CoEvolution 1976: Second order cybernetics

Peter JonesWu Wei

I’m enjoying reading through my collection of CoEvolution Quarterlies from the mid-1970’s. This is stuff you won’t get on anybody’s blog. It nudges a yearning for the days before the accessibility of total information access. When we had fewer external resources, our concepts may have been more original and focused. With fewer references to other people’s ideas (“everything is social”), people collaborated intently on what mattered and generated original practices based on their need, not the sweep of trend.

Stewart Brand interviewed everyone that mattered, and somehow did this without email and laptops.  His 1976 interview with Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson “For God’s Sake Margaret,” shows the two reminiscing about the Macy conferences and then creating in real time the developing concepts of second order cybernetics. The scanned sketch below shows the idea as formulated by Mead and Wiener. Mead urged the inaugural meeting of the American Society of Cybernetics in 1968 to turn the processes of cybernetics on cybernetics itself. This prompted the formulation of second-order cybernetics, which enjoys support among complexity theorists, communications theory, and in the further development of conversation theory.

Now, Wikipedia shows this image and the author describes the interview as having happened in 1973. In my copy of the actual text of the interview, Brand notes the interview took place in March of that year, 1976.