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What is knowledge? This is the basic question defining the domain of epistemology (see epistemology, introduction).

In MST Theory, knowledge is understood as consisting of models that allow the adaptation of a cybernetic system to its environment, by anticipation of possible perturbations. Models function as recursive generators of predictions about the world and the self. A model is necessarily simpler than the environment it represents, and this enables it to run faster than, i.e. anticipate, the processes in the environment. This allows the system to compensate perturbations before they have had the opportunity to damage the system.

Models are not static reflections of the environment, but dynamic constructions achieved through trial-and-error by the individual, the species and/or the society. What models represent is not the structure of the environment but its action, insofar as it has an influence on the system. They are both subjective, in the sense of being constructed by the subject for its own purposes, and objective, in the sense of being naturally selected by the environment: models which do not generate adequate predictions are likely to be later eliminated. Thus, the development of knowledge can best be understood as an evolutionary process characterized by variation mechanisms and selection criteria.

There is no "absolutely true" model of reality: there are many different models, any of which may be adequate for solving particular problems, but no model is capable to solve all problems. The most efficient way to choose or to construct a model which is adequate for the given problem is by reasoning on a metacognitive level, where a class of possible models can be analysed and compared. This requires a metasystem transition with respect to the variety of individual models.

Copyright© 1995 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn, V. Turchin,

Jun 29, 1995 (modified)
Aug 1993 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory

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Epistemology, introduction


Epistemological Constructivism

Evolutionary Epistemology

Meta-Cognitive Modelling

Learning and Model-building



What is consciousness?


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