Enacting the Cybernetics of Cybernetics
I believe that the ASC would do itself and the world in general a great favor by demonstrating the principles and practices of cybernetics in the conduct of its affairs.
In doing so bring widespread attention to the tenets of cybernetics, especially second order, and attract many more people to join. For these provide insight and understanding into ways in which our human species could learn to live more harmoniously with each other and within the ecosystems of which we are an integral part.
It is a paradox indeed how conventional is the conduct of the society’s meeting. While its praxis is seemingly not informed by its principles, the potential for inspiring both members and others is severely diminished.
Is it surprising that the ASC does not flourish to the degree to which it could, given the magnificent forebears, current members and the ideas which are its lifeblood?
I suggest that the means to conduct meetings in accord with the knowledge and associated wisdom of those who live by the precepts learned from the study of cybernetics is at hand through the use of relevant group processes.
I have five main points to make in order to:
1. look briefly at newly emerging understanding of the significance of conversing (from the Latin con versare – to turn or to dance together) and its relevance to the application the tenets of second order cybernetics.
2. list some of the main ones, in my knowing, and related ideas.
3. examine the implications of failure to notice the salience of conversing by the ASC – and most other organizations.
4. indicate what conversational processes could be of value to the ASC in the conduct of events in which there is opportunity for participants to self organize.
5. speculate on what the ASC could become if it did act on this understanding of the conversational foundation of cybernetics through using associated group processes now readily available.
1. Newly emerging understanding of the significance of conversing
. Cybernetics is “the study of systems and processes that interact with themselves and produce themselves from themselves”.
Lou Kauffman, a past president of ASC
“A fundamental premise of second order cybernetics is that we humans are aware that we are self regulating organisms who live from the inside out. As a philosophical counterpoint to naive realism, this constructivist way of understanding our being suggests that we are proactive co-creators of the reality to which we respond. Underlying this concept is that cognition is an active process in which we ‘bring forth distinctions’. It is our idiosyncratic distinctions which form the structure of the world(s) which each of us inhabits.”
. Human conversation has always been the starting point for new ideas, new questions, new ways of being and new ways of doing. Circles of small groups genuinely concerned about questions that mattered to their common future have for centuries been the focal point for bringing about change – and such processes provide hope for today.
Juanita Brown and Nancy Margulies
. Conversations are not just something we do among other doings, they are our human niche. We live in a world formed through conversation. Conversations make one world or another; not only in how we relate to each other, but in how the whole lived world arises around us. What we see, feel, do…. all of it arises through conversation.
Unfortunately all of us unknowingly develop patterns in our conversations, for example, only half listening (listening is a skill which needs to be practiced regularly) and interrupting others. These limit our experience and who we imagine ourselves and others to be.
Our ‘unexamined’ patterns also constrict our beliefs about our choices and possibilities for what we can and cannot do, to whom we can and cannot relate, and how much passion and desire we do or do not feel.
This happens, for example, through our judging others before we have heard what they can offer and through feeling that our opinion would not be valued by others and so not putting it forward.
Pille Bunnell and others
Cybernetician Gordon Pask noted: “Intelligence is a property of conversation.” – when people converse intelligence is the only thing that could happen. I believe that the idea of ‘Spirit being unleashed’ when people treat each other well is another interpretation of the same phenomenon.
For conversing invariably leads to intelligent or spirited action – is part of such action – in which people behave differently in becoming more questioning, playful, curious, courageous, risk taking; in effect open to possibilities from listening to and sharing voices of lived experience. Their action is manifest through their having the freedom to do what matters to them.
Such signs of transformation, of healing, can be found whenever people feel that they are respected, listened to, included and given the opportunity to express their innate potential.
. On a lighter note … about ‘bantering’ which may be described as ‘an exchange of light, playful, teasing remarks.’ It may also be thought of as playful, humorous conversation. Perhaps the presence of bantering is indicative of the spirit of an organization?
“After all it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in, particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.”
. “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”
. Each and every moment that we live is sacred as we live it once, and only once. When we meet, we talk, we listen, and when we leave, it is over. And it will never happen again.
2. Some fundamental second order cybernetics and associated precepts
“What we choose to notice creates the worlds we live in.”
“The braiding of our emotioning and languaging is at the core of our humanness.”
“The only emotion that broadens our vision and enhances intelligence is love. In love we accept ourselves and the circumstances in which we live, thus expanding the possibility for intelligent behavior.”
Humberto Maturana (with Pille Bunnell)
“What we see, That we are.”
Ken Wilber. Author of Integral Spirituality
“If you wish to learn how to see learn how to act.”
“Any moment we are free to act towards a future we desire.”
“We are responsible for the interpretation we place on what we experience.”
“Act always so as to increase the number of choices.”
“Life is what we invent, not discover.”
Heinz von Foerster
“The past too is an invention of the present and keeps changing as we look at it.”
“Our behaviors change only if we decide to belong together differently.”
Meg Wheatley, author of ‘A Simpler Way’ and ‘Turning to One Another’
3. What seemingly the ASC has ‘failed to notice’ – or at least act on
Among this could be unawareness of:
. Coming to have personal knowing of cybernetic precepts cannot be taught.
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
. Learning to act on the precepts comes from having the languaging to know that they exist and engaging with others – and with oneself – in ways that ‘bring them forth’ consciously.
