Cybernetics ...
  "the science and art of understanding"... - Humberto Maturana
  "interfaces hard competence with the hard problems of the soft sciences" - Heinz von Foerster
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ASC HOME   2. Cybernetics' Value to Me


    This page provides a summary listing of contributions from participants in the 2008 ASC 'My Cybernetics' online discussion hosted on the CYB-COALITION email forum at Yahoo Groups.

The participants were asked to submit personal statements addressing the following 3 points or topics:

  1. How I Found Cybernetics
    (I.e., how I became acquainted and engaged with the field or its subject matter)

  2. What Cybernetics Means to Me
    (I.e., what value or utility I ascribe to cybernetics in my personal and / or professional life)

  3. Description of My Cybernetics
    (a statement describing cybernetics as you see it)

This webpage collates the contributions with respect to topic / point #2.

To review the contributions submitted for topic #1, click HERE

To review the contributions submitted for topic #3, click HERE



My encounter with the ASC happened at a turn in my life; and both contributed to its happening and enhanced what resulted. I had been a practicing consultant in environmental and social systems, with an emphasis on understanding (systems literacy). Deeply affected by the Chicago 1995 ASC conference, I began an exploration, first of Maturana's work, then others, with a concomitant application of what I learned to all my relations and projects. "Projects" I mean broadly, everything from consulting to teaching to poetry, prose and daily life activities. I cannot conceive of a way of being now that does not incorporate what I think in who I am, nor incorporates who I am in what I do and how I do it.

But what is the value of this? How can one ever say that what one is, is not "value"? I think that which one considers meaningful is that which one conserves without doubt; thus the constellation of ideas and attitudes that I attribute to my connection with "cybernetics", and that I have incorporated as "myself" are meaningful to me. Is that to be expressed as value or utility? I do not know.

Perhaps the reflection of how others see what I do is more relevant; and I do know that my projects thrive and my students appreciate the courses I teach - I am often told that my "systems thinking" course, in particular, is for them the most significant course in their Masters program.



Cybernetics is a set of operating principles that informs the effective use of information, measurement and control in animals, machines, and organizations. Cybernetics is the theory of the functional organization of informational systems.

Where systems theory is epistemological and deals with observation, cybernetics constructs and analyzes the structure of material mechanisms and functional organizations that make observer-participants possible.

Systems theory is observer-mechanics, cybernetics the mechanics of observers.

From an upcoming paper on Ashby:

"From their inception, both cybernetics and systems theory have been deeply imbued with epistemological concerns - how we know what we know. Cybernetics focused on adaptive organizations and informational mechanisms, the materially-embedded mechanisms that make observers and actors possible. As its complement, systems theory concerned the structure of knowledge and "observer mechanics", how an observer-actor can make use of information gleaned through a set of observables."

Utility of cybernetics

For the last 18 years I have been investigating neural information processing in the brain, specifically the neural "codes" and "computations" that subserve audition. I think cybernetic principles, such as feedback control, analog and digital signaling, and adaptive construction, are essential for understanding how brains work as informational systems. My work on temporal codes for pitch has led me back to the old literature on correlation analysis (autocorrelation and crosscorrelation). Theoretical neuroscience is still digging itself out from under the computer metaphor (local features, sequential hierarchies of feature detection) -- we desperately need to reframe the brain in terms of massively parallel feedback systems that utilize both analog and digital signals and operations. I firmly believe that a revived and extended theory of cybernetics can provide many of those insights that we need. I am currently working on neural timing nets that can complexify their signal spaces. I have also proposed that the organizational requisite for conscious awareness entails the regeneration of neuronal signals within a network, I.e. an autopoiesis of neuronal signals in the nervous system, organizational closure through signals internally-regenerated via recurrent pathways, McCulloch's circular causation in "nets with circles", why the mind is in the head.



It has certainly influenced the way I understand things, not only in my academic pursuits, but also in life in general - the way I perceive and understand society, nature and myself. In what concerns my research, I found in cybernetics and mathematical modelling a lot more clarity than in the philosophical disputes surrounding the structural-semiotic approach to language and culture, and a way to approach the difficult foundational problems hidden in semiotic theories. However, I find that working in a humanities field and being interested in cybernetics at the same time can be a difficult position to be in.


