Logo
HOME

by Antonio Rossin and Kerry Miller

Background

Psychical Framework

Social Framework

Cybernetic Society

References


Background

In thinking about the advanced levels of integration, one must ultimately consider the individual not as a single corporate body, but as the simple element of a complex system. This much I am familiar with in my role as a medical operator with functions of diagnosis and care, I have to consider the sick person, as the subject of my professional interest, not merely as an independent unity - as once I was taught - but instead as one part of a wider and complex system in which different components interact together to form the subject of a particular scientific discipline.

In this wider world the laws which the state of health or of illness of my patient would have hypothetically depended on, were not exclusively those which I studied in the books of Medical Pathology and Pharmacology, but the general laws on which the order of the whole system depends, and which should be valid and verifiable for each different discipline. I refer here to the universal laws of Physics and Mathematics. Therefore, even if with an empirically uncertain step, I entered the interdisciplinary field where the official language was not yet that of the medical discipline I more or less knew, but that of whoever studies the general laws of systems, that is, the language of physicists and mathematicians. So, even without possessing the fluency this difficult language deserves, I have tried to extract some useful basic notions which I am now going to expound.

According to this universal language, both the sick individual and a social system presenting tension increase or discomfort can be called a 'disordered system with relatively high level of entropy'; and, vice versa, the healthy person or the collectivity each can be termed an 'ordered system with low level of entropy.' In turn, what is called 'information' would be the therapeutic action re the sick person and the cultural input re any insufficient social system, so as to allow the increase of order in the system, thus lowering its entropy. The same information can therefore be called "neg-entropy".

At first, this writing was to have been titled "The bionic problem". However the term "Cybernetics" sounds more appropriate, because while Cybernetics (from the Greek Kybernetiké [tekhne]) is literally "the art of the helmsman" or the art of giving information to the sailing system, the dictionary goes on to say, "Cybernetics: a branch recently developed from pure and applied science to study the transmission of command and control signals for electric circuits and mechanical systems, as well as the stimuli for the living beings" (emphasis added). Indeed, as Norbert Wiener (who brought the word into modern usage) derived the mechanical application from his study of biology, it was only appropriate that I -- now equipped with the "pure scientific" outlook -- returned to look again at living systems.

top page


Psychical Framework

At that point, remembering my practical functions of diagnosis and care, I asked myself whether the same patient would not be considered a system with high entropy level (like sailing without a rudder) when s/he does not know autonomously how to put herself in order, getting so to speak voluntarily sick. For instance, drug addictions, and to some extent the mental illnesses, must actually be considered among such sicknesses, as well as the so-called 'stress diseases' which comprise the domain of Psychosomatic Medicine[6].

Similarly, a social system, having a lack of adequate information, or of learning capacity, or it may be, a low level of culture and civilization, raises its own entropy to excessively high levels of disorder, of tensions and of environmental excessive maladjustment. I asked myself what information could be useful to procure order in such systems. Wanting to use a more common language, my cybernetic problem was therefore to understand which way the boat should turn, and consequently to which side the rudder had to be moved. The rewards following the solution of this problem would not be negligible: on an individual level, it could deal with primary prevention against the psychological dependence and drugs addiction, and on a social level it could yield a solution to today's ecological, political and environmental problems.

This possibility sounded very intriguing to me. I therefore dared a trip into the world of Cybernetics to seek for an answer, and I drew the theoretical solution which I am now presenting to you. As for the language used, I apologize. I want it to be general, but standing as I do between the medical art on one side, and cybernetic Science on the other side, I have tried as well to adopt a language compatible with both sides. I hope I have not sadly disappointed both....

According to the psychocybernetic theory, the psychic system is a series of energy circuits, each flowing in a net of linkages between neural switches allowing a multiplicity of flows in several directions. Each circuit is fully formed at any point in time, but undergoes continual modification and re-linking according to both external "sensory" stimuli and the whole systemic or dynamic equilibrium. That is, the connection between sensorial terminals and operational terminals is not fixed, but develops *itself* through a series of alternative circuits, selectively activated by the information contained in the sensory inputs. There are circuits of amplification, circuits of memory, circuits of output, and finally logical simulating circuits, all of them unfolding themselves in crossing rings through the whole system.

In order to lower the tension existing in the system, these structures select, among a multiplicity of possible answers, the one which gives place to a reduction of the stimulus and to the lowering of an higher degree of tension. This mechanism corresponds to Freud's "Pleasure Principle" [1].

Basically, according to this psychocybernetical model, there are certain rigid or conservative processing circuits which lower the inner tension as soon as possible by reference to pre-existent memories, and as well, flexible or logical simulating circuits, which determine an optimal behavioural response by picturing all operative variants of possible relevance to the stimulus at issue, but which take more time for realization.

Note that Freud considered that this neuropsychical structure would behave as a 'double body' and therefore postulated a third regulatory component (super ego) to select between the preset and the flexible circuits. In my opinion, it is sufficient to take account of the differentiation over time of the general mass of nervous circuits to produce the posited tendencies to the rigid and conservative on one hand, and on the other the flexible logical and simulating ones. That is, only a "single body" is needed which operates along a continuum of possible responsiveness [2].

This hypothesis is consistent with the observations of hemispherical dominance. This can be interpreted as a tendency (for whatever phylogenetic reason) for the rigid circuits, where the processing time is shorter, to be more prevalent in what in the present world is termed the dominant hemisphere. In the opposite brain hemisphere, the flexible logical simulating circuits would prevail. The crossing of informations between the 'rigid hemisphere and the "flexible" hemisphere is achieved by the "commissural" or associative nervous connections. However, the final line emerging from the operational terminals would, in any case, be constrained by the general laws of organismic adaptation and survival.

top page


Social Framework

What has been summarily described above is an 'ideal' psychocybernetic model, in which the connections relative to the different circuits, rigid or flexible, had been let free to organize itself according to the natural, physic and biologic laws which regulate the self-organization of all the complex systems. However, as we move to look at the products of modern society, this operational condition does not seem to be supported by the current educative models.

