A scientific discipline for the study of complex, dynamical systems with memory
Why Not Cybernetics?
Cybernetics “master / slave” architecture
Norbert Wiener “invented” cybernetics during WWII while working for the military on the development of technical equipment with the capability to automatically track enemy airplanes and control air defence artillery. Anti-aircraft guns were at that time controlled manually by one or more people aligning the gun to assure a shell fired from the gun would at some point in the future hit the incoming aerial threat.
After Wiener got all the math sorted out, and after the manual control wheels of the gun where replaced with a couple of electrical or hydraulic actuators attached to the gearboxes of the two rotational axes, the gun was ready to be controlled by signals from a ballistic computer tracking the target and assuring the fired shell meets with it more often than if the gun was manually controlled.
The wide applicability of such tracking and control systems successfully replacing human activity, was obviously worth studying in generic terms, so the “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine” was born.
However, because of this technical (engineering) origins, the distinction between control and controlled systems is one of the main tenets in cybernetics. A controlled system is usually some kind of simple high power machine able to perform work (a gun, a steam locomotive, a car …). In order for the work to be useful, the controlled system must be attached to a low power (“informational”) control system, able to monitor the functioning and change the state of the controlled system to fulfill the goal of the system as a whole.
Kihbernetics does not subscribe to this “master vs. slave” architecture and treats a system as a self contained entity open to the exchange of matter and energy but closed to information (control) from the environment. In addition, such “information tight” systems are also not able to directly control other systems in their environment. All a kihbernetic system can control is its own functionality (state) and behaviour. Any change in either the system itself or/and its environment are influenced (but not controlled) trough the “structural coupling” between the two. In kihbernetics, information, knowledge and control are all contained within the system and can not exist outside the system boundaries. The state of the system is defined primarily by its previous states. Any “control parameter” from the outside is treated as just another input variable.
And, by the way, in kihbernetics the use of a thermostat as an example is explicitly forbidden.😉
1st and 2nd order Cybernetics
Second order cybernetics was introduced by M. Mead and H. von Foerster in the 70’s as a reaction to the concept of autopoiesis defined at approximately the same time by Chilean biologists H. Maturana and F. Varela. In the good old cybernetics tradition, a distinction was immediately made between “observed” and “observing” systems, with traditional (1st order) cybernetics dealing with “observed” systems while the “higher”, 2nd order, cybernetics tasked with studying observers. Implicitly, observers are always thought of as cognitive living systems.
As a result, 1st order cybernetics continued to work on “technical” systems and was gradually neglected for new and exciting disciplines such as artificial intelligence, while 2nd order cybernetics got lost in the humanities and postmodernist discussions about “social systems”.
Kihbernetics does not make any such distinction. All systems are treated equally, and an observer is just another dynamical system with memory. Cognitive capacity may have a role in the discussion, but self-awareness is not a necessary condition for a system to be designated as an observer. Kihbernetics recognizes the fact that no observer, no mater how sophisticated, can grasp the whole of “objective reality” but at the same time kihbernetics does not refute the fact that reality exist as a common phenomenal domain of interaction between observers along with other dynamical systems and structures.
In other words: in kihbernetics, if the tree falls in the woods and no-one is there to observe the fact, two or more observers still can deduce and agree, after the fact, that the tree was at some point standing there and discuss the most probable way it came to be laying where it was found.
Cybernetics and “everything computer”
Another consequence of the time and context in which cybernetics was born, after WWII, is its connection with everything that is computer related. Even if the declared mandate was always the study of systems in the most generic terms, by finding common rules governing their workings regardless of their substance (mechanical, living or social), the emerging computer technology “hijacked” cybernetics very early and the trend never died, so today we have a plethora of “cyber” monikers, from cyborgs to cyber warfare and cyber security. Not even the military was immune to this “computerization” trend, so at some point C3I became C4I by someone adding, you guessed, Computers (products) to the original functions (people and processes) of Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence.
The introduction of Kihbernetics is an attempt, not to start from scratch and deny everything achieved by Cybernetics so far, but to return to the original intent of the science by reviewing its basic tenets with the added benefits of implementing new ideas from other disciplines and authors working on similar issues both within and outside cybernetics in the last 3/4 of a century.
Changing the name to Kihbernetics, besides doing some justice to the name’s Greek origins, would also help clearing the confusion that will most probably start brewing if this endeavour ever gets any real traction in the community.
Observers and Systems
Discuss the close connection between systems and observers, a fact that is often neglected in systems sciences.
Organization and Structure
Discussion about different forms and hierarchies as applied to systems.
A closer look to systems with memory.
Regulation / Control / Guidance
The control levels in dynamical systems.