WHAT I LEARNED FROM HEINZ VON FOERSTER

ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION OF SCIENCE

By Stuart A. Umpleby

 

 

LIST OF FIGURES

 

1.  Stimulus Word, “Bank”

2.  Stimulus Word, “Capitalist”

3.  Stimulus Word, “Corporation”

4.  Stimulus Phrase, “Labor Union”

5.  The Doomsday Debate

6.  European and American Patterns of Thought

7.  An Application of the Correspondence Principle

8.  The Dialectics of Science

9.  Definitions of First and Second Order Cybernetics

10.  Three Versions of Cybernetics

11.  Two Paths to a Similar Outcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demographers

Von Foerster, Mora and Amiot

It is obvious that such a theory has no relation to reality and is of no value whatever in predicting future populations.

 

 

These questions are among the most serious facing the world today, and to give wide currency to such clearly nonsensical ideas as an infinite birth rate and doomsday in 2027 contributes nothing to their solution.

 

It is not true that population growth rates are positively associated with density, nor even that population growth rates are positively associated with man’s control over nature. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The article sets a record for the entire class of forecasts prepared by the use of mathematical functions for the short length of time required to demonstrate its unreliability.

 

Support of a hypothesis is gained through compatibility with experimental observation rather than by arguments about what should be the case or what should not be the case.

 

Singularities occur quite commonly in nature and serve as welcome warning signals that some breakdown of the system’s structure is to be expected.

 

               

If we apply the “law” of an inverse relationship of population density with growth rate and technological know-how to the development of the human population as a whole over the last couple of millennia, we arrive at the peculiar conclusion that either Stone Age man was a technological wizard who carefully removed his technological achievements or that our population dwindled from a once astronomical size.

 

The Demographic approach not only fails to describe the past of the human population beyond a dozen generations but also is invalid for projecting population trends over such short an interval as only one generation.  However, recognition of an obvious trait in man – his capacity to form coalitions – leads to expressions which adequately describe human population growth over several hundred generations.

 

FIGURE 5.  The Doomsday Debate

 

Continental Europe

US and UK

Reason “up” to social context

Look for larger categories

Plan thoroughly

Emphasize the mind

German idealism

Reason “down” to social implications

Look for examples and applications

Plan to learn from experience

Emphasize the world

British empiricism or American

         pragmatism

FIGURE 6.  European and Americans Patterns of Thought

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text Box: New Philosophy of Science

 

 

 

 

 

 FIGURE 7. An Application of the Correspondence Principle

 

 

 

Normal Science

 

Incommensurable Definitions

 

 

Correspondence

Principle

 

 

Revolutionary Science

 

 

 

FIGURE 8. The Dialectics of Science

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author

First Order Cybernetics

Second Order Cybernetics

 

Von Foerster

 

Pask

Varela

Umpleby

 

Umpleby

 

The cybernetics of observed systems

The purpose of a model

Controlled systems

Interaction among the variables in a system

Theories of social systems

 

The cybernetics of observing systems

 

The purpose of a modeler

Autonomous systems

Interaction between observer and observed

Theories of the interaction between ideas and society

FIGURE 9. Definitions of First and Second Order Cybernetics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engineering Cybernetics

Biological Cybernetics

Social Cybernetics

The view of epistemology

A realist view of  epistemology: knowledge is a “picture” of reality

A biological view of epistemology: how the brain functions

A pragmatic view of epistemology: knowledge is constructed to achieve human

A key distinction

Reality vs. Scientific Theories

Realism vs. Constructivism

The biology of cognition vs. the observer as a social participant

The puzzle to be solved

Construct theories which explain observed phenomena

Include the observer within the domain of science

Explain the relationship between the natural and the social sciences

What must be explained

How the world works

How an individual constructs a “reality”

How people create, maintain, and change social systems through language and ideas

A key assumption

Natural processes can be explained by scientific theories

Ideas about knowledge should be rooted in neurophysiology.

Ideas are accepted if they serve the observer’s purposes as a social participant

An important consequence

Scientific knowledge can be used to modify natural processes to benefit people

If people accept constructivism, they will be more tolerant

By transforming conceptual systems (through persuasion, not coercion), we can change society

FIGURE 10. Three Versions of Cybernetics

 

 

A coherence conception of knowledge

 

 

Knowledge as an individual activity

3

Second order cybernetics

4

Social construction of reality

 

 

Knowledge as a group activity

 

German idealism

1

 

Vienna circle

2

A representation conception of knowledge

 

FIGURE 11. Two Paths to a Similar Outcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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