Principia Cybernetica Web

Consensus Building

[Node to be completed]

The scientific process, like all evolutionary processes, is fundamentally progressive: information (if not knowledge) accumulates. Although classical, naive ideas about a monotonically growing body of knowledge asymptotically approaching an empirical "truth" are largely discredited (e.g.\cite{KUT62}), even the refutation of a scientific theory is the result of an increase in the total quantity of information. But if this growth in information is not balanced by a process which selects information for its value in some context (e.g. through the refutation and abandonment of theories), then science will ultimately become untenable and unviable. The limit of selection of knowledge is consensus, the reduction to one accepted theory or premise.

All traditional scientific subjects rest on a process of consensus-building by its practitioners, of the construction of a body of shared knowledge. (The necessity of social consensus for the construction of viable social structures is discussed in \cite{TUV82}.) Of course healthy and vibrant debate continues about many aspects of theory in all disciplines, and is further necessary to continue it. But of course it is exactly those active arguments which draw our attention to the leading edge of a scientific field. Underneath, successful disciplines rest on a large body of theory which is held consensually by virtually all practitioners. While the scientific method must admit of the possibility of the refutation of e.g. quantum electrodynamics, plate tectonics, or the gene theory the likelihood of such refutation is vanishingly small, and in practice and effect the inductive inference to accept them as "true" is admitted.

It is deeply regrettable that the history of Cybernetics and Systems Science has seen little movement towards such a consensus. First, there is a long schism between those who would regard "cybernetics" as primary and others who would regard "systems theory" or "systems science" as primary \cite{KLG70,?}. This view was not shared by the founders of the movement, but has resulted in an unconscionable dilution of the efforts and strengths of cyberneticians, perhaps even worse than the external forces that tend to be brought to bear against interdisciplinary study.

On the contrary, we hold that Cybernetics and Systems Science are at most two aspects of one field of study, dedicated to the concept of general systems as complex informational networks, rich in feedback and in constant interaction with each other and their environment. While the background and work of the Principia Cybernetica Editors and other participants spans many aspects of this field, and as noted above terminological convenience sometimes necessitates the contrary, it is generally the policy of Principia Cybernetica to refer to the dual fields of Cybernetics and Systems Science together, and thus to always stress their inherent unity.

Our purpose is to explore and explicate this theoretical fabric, in the expectation that it is such efforts which will yield a general and rigorous science of cybernetic systems viable and feasible. It is the ultimate goal of Principia Cybernetica to establish a theory which can be consensually held by all cyberneticians. However, we do not see this consensus as a narrow, normatively imposed, monolithic edifice. First, the consensus itself is always open to debate and revision. Indeed, the very process that we envision for the development of Principia Cybernetica is evolutionary and dynamic.

But also, we fully recognize that any achieved consensus will inevitably be shared by a limited research community, perhaps only the Editors. As we proceed, we must always remember that this effort is one project built by individuals who are necessarily rooted in their own experiences, abilities, and perspectives. Therefore, we regard our consensual construction as a cybernetic philosophy, not the cybernetic philosophy. To distinguish our philosophy from others, we call it "Metasystem Transition Theory" (MSTT), based as it is on the principle of the Metasystem Transition.

However, Principia Cybernetica is also a collaborative work, and will thus necessarily involve people other than the Editors and others who both agree and disagree with them. Furthermore, it is inevitable that differences will flourish among the Editors, although hopefully about rather minor matters. To facilitate these realities, portions (nodes) of Principia Cybernetica are divided into three categories:

Consensus Nodes:
Ideas held in common by the the Editorial Board.
Individual Contribution Nodes:
Further development of the ideas expressed in the Consensus Nodes at greater depth. This development need not be held consensually by Editors, but should be similar in spirit and style to the Consensus Nodes.
Discussion Nodes:
Including defense or criticism of the consensus or individual contribution nodes and development of other ideas.

Copyright© 1992 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Jan 1992


Project Organization

Collaborative Knowledge Development

Prev. Next

collaborative granularity [empty]


Add comment...