In the present paper I intend to describe some of thefounding systemic cybernetic ideas starting from the second half of the XXth century up to the present.I have therefore limited the focus to what I consider the morerepresentative concepts of General Systems Theory, CommunicationTheory and Cybernetics, plus the important contributions of renowned scientists such as Gregory Bateson, Heinz von Foerster and Humberto Maturana, who, I consider, constitute the spine of systemic- cybernetic thinking.
In the second half of the XXth century, the scientific fieldhas started to be enriched with a new
embedded inepistemological premises that differ substantially fromtraditional thinking.The word “epistemology” derives from the greek root
which means to stand above, and is defined as a treaty or theoryof knowledge (
). Different criteria have been applied to theconcept of epistemology. Traditionally, it was often considered abranch of Philosophy, dealing with scientific knowledge.Von Foerster presents the question
where does knowledge come from?
in order to define an ontogenetic position, or “
theory of knowledge acquisition
, to differentiate it from an ontologicalposition assumed by the traditional theory of knowledge. “In fact,Greek has in its vocabulary several words on knowing with variousshades of meaning.
, for instance, refers to a seeking ofknowledge, that is, knowledge acquisition through cognitiveprocesses;
is knowledge acquisition by doing and acting;and
is to become skilled in a craft. The great Swiss‘genetic epistemologist’ Jean Piaget combines
gnosis and praxis
as a necessary condition for knowledge acquisition." (25). VonFoerster considers himself very fond of one of Piaget’s openingsentences in a famous debate with Noam Chomsky where Piagetdefines conceptualization as recursively operating sensory-motorprocesses.(25)According to Bradford Keeney (8) epistemology exits the fieldof Philosophy to enter into the field of Biology through the workof contemporary experimental biologists such as Mc.Culloch,Lettvin, Maturana, Varela and von Foerster.(...) Mc.Cullochdefined it(...) as “experimental epistemology ” (8), consideringthat “in the sociocultural domain, epistemology is equivalent tothe study of how people or people systems know things and how theythink they know things.” For Bateson it is “a branch of sciencecombined with a branch of philosophy. As science, epistemology isthe study of how particular organisms or aggregates of organisms
. As a philosophy, epistemology is thestudy of the necessary limits and other characteristics of theprocesses of knowing, thinking, and deciding." (2).At the present time, epistemology, from this point of view, isfocusing on
we know, that is,
the properties of theobserver
; instead of
we know, that is,
the properties of theobserved
The second position belongs to what is consideredobjective knowledge in traditional science.