I undertook postgraduate studies in education (on designing systems for teaching) and in architecture and design (on designing digital tools for designing). I realised afterwards that both theses essentially deal with getting to know about getting to know.After the first "soft", propositional study, I wanted the second one to be"hard", formal and scientifically objective. Ranulph Glanville (being my reviewer and mentor) did not accept this (given the design/epistemological subject of the study) and pointed me to C2. I found/find C2 extremely difficult to understand because of its abstract language (black and white boxes, re-entry etc.) and I also found/find it the easiest thing to understand because it is everywhere and it always was. The value of cybernetics to me, personally, lies in the way in which it allows me to engage with human questions about human activities and relationships in the inhuman contexts of education, science and administration.


I see cybernetics et alts as a elegant, trans-disciplinary and evolving system of thought; It could be addressed to diverse subjects, have application to both thought and action; and possess epistemological and practical implications.

I think it informs (as other stuff) my everyday life and my work as a designer, theorist and teacher. (And I imagine that my researching experience on Pask - I.e. the years that I spent literally immersed in his world and archive - was influential and inspirational in the formulation of my cybernetics.) In what relates to design and alike, I consider that C potentially offers valuable insights to the field, specially when it deals with complexity, change, unpredictibility etc.)



I think cybernetics is beautiful, and I fight to keep the criterion for assessment of cybernetic work from being reduced from the beautiful to the useful. I am not against usefulness, but I am against setting this as the criterion of ultimate judgement.

I admire the rigour of good cyberneticians: the ability to really strip things down and abstract and simplify, creating a sort of poetry. Sometimes I believe my cybernetic outputs are more works of art than of science (perhaps not surprising, since I went to architecture school and compose music). I feel there's a sort of process of distillation leading to extraordinary purity, and it moves me. My aspiration is to think to this point of clarity and to write with simplicity and elegance.

But, then, I don't believe in the natural priority of the physical!



I take the idea of regulation I.e.circularities of negative feedback as axiomatic or a presupposition in my epistemology, my understandings and explanations.

I love Roy Rappaport's suggestion of Romer's rule roughly: "What does this change maintain unchanged" see page 148 here:

This is from his profound book "Ecology Meaning and Religion" Incidently I asked Bateson during a weekend at Esalen just before he died, with whom was he epistemologically close, and he said Rappaport. During the weekend seminar he asked what this was all about and I offered "Systems Epistemology" and he pointed his long finger at me and said "Bingo". As you may guess, that's how I've described what I am, since that moment.

I accepted Bateson's famous phrase that "Cybernetics is biggest bite of the tree of knowledge in 2K years!"



I am interested in human social evolution. Most sociocybernetics seems to take modern, industrial societies as its starting point. I am much more interested in nonindustrial societies. For my main anthropological fieldwork I went up the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, upriver of where Bateson did his own fieldwork generations before. The societies in that part of the world have their own way of conceiving of human relationships.

I am interested in the domain of power. Bateson conceived of the concept of power as a physical metaphor which distorted relations. Cybernetics also shows the limitations of control, and of purposive behavior in general, in a world composed of complex and circular interrelationships. I have explored for a decade how cybernetic ideas might reframe our understandings of the relational domain in which we usually use concepts of power.

I am interested in the double bind. Even as a college student the idea of the double bind helped me understand psychological stress in a different way. Cybernetics takes psychological pain seriously, and I think it ultimately promotes compassion - also because of its emphasis on human limitations.

I also did fieldwork in the Republic of Macedonia, during the Kosovo conflict, though not directly studying that conflict. Understanding the cybernetic nature of the larger patterns of human behavior can help us overcome the ways of thought that promote war and conflict - and also the ways of thought that destroy the ecological systems which are our home, for I am still interested in the ecological crisis.



