Acting Cybernetically

2019 Annual Conference of the American Society for Cybernetics


What difference does it make?

When  the sensorimotor rubber hits the phenomenal road , how does being a cybernetician make a difference that makes a difference to how we act and understand? What difference can cybernetics make to the ways in which we navigate the worlds of distinctions that we both construct and live?

An unfinished revolution.

Since “second-order cybernetics” shifted attention from observed to observing systems, its theoretical, epistemological and ethical bases have been extensively developed.Yet, the formation of second-order cybernetics remains  an unfinished revolution .

Acting and performing 

Cybernetics is concerned not just with ways of thinking and understanding, but also with ways of  living and acting in the world . This is reflected in the performative, material and socially engaged character of prominent cybernetic projects, such as Stafford Beer’s  Project Cybersyn , the  Fun Palace (on which Gordon Pask collaborated with architect Cedric Price and theatre director Joan Littlewood), and the  School for Designing Society (Susan Parenti, Mark Enslin, and many others). 


This is also manifest in the contemporary resurgence of cybernetics and systems thinking within creative disciplines, challenging and clarifying practice, research and education; and in the ambition,  first articulated by Margaret Mead at the inaugural meeting of the American Society for Cybernetics, that cybernetics be organized in accordance with its own insights.

Manifesting our reflections 

How do commitments to second-order cybernetics manifest themselves in our daily experiences and relationships? How do we (and how may we better) see ourselves, act, relate, and live on this planet earth? Is it enough to lay claim to an epistemology without having it engage with our practices in the world?  We say we include “the observer”; but then what? The acknowledgement of inclusion is not an end in itself, but raises questions over who is and is not included in what, how inclusion becomes manifest, and on whose terms it is based.