Kihbernetics*

*/kɪbeɹˈnetɪks/

For the understanding of complex, dynamical systems with memory

Why the Name?

Reason #1.
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 hit or get close enough to the incoming aerial threat for the proximity fuse to activate.

After Wiener would sort out the math, the engineers would replace 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 would be ready to be controlled by signals from a ballistic computer tracking the target and assuring the fired shell would meet with the target more often than for the manually controlled gun.

This is not how actually happened because another, simpler and more precise solution was selected for field trials and Wiener was more interested anyway in the wider applicability of such a tracking and control system in other human activities, so the “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine” was born.

Because of such technical (engineering) origins, however, 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 energy 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 connected to a low energy (“informational”) control system, able to monitor the operation of the controlled system in its environment and change the state (manage) the controlled system in order to fulfill the goals of the system as a whole.

Kihbernetics does not subscribe to this dichotomous “master / slave” architecture and treats systems as entities that are (as they are actually defined in Cybernetics) “open to the exchange of matter and energy but closed to information from the environment“. Moreover, because these cybernetic systems are “information tight” they are unable to directly control other systems in their environment. In Kihbernetics, all a system can control is its own functionality, state and any resulting observable (outside) behaviour. Any change in either the system itself or/and its environment are influenced (but not controlled) trough a “structural coupling” between the two. In Kihbernetics, information, knowledge and control are all inherent properties of a system, contained within the system’s boundaries and can not exsist outside of it. The current state of the system depends primarily on its previous state. Any “special” control parameter often used in Cybernetics to control the stse of the controlled system is in Kihbernetics treated just as any other input variable.

And, by the way, in Kihbernetics, the use of the thermostat as an example is strictly forbidden.😉

Reason #2.
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” (1st order, engineering, simple, “command and control”) and “soft” (2nd order, “holistic”, complex, collaborative) 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. Some observers have, in addition, the capacity of observing and reflecting upon their own cognitive processes. However, as much as the cognitive capacity of an observer may have a role in the discussion, self-awareness is not a necessary condition for a system to be identified as an observer. Kihbernetics subscribes to the constructivist epistemology and recognizes that no observer, no mater how sophisticated, can grasp the “objective reality”. At the same time Kihbernetics does not refute the ontology of the fact that an independent common reality must exist as a phenomenal domain of interaction between observers and other dynamical systems and structures as an environment for their “praxis of living” to occur.

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.

Reason #3.
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 identifying analogies and 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 trend of “computerization”, 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.

After a period of decline there seems to be a renewed interest in the use of Cybernetics in other fields, so in a recent paper from S. Umpleby & all, “Advances in Cybernetics …” the authors identify three “Cybernetic models” with four associated “variables” to show the applicability of modern Cybernetics in the field of Social Sciences:

Whereas the social science disciplines create descriptions based on either ideas, groups, events or variables, cybernetics provides a multi-disciplinary theory of social change that uses all four types of descriptions.

Kihbernetics integrates all three cybernetic models (and more) in a standard, concise and easy to understand Dynamical System Model (DSM) in which the “regulator” and the “regulated” are part of the same self organized system having the ability to observe and adapt to its environment due to the inherent reflexive learning capability that all dynamical systems with memory possess.

The introduction of Kihbernetics is not an attempt to start from scratch and deny everything achieved in the past by System Sciences, including Cybernetics, and its predecessors. The main goal for Kihbernetics is to return to the original intent of the science by reviewing and solidifying the basic tenets of Cybernetics with the added benefits of the insight provided by old and new ideas in other disciplines and authors working on similar issues both within and outside Cybernetics.

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 ensue if (or when) this quest ever gets any real traction in the Systems Thinking community.

Observers and Systems

Discuss the connection between systems and observers.

Organization and Structure

Discussion about different forms and hierarchies as applied to systems.

Dynamical Systems

A closer look to autonomous systems with memory.

Regulation / Control / Guidance

The control levels in dynamical systems.