Once I knew about second order cybernetics I could not see my work as a Human Factors Engineer the same. In fact, I did not know how we could design anything for anybody (or even make a simple recommendation) given the nature of perception and human understanding, let alone legislate it (pilots and mechanics are not allowed, by law, to make certain mistakes). And more important, I no longer wanted to. This sent me into a little mid-life crisis that led (eventually) to many exciting, new paths. I took early retirement and moved to Sacramento where I paint, write a little, take pictures, and create/design things that please mainly myself.

I still occasionally wrestle with applying cybernetics principles to complex systems in a manner that does not feel like trickery or punishment. I understand it is being done but I am skeptical. The happiest, cyberneticians I know seem to be publishing and teaching. Everyone else looks like closet cyberneticians to me. I suppose I am looking for the conference or the event or the book or the thing that will set the scales level and systems theory will be balanced inside a healthy understanding and application of the biology of human cognition. But even if this were happening in complex systems/businesses, I doubt I would be interested in doing it for a living.

Varela once wrote, "Our problem is that we hardly have the vocabulary or language to talk about what it means to be human in the world." He said it took Buddhists seven centuries to refine their language sufficiently, so it should not be surprising that those of us in the Western, scientific tradition are having some difficulties. My cybernetics is the recognition that the events of our lives are more than literal representation; they are dependent on imagination. This is a fundamentally important truth. While we are intuitively aware of the role of imagination in our lives, traditionally, it is only within the context of story, or art, that we allow ourselves to explore how we use it. Cybernetics means, for me, the link between the literal and the imaginative.


Jixuan Hu

Cybernetics (and System Thinking) to me is a useful world-view wider than any other body of knowledge of specific fields of study, but more solid and reliable than pure philosophies, ideologies or religions. It is an enabler for me to observe the world much better compared with if without it, and sometimes a helpful tool to assist in effective and efficient actions.


Even as my career has moved from SUNY to NASA to the Los Alamos and now the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, including heavy doses of computer science, statistical modeling, modeling and simulation, computational biology, semantic web technology, lattice theory, and generalized information theory, I have always proudly identified myself as a "Cybernetician at Large". In their attention to the nature of information systems and processes, cybernetics and its co-fields of Systems Science and Semiotics hold both the ambition and the promise to address the central mysteries of science, including the origin of life, the evolution of ecological complexity, and the origin and nature of mind and society. Despite my percpetion of the current state of Cybernetics as risking being relegated to an irrelevant historical oddity, I still hold out the hope that it may play perhaps the critical role in allowing humanity to achieve an evolutionary meta-system transition to the kind of viable economic permaculture an intelligent super-organism promises, in order to forestall gigadeath as we accelerate towards an apparently inevitable global crisis in the 21st century.


There is a deep structure in the circularity of process of observation, thought and action that is at the heart of creation.

Follow-up comments:

For me this is the heart of cybernetics. It is not a question of the possible debate about constructivism but that in being aware of one's world, opening to that awareness one becomes aware of being aware. The perception wraps around, like the character in Escher's drawing of the print museum, and perceives itself in the act of perceiving. Thought thinks itself. It is this subtle center where thought, logic, feeling, perception and intuition come together that is the source of cybernetics. And this place, if one can call it a place, is not a something that can be made into a fixed set of rules. This place is where the rules originate and where new rules and structures and forms originate. We return here by becoming aware of that which has become automatic, and so it was in the beginning of cybernetics, and so it is that cybernetics is associated with the automatic, for it is through uncovering the automatic and bringing it to life that cybernetics is accomplished. So close. So close and yet so far from making artificial life or making artificial consciousness. Not that at all, but rather the bringing forth of the true life hidden by the artifice. To remove the masks, even in the act of constructing them.



For many years I taught a course at the University of Pennsylvania and used Ashby's introduction as one of the key texts. Several good students came out of this - some active in the ASC community, others doing good work elsewhere.

My first academic paper, which won an outstanding publication award, was a cybernetic critic of how communication research. It proposed to improve the field. When I stood for election as the president of the International Communication Association this paper, this then 13 years old paper, was cited as a major contribution. It demonstrated the power of cybernetic ideas

Generally, I drew and still draw much inspiration and conceptual strength from my familiarity with cybernetics in the academic area I am working. Some know me as a cybernetician, other have no clue where my ideas come from. Some of those who know me as a cybernetician ask why I follow a dead field. Those who do not know where I am coming from are often stunned where my ideas come from. It shows that the name cybernetics doesn't live up to the concepts we discuss in cybernetics. Such concepts as circularity, self-reference, cognitive autonomy, self-organization, social construction, and information hit a void elsewhere.

