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Relation to other disciplines

Ideas related to the domain of cybernetics and systems are used in the emerging "sciences of complexity", also called "complex adaptive systems", studying self-organization and heterogeneous networks of interacting actors (e.g. the work of the Fe Institute), and associated research in the natural sciences such as far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics, catastrophe theory, chaos and dynamical systems. A third strand are different high-level computing applications such as artificial intelligence, neural networks, man-machine interaction and computer modeling and simulation.

Unfortunately, few practitioners in these recent disciplines seem to be aware that many of their concepts and methods were proposed or used by cyberneticians since many years. Subjects like complexity, self-organization, connectionism and adaptive systems have already been extensively studied in the 1940's and 1950's, by researchers like Wiener, Ashby, von Neumann and von Foerster, and in discussion forums like the famous Josiah Macy meetings on cybernetics [Heims, 1991]. Some recent popularizing books on "the sciences of complexity" (e.g. Waldrop, 1992) seem to ignore this fact, creating the false impression that work on complex adaptive systems only started in earnest with the creation of the Santa Fe Institute in the 1980's.

Reference: S. Heims. The Cybernetics Group. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1991.

Copyright© 1996 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Nov 12, 1996 (modified)
Aug 1993 (created)


Reference material

Cybernetics and Systems Theory

What are Cybernetics and Systems Science?

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Complex Adaptive Systems

Self-organization and complexity in the natural sciences


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