Variety of Variety
Traditions of Cybernetics categories: Social systems, experimental epistemology
Purpose: The proposed paper will explore variety from a qualitative perspective, rather than the more typically considered quantitative perspectives explored by Ashby and Beer (who considered variety as a measurement reflecting the number of states a system can be said to address). I am currently developing some frames for ways of thinking about categories of variety interaction (variety interaction referring to “sets of changes” influencing other “sets of changes”), between variety both outside of the observed/ing system’s defined boundaries and within those defined boundaries. The start of the discussion will be me presenting 5 frames in which I consider variety interactions. I wish to explore these approaches starting in relation to the arts and in relation to interacting with people with developmental disabilities (both of which I have at least 20 years of involvement), and then including other areas with high degrees of variety. I will focus on observers’ descriptions of system behaviors in the presence of variety previously encountered and unencountered, as well as expected and unexpected, which I claim as the requirements for variety interaction.
Design/methodology/approach: Through the presentation of some ideas I will be positing, and from the resulting discussion, this paper will collect, filter, and apply the perspectives concerning variety that help to focus on the development of qualitative ideas about variety. Examples of variety will be drawn initially from the world of art and composition, and from the variety manifesting from people with developmental disabilities (both areas which have high degrees of observable variety, both familiar and unfamiliar). Variety will also be discussed within von Glaserfeld’s radical constructivist perspective, in that the observing system responds to (and understands) variety based on the variety it already manifests (from previous interactions with other variety). Maturana’s descriptions of living systems (especially in relation to autopoiesis) could also be drawn upon in order to provide a reference for variety interaction as a means for system evolution. I will also invite considerations of how to connect the newer ideas of variety to the quantitative ideas already in the conversation about variety.
Findings: To be determined by the proposals I offer and the discussion which ensues. If anything, the paper should offer new perspectives which allow for further understandings of observers and their relationship to variety, in regards to the systems they define.
Research limitations/implications: The paper will be exploring new frames for thinking, which might be incompatible or at least less likely to fit with previous frames. However, due to the nature of the topic, namely variety, in the event that things could be incompatible, this can only lead toward an increase in variety, which is ultimately beneficial to a cybernetician. Whereas I do not claim that there are any particular residing properties in variety (both observed and manifested), the qualitative approach could provide a way of focusing an observer’s descriptions to allow for a new coordination to arise which focuses more on interactions (and certain categorical frames which an observer can employ) and less on mathematical oriented descriptions.
Practical implications: This paper intends to increase variety, namely the ways to describe variety and ways of thinking about variety interacting with variety (within and without an observing system). It will give focus to more qualitative perspectives, of which there is a significant lack of voicings from this approach. It also intends to offer ways of considering “how” as opposed to the more explored ideas of “how much.”
Originality/value: As far as my research and thinking has lead me, and from my own experiences, qualitative descriptions of variety and system interactions are lacking from the main streams of conversations in cybernetics, to the point of almost being non-existent. This paper aims at helping to open up new avenues of thinking, and at connecting to how to apply such thinking. How this will be done is still a matter of unknown variety.
- 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science
- 9) Social sciences
I guess you seek to define relationships between varieties that are qualitatively different, or how one variety defined over one domain is mapped into another.
I will be interested in finding out what you think about qualitative differences beyond defining separate domains.
My aim isn’t so much defining variety within a particular domain which can be mapped onto other domains (though i suppose this could be a possible tool, ultimately), but rather ways of thinking (frames) about variety interacting with variety (what i call variety interaction) which are useful orientations regardless of domain to begin with. That’s my starting point, at least. I look forward to the exploration.
Very rich terrain to explore. I’d be very interested to see you integrate some of the qualitative descriptions of variety that you formulate back into Beer’s Viable Systems Model and to explore how these issues might impact policy discussions in public education. Currently, public school teachers in my home province of British Columbia, Canada are striking; largely over issues of class-size and composition (i.e. the number of students with special needs per classroom). I have been thinking about this conflict largely in terms of Ashby’s Law and would love to hear your reflections on such matters.
This is a discussion sympathetic to my interests in general, so i welcome this perspective as well. I support adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities (i HATE those terms, but that’s another issue), so education (lifelong, in my world) is critical to my thinking. VSM was one of the models i initially was drawn to when starting my curiosity about variety.
I like the openness and sense of enquiry in your proposal.
There is some work on different (qualitative) interpretations of variety, and Ashby himself seems to have used it in 2 ways (see, for instance, Introduction to Cybernetics). You may find that others have prepared the way for you.
openness and inquiry are a must for a conversation concerning variety. after all, if i were to say what variety is, or what i want it to be, then i have reduced variety! Good or bad is up to the respondant. I’m hoping my presenting of frames (ways of thinking) about variety doesn’t constrain in a closed-to-alternatives way. We’ll find out soon enough!
Ashby is definitely one person who’s ideas about variety influence mine. His approach ignited in me several questions, which I could not answer from his own writing, so began to grow more curious and explore for myself.
‘Variety of Variety’ sounds elevated and interesting. Two thoughts occur: 1. If we say ‘variety is a measure of complexity’ (Ashby, Beer), then; is there a ‘complexity of complexity’? 2. In your possible description of variety in a qualitative way and the ‘variety interaction’ idea; there will also be room for variety matching and variety engineering, I feel, in a qualitative way. Not sure.