Ashby led me to information theory and I wrote many papers in the 1970's-80's, culminating in a book. There I extended Shannon's theory to systems with circular structures that previously defied analysis in Shannon's terms. To my surprise, these ideas still inform my scholarship, such as measuring the size of cyberspace which some people find preposterous, probably don't even understand what it means, all of which is based on sound conceptual foundation of cybernetics.



Social order cannot be considered as a stable phenomenon because it contains an order of reproduced expectations. When the expectations operate upon one another, they generate a non-linear dynamics that processes meaning. Specific meaning can be stabilized, for example, in social institutions, but all meaning arises from a horizon of possible meanings. Using Luhmann's (1984) social systems theory and Rosen's (1985) theory of anticipatory systems, I submit equations for modeling the processing of meaning in inter-human communication (Leydesdorff, 2008, 2009).

First, a self-referential system can use a model of itself for the anticipation. Under the condition of functional differentiation, the social system can be expected to entertain a set of models; each model can also contain a model of the other models. Two anticipatory mechanisms are then possible: one transversal between the models, and a longitudinal one providing the modeled systems with meaning from the perspective of hindsight.

A system containing two anticipatory mechanisms can become hyper-incursive. Without making decisions, however, a hyper-incursive system would be overloaded with uncertainty. Under this pressure, informed decisions tend to replace the "natural preferences" of agents and an order of cultural expectations can increasingly be shaped.



I "use" (as if it were apart from "me") cybernetics to inform my work with industrial informations systems. I recently gave presentations on inventory forecasting and materials processing, in which I referred to entity-events such as viable systems and variety amplification and attenuation. My greater interest in cybernetics is in its application to magic. I suspect that cybernetics can resolve the subjective-objective, believer-skeptic competition between people who do or do not practice or re/cognize magic, and even within each of those people (as when a practitioner doubts the consequences of a magical act, or a skeptic experiences an event that challenges her efficient Weltanschauung), by demonstrating that belief and skepticism arise from positive and negative feedback, respectively, and demonstrating coincidence between observation and things observed among networks of observers. (By "resolve the competition" I meant to say transform it into cooperation.) I appeal especially to alchemy (and it to me) because of its emphasis on marrying spiritual insights (mysticism) with material experiments (empiricism), which are often considered irreconcilable epistemologies. I suppose those two uses correspond with C1 and C2, respectively, but I do not much distinguish between the latter two.


Everything I do, say, write, perceive is affected by being influenced by the constructivist idea of knowing (which I see as the underpinning of second order cybernetics). Even when I think and act as a realist (which I think w e all do), in reflection I tend to notice that I have done so. As a therapist and a teacher (as well as a parent and partner), the constructivist lens has been enormously useful. (Not that I am consistent.)

I ended up in teacher education and counselor education while retaining my interest in creativity and music composition. My experience is that most students and most professors at the university (Truman State University in my case) are realists. A direct attempt to teach constructivist ways of thinking and perceiving are mostly misunderstood and rejected. However, everything I say and do with my students and fellow professors is implicitly guided by my perceiving the world through the lens of radical constructivism and second-order cybernetics.

We human beings have gotten very far in science and technology using logical positivism as our view of the world. In politics we have been less successful but we are so shaped by our view of world as being right we find it difficult to even question our assumptions. Within the university itself I see an increase in atte mpts to objectively describe and manage people and systems, all in the name of improvement. At the same time that I see increasing attempt to exert control over aspects of life, I also see chinks appearing in many different fields where people are noticing that the attempt to create expert systems that lead to appropriate decisions and working control in fact do not work very well. I have come to the conclusion that teaching cybernetics let along radical constructivism is not nearly as important as joining and supporting all those thinkers, researchers, politicians, and others who support a view of the world in which we see that each individual, group, language, and culture have created a way of dealing with their physical and social environment and that we cannot coerce them into cooperation but need to learn from them the ideas and language we need to cooperate in a cycle of conflict and peacemaking without resorting to violence.

