======================================================================= Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 1 Number 4, Dec. 2002 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com =======================================================================

Mailbag: Feeding Back Your Feedback

I get more email about the "Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory" -- and now this newsletter as well -- than anything else I've done on the internet. This month I'd like to share some of that mail, as well as some of my responses. (Names and/or email addresses withheld when requested.)
A student at Boise State University wrote:
    Hello Alan. I am a philosophy student and have recently been getting into some research concerning the philosophy of science and problems with reductionist science. This has lead me into some research and thought concerning systems theory. I am very much compelled and have a strong affinity toward the basic concept behind systems theory. I am however at a loss as to how I would go about pursuing such a study. The specialized nature of academic institutions that I am familiar with make such a trans-discipline study impossible. I have been looking around on the internet for a college program based on holistic thinking. I ran across your curriculum and thought you might have some ideas. Do you? Any help and consideration is very much appreciated.
Alan Scrivener (abs@well.com) wrote:
    First the bad news: I don't believe any university in the USA today offers a major in cybernetics and/or systems theory. The closest I am aware of was a program in the mid-'80s at San Jose State in Cybernetic Engineering, but it was abandoned by the engineering department, picked up for a while by the anthropology department (probably because Gregory Bateson was an anthropologist), and then vanished. Now the good news: You don't have to major in it to study it. None of the founders of cybernetics majored in it. Look up the Macy Foundation meetings on feedback in the late '40s: chairman Warren McCulloch was a neurologist, Bateson and Meade were anthropologists, Norbert Wiener was a mathematician, etc... In fact, our society does need generalists, to run corporations, hold top government posts, and manage environmental resources among other things. There are majors right at BSU that would allow you to take one of these paths. A mathematics major with an emphasis in operations research would work. A paleoclimatology major with a minor in applied math would be an interesting twist. Or try combining economics and biology. Just remember that academia has pretty much rejected the multi- disciplinary approach, so don't make too many waves. Just find a way to connect the dots and learn what you need to. Make the waves later, when you use systems theory to make a great breakthrough in your career. Good luck.

Postscript: UCLA now has a Cybernetics major! I will be devoting a future C3M to this program; in the meantime see: www.cs.ucla.edu/~cyber/
Peter Bogacki wrote:
    Dear Professor Scrivener Regarding the part of your work that is concerned with communication of the nature and use of the Viable System Model (VSM), please consider the possibility of using as part of it "Constituent (7): The End Result," an abstract (from a manual) that was accepted in late 1997 as an article for publication in "Kybernetes: The International Journal of Systems and Cybernetics." www.bogacki.co.uk/C7TER.htm

Eileen Andrews wrote:
    Wow! Gotta tell ya, Mr. Scrivener, this is more than I ever wanted to know about ANYTHING! (But it sure is interesting and I'm definitely going to read at least one of your recommended books!) Question: Do you not consider Rupert Sheldrake's morphic fields or morphic resonance pertinent to any of this system theory information?? Just curious.
Alan Scrivener wrote:
    I remember first reading about the M-field thing in the newsletter "Brain/Mind Bulletin" the early 1980s. It had a summary of the ideas, and I was skeptical but curious and so waited for more information to trickle in. It never did. So yesterday, after getting your email, I did some web research on Sheldrake & M-fields. I seem to be having some trouble getting any "hard data" on what Sheldrake's theory really is. A few phrases and a bunch of stories about pet ESP don't make a theory. Where are the quantitative predictions, that make it testable? The social contract among scientists is that -- though no theory is ever really proved true -- it must be possible to disprove it with experiments. I haven't been able to find any scientists who even comment on Sheldrake. The creationists like him, though.
Eileen Andrews wrote:
    No, you've not missed anything that I'm aware of. I did the same exercise about a week ago and was disappointed to find even less information on his web page than I found a few years back. My experience with Sheldrake is limited to having read his book, "The Presence of the Past" back in 1989. I had hoped you might have more or better references, but since your efforts resulted in the same lack of new information, I guess I'll table this topic indefinitely.

