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American Society for Cybernetics 2013: acting - learning - understanding conference

A 7-day conference at the University of Bolton from 28th July - 3rd August 2013.' Organised by Ranulph Glanville, Dai Griffiths, Mark Johnson and others. Find more information at the conference website at

The theme of this years conference was the result of conversations that emerged from our own experiences and how we get from theory to practice and from practice to theory. In a less descriptive and more general way this cycle could be described as how to get from acting to learning to understanding. The tension between knowing and what we call knowledge; skill and explanations.

“Three methods through which we may learn [#]: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter."
(I took the liberty of taking out [#wisdom] because i think its more about learning ‘anything’ than learning ‘wisdom’.) Also i would be interested in other meanings of the original Chinese word for 'method'. Is it 'way'? Or what did Confucius actually write?

Day 1: informal conversations

What would happen if designers designed with multiple sensorial modalities in mind? For example how an object reflects sound? Or how light is reflected, creating different effects. Architects are more likely to consider sound properties and light during different times of the day and year. What if we made this a theme for a course?
"Cybernetics is a language that allows us to speak between subjects" M.M.
cyber-social sciences, social informatics, - or conversation (emotional-mechanical).

Day 2: Workshops

29:07.2013 Cybernetics and Learning B.Scott,
How did Cybernetics influence other disciplines? Psychology-Behaviourism. Gordon Pask's 'cognitive revolution'.
(sounds like Dupuy: The Mechanization of the Mind. The story of how cybernetics kicked off the research into cognitive sciences.)
St.Gallen influenced by Vester and Stafford Beer.
Pask: 'Conversation theory'. (Still don't understand what that is, it is never properly explained.): Open University also implemented ideas of Stafford Beer (which ones?) when it was founded.
Spiral curriculum: Piaget, Jerome Bruner?, revisit cybernetic circuits in equilibrium, Pask: 'I have a 'concept', an entailment mesh; episodic memory. Expectations: Making descriptions of what we have learned; speak, so others may learn as well.
Coherence of the knowledge domain: No holes or gaps or contradictions. (The observer is making distinctions.) Who decides what a contradiction is? "I am a facilitator", (we are the facilitated?). Pask: Why does contradiction. overshadow everything else? Learning machines - not thinking machines (1960). Pask would make incredibly complex diagrams.
Book: Pickering: The cybernetic brain.
Describes performatively how we developed our -ologies, but stops before epistemology. Neuro-science - now brain science. Neuro was about the nervous system - this is about more. As if seeing a scan and having a theory was an explanation. "Monism' (Pask) is a conflation, in the sense of that the map is not the territory. Systems like us are energetically open.
Ashby: "Cybernetics is the study of all possible machines."
"Organisationally closed' computers are easier to understand.
If we understand them, they cannot surprise us.
Machine = system
A system is that which persists.
Frank George?: A theory is a model together with its interpretation. Theorising needs to anchor.
Pask: "Cybernetics is the art and science of manipulating defensible metaphors, showing how they can be constructed and what can be inferred as a result of their existence."
Analogy: Hand is to glove as foot is to sock.
Meta-phor: to carry over
- The observer distinguishes the system and its environment.
(e.g. a cloud of smoke.)
- Energetically open and closed systems.
- Organisationally open and closed systems. (Computer: yes/no - people: blabla)
- Complex adaptive systems = self-organising (Ashby)
- Autopoetic systems, allopoetic systems
- Taciturn system, language oriented system
- serial, parallel, concurrent processes (careful here with the word 'information', it is the same thing that a system finds useful.)
Its a contradiction.
Beer called it this, Ashby called it that. Ideas are isomorphic.
Heinz von Foerster:
The rate of change of redundancy/order is always positive. It is eating up its disordered environment. It has to add in its disturbance in order not to stop. Lego: Imagine a large pile of lego. When all blocks are used up > get more blocks! (Remember we want to play an infinite game, not a finite one!)
A system will always grow, it will always escape us. Any self-organising system is non trivial. (Heinz von Foerster wrote papers about this in the early 1960s.)
We are constructing our own order. (The body-brain constructing a reality?) How can we make sure there is a world? If in our ordering of the world we distinguish other systems like ourselves that do the same. This is the argument against solipsism!

All learning requires forgetting. Structural changes also include forgetting.
These are the consequences of epistemology: There is always a point of reference outside the frame of the observer. (Systems that draw their logic from outside and act irrationally.) e.g. Christianity.
The goal of a system is what it does. (Evolution is always in the present, it has no goal.) e.g. If banks ruin the economy this is their goal. Unintended consequences acceptable.
Hierarchy, heterarchy: Principle of redundancy of potential command. In the navy the ship that first spots the enemy takes over the command.
Heinz von Foerster's distinctions: There is nothing new added from 2nd order to 3rd order observation. What is introduced from 1st to 2nd is a reflective element. So while 'i is a reflector of infinite order' we nevertheless are limited.
We see 'i' through the other (Piaget). Additionally 'self' is a social process (Luria, Vygotsky). Let us learn to be(come) who we are.
> Epistemology of the observer

What is learning? What do we learn? What helps us to learn?

Adapting complex systems of behaviour.
2nd order cycle a step towards a philosophy of science. Persuade others of constructivist epistemology.
Knowledge = explanations
Skills = how to do things
People have their own theoretical models how things work. > Chinese kulis on steamship 'feeding the dragon'.

Three learning outcomes:
- Knowledge, skills
- emotion, attitude
- professional attitudes

Learning theory first principles.
The environment contains no information, it is as it is.
Identify systems that inhibit learning. e.g. Religion, Dogma, Dawkins.

Some things are un-unlockable (ineluctable).
How do we learn how to learn?
- uncertainty reduction
- need for variety,
- overload - underload,
- awareness/consciousness,
- proceduralisation,
- remembering.

"Teachback" - how do we assess learning? > Gordon Pask: 'teachback'.
Experiments show that long-term retention can be achieved through teachback.
(What is the role of double-descriptions here? Tripple descriptions. D-D help me to understand and not necessarily

Dynamics of learning:
There is no distinction between learning and acting.
There is no distinction between perception and action.
(The eyes move, the head moves. We move our arms as we talk and think.
(Sounds like Andy Clark and embodied cognition.)
Metabolic processes in the brain. Heinz von Foerster: Many different systems interacting: The hormone system, the immune system, the nervous system, ... among many others. The brain is affecting the body, (emotions are affecting the body, the body is affecting the brain and emotions.)

Gordon Pask: "A thought is a feeling'. Typing becomes embodied. (Ask students why they are here doing what they are doing. A 'full' learning conversation.)

Immanuel Kant: "Nothing is better then a good theory!"

Karl Popper: "Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve."


Cyberneticians at work:
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Texts mentioned:
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last update: 10/14/02015 15:24

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