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Epistemologies Governing the First- and Second-Order Cybernetic Approaches

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By IvanBronk
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Epistemologies governing the first- and second-order cybernetic approaches:

Ivan Bronkhorst
Student number: 51863456
Assignment 2

Table of Contents
1. First Order Cybernetic (FOC) principles: 3
Recursion: 3
Feedback: 3
Morphostasis /Morphogenesis: 3
Rules and Boundaries: 3
Openness/Closedness: 4
Entropy/Negentropy: 4
Equifinality/Equipotentiality: 4
Communication and Information Processing 5
Relationship and Wholeness: 5
2. Second Order Cybernetic (FOC) principles: 6
Wholeness and Self-Reference: 6
Openness/Closedness: 7
Autopoiesis: 7
Structural Determinism: 7
Structural Coupling and Nonpurposeful Drift: 7
Epistemology of Participation: 8
Reality as a Multiverse: 8

1. First Order Cybernetic (FOC) principles:
Recursion is focused on the relationship between individuals and given elements in isolation. Recursion is, thus, focuses on how individuals and elements interact with, and influence one another respectively (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, pp. 69-70). In my opinion recursion in FOC refers to the circular causality or impact, if you will, that individuals and/or given elements have on one another. For instance, a child is extremely fearful of his father and, thus, doesn’t like talking to his father. His father, in turn, gets angry and strict when his son does not talk to him on a regular basis seeing as this makes him feel unwanted as a father. This behaviour from the father fuels the fear of the child creating a negative cycle.
Feedback refers to the reaction of a system when it is introduced to change. It is important to note that feedback can be broken into two different classifications; positive feedback, and negative feedback. Positive feedback refers to the system accepting and adapting to the proposed change – these are usually triggered by self-corrective mechanisms as opposed to negative feedback where the system refuses adaptation and maintains status quo (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 70). If, for instance, the father realises his son is anti-social towards him because of the fact that he, as a father, is too strict, he could take the positive feedback route and use a softer tone of voice when talking to his son in future to promote intercommunication between siblings. Alternatively he could maintain status quo by remaining strict or harsh when talking to his son.
Morphostasis /Morphogenesis:
Morphostasis refers to a systems tendency to remaining static or stable as opposed to morphogenesis refering to a systems tendency to develop and enhance itself. Becvar and Becvar are of the opinion that both Morphostasis and Morphogenesis are to be present in healthy, well-functioning systems (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 72). For instance, the father can choose to apply morphostasis in terms of the way he talks to his son about serious matters or if his son misbehaves as he, as a father, could feel this requires a parent to be sturdy and strict. He could, also, decide to apply morphogenesis in terms of the way he talks to his son about silly things as this might not require for him as a parent to be as strict.
Rules and Boundaries:
Becvar and Becvar axplain that it is due to a systems boundaries that systems are diverse and/or unique from one another. It is, however, important to note that these rules and boundaries are not necessarily predetermined or set-out beforehand. Rules and boundaries might rather be discovered within a system by ‘trial and error’ as the system develops. (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 72). To better explain this I invite you back to the example of the father and the son. The son might for instance learn that his father has certain expectations or rules with regard to his behaviour as a son. He learns this through his dad being sturdy and strict towards him whenever he does not comply with his father’s expectations. The boundaries also refer to the son, for instance, going back to school and identifying that his family’s rules are slightly different to his class-mates family system as he needs to be home earlier in the evening or whatever the case may be – this would be a boundary clearly portraying the uniqueness of his family system in relation to others.
The principle of openness or closedness in FOC refers to the amount of information a respective system permits to enter and/or exit the system. It is important to note that all systems are open to a certain extent. Therefore, openness and closedness are a matter of degree and not an either or case. Systems that are in a healthy state would have a good balance between the degree of openness and closedness (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, pp. 73-74). In our example, for instance, the father read in an article that he should not be too strict on his child as this could cause resentment from the child. He might then adapt his behaviour to a certain extent to ensure he is less strict on some aspects but remains strict on things that are of importance to him when he considers the development of his son. This is a clear case of a balance of openness and closedness. (Being closed in his strictness to certain important matters, but being open to adapt and become more lenient on certain simple matters)
As mentioned in the principle of openness and closedness of a given system, it is desirable for a system to have a good balance between the two. A good balance between openness and closedness is referred to as negentropy and indicates that a system is tending towards maximum order. Allowing information to enter the system but only adapting to that which is viewed as appropriate change for the well-being of the system. Entropy, then, refers to the imbalance of openness or closedness in a system (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 74). Let’s say for instance the father decides he doesn’t need any advice on raising his son he will be as strict as he pleases and his son will just have to comply. As mentioned before this could ultimately put the balance of the system at risk as the flow of the system could spiral out of control or even seize to exist if the son decided to run away eventually.
Equifinality and equipotentiality refer to the results of information and interaction flow within a given system. Equifinality refers to cases where no matter what the content is of the interaction, the end result is the same. Let’s say for instance the father in our previous examples decides to become more lenient on his son, but the son still remains uninvolved and still chooses not to talk to his father out of fear – this would be an example of equifinality. In contrast, equipotentiality refers to the notion that different results may be achieved by feeding the same initial conditions into the system. The Father remains strict and irrational in the opinion of the son, but the son decides to put in an effort to talk to his father and try to build a relationship – this would be an example of equipotentiality. Therefore, in order for a system to remain stable, equipotentiality, to a certain extent, is desirable and necessary. (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, pp. 74-75)
Communication and Information Processing
Communication and information processing is arguably one of the most important concepts when critically looking at FOC and systems in general. This concept can be broken up into three principles. Firstly, one cannot not behave. If the son, for instance, chooses not to talk to his father, this is not the absence of behaviour, the behaviour is simply to talk. Note that this does not mean he is not communicating and leads me to the second principle. The son cannot choose not to communicate. Even in a case where he chooses not to talk the son will still have no choice but to communicate via behaviour – meaning his body language and general attitude still adds communicative value and still sends a ‘message’ to his father. The last principle focusses on the meaning of any given behaviour. This principles stipulates that no behaviour has a set, fixed or static meaning. It is therefore important to remember that meanings or values being added are subjective and could be interpreted differently based on the given circumstances as well as the individual interpreting them (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, pp. 75-77). In other words, the father of our given example might see the silence of his son as disrespectful and choose to react to it accordingly, whereas the mother might see the son as silent because he is simply introverted and doesn’t like to talk much. In fact, the mother might not view the son as a quiet individual at all – the value being added to the son’s behaviour could be interpreted as something completely different by the mother as she would add her own subjective value to his behaviour.
Relationship and Wholeness:
As noted by Becvar & Becvar one of the fundamental rules in systems theory is that the whole of a system is greater than the sum of its parts (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 77). This means that the two individuals cannot solely be taken into account, seeing as it is the interaction of these individuals that gives context to the relationship therefore 1+1 = 3. It is therefore important to also take into account the size of the system, or in the case of our example - the family when attempting to understand the relationship. This is important because as the size of our family increases the complexity of it grows as well. If we go back to when I mentioned the mother’s views on her sons tendency to be quiet in comparison to the father’s, this increases our amount of relationships from one to three (the father with the mother, the father with the son, and the mother with the son) (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 78). This could be identified as a Triangular notion – which is common in relationships. Triangles are often established in relationships, especially with the emergence of conflict. If we look at our example again, the Father might have tried to get conformation from the mother by discussing the matter with her. Thus, bringing her perspective into the equation, and bringing risk to the stability of the system. Therefore, especially in family therapy, it is advisable that we should advocate a basic rule: if there are two in a relationship, there should only be two involved in the argument as to avoid unnecessary complications in the root to solving an existing issue within a system (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 78).

