Notes from: How To Be a Systems Thinker | Edge.org
MC Bateson on getting reacquainted with Cybernetics
Pointer from: Searching “Macy conferences” obviously Systems Thinker caught my eye 🙂
How To Be a Systems Thinker A Conversation With Mary Catherine Bateson
EXCERPTS: HOW TO BE A SYSTEMS THINKER
- We all think with metaphors of various sorts, and we use metaphors to deal with complexity, but the way human beings use computers and AI depends on their basic epistemologies—whether they’re accustomed to thinking in systemic terms, whether they’re mainly interested in quantitative issues, whether they’re used to using games of various sorts. A great deal of what people use AI for is to simulate some pattern outside in the world. On the other hand, people use one pattern in the world as a metaphor for another one all the time.
- How do you deal with ignorance? I don’t mean how do you shut ignorance out. Rather, how do you deal with an awareness of what you don’t know, and you don’t know how to know, in dealing with a particular problem? When Gregory Bateson was arguing about human purposes, that was where he got involved in environmentalism. We were doing all sorts of things to the planet we live on without recognizing what the side effects would be and the interactions. Although, at that point we were thinking more about side effects than about interactions between multiple processes. Once you begin to understand the nature of side effects, you ask a different set of questions before you make decisions and projections and analyze what’s going to happen.
- I would say that the great majority of Americans still believe that “positive feedback” is when someone pats you on the back and says you did a good job. What positive feedback is saying is, do more of the same. So, if what you’re doing is taking heroin or quarreling with your neighbor, this is just going to lead to trouble. Negative feedback corrects what you’re doing. It’s not somebody saying, “That was a lousy speech.” It’s somebody saying, “Reverse course. Stop building more bombs. Stop taking in more alcohol faster. Slow down.” Negative feedback is corrective feedback.
- At the point where she said, “You guys need to look at what you’re doing. What is the cybernetics of cybernetics?” what she was saying was, “Stop and look at your own process and understand it.” Eventually, I suppose you do run into the infinite recursion problem, but I guess you get used to that.
- If you use the word “cyber” in our society now, people think that it means a device. It does not evoke the whole mystery of what maintains balance, or how a system is kept from going off kilter, which was the kind of thing that motivated the question in the first place.