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Circularity, Topology and Cybernetics: Second Order Science (Plenary Keynote at WMSCI 2013)

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Published on Jul 27, 2013

Professor Louis H. Kauffman, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA, Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Past President of the American Society for Cybernetics

Plenary Keynote Address at WMSCI 2013: "Circularity, Topology and Cybernetics: Second Order Science"

Abstract

Cybernetics has, from its very beginnings been concerned with circularity - the circularity of feedback in biological, social, scientific and mathematical systems, the fundamental circularities behind our forms of explanation and the ever-present circularity of thought and understanding acting on itself. At a certain key point, Margaret Mead spoke of the cybernetics of cybernetics and this was taken up as a call for a second-order cybernetics by Heinz von Foerster and eventually many others. The understanding behind so-called second-order cybernetics is inherent in cybernetics itself. Along with considering a self-conscious cybernetics that includes the observer, we make the shift to a fully embodied scientific view. In this view one cannot avoid seeing the participation of the scientist as part of the science itself. This is nowhere more clear than in the biology of cognition, where a theory of cognition must wrap around and explain itself, or in economic practice where the theories of action are embodied in the participants in the economy and these participants form that economy. But this is also the case in all scientific endeavor once one is quite precise about the role of thought and concept in the practice of that science. There are no objects of study that are not combinations of percept and concept. Each place where we contact experience meaningfully is an amalagam of appropriate concept and the accuracy of perception.

All objects come along with a perception, a conception and an awareness. We make generalizations and theories but each act of understanding is founded in the circularity of percept and concept and thought acting upon itself. Second-order science includes its practitioners and must be fully accurate in that accounting.

The consequences of this point of view go across the board, taking the axis of second-order cybernetics fully to a coordination of all forms of knowledge. This talk will discuss these issues of second order science in the context of topological models. Such models are an invaluable aid in sharpening the understanding of these issues of circularity and knowledge.

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