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Compare our cybernetic epistemology with the classical
reflection-correspondence theory of meaning and truth.
One of the oldest questions of philosophy is: What is the meaning of
words and phrases of a language? The naive answer is: those
things which the words denote. This is known as the reflection
theory of language. Language, like a mirror, creates certain
images, reflections of the things around us. With the reflection
theory of language we come to what is known as the correspondence
theory of truth: a proposition is true if the relations between
the images of things correspond to the relations between the
things themselves. Falsity is a wrong, distorted reflection. In
particular, to create images which correspond to no real thing in
the world is to be in error.
With this concept of meaning and truth, any expression of
our language which cannot be immediately interpreted in terms of
observable facts, is meaningless and misleading. This viewpoint
in its extreme form, according to which all unobservables must be
banned from science, was developed by the early nineteenth-century
positivism (Auguste Comte). Such a view, however, is
unacceptable for science. Even force in Newton's mechanics
becomes suspect in this philosophy, because we can neither see nor
touch it; we only conclude that it exists by observing the
movements of material bodies. Electromagnetic field has still less of
reality. And the situation with the wave function in quantum
mechanics is simply disastrous.
The history of the Western philosophy is, to a considerable
extent, the history of a struggle against the
We now consider language as a material to create
models of reality. Language is a system which works as a whole,
and should be evaluated as a whole. The job the language does is
organization of our experience, which includes, in particular,
some verifiable predictions about future events an the results of
our actions. For a language to be good at this job, it is not
necessary that every specific part of it should be put in a direct
and simple correspondence with the observable reality.
Unlike our dynamic concept of modeling as production of predictions,
the classical concept of reflection is static.
It immediately raises the questions like what does it actually mean
that one thing "reflects" another. Also, how do we know that
reflection takes place? To confuse things further, a distinction
between mind and matter was made, which produced the question:
how our ideas, belonging to mind, can reflect objects belonging to
the realm of matter.
The cybernetic understanding of knowledge is much more precise.
This precision is achieved by introducing dynamics into the picture.
The mapping form the world to language present in the homomorphism picture
is not required to be a "reflection"; we need not compare these two
strata of reality. To see that the model works, we only have to compare
things from the stratum of language.
All that has been said about language can be applied also to human thought.
In cybernetic view, thought works because it implements some models
of the world, not because it somehow statically reflects it. The difficult
questions of the correspondence between the thought and its object
simply do not arise.
In a static world no knowledge, no reflection or correspondence
would be possible. Correspondence make sense only if we indicate
a procedure which establishes what we want to call correspondence;
and a procedure inescapably includes a time dimension.