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

Tom Froese

Log in download the full text in PDF

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


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

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Foerster H. von & Müller A. (2008) Computing a Reality: Heinz von Foerster’s Lecture at the A.U.M Conference in 1973
Müller K. H. (2010) The Radical Constructivist Movement and Its Network Formations
Ulrich C., Tillema E. S., Hackenberg A. J. & Norton A. (2014) Constructivist Model Building: Empirical Examples From Mathematics Education
Weiss M. G. (2013) Non-dualistic Sex. Josef Mitterer’s Non-dualistic Philosophy in the Light of Judith Butler’s (De)Constructivist Feminism
Umpleby S. A. (2016) Second-Order Cybernetics as a Fundamental Revolution in Science


Ashby W. R. (1940) Adaptiveness and equilibrium. Journal of Mental Science 86: 478–484. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1947) The nervous system as physical machine: With special reference to the origin of adaptive behavior. Mind 56(221): 44–59. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1956) An introduction to cybernetics. Chapman and Hall, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1960) Design for a brain: The origin of adaptive behavior. Second edition. Chapman and Hall, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ashby W. R. (1962) Principles of the self-organizing system. In: Foerster H. von & Zopf G. W. (eds.) Principles of self-organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois symposium. Pergamon Press, London: 255–278. https://cepa.info/4372
Boden M. A. (2006) Mind as machine: A history of cognitive science. 2 Volumes. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Brooks R. A. (1991) Intelligence without representation. Artificial Intelligence 47(1–3): 139–160. https://cepa.info/4059
Clark A. (1997) Being there: Putting brain, body, and world together again. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Clark A. (2001) Mindware: An introduction to the philosophy of cognitive science. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Di Paolo E. A. (2001) Book review of “The mechanization of the mind: On the origins of cognitive science” by Jean-Pierre Dupuy. Journal of Cognitive Systems Research 2: 291–295. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Di Paolo E. A. (2003) Organismically-inspired robotics: Homeostatic adaptation and teleology beyond the closed sensorimotor loop. In: Murase K. & Asakura T. (eds.). Dynamical systems approach to embodiment and sociality. Advanced Knowledge International, Adelaide, Australia: 19–42. https://cepa.info/2514
Di Paolo E. A., Noble J. & Bullock S. (2000) Simulation models as opaque thought experiments. In: Bedau M. A., McCaskill J. S., Packard N. H., Rasmussen S. (eds.), Artificial life VII: Proceedings of the 7th international conference on artificial life. MIT Press, Cambridge MA: 497–506. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dreyfus H. L. & Dreyfus S. E. (1988) Making a mind versus modelling the brain: Artificial intelligence back at a branch-point. Daedalus 117(1): 15–44. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Dupuy J.-P. (2009) On the origins of cognitive science: The mechanization of mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ericsson K. A. & Simon H. A. (1980) Verbal reports as data. Psychological Review 87(3): 215–251. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Fodor J. A. (1975) The language of thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von & Bröcker M. (2002) Teil der Welt. Fraktale einer Ethik – oder Heinz von Foersters Tanz mit der Welt. Carl-Auer Verlag, Heidelberg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von & Glasersfeld E. von (1999) Wie wir uns erfinden. Eine Autobiographie des radikalen Konstruktivismus. Carl-Auer Verlag, Heidelberg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1960) On self-organizing systems and their environments. In: Yovits M. C. & Cameron S. (eds.) Self-organizing systems. Pergamon Press, London: 31–50. https://cepa.info/1593
Foerster H. von (1966) From stimulus to symbol: The economy of biological computation. In: Kepes G. (ed.) Sign, image and symbol. George Braziller, New York: 42–61. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1972) Perception of the future and the future of perception. Instructional Science 1(1): 31–43. https://cepa.info/1647
Foerster H. von (1973) On constructing a reality. In: Preiser W. F. E. (ed.) Environmental research design. Volume 2. Hutchinson and Ross, Stroudsburg, Dowden: 35–46. https://cepa.info/1278
Foerster H. von (1979) Cybernetics of cybernetics. In: Krippendorff K. (ed.) Communication and control. Gordon and Breach, New York: 5–8. https://cepa.info/1707
Foerster H. von (1980) Epistemology of communication. In: Woodward K. (ed.) The myths of information: Technology and postindustrial culture. Coda Press, Madison: 18–27. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von (1984) Disorder/Order: Discovery or invention? In: Livingston P. (ed.) Disorder and order: Proceedings of the Stanford international symposium (14–16 September 1981) Anma Libri, Saratoga CA: 177–189. https://cepa.info/1679
Foerster H. von (1991) Through the eyes of the other. In: Steier F. (ed.) Research and reflexivity, Sage, London: 63–75. https://cepa.info/1729
Froese T. & Ziemke T. (2009) Enactive artificial intelligence: Investigating the systemic organization of life and mind. Artificial Intelligence 173(3–4): 366–500. https://cepa.info/279
Froese T. (2007) On the role of AI in the ongoing paradigm shift within the cognitive sciences. In: Lungarella M., Iida F., Bongard J. & Pfeifer R. (eds.) 50 years of artificial intelligence: Essays dedicated to the 50th anniversary of artificial intelligence. Springer, Heidelberg: 63–75. https://cepa.info/2749