The contribution which cybernetics has to make to this effort is to encourage the perception of circularity where before only linear causality was seen. As long as we continue to believe linear causality the best (and only) explanation for all phenomena, so we will continue to create crises in our personal lives, in education, in politics, in the environment.



See above and below ( cf. responses to questions 1 and 3 ... - Ed. )


Having said all this, please forgive me for going on at such lengths about my own work. I know that this can be viewed as narcissistic. To me, however, this work, which has occupied me through all my life, was/is a chance to demonstrate Second Order Cybernetics as a way to realize and communicate the ongoing self-organisation of the individual within the context of the perceived world which comes forth through my own example. Being relatively young it has so far been most important to think and work mostly on my own assumptions, perceptions and distinctions, not because I know better, but because it makes me aware of what I am actually doing and therefore creates choices and perspectives that could not come into existence otherwise. The value of cybernetics lies for me in exactly this self-realization within an ongoing dynamic of self-organisation both on an individual and on a social level with all the cultural/technological domains that go with this included. How we do this, therein lies our difference; that we do it, therein we are the same.


In my earlier studies, I had an interest in "paradigms" - patterns of thought, ways of thinking. Cybernetics (and systems theory) was first presented to me as a new paradigm. I found this inadequate; paradigms come and go. I came to value cybernetics as a paradigm of paradigms - a way of thinking about ways of thinking, of which it is one. To do this, cybernetics could not be permanently fixed or absolute; the particular vocabulary and its associated concepts had to be temporary, and it had to be desirable that they be temporary. I regard as one of the more significant contributions of Ross Ashby to be the elegant way in which he linked dynamics to relations. The linking was not new. The elegance with which he did it, however, allowed new concepts to emerge to form a coherent system of concepts built on the link. A system of concepts that takes change and dynamics seriously directs itself to be dynamic as well.

I find my thinking to be continuously infused with this vocabulary and its system of concepts (albeit subject to change). It suggests that I be aware of dynamics in all my affairs. Giving attention to dynamics in conversations, meetings, and human relations in general; in political processes, strategic thinking, and leadership of all kinds; and in my personal circumstances, my health and mental well-being, has been of such value that I cannot imagine doing otherwise. I claim cybernetics to be the difference in what I do now and in what I didn't do before, although it occurred over an extended period of time and is so pervasive that I have no basis for confirming this claim. Cybernetics gives thinking the ability to be deliberate, not just improvised; I can choose a way of thinking!

I recognize alternative logics to be working at different times, and that that is desirable. I recognize the dual tracks of language - the descriptive (representational, passive) and the orientative (injunctive, active), leading me to listen to what language does, not just what it says. I recognize emotion as inseparable from thinking, giving rise to the logic of the emotion as a dynamics of interaction. I recognize that I participate in social change every time I engage in a conversation, and that I make a difference even if I cannot (nor want to) know precisely the outcomes that my designs will bring forth. With a little work, I can know what dynamics my designs may preclude from happening (the constraints), and that is sufficient. I recognize that freedom must be built on responsibility and that the greatest power I can have is the power to change my desires.

In short, I cannot NOT apply cybernetics. However, I do not want cybernetics to be regarded as a toolbox from which concepts are drawn only when it becomes fashionable or profitable to do so. I will, therefore, work against the cooptation of the vocabulary of cybernetics by commercial enterprise. That style of application is not consistent with my cybernetics.



Cybernetics' primary value to me is in escaping the terror chamber of being isolated and omniresponsible. The cordial invitation to observe myself, as a system of systems in coordination with, and as an element of, other systems (of systems) inevitably creates for me an expanded experience of living, and no little sense of relief.

In this look, I both have company and am not solely responsible for what happens between us. This is quite a change from my capitalist, allopathic, puritan American upbringing which says "if you got it, you earned it" to explain everything from wealth to illness, as well as my charge as a woman to make sure I am pleasing, and everyone around me is happy.

