2001 Conference (May 27-29)

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Antonín Rosicky

Information And Social Systems Evolution




1 Problems of the "Third Science"

A phenomenal increase of shared human cognition is happening along with a growing abstraction of thought. Accordingly it require effort to understand the principles of many of contemporary disciplines - such as cybernetics, systems theory, and others. This is particularly so with regard to a shift of basic concepts from the prevailing mechanically based world-view. The pragmatically oriented culture of 'the industrial era' calls for simple solutions to problems posed within concepts as 'Economic Welfare' and the invisible acceptance of premises such as the anthropocentrically grasped notion 'Progress'. The various systems science may lay the foundations for Lord Snow's "third science" and emphasize the increasing complexity and impacts of our intentional activities. A new general paradigm points out the limited feasibility of achieving our (human) dreams while remaining responsible for what we do.

2 Understanding Human Information

The modern evolutionarily grounded world-view highlights the ever-changing nature of processes that arise from the interactions of matter, energy and information. The concept of information is essential for cybernetics in order to describe the phenomena participating on the system's organization (or better self-organization). A generally valid notion of information is one which accepts its self-referential character and its constitutive role within a system. However, the prevailing notion of "information" as understood within the constrains of modern information technology does not acknowledge information as a construct of the human mind. What we distinguish as information arises (emerges) from both immediate perception and previous cognition (knowledge, learning. experiences). Information, when distinguished as such, may expressed by symbols (data) in a form that can be captured, stored, transferred, transformed... Information retains constitutive role through the actions it may initiate or coordinate, directly or indirectly. The mutable process of interpretation consists in the actual acting rather than in ascribing meaning.. I would like point out a few problems:

a) current excessive use of digital information technology deals with the volume of data, and in so doing ignores the relevance of individual knowledge.

b) information exists in two forms - conceptual and empirical. Traditional Western cultures stresse "rational" cognition and undervalue empirical aspects of information such as human feelings and values (intentionality) which are also important to the process of interpretation.

3 Some general implications

According to the above, information changes the character and evolution of social systems. Because action depends on individual knowledge, the same data triggers different actions. In this way the increasing amount of data as mediated by information technology enhances variation and fluctuation within social systems as well as influencing the dynamics of their evolution. This alters the relation between conceptual and empirical information. At the same time there is a change in individual information competency so that the position of individuals and the distribution of power within a society changes. A new type of "anonymous power" emerges and leads to problems in the relation between individuals and society (parts and wholes).

4 Implementation in praxis

The concept of information and its general consequences, as sketched above, has implications for many disciplines. One consequence is the necessity of a wider framework of considerations for organizations. The wider framework goes well beyond conventional IS/IT to include, among other, the media and education systems. This has implications for designed IS and ingenuous information (knowledge) management. Similarly, individual human knowledge must be considered in relation to education, and appropriate processes within "learning organization". In contrast to tele-teaching (as for example an electronic university) the author proposes the concept of action learning based on experiences of Prague's "Holiday school".


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