Principia Cybernetica Web


By objective description of the world we mean, first, a description in terms of some objects, and second, a description which is, as much as possible, ``objective'' in the usual sense, i.e. impersonal, not depending on the cognitive actions, or other features, of the subject of knowledge. The use of the same word in these two meanings is not accidental: a description can be ``objective'' because it is a description in terms of objects. Looking for objectivity is nothing else but factoring out certain cognitive actions. Function fa (see *Object*) factors out the action a by predicting what should be observed when the only change in the world is the subject's taking of the action a. If the prediction comes true, we interpret this as the same kind of stability as when nothing changes at all. The concept of object btings in a certain invariance, or stability, in the perception of a cybernetic system that actively explores its environment.

The metasystem transition from representations to their transformations is a step towards objectivity of knowledge. Actions and, in particular, sensations are intimately tied to the agent, the subject of knowledge. An object is a transformation and prediction of actions. The very fact that prediction is possible indicates that the transformation depends less on the subject of knowledge, the `I', and more on the `not-I'. This does not ensure a complete objectivity; alas, there is no such thing. But a jump from a representations to a transformation of representations verified by the practice of correct predictions, is the only way we know to increase objectivity.

When we perceive a tea-pot as an object, we have a lot of cognitive actions to factor out: we can walk around it, grasp it, rotate it in from of our eyes etc. But often we observe things from afar and that is about all we can do, as, fro instance, when we observe a star and still call it an object. Well, from the viewpoint of our theory, we always associate with an object some kind of stability, and stability exist only with respect to action. In the case of a star, this is the stability with respect to varying conditions of observation. We can observe `the same' star at different times and factor out the differences in time by taking into account the rotation of the sky around the Earth's axis. The same is true with respect to the movement of the observer around the Earth's surface. The more we know of astronomy and physics, the greater number of properties of the object will we discover, such as the constancy of the star's spectrum etc.

We also must include into the concept of cognitive actions the more sophisticated and esoteric actions which were not among those actions for which evolution created human brain, but emerge as a result of the development of science. We get involved in this kind of actions when we construct huge accelerators of elementary particles and set up experiments to explore how the particles interact. As an apple and other physical bodies are invariants in the processing of input information by the brain, so an electron and other elementary particles are invariants of the scientific symbolic models of the world. We can measure the charge of the electron in many different ways -- which all are various cognitive actions -- but after making all the computations required by the theory, we still come to the same number (within the error). The same with mass, spin, etc. So an electron is, for us, an object, as real as an apple. One could qualify this statement by noticing that the existence of electrons depends on the legitimacy of our physical theory, which is not absolute. True enough. But who are we to claim that the legitimacy of our brain as a collection of models is absolute?

Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page


Sep 29, 1997


Metasystem Transition Theory



Prev. Next


Add comment...