Of course, interacting with a structurally determined system does not excuse me from accountabilty; the capacity to note myself and the consequences of her, but from responsibility for/of other beings. I, the observer and perturber, don't, and can't, create or control another's response, including that of some of my own systems.

The opportunity to recognize myself as a self-observer allows a gap in what had previously been a stream of self-evaluation (and his handmaid, accusation) where I can, in the space between ropes of what was once a tight knot of one-sided naming, choose myself in conjunction with (not in opposition to, or despite) my environment, of which I am an aspect.



I see the very idea of cybernetics as a great cybernetic achievement. Cybernetics guides my thinking in pretty well everything I do. It is a transdiscipline and metadiscipline, with, as Ashby insists, its own foundations.


Three seminal happenings occurred in my life in 1994. . Two colleagues, Lloyd Fell and David Russell and I co-hosted (with David Mendes) a visit to Australia in August of that year by Humberto and also co-edited and contributed to a collection of essays entitled "Seized by Agreement, Swamped by Understanding" to celebrate this.

. Harrison's Owen's "Open Space Technology (OST) - A User's Guide" landed 'out of the blue' on my desk. This turned out to be a most wondrous gift, perhaps primarily as it introduced me to a set of guidelines for everyday living. Among these are: Whoever comes are the right people, Whatever happens in the only thing that could have, Whenever it starts is the right time and When it's over, it's over.

. I elected to take an early retirement from academe to embark on a new career.

Looking back I can see that intertwining of these has had a substantial bearing on my subsequent journeying, literally and metaphorically, and how I engage in day to day life.

The arrival of the book on OST came just a few days before a gathering which I had organized (a meeting of the Cybernetics Group) and for which a speaker - the usual procedure - had not materialized. I read it as fast as I could, decided to 'have a go' in lieu of a more formal input, and was totally astonished at how those present responded to the invitation to be in open space - to come together openly, naturally and honestly to search for understanding. I was 'hooked' and have been on the line ever since!

Preparing for Humberto's visit and becoming more aware of the essence of his and Francisco's notions of 'the biologyof cognition' has led me to recognise connections between the Latin roots of conversation 'con versare - to turn or dance together' and what actually happens in an Open Space gathering. Through conversing in such a situation we re-invent each other and the world around us. And when this happens, wisdom - the intuitive knowing of how to act appropriately in the circumstances - just emerges.

This growing realization triggered me to switch from professional speaking - my initial choice of a career post university life - to becoming a professional conversationalist. By this I mean a person whose forte is to hold space in which people participate in contexts of 'We are in this together and to treat each other well' about things that matter to them. And in offering courses and workshops which enable participants to become more aware of - and put into practice - what it takes to be a skilled conversationalist.

I would say that personal relationships which have arisen through my acting on these fundamental premises have influenced very greatly my way of being. And that my knowing of what makes for wholesome relating has helped to promote my being a sought after facilitator/practitioner of OST and associated conversational processes such as The World Café and Appreciative Inquiry.

Just one flow on is meeting with remarkable conversational facilitator in wondrous spaces, such as at World Open Space on Open Space (WOSonOS) gatherings in Monterey in California in 1998 and near Melbourne in Australia in 2002. Also at World Cafe Pioneers get togethers in San Francisco in 2001 and 2004. Plus with myriad others online.

And also at the 1st World Conference for Systemic Management in Vienna in 2001 at which I delivered a keynote: The Conversing Company - its culture, power and potential'. Further, going on from there to Vancouver to participate in the ASC meeting there and offer - a very condensed version of: Creating a Culture of Conversing - Applying cybernetic notions in business praxis I had great pleasure in meeting many of you at these gatherings. And now online too!

What is becoming increasing salient is my growing awareness of interconnections between conversational group processes and their multifaceted underpinnings and significances, as I perceive them.

One expression of this is conceiving of OST as a form of magic, or as the OST practitioner being a magician. Here I refer to how articulation of the principles and the law (of two feet) sets up in the minds of participants an acceptance of ways of being together which they could not have imagined - until they were in a context in which a novel 'reality' was being created, with their compliance, and into which they felt thoroughly embraced without any effort of will. When this occurs the only thing that could happen is that something magical appears.

