The art and science for the understanding of complex, dynamical systems with memory
Why the Name Change?
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 aircraft and control air defence artillery. Anti-aircraft guns were at that time manually controlled by one or two people aligning the gun such as to assure a shell fired from the gun would at some point in the future hit the incoming aerial threat.
After Wiener sorted out all the math and engineers replaced the manual control wheels attached to the gearboxes of the gun’s two axes of rotation with a couple of electrical or hydraulic motors, the gun was ready to be controlled by signals from a ballistic computer tracking the target and assuring the gun barrel was aimed so that the fired shell would meet with the target more often than when the gun was controlled manually.
The wide applicability of such a tracking and control system successfully replacing human activity, was obviously thought as 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 such technical (engineering) origins, the distinction between control and controlled systems became 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 operation of the controlled system in its environment and change its state in order to fulfill the goal of the system as a whole.
Kihbernetics does not subscribe to this dichotomous “master / slave” architecture and treats systems as entities that are (as defined in Cybernetics) “open to the exchange of matter and energy but closed to information from the environment”. Moreover, such “information tight” systems have not the ability to directly control other systems in their environment. All a kihbernetic system can control is its own functionality, state and any resulting observable 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 be found outside of the system’s boundaries. The current state of the system depends primarily on its previous state. Any “control parameter” from the outside is just another input variable.
And, by the way, in Kihbernetics, the use of the thermostat as an example is strictly 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 cybernetic tradition, a split was immediately made between “observed” and “observing” systems, with traditional (1st order) cybernetics dealing with “observed” systems while the “higher”, 2nd order, cybernetics was tasked with “observing the observer”. 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 overwhelmed by a new generation of exciting disciplines such as artificial intelligence, while 2nd order Cybernetics got lost in the humanities and postmodernist discussions about “social systems”. So another unnecessary dichotomy was born with the distinction between “hard” and “soft” systems sciences.
Kihbernetics does not make any such distinctions. All systems are treated equally as whole unities interacting with their environment, and an observer is just another dynamical system with memory “living” in and sharing the same environment with other dynamical systems. Cognitive capacity may have a role in the discussion, but self-awareness is not a necessary condition for a system to be identified as an observer. Kihbernetics also subscribes to the constructivist epistemology and recognizes that no observer, no mater how sophisticated, can grasp the “objective reality”, but at the same time it does not refute the ontological fact that reality must exist as an independent common phenomenal domain of interaction between observers and other dynamical systems and structures.
In other words: in Kihbernetics, if the tree falls and no-one is there to observe the fact, two or more observers “seeing” the fallen tree can still come to an agreement, after the fact, that the tree was at some point standing there and find 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 their generic terms of “communication and control” by finding common rules governing their workings regardless of the substance (mechanical, living or social), the emerging computer technology “hijacked” cybernetics very early and the trend has never died, so that today we have a plethora of “cyber” monikers, from cyborgs to cyber warfare and cyber security. Even the military succumbed 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 in system sciences including Cybernetics and its predecessors, but to return to the original intent of the science by reviewing the basic tenets of Cybernetics with the added benefits of the insight provided by old and new ideas from other disciplines and authors working on similar issues both within and outside Cybernetics in the last century or so.
Changing the name to Kihbernetics, besides doing some justice to the name’s Greek origins, may also help in clearing the confusion that will most probably start brewing if my quest ever gets any real traction.
Observers and Systems
Discuss the close connection between systems and observers.
Organization and Structure
Discussion about different forms and hierarchies as applied to systems.
A closer look to autonomous systems with memory.
Regulation / Control / Guidance
The control levels in dynamical systems.