Several Traditions of Cybernetics

Today many people have not heard of cybernetics, though they are familiar with cyberspace, cyber security and cyber infrastructure. The “cyber” prefix is usually used to refer to computers, the internet, and perhaps the electric power grid. The ASC defines cybernetics more broadly. Stuart Umpleby has suggested that work in cybernetics can be thought of as falling in several “traditions.” We have decided to adopt this schema to group proposed papers. The names of some key contributors are given to illustrate the traditions. Most of the authors below have contributed to more than one of the traditions. The intent is not to provide a limiting definition of their work but to suggest some of the contributions within that tradition.

  1. Computer science, AI, robotics: Lenat, Minsky, Neumann, Turing
  2. Control systems, automation, systems engineering; Ashby, Powers, Warfield, Wiener
  3. Experimental epistemology, constructivism, philosophy of science; Foerster, Glanville, Glasersfeld, Kauffman, McCulloch, Umpleby, Whitaker
  4. Management; Ackoff, Beer, Espejo, Forrester, Jackson, Leonard, Malik, Schwaninger
  5. Education and conversation: Lewin, Martin, Pask, Scott
  6. Family therapy, anthropology; Bateson, Jorgensen, Mead, Steier, Watzlawick
  7. Art, design, music, literature; Brun, Clarke, Galuszka, Krippendorff, Pangaro, Parenti
  8. Neurobiology, consciousness studies: Bunnell, Maturana, Varela
  9. Social sciences; Buckley, Deutsch, Luhmann, Mueller

The general public knows the first two traditions but usually not the others. Cybernetics is not limited to computers, rather it is a general theory of control and communication, a transdisciplinary theory of regulation underlying the social and design sciences. It provides a general theory of management and a general theory of an information society. Cybernetics offers ideas and methods that can help many disciplines communicate with each other.