This may be thought of as analogous to the invoking of lightness and humour, which, in the hands of a skilled comedian, can mean "At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities."
- Jean Houston

I see the real 'gift' of being such a practitioner is having the privilege of being party to the 'inevitable' emergence of constructive, creative outcomes while having no idea of what these will be. Going into an enterprise with no expectations and delicious anticipations!

I do this in a wide range of contexts as a 'process' person who is inspired to pass on inspiration through engaging in conversing - and in initiating and responding to invitations to do this. Just some of the learnings which have informed the personal dimension of my participation in the world which I pass on in diverse ways:

"What we choose to notice creates the worlds we live in."
- Humberto Maturana

"What we see, That we are". Ken Wilber. Author of Integral Spirituality.

"We are responsible for how we interpret our experiencing." "If you wish to learn how to see learn how to act." "Any moment we are free to act towards a future we desire." "Life is what we invent, not discover."

These come from Heinz, with whom I had the great fortune to meet in 1981 and to visit him (with Barbara Vogl) in 2001 at his home on Rattlesnake Hill, Pescadero, California not long before he died.

"Our behaviors change only if we decide to belong together differently."
- Meg Wheatley, author of 'A Simpler Way' and 'Turning to One Another'

"The past too is an invention of the present and keeps changing as we look at it."
- Lucas Pawlik

"The person with the most available choices will have more ability to operate successfully".
- A principle of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming)

A recent posted essay makes such ideas explicit. This is with and through the wisdom of my friend and co-author Arun Wakhlu. Entitled "One Dance Uncovering human magnificence through conversation" Arun and I hope this novel approach will be helpful to practitioners of conversational processes in expanding their vision and understanding of their role in enabling the human spirit to come out to play.



People who study engineering always begin by studying physics, chemistry, and mathematics. But physics emphasizes matter and energy. For the information and social sciences, it seemed to me that something like physics was needed. Cybernetics was the obvious choice. I assumed that cybernetics would become to the social sciences, and library science, and computer science, and robotics, what physics is to the various disciplines of engineering. I think that cybernetics has continued to develop in an appropriate manner, particularly given the dearth of funding, but its role as a foundational discipline has not been widely recognized, as I thought it would be. I assume this will happen in the future.


Cybernetics, as proposed by Wiener, is a way to build models of many systems belonging to the realms of automatics, biology, sociology ..., showing analogies, homomorphisms and sometimes isomorphisms of structures between very different fields. It emphasises feedback, communication ... In a synthetic sense, It may be considered as the art of governing. Nevertheless, despite its great power, it is not a universal key.

Barbara Dawes

For me, 'Cybernetics' is both a professional discipline (a perspective of scholars 'out there' that is learned) and it is also 'cybernetics,' a 'way' of being in the world. As I grow in the practice of this process orientation I am continually aware that I am both in and of this world. Thus the 'me' that is separate becomes the 'I' that is the 'pattern which connects.' By being this, I am aware of that which is in process of evolving our cultural perspective.

I am curious to discover/invent if the cybernetic perspective is an original / spiritual way of being and as we enter this world as infants, it is automatically taught out of us in the universal act of enculturation.



Fifteen years of creatively constructive innovations in human-systems integration have secured my reputation as an ace analyst / designer whose approach mainstreamers can only see as 'gonzo' unless one grasps that 'cybernetics lives!'

I'm characterized as a 'cognitive scientist / cognitive engineer', though I reject mainstream notions of what 'cognition' is and my successes derive more from art / craft than science / engineering. I'm advertised as a rare (for North America) doctor of informatics, though I believe the popular concept of 'information' to be the 20th century's version of phlogiston.

I am a closet cybernetician, though I dispute there's yet been a coherent definition for 'cybernetics' and believe adopting Wiener's label betrayed much of what drew the Macy Conference attendees together. Still, it is 'cybernetics' that most properly demarcates my stance and justifies these delicious ironies.

I value cybernetics for its wealth of intellectual inspiration and its lack of disciplinary dogma.


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