ASC: Beyond the Distinction Between 1st Order and 2nd Order Cybernetics

Hi everyone,

Just watched this interesting debate organized by the ASC.

Tom Scholte talks about his views on PCT and Bill’s work around 51:00.

Best regards,

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It’s great to hear Tom make this case, and he’s so articulate, but he comes across as a lone voice in a sea of other cybernetic opinions!

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I listened to the whole ASC talk/discussion and found it to be informative. It is interesting how persons interested in cybernetics and human behavior have split into separate groups rather than identifying themselves and functioning as part of one overall discipline.

I have been following the ASC mailing list (equivalent to the old CSGnet) as I took out an ASC membership after the Vancouver meeting, and have tried to introduce PCT concepts from time to time. The ASC discussions seem to me to be largely on rhetoric and the necessity of language in cybernetics, with relatively few excursions into the relevance of experience and experiment. To talk PCT seems to interest one or two of the participants, but more as a sideline than as a core principle, which I think it should be for cybernetics. In my discussions off-line in Vancouver, I think this “OK, but it’s just a digression from what matters” collective perception in much of the ASC membership is one reason PCT ideas do not take root in their appreciation of cybernetics. Another is what seems to be a fairly generally accepted idea that language interaction is at the heart of cybernetics, which implies that cybernetics should apply only to human interactions and not to the rest of the life on earth, nor very much to the environment, except inso far as language is used to interact about it. I think that’s simply wrong, but I get the impression that a proportion of respected ASC members believe it.

Wow. They have fled to the shallows even more than I had thought.

I alluded briefly to the relation between CSG and CSA last week in draft input to a letter defending Eva from an attack by Boris. (Explanation at the end.) This is the paragraph with that allusion:

The mathematics of negative-feedback control systems were discovered in 1927 at Bell Laboratories, and immediately began to be applied in many ways. Workers in this field (notably Norbert Weiner, Ross Ashby, Heinz von Foerster, and Gregory Bateson) created the field of cybernetics concerning the broader applications and philosophical ramifications of control theory. In the early 1950s a branch of cybernetics was developed called Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), dedicated to experimentally testing the cybernetic proposition that control theory explains the behavior of living organisms. In the early 1980s, “the Control Systems Group” originated within the Cybernetics Society as an autonomous sibling organization with its own meetings, and very soon after incorporated under that name. As a consequence of international growth the name was changed to the International Association for Perceptual Control Theory in 2017 and in 2021 it undertook to re-incorporate under that name.

The back story: On consideration, the board invited Boris to submit a paper presenting his ideas which (upon review & possible revision) we might post on Discourse or on the IAPCT website. According to Eva, he responded positively. Then a week or so later Eva learned that he had written to the Dean of Eva’s faculty quoting from Eva’s conference abstract and challenging her competence. Eva has explained how this touches on reputational CVs for the Dean and others:

Boris seems to have a split personality, He can be personally very nice. A few years ago when my wife and I were planning a driving tour through countries both sides of the lower Danube, Boris arranged quite a few things for us in Croatia, including accommodation for us with his girlfriend near the eastern border.

It’s when someone other than himself claims to know anything about PCT (even Bill Powers) that he shows his vicious nasty side, especially if their expertise is in an area he has not investigated, such as (I imagine) MoL. Even when it’s not about PCT, he knows best and everyone else is an idiot spouting nonsense, as happened to me when I tried to guide him to an understanding of (I think) Fourier analysis, or maybe when I tried to introduce him to imaginary numbers. I became an idiot at that point, for a while, anyway.

Anyone who hangs out with nice Dr.Jekyll long enough encounters Mr. Hyde.