Which came first? The second or the first?
“The Second Cybernetics” is the title of a 1963 paper by Magoroh Maruyama which I discover from a bit of googling around was considered seminal in shifting the focus of cybernetics from machines and mechanistic systems to the biological and social sphere. Much referenced in many later works.
It’s pretty fundamental to my Psybertron agenda, that the origins of cybernetics / kybernetes was always more general than machines, in fact being more concerned with social systems following WWII. I suspect if I dig out my copy of Dupuy’s “Mechanisation of the Mind” (1994) I will find Maruyama as a reference (*). Certainly my own thrust has been to counteract the mechanistic focus of systems of regulation, whether in soft rules (for the guidance of wise men) or in arrangements of hard-wired gates (in good-fences). Especially topical now as people are predicting ever more algorithmic AI interventions in human life.
Maruyama too confirms that whilst he is giving the softer, more fluid kind of cybernetics a name to distinguish it from the harder mechanistic kind, already becoming prevalent in the white-heat of technological industrial growth of the 1960’s, the softer kind with the second name was always a primary part of the original intent of cybernetics.
Since both types are systems of mutual causal relationships, or in other words systems of mutual feedbacks [between parts and wholes], they both fall under the subject matter of cybernetics.
But since the deviation-counteracting type has predominantly been studied up till now under the title of cybernetics, let us consider its studies the first cybernetics, and call the studies of the deviation-amplifying mutual causal relationships “the second cybernetics.”
The deviation-counteracting mutual causal process is also called “morphostasis“, while the deviation-amplifying mutual causal process is called “morphogenesis“.
Though the second cybernetics as defined here is lagging behind the development of the first cybernetics at the present moment, the germination of the concept of deviation amplifying mutual causal process is not entirely new. The concept was formulated in some fields even before the advent of [applied] cybernetics.
The field of economics is a good example.
The second form of cybernetics was already being applied in the human world before the so-called first kind could be applied in automating the physical world.
Maruyama uses his deviation-counteracting and deviation-amplifying distinction for what I short-handed as hard and soft. Either way, the key point is in the morphostasis / morphogenesis distinction.
The former is essentially static, always self-regulating towards some intrinsic equilibrium or to some stable externally-pre-set state in the mechanism – like a thermo-STAT. It merely preserves the past.
The latter is genetic, creative of new states which may be meta-stable, dynamically-stable or forever in unstable flux from which the future evolves. Quite rightly, the second cybernetics is the primary focus for an enlightened humanity. And not suprisingly is more complicated and more interesting. Not for the first time the easy meme has dominated the difficult.
I came across the Maruyama reference in Alan Rayner’s “The Origin of Life Patterns – in the natural inclusion of space in flux” about which I’ll say more soon, but I’m long overdue a review. In fact the reference is in the preface by the Springer Briefs in Psychology series editors Giudeppina Marsico and Jaan Valsiner:
“Biological and social systems – open in their relationships with their environment – constantly produce innovation. New forms come into being, which are transformed into still newer forms – while maintaining generative continuity with the past.”
More on Rayner’s Origin of Life Patterns to come …
In fact, there’s a lot more to come on Maruyama’s Second Cybernetics too. Two-way “mutual causation” and causality itself, no less! The evolution of inhomogeneous entropy gradients. Informational model of genetics, and a simple cellular-automata example. Cultural and technological evolution. Naturally evolved directivity – teleology! All human life is here.
“The elaboration and refinement of the second cybernetics belong to the future, and we may expect many fruitful results from them.”
Magoroh Maruyama (June 1963)
[Post Note: (*) Actually there is no reference by Dupuy to Maruyama, but Dupuy also talks in terms of going back to focus on a second cybernetics. I always find parallel thought interesting.]
Also published on Medium.