Raman Kumar Agrawalla’s Paper Proposal

When Newton meets Heinz Von Foerster, Complexity vanishes and Simplicity reveals

Complexity is a mindset. It’s a perception. In any entity, artificial or natural, there is a natural simplicity ingrained. May be its hidden. But, through interest and efforts, may be many times automatically, the inherent simplicity gets revealed.
According to Newton, nature is exceedingly simple and comfortable or harmonious to herself. The Newtonian paradigm, as is well-known, is the reductionist linear paradigm, the mainstay of the most academic work in the natural and social sciences. In it, the observer is said to be neutral and objective. The observation of same object by different observers, even at different time, yield same results. Such notion of value free observation seems okay when the object is a physical system. The difficulty arises when the object is a social system, including business systems and economic systems; not to speak of the socio-cultural systems.
Pickering observes that cybernetics is an instantiation of a different paradigm. In terms of years, the discipline of Cybernetics is still young. However, in the 1970s, the field of cybernetics took a revolutionary turn based on the celebrated contribution entitled ‘Cybernetics of cybernetics’ of Heinz von Foerster. He distinguished between the cybernetics of observed systems and the cybernetics of observing systems in which observer is explicitly included in the system under study. Thanks to the explosive growth of information-based technologies, cybernetics, the idea coined in the 1940s by Norbert Weiner, lives on through the use of simulation which may be termed as neo-cybernetics . Kabir, a mystic poet and saint of India, dating back to the 14th century, writes in one of his couplets- A pitcher in water, water in pitcher, water outside and inside. I feel, this is a precursor to what Foerster called ‘cybernetics of cybernetics’.

As per the epistemology of ‘constructivism’, reality is not only to be found by subjects, but can also be constructed by them. Wallner talks about the constructed world as the cognitive reality (world we are capable of knowing) and the world outside this construction as reality that is environment. The relation between the observing and the observed, knowledge and reality, the subject and the object is thus no less than a puzzle. Some connects the definition of complexity to the subjectivity of the observer.

Ranulph Glanville claims in ‘Designing Complexity’ that complexity is an observer’s choice rather than given by a mind independent reality. Eliyahu Goldratt painstakingly illustrates in his book ‘the choice’ that ‘reality is built in wonderful simplicity’. In the present work, we, harnessing various disciplines and thinking processes, attempt to model any ‘reality’ as such and experience that there is simplicity inherent in the reality. The thesis in the paper is that complexity is a perception. It’s simple though not simplistic. Realization so far through living in Cybernetics has been that simplification is the solution. It’s a different matter that lot of pedaling goes beneath the water to expose or reveal the natural simplicity and attain the solution.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science
  • 8) Neurobiology; consciousness studies

3 thoughts on “Raman Kumar Agrawalla’s Paper Proposal

  1. Candy

    I find the quote by Kabir intriguing in the context of second order cybernetics. Could you elaborate more on what the context of this quote was and how it could be related to cybernetics?

  2. Dr Raman

    Thanks Candy.
    In fact, the full couplet is like this:
    (Earthen pot is in the water, water is in the earthen pot
    Water is inside as well as outside
    Pot breaks and water merges with water
    The wise have said this truth.)
    Another way:
    If the pitcher is in the water, there is water inside and outside it. If the pitcher breaks, the waters mingle; to the wise, the meaning is clear.
    Of course, it has deep spiritual context, as per the saint-poet Kabir.
    However, I see in the context of both observer and observed being part of the system. Inside, yet outside.

  3. Dr Raman

    The focus of the proposed paper is to explore and argue that ‘Complexity’ is a perception. It’s a mindset. And in the effort in marrying the ideas of Newton and Heinz von Foerster, it could be seen, in a sense that ‘simplicity reveals’ and complexity vanishes’. It can be achieved ‘when Newton meets Foerster’ in the sense that; Newton’s causal and deterministic world and Observer in that world as someone in the system (of the system); observing and being observed. Specifically, Foersterian ideas of ‘Order from Noise’ principle; the role of fixed points or eigen-behaviours in the explanation of cognitive phenomena and complex behavior; and above all the pervasive role of self-reference that we see in many domains; will be harnessed in the paper.


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