What is a (cybernetic) system?

In his analysis what Gregory Bateson means with a ‘cybernetics system’ Morris Berman in his ‘The Reenchantment of the World‘ (1984) writes:

…Another way of stating it might be to say that the system is self-corrective in the direction of homeostasis and/or runaway, and that self-correctiveness implies trial and error behavior. Nonliving things maintain a passive existence; living entities, or Minds, escape change through change, or more precisely, by incorporating continual change into themselves. Nature, says Bateson, accepts ephe al change in favor of long-term stability. The bamboo reed bends in the wind so as to return to its original position when the wind dies down, and the tightrope walke shifts his or her weight continually to avoid falling off the high wire.

Even runaway systems contain seeds of self-correction.

Symmetrical tensions run so high among the latmul that complementary Naven (ritual) behavior is almost constantly being triggered. The alcoholic usually comes to when he or she has finally hit bottom. Marx s argument t at capitalism was, by its very nature, digging its own gr e, is also an example of cyóernetic thinking; and pheno ena such as famine, epidemics, and wars might be re arded as extreme cases of nature’s attempt to preserve ho eostasis. The current collapse of industriaI society may weIl be the planet’s way of avoiding a larger death.

…Many events within the system have their own sources of energy, that is, they are energized by the respondent part, not by impact from the part that triggers the response. This criterion is another way of saying that living systems are self-actualizing, that they are subects rather than objects. The reaction of a dog that you kick comes from the animal’s own metabolism; the two feet it might have traveled from the force of your kick is less significant than the dog’s subsequent response, which might include taking a chunk out of your leg.

Given these criteria of Mind, the next obvious question is: How do we know the world: which is to say, other Minds? On the Cartesian model, we know a phenomenon by breaking it into its simplest components and then recombining them. Enough has been said already to indicate how fallacious this atomistic approach really is. In fact, in terms of cybernetic theory, Cartesian analysis is a way of not knowing most phenomena, because Mind can onIy be characteristic of an (interacting) aggregate. Meaning is virtually synonymous with context. Abstract a thing from its context (a ray of light, for example) and the situation becomes meaningless, although perhaps mathematically precise.

In cybernetic theory, then, we can know something in context in its relation with other things. In addition to context, Bateson uses other words to denote “meaning” and these are “redundancy”, “pattern” and “coding”. The circulation of in information involves the reduction of randomness, a process that can also be called the creation of negative entropy (entropy is the measure of randomness of a system). If something is redundant, if it possesses a definite patterns, then it is not random and constitutes a source of information. Communication is thus the creation of redundancy, and redundancy is the central epistemological concept in cybernetic theory, which is the science of messages. …. (unda means wave in Latin)… A re-dundant situation is one in which wave after wave of similar or indentical information washes over us. The holistic oulook of both (father and son) Batesons is rooted in the notion that we know the world through redundancy….

(Berman 1984, pp 247-48)

Posted in Applied Mythology, Applying Anthropology, Cultural Selfreflection, Epistemology, Evolutionary Alienation, Organisms as Selfcorrective Systems, Rituals of Passage and Affliction, Systemtheory

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