Stuart Umpleby’s Statement of Interest

I am interested in defining cybernetics as a science underlying the social sciences and design disciplines (e.g., architecture and policy studies). Whereas physics is a science of matter and energy, the subject matter of cybernetics is information and regulation.

In an industrial society theories could perhaps be reasonably thought of as existing outside the system observed. However, in an information society theories have become obvious elements of a social system. Presently the most prominent case is economics. In economics there is renewed interest in the history of economic thought. Prior to the economic crisis of 2008 economic thought was often described as a progression from imprecise thinking to mathematical analysis, as a movement toward free market capitalism with erroneous experiments being tried by various countries. Following the financial crisis and a renewed interest in government regulation of markets, there has been a return to Keynes’s ideas about the appropriate role of government in the economy. This return to earlier ideas has led to a description of economic theories as fundamental parts of the behavior of an economy. For example, there is an oscillation between a theory that markets will solve all problems and a theory that markets are unstable and government regulation is needed. A theory that encompasses previous theories and describes their effects on an economy could be called “second order economics.”

The financial crisis has led to a reconsideration of the importance of the history of economic thought. Acceptance of a reflexive view of economics, and other social science disciplines, has been impeded by a concern that self-referential statements lead to logical inconsistencies. Second order cybernetics, by interpreting self-reference as occurring in time, can serve as a guide to the social sciences on how to include reflexive phenomena in their theories.

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