New Cybernetics (Gordon Pask)

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This article discusses the term "New Cybernetics" as used by Gordon Pask. He explained it as the meaningful transfer of information between coherences in all media in terms of attractions and repulsions between clockwise and anti-clockwise spins.[1] This is a possibly defining paradigm of the new cybernetics or second-order cybernetics.


Unfoldment of coherences of recursively packed concepts by the repulsive "carapace" forces of like concepts and coalescence by the attraction of unlike concepts is a further feature. There is both a psychodynamic and panpsychic element to Pask's approach. Whilst he was most certainly a second order cybernetician this he achieved simply by placing co-ordinates on a participant rather than claiming non-participant observer status. Beer, similarly, regarded his Viable System Model as a model of the observer. Pask was liberal in his approach (he eschewed "flag waving" claims) he advocated students and practitioners use his tools if they found them applicable. In his introduction to Graham Barnes' 1994 collection of essays on psychotherapy and second-order cybernetics "Justice, Love and Wisdom" with these words:

I may claim some fundamental expertise both in the "old" and the congruent but significantly advanced "new" cybernetics. It is on the "new", rather than the "old" (of black boxes and input/output relations), that Graham Barnes explicates this illuminating, relevantly informative, insightful and highly innovative book.[2]

Barnes regarded himself as a participant therapist. At the time Pask had completed work on his first draft of "Interactions of Actors (IA) Theory and Some Applications" and was working on his last paper "Heinz von Foerster's Self-Organization, the Progenitor of Conversation and Interaction Theories". Here he introduced spin-spin forces as the agents of Self-organization, Learning and Evolution.

The old cybernetics has been elaborated ad infinitum. The new cybernetics (some call it second-order cybernetics in contrast to the first order of classical black boxes and negative feedback) is burgeoning well beyond the bounds of respectability which were imposed by the establishment. If interaction, albeit interrupted by a phone call or a business trip, is unfettered in intellectual flow, I call it a conversation which leads to an exchange of concepts, not necessarily of the topic, but of the participants. It may or may not be about whatever is the alleged topic of conversation. Later we consider interaction of a broader kind, the interaction of actors. Conversations are events which have a beginning and have an end and may be subdivided into kinematic portions, in contrast to interactions of actors which cannot.[3]

For some years in talks with his research students he had remarked on the "hard carapace" (see Gordon Pask for diagram) as a stability criterion for concepts (persisting countably infinite packed recursive spins that produce relations in any medium) and that there were "No Doppelgangers". These were perplexing themes and it was some time before the small differences between coherences were seen as productive of differentiation[4] in evolution and learning. These small differences or incommensurabilities are ultimately aggregative as Pask's last theorem showed "Like concepts repel, unlike concept attract". The durations for small differences to assert could be very long and it is important to realize that in the strictly field concurrent world of IA theory a communicated concept has opposite spin to its source concept.[5]

A dispersive (e.g. Fourier) transform might be applied to disclose the spin spectra in a particular context from a particular perspective. For many years he discussed these distinctions in his Conversation Theory by insisting that his p-individuals could exist in a single m-individual, where communication was synchronous or in many m-individuals where p-individuals were coherent collections of concepts and m-individuals were the media supporting these states, communicated asynchronously or via a Petri net token protocol.

"They will come to know" said Pask of his new approach. He regarded IA as a process theory and his Actors were eternal, supporting the production of all bounded products (e.g. conversations, descriptions or describable coherences) with their forces. His position with regard to the Copenhagen Interpretation and Bohr Complementarity was captured in Pask's Complementarity Principle: "Products are produced by processes and all processes produce products". In the last paper[6] remarked that there was a particle aspect to a conversation the recompilation of which by a recipient was the meaning or affective emotion.

On the "Many-worlds" (interpretation of quantum mechanics) he says "Theories of many universes, one at least for each participant- one to participant A and one to participant B- are bridged by an analogy. As before this is the truth value of any interaction: the metaphor for which is culture itself".[6]

In some respects Pask's new Cybernetics is an evolution of Freud and Jung's ideas of psychodynamics and the doctrines of panpsychism. Amongst the ancients Thales' speculations can be seen in Pask's work. Here, rather than the Boltzmann distribution as fundamental to the model, we have the possible coalitions of concepts in all media[7] which produces a distribution of Stirling numbers of the second kind and their forces of interaction.

Kwabena Boahen of Stanford's Department of Bioengineering estimates the currents in the brain sum to around 100 amps (10 watts at 0.1 volts).[8] These currents (100 coulombs/sec) produce [9] field concurrent, changing attractions and repulsions: a dynamic equilibrium of compression and tension. Pask was interested in the prismatic tensegrity as a means of analyzing these concurrent forces.


  1. ^ Pask 1993, Pask 1996
  2. ^ Barnes 1994
  3. ^ Pask 1996:
  4. ^ Green 2001
  5. ^ Pask 1993
  6. ^ a b Pask 1996
  7. ^ von Foerster 2001
  8. ^ Agenda IBM Almaden Institute (2006) for video of "How the brain works, what it computes, and how/when we might build intelligent machines" (at 41'00" in).
  9. ^ Accurate calculation requires an electrochemical theory of thought which we do not have at present.

Further reading[edit]

  • G. Barnes (1994) Justice, Love and Wisdom, Medicinska Naklada, Zagreb
  • Nick Green (2001) On Gordon Pask, Kybernetes "Gordon Pask, remembered and celebrated:Part I", 30, 5/6, footnote 11 p. 682, coherence and differentiation properties.
  • Gordon Pask (1996). Heinz von Foerster's Self-Organisation, the Progenitor of Conversation and Interaction Theories, Systems Research 13, 3, pp. 349–362
  • Pask, G. (1993). Interactions of Actors (IA), Theory and Some Applications Download incomplete 90 page manuscript 1992
  • von Foerster, H (2001). On Gordon Pask, Kybernetes, "Gordon Pask, remembered and celebrated:Part I", 30, 5/6, pp. 633–635

External links[edit]