My friend Steve Premo (steve@premofine.com) wrote:
    There is some recognition that most scientific models, including medical models, study parts of systems without studying or describing how they fit together into an integrated system, such as an organism. Thus, there is criticism that modern science and western medicine are "reductionist" and inadequate. In my experience, the people who voice these criticisms mostly assert that the solution is to seek a more "spiritual" approach, and see the problem as stemming from an emphasis on "materialism". (I use "materialism" here to refer to a philosophical approach that emphasizes the material world without tying it to what is seen as the underlying spiritual reality. It has nothing to do with, say, valuing wealth over personal relationships.) So while there are a lot of people who recognize this as a problem, most of them seem to feel that the solution is either to pray/meditate more, or to study some strange philosophical/religious system like Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is based on Steiner's clairvoyant inspirations, and as a system of study it is intellectually pretty rigorous, but it's all bulls**t. I, of course, think that the best way to study the material world is with a materialistic approach, and see no value in using clairvoyance to understand physical reality. Intuition can be a source of inspiration, but you've still got to see if your ideas hold true in the real world. So it's good to see what efforts are being made to understand systems as a whole from a materialist perspective, rather than a new-age spiritualist perspective.

My friend David Demers, whose talk on "cognitive illusions" I linked to last month, told me he recommends the chapter on investor mistakes in "What Works on Wall Street: A Guide to the Best-Performing Investment Strategies of All Time" by James P. O'Shaughnessy. (He does NOT recommend the investment strategies, though -- he says he's simulated them with historical data and they're not very good.) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0070479852/hip-20 ) He also sent me this follow-up email with more citations -- David Demers wrote:
    In case you are interested in further detail on mental biases etc, there are a couple of other good secondary sources that I like. "Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes - And How to Correct Them: Lessons from the New Science of Behavioral Economics" by Gary Belsky & Thomas Gilovich. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684859386/hip-20 ) "Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds" by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/047115962X/hip-20 ) The primary sources are fairly accessible, actually. Most of the good work on the "behavioral finance" side is in "prospect theory", originated by the late Amos Tversky along with Daniel Kahnemann (who just won the Nobel prize in economics this fall). A good collection is "Research on Judgment and Decision Making: Currents, Connections, and Controversies" edited by William Goldstein & Robin Hogarth. It's current through 1996 or so & includes & cites most of the major work. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521483344/hip-20 ) I've found that cognitive psychologists have gone down similar paths but tend to have been insular to the particular problem domain they each studied, which is why I put the talk together, covering a very large set of what I believe to be related phenomena. My working theory is that it all stems from the evolution of useful heuristics (for survival in primitive times), which creates the innate cognitive biases. The biases now are suboptimal in the rapidly changing modern society for overcoming the new challenges we humans face. But, I could be wrong...

My friend Will Ackel wrote:
    > ..."not a serious candidate" is code for "loser." Naturally as a Libertarian I have thought about this as well. While I have not generally found George McGovern to be a source of wisdom, here's a notable exception: In his 1983 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, McGovern was deemed by the press to be "not a serious candidate". At a campaign event, a voter had this to say (paraphrasing from memory): "I think you would be a great President, but you clearly aren't going to win. Why should I waste my vote on you." McGovern's answer: "It's better to waste you vote than to waste your conscience." I would add to that that the only ways to waste your vote (in order of increasing badness) are to not cast it, to cast it based on misinformation or inadequate information, or to knowingly cast it without regard to your own personal values and judgment.

Responding to my mention of Admiral John Poindexter's new Information Awareness Office (IAO) and the paranoia it is sure to inspire, my friend Dave Gilsdorf (dgilsdorf@som.llu.edu) passed along this link: www.musicforhackers.com/DARPA_Total_Information_Awareness.swf Also, the following article reports that -- sure enough -- some people have gotten a little paranoid, and decided to share the feeling with the Admiral and his cronies, by collecting personal information about them and posting it on the web: www.bayarea.com/mld/siliconvalley/business/columnists/gmsv/4783769.htm Also, "the IAO also appears to have scuttled its eye-death-ray logo, which ... was denounced far and wide as being Orwellian, Masonic -- and just plain creepy as hell."
Coming Soon in C3M: Dr. Alan Garfinkel has given me permission to key in and post his landmark article "A mathematics for physiology" (1983) which first appeared in the American Journal of Physiology (245: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 14: R455-66). Also, this month I was privileged to be able to interview Dr. Arthur Olson of the Scripps Research Institute about the present and future of "biological computing," and I'll be writing that up soon. Meanwhile, I got the book "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution" by Howard Rheingold for Christmas, so I'll be reviewing that as soon as I read it. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0738206083/hip-20 ) I should mention that I first learned of Rheingold's new book from a very intriguing source: a "bot" which automatically scans "blogs" (web logs) looking for book links, and then rates them by number of mentions. It seems like a great trend-spotting tool: www.onfocus.com/bookwatch Stay tuned! ====================================================================== newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ ====================================================================== Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener, by sending email to abs@well.com with the subject line "opt in" -- you can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ====================================================================== Copyright 2002 by Alan B. Scrivener