For example, “Any moment we are free to act towards a future we desire” is a ‘guiding’ thought which substantially influences how I relate to others ever since it came to my attention.
. The means to acquire such learning is through conversing in contexts in which implementing the tenets has a significant influence on outcomes. These may to do with instances such as personal relating, addressing complex issues or the process of co-creation.
With a ‘working understanding’ of the difference between:
Traditional view = Talk –> Action. ‘Enlightened’ view = Conversation is a core process of any action.
. there are now group processes, very new in historical terms – formulated in the past few decades – which are now widely used to create the context, in groups of any size in which people:
. participate in an open, friendly manner
. generate creative ideas
. build ideas together
. harness the collective intelligence of the group
. sustain openness to creativity
. arrive at often surprising solutions to complex questions.
A key element of these modern group processes is that their starting point is one of mutual respect among all those present. This is brought to the notice of participants in words such as ‘Whoever comes is the right people’ and ‘Whenever we treat each other well good things happen.’
4. Using conversational group process in ASC conferences
The critical difference between conventional meetings and the ones in which all participants converse is that all participants are equal in the context of the gathering. All have an equal opportunity to express themselves, to be heard and to act in accord with their intuition.
Substantial breakthroughs can occur once stakeholders in an enterprise come together in conditions in which they express their passion and take responsibility for what they feel strongly about.
These conditions can be thought of as supporting the emergence of ‘self’ or ‘spontaneous’ organization through which completely natural interaction starts or restarts.
Creating such conditions require skilled facilitation. The role of the facilitator is to ‘hold space’ for the emotioning of all present, such that the flow becomes fluid, the possibilities open and the emergence of a new way of being together happens naturally.
These new facilitated processes fit with general awareness that there are no right answers. In today’s world we make up the answers as we go, not because we lack expertise or planning skills but because that is the nature of reality. We do this as active participants. This may sound unnerving but that’s the way it is …
This implies a need for a framework for this to happen. Such a framework is provided by Open Space Technology and World Café processes.
Open Space Technology (OST)
This provides a profound, practical way to enhance communications within organizations for real business purposes. All participants in an OST gathering – there is no limit to the number – have their say on equal terms. They make their own agenda with what they have passion for and the conversing throughout happens spontaneously. This invariably leads to surprising learning, assumption of responsibility, sense of ownership and commitment to what emerges and ongoing collaboration on agreed action.
The World Café
This is a range of processes which also promote inclusivity and creativity. Participants are invited to take time to listen deeply and to engage passionately with each other as they explore questions they have gathered to address, moving into deeper levels of understanding and surfacing new possibilities.
The venue is set up to have the ambience of a café, with people sitting around small tables. The tenor of the conversing can be recorded by participants writing and/or drawing on paper table cloths.
It is in such informal contexts – in a cafe, tavern or around the kitchen table, that the process of social change is initiated.
Could using the format of a ‘conversing café’ promote careful listening – and associated deeper understanding of its significance – by all present at the forthcoming ASC conference on ‘Listening?’
Said a participant in such a ‘Café’ gathering:
“I have always hungered for meaningful conversation, to hear things that my heart and intuition readily recognize as truth. Conversations such as the ones I experienced do bring us all together, making us part of each other, or at least, part of the same effort, as we stand witness to and reflect each other’s search for
In such experiencing expect personal growth. Expect to find the way to your Passion, for such a meeting connects us with our heart, where all our dreams live. First we connect with ourselves, and then with others. What emerges is a wonderful community of surprisingly like-minded people, and personal relationships with others are strengthened .”
Magda G (personal communication)
5. What could the ASC become?
A propos future directions of the ASC:
“The conversations you describe give a glimpse into what a desirable society might be like if those glimpses could become ubiquitous, permeating our interactions with others on a daily basis. Thanks.”
Larry Richards( personal communication)
How may this come about?
Could renewing the ASC in the manner described here be one of the means by which this happens? With a light touch! Through coming into a way of being as a community of people who act according to their own precepts. And in so doing model this for others to notice, appreciate and come to act in a similar manner.
More generally …
In our globalized world, everybody is fast becoming our neighbor.
To be treated well.
Could the modeling of the conduct of its affairs by the ASC help to inspire an ethos of mutual respect and inclusiveness more widely? For example, to help bring about what Anita Roddick, founder of ‘The Body Shop’, was quoted as saying:
“If civilisation is going to survive, business and policy makers must move on, to find within themselves more developed emotions than fear or greed.”
Could the ASC contribute to widespread new thinking about how to bring out the best of our humanness in politics at every level from global to family, in the workplace and in our personal lives?
And that such new thinking is enhanced awareness of:
“Participation is the key to the future of the human race. Participation in families, in politics … Participation will save the human race – if we are saved.”
Pete Seeger. Folksinger and environmental activist, at aged 89
“Massive participation in healing the planet becoming a great source of pride for the global citizenry’ is one of the main hopes for the future.”
(slightly paraphrased) from Paul Raskin. Director of the Great Transition Initiative.
I submit that a renewed and re-invigorated ASC, knowing how and why to make inclusive conversations happen, would remind all that in the end, connecting with others in the present moment of life is all that matters.
Lets go it!
Author is elegible for HvF Prize (aged under 35): NO