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Foundational Concepts

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We regard the following concepts as utterly fundamental to, inseparable within, and inextricably interrelated in any system of thought which can be described as "cybernetic". As (current) foundations they can be described, but not defined in terms of other concepts. As such they are essentially and necessarily undefined. While these three concepts form the (current) foundation for Metasystem Transition Theory, the following subsections detail fundamental concepts which follow directly from these.


Actions are the fundamentals of reality in Metasystem Transition Theory. Our philosophy is process oriented, where change and evolution are emphasized over objects, entities, and static properties. This is fundamentally in keeping with other process philosophies \cite{WHA29} and much of cybernetic theory \cite{?} (see section metaphysics).


We use the concept of the distinction as the fundamental nominal notion, as the generator of all separateness, differentiation, of all categories and dimensions, indeed of all knowledge.

Of course this concept has a long and venerable history not only in general philosophy, but particularly in Cybernetics and Systems Science. Distinctions are recognized as fundamental by Bateson \cite{BAG72c,BAG72e}, and were developed into an elegant (if usually misunderstood) formal language of systems by Spencer-Brown and others \cite{GOJVAF79,SPG,VAF75} \both{I need a ref for S-Brown}.

Distinct categories are necessary for all communication and for all information theory, if not all mathematics. Furthermore, the distinction between discrete distinctions and continuous differences is a perennial issue in all Cybernetics and Systems Science. More recently, Heylighen has developed a detailed theory of causality and action in terms of distinctions \cite{HEF89b,HEF90d} which informs a great deal of Metasystem Transition Theory.


The subject of Metasystem Transition Theory, what Metasystem Transition Theory is about, is general

philosophy from a cybernetic perspective. But Metasystem Transition Theory itself is also an object, i.e. a linguistic construction almost entirely in the English

language. As such, both Principia Cybernetica and Metasystem Transition Theory must be always recognized as existing relative to that interpretive framework.

But in the same way, all constructions of the human mind, indeed all systems, are relativized to and embedded within particular interpretive perspectives. We call the presence of such a perspective the presence of the subject. The involvement of an explicit subject in all aspects of Metasystem Transition Theory draws our attention to the level-relativity of theory and explanation, and the inside/outside distinctions such as system/environment.

The inside and outside are complementary, irreducible perspectives. Everything viewed from the inside (subjective) looks and is described differently from the outside (objective). From the inside perspective the subject appears as God, nature, or chance; from the outside perspective (when it is available to us) the subject appears as a willing agent. In physics, the subject is called the observer, and the result is quantum complementarity. In Turchin's formal theory \cite{TUV87a}, the subject is called the user of the cybernetic machine.

Copyright© 1992 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Jan 1992


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