Second Order Labs

Bell Labs is the birthplace of the first-order Cybernetics revolution: it is here in which we developed the technology necessary for machines that can do information processing.

In the process of using these incredibly useful machines, we got the idea in our head that this was the way everything was: the best way to model humans ourselves was as input-output machines.

Now there seems to be something that is different about humans than our machines. I think I can safely put that out there.

When I am engaged and focused, attendant to something in particular, I am doing so for the purpose of achieving a particular goal. To attend to a goal, I act presently in pursuit of that goal.

Now my repertoire of goals is fairly large, and it shifts from moment to moment. I visit certain goals like “eat” and “sleep” regularly. Yet I am not mechanical: an algorithm may predict my movements well but not perfectly. There is something of myself that is present within whatever may be recorded by an outside observer.

That something in myself of course is of course consciousness. Within the space of conscious existence I reason about my own goals and choose to prioritize one over the other.

A significant factor in which goal I choose to pursue is how the realization of this goal will make me feel. If I am healthy the realization of the goal will – ideally – be fine goods that I feel content with.

In order that we perform science and engineering at all we must have these desires for feelings!

It is curious that these fields in modern times operate blind to this principle. We not only ignore the role of emotions, but deny the existence of teleology, goal-directed agency, almost entirely. This is partly the fault of first-order Cybernetic thinking. To turn to second-order Cybernetic thinking, we note that there is a backward link from observed to observer. That is: the world is not separate machines interacting purely on efficient cause. The observer is changed by its observation, and that observer acts in a manner to persist.

All living beings engage in autopoiesis, the continual maintenance and reproduction of one’s self. What does a Second Order Bell Labs look like? First it must maintain and reproduce itself.