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Cybernetic Theory and Cybernetic Practice

Analysis and modeling of cybernetic systems tends to be extremely computationally expensive. Even attempting to do cybernetic theory before the advent and computational technology would have been practically impossible. Therefore, just as cybernetics grew out of the earliest developments in computer science \cite{VOJ56,MCW65}, so the development of Cybernetics and Systems Science have always been tied to computer technology) and computer modeling.

It is therefore not surprising that the use of this same technology is the bedrock of practicing cyberneticians, and further holds the promise to resolve some of these conflicts between the objects and nature of cybernetic theory and the nature of academic work. In particular, it is now possible to develop representational media which share the characteristics of the systems being studied:

The miniaturization and speed of computer components allows the representation of models and systems of great complexity, with many interacting elements at a variety of scales.

Not only automated indexing and look-up mechanisms, but especially the recent developments in hypertext and hypermedia have allowed representations of complex systems which can have

multiple orderings, and thus a nonlinear structure.

There is a great deal of current research in parallel processes and cooperative work amongst researchers. Such systems allow real-time, simultaneous interaction among many agents (either programs or people). The nonlinear structure of hypermedia allows for the representations of the work of all cooperating agents.

A hallmark of electronic representations is their plasticity. Dynamic memories (such as electronic RAMs) are designed for minimal time to change their state; while even more static memories (such as tape drives) are easily modified. Furthermore, the multiple orderings available through hypermedia allow for easy location of information to be changed. This results in systems which can easily be changed and modified to reflect conditions or the desires of their creators.

Again, partly due to these nonlinear representations, maintaining dynamically changing representations which record and preserve the history of their development is quite feasible. Edits, updates, and general change and growth can be represented directly, and revealed or concealed as desired.

Another hallmark of computer technology is that it is fundamentally reflexive. The ability to treat a given piece of information as either an object for manipulation or as representing something is the essence of the program/data distinction which allows for programmable machines. Some computer systems (e.g. Lisp, Smalltalk, and Refal) make this reflexivity explicit, representing program as data, or a data type as a data object, yielding programming environments which are extensible. Furthermore, the mathematical bases of computational theory in Turing machines and recursive functions are also inherently reflexive. Recursiveness in formal systems is used to represent feedback in cybernetic systems.

Copyright© 1992 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Jan 1992


Reference material

Cybernetics and Systems Theory

What are Cybernetics and Systems Science?

Cybernetic Technology

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