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    The George Washington University
    Management 261
    Fall 1990
    Mondays 4:10 PM to 6:00 PM
    Dr Paul Pangaro, Instructor
    [The following text and figure constituted a course description. Although there are implied references to articles that comprised the primary sources for the course, they are not yet listed here by full reference.]


    1. To review a comprehensive history of the discipline.
    2. To clarify and make concrete its applications in management, neural networks, software design, organizational learning, learning theory, family therapy, the biology of living systems, language, and machine intelligence.
    3. To demonstrate the philosophical stance of cybernetics, and its similarities and differences with other disciplines including other sciences and humanities.
    4. To provide a foundation for application to the interests of individual students of the course, especially in areas of management, organizational development and organizational design.


    1. No pre-requisites are imposed.
    2. The core requirement for the course is detailed study of the reading materials passed out at each class. These materials will form the basis for class discussion and hence familiarity with them will be assumed. This will minimize class time spent on presentation of ideas available in texts, and allow for greater coverage in the course. The work for the class is, in this way, intensive. Consistent class participation is required.
    3. Students must make arrangements with the Instructor to obtain readings for successive classes if they are unable to attend a particular class.
    4. Short-term Projects will be assigned from time to time during the Semester.
    5. There will be a Final Exam.


    Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1985.

    Other required papers and suggested readings to be assigned on a class-by-class basis during the semester (see notes under Course Requirements, above).


    The following groupings are a starting point and only roughly correspond to individual classes.

    1. Introduction to an Introduction:

    Clarifications: Interaction, Process, Description, Observer, "Observed", System. The question, "When is.....?": Relativity and Computation. A proposed Unified Field Theory of Knowing. Applications Taster: domains where systems and cybernetics have been usefully applied (neural networks, management, software design, organizational learning, learning theory, family therapy, biology of living systems, language, machine intelligence).

    2. Recognition of "Cybernetics"

    Its co-opting by other "disciplines". Futurism, robotics, freezing dead people [not really]. Bucky Fuller: organization, tensegrity, synergy. Stafford Beer: Viable Systems Model, organizational design, revising the operation of the country of Chile. Other "Systems Science": Checkland, et al. Ross Ashby: "brain-like" mechanisms, homeostasis, requisite variety.

    3. Mathematics, Control, 1st Order Cybernetics

    G Spencer Brown: Before Numbers and Better than Bertrand Russell (A Calculus of Distinctions). Norbert Wiener: Aiming Artillery, coining Feedback, and the Human Use of Human Beings. Control, the Universal Story of Thermostats, Circularity, and the Attribution of Control (it is what you say it is). Other history: Watt and Governors, Hermeneutics and Religion, the Division of Science and Humanities.

    4. Circular Circularity, 2nd Order Cybernetics

    The Josiah Macy Meetings, Those Grand Old Days with Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener and others. Heinz yon Foerster: Computation with Neurons, Observing Systems, Order/Disorder -- Invention/Discovery; Biological Computing.

    5. Artificial Intelligence vs Cybernetics

    Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Alan Turing: the undesired conspiracy that spawned artificial intelligence (AI). "Intelligence in" vs. "intelligence among." Why there is no cognitive "inside". How AI in current forms is doomed to remain artificial. Neural Networks vs Symbolic Processing.

    6. Interpretation, Language, Intelligence, Self-Reference

    Jerome Lettvin: What the Frog's Eye tells the Frog's Brain; Origins of Myth. Humberto Maturana: What is Science? (reality vs. conspiracy); What is it to See? (how theory precedes "discovery"); What is it to Language [sic]? (and do monkeys do it).

    7. Living Systems, Scientific Method

    Maturana with Francisco Varela: Autopoiesis, a new description of the "Living"; Silicon and "Artificial Life". Ranulph Glanville: Black Boxes, Science, and What Can Be Known. Karl Tomm: Family Systems, Interventions (the ethics of control). Distinctions of Self-and-Other (we are what we say).

    8. Constructivism: Worlds in Creation

    Ernst von Glasersfeld: Radical Constructivism and the emergence of the world from consciousness (rather than vice versa). Jean Piaget: Organizing the World by Organizing Our Intelligence (or, how this great psychologist was a cybernetician). Herbert Brun: Performance, Composition, Language, Music (cybernetics "in" art). Gordon Pask: Entrainment and Entertainment (coupling is key).

    9. Representing Knowables

    Foundations of Knowing: Process, Coherence, Distinction. A complete calculus of knowables (get your software development tools ready). Computing the Internal "I" (details of the rise of cognitive organization from within the organism). Agreement over an Understanding (the limits of measuring our sameness). Engines of Agreement (software examples).

    10. Conversation and Commitment

    Interaction, Self-and-Other, the Dance of Agreement (describing living without belittling it). Applications of the Conversational: Management and Organizations (how models make conversations); Groupware (designing and so living through networks); Electronic Mail (slavery and freedom).

    11. Ontogenesis, Responsibility, Machine Narcissus

    Implications for science, culture and government. The "information age" vs. the machine ethos. Reflections.

    - end -

    Related Course:

    Artificial Intelligence and Cybernetics, The George Washington University, Spring 1990

    © Copyright Paul Pangaro 1994 - 2000. All Rights Reserved.