Kihbernetics*

*/kɪbeɹˈnetɪks/

The art and science for the understanding and governance of complex, dynamical systems with memory

Why in 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 defense 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 have sorted 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 now be ready to be controlled by signals from a ballistic computer tracking the target and assuring the fired shell meets with the target more often than when the gun was manually controlled.

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

However, because of these technical (engineering) origins, the distinction between control and controlled systems became one of the main tenets and is still very prominent 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 …). For the work to be useful, this powerful system must be controlled by a “smarter” 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 to fulfill the goals of the system as a whole.

Kihbernetics does not subscribe to this dichotomous “master/slave” architecture and considers 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 also unable to directly control other systems in their environment. In Kihbernetics, all a system can control is its own functionality and states resulting in an observable (outside) behavior within the environment. Any change in either the system itself or/and its environment is influenced (but not controlled) through a “structural coupling” between the two. In Kihbernetics, information, knowledge, and control are all intrinsic properties of a system, contained within the system’s boundaries and do not exist outside of it. The current state of the system depends primarily on its previous state(s) history. Any “special” control parameter often used in Cybernetics to control the state of the controlled system is in Kihbernetics treated just like all other input variables.

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 ’70s 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 in cybernetics 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 how to deal with complex “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, in Kihbernetics, 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 matter how sophisticated, can grasp the “objective reality”. At the same time, Kihbernetics does not refute the ontology of the fact that an independent common and shared reality must exist as the phenomenal domain of interaction of observers and other (dynamical) systems and structures as the environment to unfold their “praxis of living”.

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 agree, 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 computer-related. The declared mandate in Cybernetics 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, however, “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, all related to artificial computing technology. 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 follow if (or when) this idea ever gets any real traction in the Systems Thinking community.