Volume 4 · Number 2 · Pages 100–111
“There’s Nothing Like the Real Thing”. Revisiting the Need for a Third-Order Cybernetics

Vincent Kenny

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Purpose: To argue for the need to generate a third-order cybernetics to deal with the problematics of second-order cybernetics. Problem: The recent exponential increase in the use of the internet and other “media” to influence and shape dominant cultural experiences via “virtual reality” exploits a core facility of human psychology - that of being able to accept “substitutions” for the “Real Thing.” In this paper, I want to raise some basic questions and dilemmas for our living in the space of a third-order contextualisation that uses “virtuality” in an ever-increasing manner for the configuring and homogenisation of human experiences. In doing so, I also raise the question of the need for us to develop an adequate model of a “third-order cybernetics” for dealing with the ways in which human experience is contextualised and configured by phenomena that constitute the third-order system. Solution: Ernst von Glasersfeld’s work makes it clear that psychologists and others enter into a great deal of confusion when they use terms like “self,” “consciousness,” “emotions,” “memory,” “the environment,” and even “experience,” because, as he points out, there is no convincing model for any of these commonly taken-for-granted phenomena of human living. His writings are taken as a unique source for the generation of an effective third-order cybernetics where the need for constant self-critical monitoring in regard to psychological praxis and third-order phenomena may take place. “Self-critical monitoring” means, in the first place, monitoring in a critical manner our tendencies to take for granted the notion of “self.” One of the main problematics to deal with in second-order cybernetics is the way that “subjectivity” is taken for granted. Benefits: The temptation to collapse back down from a second-order cybernetics to first-order cybernetics will be resolved by creating an effective platform for third-order cybernetics that problematises the issue of “subjectivity” of the observer in the second-order cybernetics framework. This involves putting into question many of the common assumptions held about “who” it is that makes the observations at the second-order cybernetics. In other words, I attempt to highlight what is problematic regarding the observer’s subjectivity and how this analysis of what is taken for granted by the second-order cybernetics framework creates the basis of a framework for a third-order cybernetics.

Key words: subjectivity, observer, self, rational knowing


Kenny V. (2009) “there’s nothing like the real thing”. Revisiting the need for a third-order cybernetics. Constructivist Foundations 4(2): 100–111. http://constructivist.info/4/2/100

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