Froese T. (2009) Hume and the enactive approach to mind. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8(1): 95–133. https://cepa.info/4484
Glasersfeld E. von (1974) Piaget and the radical constructivist epistemology. In: Smock C. D. & Glasersfeld E. von (eds.) Epistemology and education. Follow Through Publications, Athens GA. https://cepa.info/1324
Glasersfeld E. von (1995) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. Falmer, London. https://cepa.info/1462
Grey Walter W. (1950) An imitation of life. Scientific American 182(5): 42–45. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Harnish R. M. (2002) Minds, brains, computers: An historical introduction to the foundations of cognitive science. Blackwell, Malden MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hume D. (1739–1740) A treatise of human nature. English translation in: Norton D. F. & Norton M. J. (eds.) (2000) The Oxford philosophical texts edition of David Hume, A treatise of human nature. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1–396. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Husbands P., Holland O. & Wheeler M. (eds.) (2008) The mechanical mind in history. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Hutchins E. (1995) Cognition in the wild. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Ikegami T. & Suzuki K. (2008) From homeostatic to homeodynamic self. BioSystems 91(2): 388–400. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Jonas H. (1966) The phenomenon of life: Toward a philosophical biology. Harper & Row, New York. Republished in: (2001) Northwestern University Press, Evanston IL. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kant I. (1790) Kritik der Urteilskraft. English translation: Kant I. (1987) Critique of Judgment (Translated by W. S. Pluhar). Hacket, Indianapolis IN. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Levine J. (1983) Materialism and qualia: The explanatory gap. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 64: 354–361. https://cepa.info/4061
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1973) Autopoiesis: The organization of the living. In: Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980) Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht: 59–140. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala Publications, Boston MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. (1970) Biology of cognition. In: Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1980), Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Kluwer, Dordrecht: 1–58. https://cepa.info/535
Maturana H. R. (1970) Neurophysiology of cognition. In: Gavin P. L. (ed.) Cognition: A multiple view. Spartan Books, New York, NY: 3–23. https://cepa.info/536
McClelland J. L., Rumelhart D. E. & the PDP Research Group (1986) Parallel distributed processing: Explorations in the microstructure of cognition. Volume 2: Psychological and biological models. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
McCulloch W. S. & Pitts W. H. (1943) A logical calculus of the ideas immanent in nervous activity. Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 5: 115–133. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
McCulloch W. S. (1960) What is a number, that man may know it, and a man, that he may know a number? General Semantics Bulletin 26/27: 7–18. https://cepa.info/1821
McGee K. (2005) Enactive cognitive science. Part 1: Background and research themes. Constructivist Foundations 1(1): 19–34. https://constructivist.info/1/1/019
Newell A. & Simon H. A. (1976) Computer science as empirical enquiry: Symbols and search. Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery 19(3): 113–126. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Rosenblueth A. N., Wiener N. & Bigelow J. (1943) Behavior, purpose and teleology. Philosophy of Science 10: 18–24. https://cepa.info/2691
Shannon C. E. & Weaver W. (1949) The mathematical theory of communication. University of Illinois Press, Urbana IL. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Stewart J., Gapenne O. & Di Paolo E. A. (eds.) (in press) Enaction: Towards a new paradigm for cognitive science. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Thompson E. (2007) Mind in life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Uexküll J. von (1928) Theoretische Biologie. 2nd revised edition. Julius Springer, Berlin. English translation of the 1st edition: Uexküll J. von (1926) Theoretical Biology. Harcourt Brace, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J, Thompson E. & Rosch E. (1991) The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT Press, Cambridge MA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1979) Principles of biological autonomy. Elsevier North Holland, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Varela F. J. (1986) Experimental epistemology: Background and future. Revue Internationale De Systemique 1(2): 209–223. https://cepa.info/1919
Varela F. J. (1996) The early days of autopoiesis: Heinz and Chile. Systems Research 13(3): 407–416. https://cepa.info/2077
Varela F. J., Maturana H. R. & Uribe R. (1974) Autopoiesis: The organization of living systems, its characterization and a model. BioSystems 5: 187–196. https://cepa.info/546
Weber A. & Varela F. J. (2002) Life after Kant: Natural purposes and the autopoietic foundations of biological individuality. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1: 97–125. https://cepa.info/2087
Ziemke T. & Sharkey N. (2001) A stroll through the worlds of robots and animals: Applying Jakob von Uexküll’s theory of meaning to adaptive robots and artificial life. Semiotica 134(1–4): 701–746. https://cepa.info/4523

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.