemistry to the noetic, which mean everything to do with the mind, psychology, consciousness, sentience, emotion, and so on.  Cybernetics also is relevant to philosophy and in particular the philosophy of science — therefore epistemology and ontology.

Collaboration, learning, problem solving, career development

Can the Society help individuals marry expertise in one or more fields with cybernetics? Can it facilitate collaboration between disciplines and sciences? There are common cybernetic principles operating in diverse fields. Can it support sectional conferences and special issues in our Journal?  It’s important to remember that because cybernetics derives from no other field, but only from its own epistemological premises and ontological analysis, it’s also essentially transdisciplinary in its nature. 

In each of the aspects, the goal is to develop special interest groups, opportunities for learning and practice, and relevant activities. To begin, an illustration is given of how cybernetics is relevant as a fusion discipline that couples with that field as ordinarily conceived.  There are or have been several consequences of this, including:

Cybernetics leads to a revisioning or modification of the core science.  That has happened in many disciplines over the last 70 years.

It is discovered that the core field is already using cybernetic principles without necessarily recognising them as such.  A problem with this is that use of variant names may conceal a transformational or behavioural pattern, or a functional type, which occurs in multiple fields.  Dentistry and ecology, surprisingly, can be closely related in certain aspects. There are implications for the understanding of consequential pathologies in the human.  In this case, dentistry is discovering the probable wide-ranging influence on health of gum disease.  Papers in the 2021 AAAS Conference suggested some 50 diseases linked to periodontist.  Bacterial growth in the biome of the mouth also influences the gut (and vice versa).  For the bacteria, the mouth is a niche, an ecological environment.  The bacteria are similarly environment for the body.  This is a classic cybernetic challenge, but it cannot help with a solution unless it works in partnership with experts in the field.  Those experts can themselves be skilfully cybernetic.  This has been described as the partnership between the design or navigation expert and the territory or domain expert.

Sometimes the analysis of a particular highly complex problem, such as melting permafrost and its effect on the global environment, is analysed using some systems discipline, without the cybernetic aspects of the problem.  Only when those are taken into account, at least in some cases, when the most effective solution be found.  Cybernetics has the ability to filter problems and identify solutions that dissolve them.  The standard description of permafrost melt and its effect on global warming is of this nature.  Systems dynamics provides an excellent tool for the general analysis and physics and chemistry explain much of the phenomena related to warming, melting, the behaviour of air, reflection of light, and so forth.  But the moment that the terrain begins to change, life begins to change and evolution and adaptive behaviour begin, classic cybernetic phenomena.

Further pages introduce various aspects and approaches…

Fundamentals

This is the core of cybernetic theory and practice, the essentially transdiciplinary from which all the specialist fields grow and feed back.

This is an essential field of enquiry and learning.

Think of context and feedback and variety, of markers and cues and signs, of navigation and outcome…

Design

Almost all cybernetic activity that is not pure theory is also design work, incldujgn the design of scientific method, of theory, of its communication.

But there are also core fields recognised as belonging to design such as…

Architecture and interior design

Business design

Apps, products, services and materials design — R&D, innovation

Designing social futures and what is needed for them

Methods design, such as Agile and Lean

Social planning and social architecture

Ethical aspects of design.

For the specialist there is a long and nuanced list. Tags can be used to mark these.

Knowing

This includes

Epistemology and Ontology

History of science and of cybernetics as revolutionary or stable social processes

Core tools and concepts of cybernetics and their implications

Ternary TheoryA seven think nice

Directiveness

Scientific Method & Philosophy of Science

Influence on and for Scientific Paradigms

Cross Discipline/Trans Discipline/Integration as practice

 Second, recursive, and observer-dependent orders of science and cybernetics.

 

Matter

Physics and chemistry especially work with material substances and the forces and organization of these, but they play a role in many fields. But from the design of research to the construction of things out of these materials and substances for a purpose, cybernetics can and does play a useful role. It dances with

Physical and Chemical Organization

Catalysis and Autocatalysis

Organic products, eg protein.

Physico-Chemical Self Organization

Anatomy and the physiome

Global Warming

Gaia

 and so on...

Life

All Life Sciences

Formative principles of life and ecology, eg Context and Feedback, Persistence and Change, Individuation and Speciation.

Systems Biology & Morphology, inc genome and physionome studies

Autopoiesis

Ethology

Perceptual Control Theory (PCT)

Veterinary Science

Ecology and Ecosystems

Evolution

and so on

Knowing

Noetic Sciences — a very long list related to what and how we know, how we understand mind, and how we work with it… Consider just

Appearances

Artificial intelligence as a concept and paradigm

Autonomy and freedom, agency

Brain, nervous system, and brain sciences

Cognition and sensory perception

Cognition

Cognitive biases, frames, and paradigms

Communication — in nature, humans, machines

Concepts and ideas and what they are or do

Consciousness studies

Constructivism, idealism

Context theory

Cross discipline/trans discipline/integration as practice

Cybernetic influence on scientific paradigms

Determinism

Directiveness and autonomy

Double bind and other pathologies

Embodied intelligence 

Emotion (affect, feelings) and its effects and intelligence

Epistemology 

and then on to Ontologies and Neuroscience and Psychological Theories…

And more

Machine

Machine Cybernetics and a few more…

Robotics

AI software

Autonomous vehicles, autopilots…

Assistive tech, eg for surgery

Designing machine systems, e.g. AI, IoT, software, and other smart technologies

Ethical and functional consequences

Homeostatic devices and signal systems

Smart software systems (feedback and controls)

Software systems and coding practices

The internet

Semantic web and advanced coding

 

People

Sociology and Anthropology

Sociology and social structuration, and its concepts, eg recursive situations, context, reflexive monitoring of the flux of encounters, speech acts, Erving Goffman face-to-face social interaction as a PCT theorist…

Social Ecology/social autopoiesis

Economics, macro and micro, Nudge, behavioural economics

Integrated Sociology: General theory, Political Theory; Economic Theory, Cultural Theory

Social anthropology

History 

Human Synthesis & Meta Levels, eg

Domain Analysis & Transdisciplinary Methods

Therapeutics (inc Psychotherapy, PCT Theory of Levels, Medical Science)

Social Planning

Aid and development

Crisis Solutions ( Global Warming, Degradation, Political Breakdown, Etc)

Change Design

Governance and the law

Education & training

Design thinking and practices

Architecture

Social planning and social architecture

Product design

Systems

How important has systemic thinking become!

Cybernetics is routinely equated with the systems sciences, but despite its affinities with all of them, it has a particular orientation that marks a distinction. Yet many problems are resolved when a systems discipline is united with a cybernetic.

Systems science disciplines

See the introduction to consider this further and perhaps write an article.

 

Management

Management is cybernetic. So is Government and its political practices. Cybernetics dances with all the following…

Management Theory, Identity, Culture, Business Models

Organization theory, structure and design

Policy formation and control, Governance, steering tools

 Strategy, research, planning, decision making, adaptation

Innovation, problem solving, design and execution of change

Administration and unit/team organization

Marketing, Sales, Brand, Pricing, value propositions and offerings

Financial systems

Production systems

Value streams, processes, circular economy, ecosystem

Cybernetic tools, including VSM

Extended corporate machine intelligences.

— Angus Jenkinson, FCybS, 1.6.2021. (In noting myself as the author, I intend to take responsibility for errors and mistakes, the moral responsibility of the author, rather than searching for credit.