Theoria: Towards Building a

Foundation of Understanding


The theoretical basis for our study will be grounded and built upon the cybernetic and systems literature, as it relates to the biological and cognitive sciences. From this foundation, further inquiry into chaos theory, complex adaptive systems, and evolutionary and developmental biology will be examined and critiqued. These broad topics will be pursued largely through self-directed study, as well as online discussion. Although there will be a set of core readings to create a starting point for discussion, and a platform from which to explore ideas so as to develop a unified understanding of concept, broad exploration is also vital so as to support the emerging diversity required of a more global conversation.


Cybernetics (not to be type-casted by the frequent mis-usage of the word in popular culture and popular press) is a broad conceptual approach dealing with the nature of circularity and feedback in systems. Derived from the Greek term kybernetes, it holds the image of the helmsmen, steersman, or pilot of a ship. In this way, it becomes a proper study of responses, via perceptual, motor and mental processes, rather than a study of 'things'. Not surprisingly, then, that for such a system of inquiry, engaged in examining the nature of change, that a formal definition of cybernetics remains elusive to its practitioners, and has been as varied as those individuals who have worked to understand the paradigm. Some of the diverse definitions offered up in the defining of cybernetics have included:


"The art of steersmanship." - W. Ross Ashby

"A branch of mathematics dealing with problems of control, recursiveness, and information." - Gregory Bateson

"The science of effective organization." - Stafford Beer

"Should one name one central concept, a first principle, of cybernetics, it would be circularity." - Heinz von Foerster

"The art and science of manipulating defensible metaphors." - Gordon Pask

"The science and art of understanding." - Humberto Maturana

"The science and art of the understanding of understanding." - Rodney E. Donaldson

 "The ability to cure all temporary truth of eternal triteness." - Herbert Brun

"The art of creating equilibrium in a world of constraints and possibilities." - Ernst von Glasersfeld

"A way of thinking about ways of thinking of which it is one." - Larry Richards

"The art of interaction in dynamic networks." - Roy Ascott


As we can see, cybernetics both embraces and represents the fact that ideas, and the understandings they generate, are dynamic, responsive and changing patterns.


Cybernetics, as a formal study, has undergone two general divergent pathways in its evolution. At its inception (and thereby labeled first-order cybernetics), cybernetics focused on observing mechanisms of negative feedback, and control in mechanical and living systems, but, nevertheless, contained the implicit distinction that systems are both impartially and dispassionately observerable on the part of the observer, thus fundamentally aligning itself with the traditional reductionist views upheld by the scientific method. Second-order cybernetics was birthed from a later reflection of the understanding garnered by its practitioners that systems under observation could never be separated from the observers observing them. Observers, by their very act of observing, necessarily effect the outcome of the systems they interact with. It was such a shift in perspective, a change in epistemologies if you will, that served as a foundation for a new holistic science.


In review, then, first-order cybernetics can be generally viewed as a “science of observed systems”, while the second-order can be viewed as the “science of observing systems”. Although the shift in wording is subtle, the implications of such a change in stance are not. How we choose to understand the world informs what we will perceive, and, in turn, what we then perceive will change how we understand our perceptions. Moreover, as second-order cybernitcians, we must become both scientists and philosophers, as our observations of our observing necessarily directs us back to the first principles and initial axioms of the epistemology that guides us in our understanding of a living world. More than knowledge alone, or knowledge for its own sake, knowledge of our knowledge is what we are striving for. This recursive and reflective cycle is the root of an aesthetic Theoria.

"A theory is a composite memory of things apprehended with sense perception."


                         ― Hippocrates


Complexity Medicine: Cybernetics - Chaos- Complexity - Constructivism

Embracing the Science of Change

“Hospitals should be arranged in such a way as to make being sick an interesting experience. One learns a great deal sometimes from being sick. ” 
                                                                     Alan Watts

The Institute of 

Complexity Medicine