Second Order Systems

First Order Systems

Blue Sky Cloud

  1. While the evolving world often resembles fields, or waves, that jostle and permeate one another, this is hard to grasp.
  2. The unreliability of modelling wave-like processes encouraged engineers to use binary (off-on) logic.
  3. In effect, this traded the elegance and subtlety of analogue systems for cruder, more dependable technologies.
  4. Classical cybernetics theory enabled us to map complex situations by focusing only on actions and responses.

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  1. It simplified the world into systems characterised mainly by 'inputs', 'outputs' and 'behaviours' (e.g. Black Boxes).

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    • By conceiving systems in a 'tube map' notations, the idea of a Network became more thinkable.

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  1. In First Order systems, feedback processes were seen as centrally important, and categorised into 'positive', or 'negative' types.
  2. All of the above enabled us to automate the regulation of factories, currencies and autopiloted planes, etc.
  3. This First Order cybernetics was more suitable for designing control circuits than for use at human, social levels.

Personal Knowledge

  1. But there are limits to any process in which partial truths are depended upon as a model of reality.
  2. The feedback pathways that help to sustain a system are much more complex and widely distributed.
  3. This means that a single agent cannot see enough - its standpoint is too fixed, partial or out of date.
  4. In humans, our embodied knowledge is distributed within, and across a 'network' that is too big for us to see.
  5. We can survive because most human knowledge is tacit rather than descriptive or declarative.
  6. In other words, we are driven as much by bodily understanding as by cerebral decision-making.
  7. It is provocative, therefore, to try to see our actions as separate strands, or pathways of behaviour.
  8. As Alfred North Whitehead said: There is a togetherness of the component elements in individual experience.
  9. Polanyi explains this in terms of the role of the parts in defining the whole - and vice versa:
    • All knowledge is tacit if it rests on our subsidiary awareness of particulars in terms of a comprehensive unity (1969).
  • Maturana & Varela also emphasise the uniqueness of each 'system' in terms of its vast complexity
    • … the space defined by an autopoietic system is self-contained and cannot be described by using dimensions that define another space (1980: 89).
  1. It is something we may say we 'know', but it exists at a level that cannot be described.

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  1. When I am riding, my body uses knowledge that cannot be described in words.
    • Saying that we know how to ride a bicycle is not saying the knowing, in itself.
    • Nevertheless I may sit quietly and meditate on what it was like to ride a bicycle.
    • When I do so my attention focuses inwards and distracts me from events around me.
    • Conversely, when in a difficult task (e.g. winning a cycle race) I soon forget the 'inner' me.

The idea of inside v. outside

  1. The above description illustrates that systems appear to have distinct 'inner' and 'outer' realities.
  2. This process is not mappable in algorithmic form.
  3. Second Order Systems Integrate the Inner with the Outer

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  1. e.g. in the above illustration it is difficult to focus on the dark birds at the same time as the light ones
  2. How can we view a system as though from the outside and the inside, simultaneously?
  3. To do this would mean combining two (categorically) opposite descriptions.

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    • Yes, in theory, but we may not be able to learn what it 'knows' in any depth.

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  1. Consider a musical ensemble, and how it attunes itself to audience responses (e.g. cheering).
  2. This raises complex issues of consciousness - where, when, and how it emerges.
  3. We can discuss this by describing how the body manages many levels of knowing.
  4. Second Order Cybernetics considers what happens when a system redefines itself.
  5. It focuses on the integration of a system within its larger, co-defining context.
  6. This makes it difficult or, perhaps, impossible to conceive.
    • (Partly because it defies certain principles that make sense at the 'lower Orders').
  7. Second Order Cybernetics acknowledges the more mercurial and emergent properties of complex systems.
  8. This emergence entails a greater complexity that reduces knowability and predictability.

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  1. It also implies that a system will 'immerge' into its environment, of which it is part.
    • (Immergence='submergence' / 'disappearance in, or as if in, a liquid').
  2. At the Second Order, the discrete observer's boundaries become problematic.
  3. Who is sufficiently mercurial to notice all relevant changes as, and when they occur?
    • (perhaps the Network can be the 'observer' of a Second Order system?)
  4. In Second Order Systems, anything we notice can be included as part of the system.
  5. The system can therefore seem to become its own inverse
  6. This cannot be conceived in terms of classical science
  7. The ethical system needed to sustain a 4th Order system is likely to be eudaimonic ()
  8. Second Order Cybernetics can only be understood and described in terms if the inverse of First Order Cybernetics.
  9. Yet by understanding the underlying principle of system inversion, this makes it possible to describe the Open System.
  10. The 4th Order system is contextualised, embedded and integrated into the context
  11. It can thereby become representative for the integrated context.
  12. It therefore operates at two levels simultaneously.
    • A - It is no longer a system, but a meta-system.
    • B - It operates both as a system in its context, and as a system that is part of the context.
  13. It thereby has the capacity to integrate and disintegrate the contact between both.
  14. It is an active, interactive, reactive and ideally representative agent in/for/with/of that context.
  15. This requires a different level of description: not in relationship to the system, but to the relationship between systems.
  16. The Interface is now the system of reference, instead of the system.
  17. This relationship is the basis of the interaction.
  18. The transformation is the basis of the processing.
  19. The integration is the basis of integrity.
  20. The significant feature of the meta-system is its duality.
  21. The essence is the same, but the relevance brings inversion.
  22. The metasystem is an object; the meta-system is a subject.
  23. Whereas a system can normally be described, a meta-system can only be experienced
  24. The ‘pillars’ in this transition are the relationships (Second Order) and the interactions (Third Order).
  25. Second Order Design would integrate all activities in an inverted, contextualised form
  26. It would be embedded in its context and responsible in, and for, its actions
  27. The system would act as meta-system and design would act as meta-design.
  28. This represents the level of self-awareness.
  29. It is where the system reflects upon itself and steers itself (i.e. is autopoietic).
  30. These attributes facilitate self-regeneration, thus self-healing.
  31. They can therefore be managed to enable a healing process.