March 5, 2005

Insights from Cybernetics

Chapter: "On the relation between cybernetics and general systems theory"
Author: George J. Klir

There are a couple features of cybernetics that seem to have widespread applicability across disciplines. One aspect is that cybernetics deals with communication and control. These two areas could apply to humans, their societies or even the arts. Another aspect of cybernetics is information. This may be the area most closely commonly associated with cybernetics. Without information, communication and control are shipwrecked at the onset.

In cybernetics, information is something that can be quantified and measured. Klir defines information as, "a measure of organization as opposed to randomness" (p. 157). As such, the amount of information being inputed/outputed depends the QUANTITY, as well as, QUALITY of organization. Klir goes on to point out the dangers of ignoring either the quantity or quality of an organization. Neglecting quality leads to "negative entropy" between information and organization. Klir does not point out a danger of neglecting quantity, but I would imagine it has to do with limited impact, i.e. super simple systems of information with little opportunity to evolve. Am I offbase with this intuition?

Klir goes on to show how cybernetics can serve as a viewpoint or as a discipline in understanding ifferent disciplines. A way that cybernetics would be used as a viewpoint would be in understanding the process of metabolism as an interaction between mass and energy. So, examples of what might be considered cybernetically would be the amount of information (quantity) examined or the evolution of information within the system/between system and environment.

So, what are some application points that might be envisioned? In building a model that would examine a vast social system, I would think that one danger might be sacrificing quality data (using census data to the exclusion of intimate interviews of families or groups). The other danger might be a model that only examines phenomena on dyadic or triadic levels within a family, rather than considering the entire ecosystem. I suppose this dual emphasis in model-building could be credited as a cybernetic principle. Would this be an accurate way to think of it? BASICALLY, YES.

Another application point comes from Klir's example of examining the evolution of information between a system and its environment. This implies that there are things larger than or distinguishable from systems that systems can interact with. So, another way of classifying systems and their environment would be needed to comprehend this interaction. Is that where the subsystem vs. Ecosystem distinction derives? YES!
-Gregg

JIM'S RESPONSE

Your reading of Klir, and Klir's work itself, nicely portrays the dialectic tensions between epistemology and ontology, as well as (in systems terms) between structure and process. Note that Klir refers to cybernetics (which is by definition process-based) and then discusses issues of organization of a system and the relationships between systems and their environments, etc. as if they were "real THINGS." You can see what I am convinced that dialectics are centrally embedded in systemic thought--without such a philosophy and heuristic tool, it would be difficult to make sense of the relationship between cybernetics as information processing and general systems theory as a theory and study of living and nonliving systems.

Posted by gschache at 4:59 PM