Lastly, it is also important to note that relationships are broken up into three different styles. The first style, a complementary relationship, is identified by the high level of difference in each participant’s behaviour and how the one complements the other (a father, for instance, whom is highly opinionated and his son who listens to what he is being told without objecting with his own opinions). Secondly, we have symmetrical relationships, these are cases where both participants have the same style of behaviour (The father as well as the son are highly opinionated and both try to over through the others opinion). Thirdly, we have Parallel relationship styles. These are a combination of the two aforementioned styles and gives room for role flexibility. In this case the father would take on the role of being highly opinionated and his son would take on the role of listening to what he is being told without objecting with his own opinions in specific scenarios. Whereas in a different scenario the roles might be the other way around because of predetermined experience in the given situation. For this reason parallel styles tend to make logical sense due to the fact that different individuals have different levels of expertise in different scenarios (Becvar & Becvar, 2014). 2. Second Order Cybernetic (FOC) principles:
Wholeness and Self-Reference:
In order for us to understand the autonomy of a system we need to study the self-referential descriptions of that system – how the subjects or participants within the system perceive the system to be. This makes the uniqueness of the system clear when compared to others and also gives us an indication as to the stability and its tendency to change and/or develop. It is, however, important to remember that it is not possible for the observer to be objective in his classification of a system in SOC, as the observer is part of the system (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 81). This means that the observers attempt to define the wholeness of the system remains a subjective point-of-view.
Because of the fact that, on a SOC level, the system as well as the observer thereof are perceived to be mutually interacting within a bigger, autonomous system and thus no reference can be made to an external environment or influence, we need to understand that changes within a system on this level of cybernetics take place because of internal patterns of interactions rather than external influences (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 82). On this topic, it is important to also note that the structure of a system, in terms of its wholeness, is defined by the affairs that define that given system, coupled with the identities of the participants within it. The organization of a system, on the other hand, refers to the relations that qualify the system as a unity and governs its properties (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 82)
Autopoiesis, refers to the self-generation of a system which is created by means of the relationship or unity of the parts within that respective system. For this reason, on a SOC level we deal primarily with negative feedback as the system cannot be altered or affected from outside forces. This is due to its autonomy as previously stated. Therefore the system retains status quo to its own creation and recreation of itself. When a system on a SOC level develops or changes, this is considered to be as a result of positive feedback occurring on one of its parts on a FOC level by a force which still remains within the same bigger system on a SOC level.
Structural Determinism:
As stated in my conclusion of autopoiesis, a system on a SOC level may experience perturbation by what could be classified as external forces on a FOC level, these perturbations are considered as parts of the bigger system. For this reason these changes are considered as structural determinism seeing as the system (on a SOC level) determines, within itself, its range of allowable changes within its structure.
Structural Coupling and Nonpurposeful Drift:
Due to the fact that a system can only do what its structure allows it to do, it should be understood that a system can never change, develop or act incorrectly. In other words, it can only function within the parameters its structure allows it to - thus validating and justifying the functioning as correct. Structural coupling refers to the extent to which the structures of different systems allow them to co-exist and interact with one another whilst governed by the parameters of their respective structures. A therapist wanting to change a system should therefore focus on transformation within a systems structure by modifying the context created by his interaction with it, reviewing the systems reaction and in turn react again to reactions in such a way that the desired outcome of change in behaviour is eventually reached in the system being treated (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, pp. 84-85).
Epistemology of Participation:
Epistemology of participation refers to the fact that it is impossible for us to maintain that the observer remains uninvolved and uninfluenced by the system in SOC, thus making objectivity when discussing a system impossible (Becvar & Becvar, 2014, p. 85). This explains that a therapist, for example, cannot ask a question without causing perturbation within the system, therefore in trying to solve a problem within a family for example he needs to have an influence in the system – making him part of that system.
Reality as a Multiverse:
When taking into consideration that we each perceive and create reality in a slightly different way due to each individuals uniqueness when considering past experiences, heredity, beliefs and perceptions, it is fair in saying that each person or ‘part’ of a familial system would perceive that system as being different in comparison to the next parts perception. Because of the fact that there is no way of having on objective take on such a system each of these ‘parts’ perceptions would be valid and correct. It is this exact phenomena that destroys the idea of a universe and gives birth to the theory of reality as a multiverse with many valid observer-based views on what reality is to them.…...

