Volume 5 · Number 2 · Pages 75-85
From Cybernetics to Second-Order Cybernetics: A Comparative Analysis of Their Central Ideas

Tom Froese

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Context: The enactive paradigm in the cognitive sciences is establishing itself as a strong and comprehensive alternative to the computationalist mainstream. However, its own particular historical roots have so far been largely ignored in the historical analyses of the cognitive sciences. Problem: In order to properly assess the enactive paradigm’s theoretical foundations in terms of their validity, novelty and potential future directions of development, it is essential for us to know more about the history of ideas that has led to the current state of affairs. Method: The meaning of the disappearance of the field of cybernetics and the rise of second-order cybernetics is analyzed by taking a closer look at the work of representative figures for each of the phases: Rosenblueth, Wiener and Bigelow for the early wave of cybernetics, Ashby for its culmination, and von Foerster for the development of the second-order approach. Results: It is argued that the disintegration of cybernetics eventually resulted in two distinct scientific traditions, one going from symbolic AI to modern cognitive science on the one hand, and the other leading from second-order cybernetics to the current enactive paradigm. Implications: We can now understand that the extent to which the cognitive sciences have neglected their cybernetic parent is precisely the extent to which cybernetics had already carried the tendencies that would later find fuller expression in second-order cybernetics.

Key words: W. Ross Ashby, Heinz von Foerster, constructivism, enactive cognitive science


Froese T. (2010) From cybernetics to second-order cybernetics: A comparative analysis of their central ideas. Constructivist Foundations 5(2): 75-85. http://constructivist.info/5/2/075

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