Principia Cybernetica Web

First public introduction of the Principia Cybernetica Project

Date:         Sat, 23 Dec 89 12:41:22 EDT
Sender:       Cybernetics and Systems 
From:         CYBSYS-L Moderator 
Subject:      Introduction to the 'Principia Cybernetica' Project
Really-From: cjoslyn[ at ] (Cliff Joslyn)
[ NB: The following is available from the file server under the name
CYBPROJ REP.  Moderator ]

                          Cliff Joslyn and Valentin Turchin
                   Copyright 1990 Cliff Joslyn and Valentin Turchin

     The "Principia Cybernetica" project is an attempt by a group of
     researchers to build a complete and consistent system of philosophy.
     The system will address, from a perspective broadly described by the
     organizers as "cybernetic", issues of general philosophical concern,
     including epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics, or the supreme human
     This philosophical system will not be developed as a traditional
     document, but rather as a _conceptual network_.  A unit, or node, in
     the network can be a book, a chapter, a paragraph, a definition, an
     essay, an exposition on a topic, a picture, a reference, etc.  Using
     this structure, multiple hierarchical orderings of the network will
     be maintained, allowing giving both readers and authors flexible
     access to the whole system.  The network will be implemented in a
     hybrid computer-based environment involving Hypertext, Hypermedia,
     electronic mail, and electronic publishing [Joslyn 1990].
     Development of this phiosophy is seen as a very long-term project
     involving many participants supervised by an Editorial Board.  While
     publication of traditional documents by individual authors or small
     groups will be made periodically, the project is seen as necessarily
     open-ended and developing, essentially a process or discourse among a
     community of researcher.
     The organizers have in mind not only a process of discourse about
     cybernetic philosophy, but also already have established a strong
     basis for the _content_ of such a philosophy [Turchin and Joslyn
     1989].  But the form of the development should be such as to enable
     other opinions to be incorporated.

     The following is a partial list of desiderata for the "Principia
     Cybernetica" project:
     1. For a group of researchers, perhaps not all geographically close,
         to collaboratively develop a system of philosophy, where
         philosophy is taken in the general sense of clear and consistent
         language about ideas and concepts;
     2. To allow these researchers different levels of access to the
         system according to their role in the project development;
     3. To produce a system of philosophy that can develop dynamically
         over time, with continuing refinement and expansion;
     4. For the system of philosophy to fully reflect and incorporate the
         semantic relations inherent among the terms being explicated;
     5. To allow the explication of terms and senses of terms, and to
         unify and synthesize notations and terminology among researchers
         in different disciplines;
     6. To support the process of argument and dialog among experts
         toward the end of consensus at the level of the meanings of
         words and the relations among those meanings;
     7.  To support the publication of intermediate and final stages of
          parts or the whole of the philosophical system;
     8. To support bibliographical and historical reference;
     9.  To support mathematical notation and the easy movement among
          natural language, formal language, and mathematics;
     10. To allow researchers to develop or read the philosophical system
          in various orders and in various degrees of depth or specificity;
     11. To allow access to the system for both participants who wish to
          author and users who wish to read, browse, or study;
     12. To support the publication of various special-purpose documents,
          including dictionaries, encyclopedias, texts on a subject,
          reference pages, essays, dialogs on a subject, or "streams of
     13. To allow the representation and utilization of knowledge in both
          its breadth and its depth.

     This project will aim at _building consensus_, not by normatively
     establishing a monolithic edifice, but through the explication of the
     various senses of terms through careful semantic analysis of words and
     concepts used in systems and cybernetics in the context of their
     historical development.
     While we hope that actual progress can be made through the elimination
     of incoherent or anachronistic usages, it may be that a simple listing
     of the various senses will be required.  If one contributor asserts
     "P", and another "not P", and no further progress can be made, then in
     the worst case a kind of "null consensus" can be achieved by including
     "P or not P" in the project.  For example, the concept of "information"
     is sometimes described as "high entropy", other times as "low
     entropy".  At the very least the different conditions under which these
     usages arise should be described.  At best one usage would be

     The organizers of the project are Valentin Turchin (Computer Science,
     City College of New York, CUNY) and Cliff Joslyn (Systems Science,
     SUNY-Binghamton).  Together they constitute the current Board of
     Editors for the project, and are actively looking for like-minded
     researchers to share in that responsibility.  The Board is responsible
     for implementation of the system and the collection and development of
     the material.  Similar to a journal, it may rely on an Editorial
     Advisory Board, and other associated editors, referees, contributors,
     and critics.
     Nodes of the project will be in one of the following categories:

          1)  _Consensus  Nodes_: Ideas  held  
              in common by the contributors and the Editorial Board.
          2)  _Individual Contribution Nodes_: Further development of the
              ideas expressed in the Consensus Nodes at greater depth.
              This development need not be held consensually by the
              contributors and Editors, but should be similar in spirit and
              style to the Consensus Nodes.
          3)  _Discussion Nodes_: Including defence or criticism of the
              consensus or individual contribution nodes and development of
              other ideas.
     It is critical for the success of the project that a number of experts
     work cooperatively towards its success.  The intent is to help unify
     and synthesize the relatively fragmented systems and cybernetics
     conceptual territory by grounding terms in a common consensual basis.

     Joslyn, Cliff: (1990) "The Necessity of a New Tool for Philosophical
      Development", to be published
     Turchin, Valentin and Joslyn, Cliff: (1989) "The Cybernetic Manifesto",
      to be published 

Copyright© Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

Cliff Joslyn, and Valentin Turchin,

23 Dec 89 (created)


Introduction to Principia Cybernetica

History of the Principia Cybernetica Project

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