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...First and Second Order Cybernetic Approach 1. How is reality seen by each specific approach? Describing reality is a challenge as is something that is unseen and untouchable. The first order cybernetic approach talks of the system that is entirely independent to the observer, while the second order cybernetic approach talks of systems that observe themselves. Hoffman (1985) challenges the way reality is viewed in second order cybernetic as he believes that people could never be sure as to what they think they saw is actually a real or is actually there. From the first order cybernetic approach the epistemological principle view reality a something that can be learned through the process of observation and at the same time the whoever has went through that process will not influenced by the same process. Individual can observe themselves, reality is how the individual see themselves without looking at the outside world (Becvar & Becvar, 2006). According to Becvar et al (2006) the therapist in the second order cybernetic approach has to take note that their observation can be influenced by the process and reality will be a challenge as they will have to consider the perception of their clients and their own perception. Looking at both the approaches reality is seen or view as perceptions created by the individual. 2. How is health and pathology addressed by each approach? In trying to address health from the first order cybernetic a healthy family is a family......

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... page Introduction 2 1 First-order cybernetics principles 2 2 Second-order cybernetics 4 3 Perception of reality 5 4 Health and pathology 6 5 The role and function of therapy 7 6 Ethical concerns 8 7 Integration of first- and second-order cybernetics 8 Conclusion 9 Reference list 10 A comparison of first- and second-order cybernetics Introduction When considering psychology most think of individual psychology. But in more recent years, systems theory or cybernetics as a school of thought in psychology has grown in its influence in the field. Within cybernetics there are two different approaches, namely first-order or simple cybernetics and second-order cybernetics. What student hopes to achieve with this assignment is a better understanding of these two by exploring what sets them apart. 1 First-order cybernetics principles In describing first-order cybernetics, Becvar and Becvar (2014) use the following principles to highlight its fundamental assumptions. 1.1 Recursion People and events do not exist in isolation but within a context, more specifically within the relationships in which they are involved in. Recursion refers to the fact that all elements involved in a relationship influence each other as they are constantly interacting. 1.2 Feedback It is the part of recursion that allows a system to correct itself by using the information given about past behaviours in order to make changes or remain as it...

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