Here, the sociopsychical structure has moved away from the ideal psychocybernetical model, in that its prevalence of the rigid conservative circuits over the logical simulating ones does not seem justified either by the necessities of lowering the structural tensions of the system, or by the strategic needs to produce, from its particular operational terminals, answers with maximum adherence to vital adaptive demands coming from the environment in its whole. This paradoxical settlement seems to be, instead, the consequence of social conditioning: at the time of the first educative exposure, the prioritization in every case of the shortest time of response, and the "most efficient" attainment of the leadership's (not the individual's) desires, over a more flexible adaptation which might have a greater functional and objective consistency but which would require (however theoretically) a longer time of execution [3].

In such an individual, this structurally abnormal condition may be due to an impediment to the natural flow of informational messages from the logical simulating circuits to the rigid circuits; that is, to a diminished permeability of the associative connections between one and the other cerebral hemisphere. Such a blockage could occur in the first educational conditioning, through inputs of alarm or reassurance, at an age when the associations among the nervous cells and the different circuits still have not taken up their definitive arrangement. This eventuality is consistent with the physical development of the human brain, which undergoes an exuberant proliferation of interneuronal connections in its first years, followed by the selective reabsorption of the less-used or less-rewarding connections. One would thus expect, as the result on the behavioural level, a rigid, stereotyped or ritualistic attitude, and a dependence on hierarchical appeals with instinctual and emotional order for agreement only, even when this kind of agreement appears rationally useless, if not outright harmful.

Therefore, depending on the particular kind of pedagogical model operating at the time of child's first educative formation in the Family, one might expect two different modes of neuropsychical framework in humans. (For clarity, we speak only of the extreme poles of the spectrum; obviously many "models" will, in reality, lie in some more central position).

To the aims of a lowering of the system tensions in the psychocybernetic model given, a first possible response is characterized by the prevailing recourse to predetermined processing lines which allow a rapid treatment of the stimuli. The existence of conservative memories, or (to say it another way) positive inputs of reassurance, as by the formal agreement by the social authority and the leadership, are the needed operating conditions for this response.

The second possibility concerns the formation of a more articulated brain framework able, by trial and error, to program autonomous answers in a flexible and creative way, relatively independent of inputs of reassurance coming from the outside, and thus more compatible with the "ideal" psychocybernetic model (where the operative integration is balanced between the rigid conservative circuits and the logical simulating ones).

Considering the pedagogic models on which these two different formative trends depend may now clarify the relation between the psychic and the social formations [4].

The first possibility is characterized by the (implicit or explicit) presence of a strong and compulsory "ask for consent" within the family relationships -- where the plural refers not only to that between parents and the child, but also that between the 'leadership' -- one and the other parent (or significant other, as the case may admittedly be). That is according with the "No-Contradiction Principle (also known as "Principle of Authority"). As the educative conditioning happens on the subjective initiative of the parent(s), we may call this variation "Subjective Educative Practice". (Note that "implicit" is only in reference to our 'dispassionate' theoretical perspective; the signals would be perfectly clear to one already conditioned in this way).

The second possibility is characterized by a language relationship based on freedom of speech, on criticism and dialectical comparison between both parents. Obviously, this type of dialogue requires the commendable attitude of mutual respect and tolerance for opposite opinions, without any obligation of formal consent between the two parents or even between parents and children: the educative information will be offered to the child only after the express and conscious call of the latter, who is the natural "object" of the educational family practice. This is why I called this pedagogical variation "Objective Educative Practice" or, more properly, "Dialectic Education". [note]

Reasonably, Dialectic Education allows the child a greater autonomy of initiative inside the dialectical space of language opened between the parents, where s/he will learn to manage her own behaviours - not strictly according to the maximum consensual adherence on the collective rituals and the family or social leadership, but according with the "trial and error" procedure. Indeed, if a young individual gets conditioned to align his or her behavioural answers for the prompt fulfillment of the leadership's request, i.e., according with "Subjective Practice", s/he will be bound to develop a dependent personality, and to form those operational memories whose treatment foresees the tensional lowering exclusively in the direction of just that consent. Hir neuropsychical framework will accordingly be biased towards recourse to the rigid, foecast nervous circuits and to a minimum use of the flexible logical simulating circuits.

If instead s/he grows up according with the pedagogic model called "Dialectic Education", the young individual would have learnt to valorize fully the flexible function of hir logical simulating circuits; s/he also will have at hir disposal, for choosing and taking care of hir own behavioural lines, a greater number of logical variants. There will be a greater probability that hir own line of maximum tensional lowering will better comply with the real demands for adaptation within the social system, rather than an always greater rigid psychodependence on the leader agreement. In this case hir psychocybernetics will come closer to the ideal model and the correct balance between demands of immediate lowering -- like that of most agreement with a proximate leader -- and the possibility of lowering in the long term, in a comparatively broader adaptation to the exigencies of the environment.

The condition of greater individual and collective advantage is therefore tied up to a better operational flexibility that allows one the possibility of considering one's own relationship with a 'leader' also in a dimension of critical and dialectical comparison.

top page


Cybernetic Society

Now, according with the evidence of the common reality, it seems possible to recognize a clear prevalence of psychocybernetic structures unbalanced towards the lowering of tensions in the short term only, and the scarcity of those different belief and behaviour patterns based on criteria of rationality and awareness within long-term interpersonal and social relationships. Indeed, on the mass level, Keynesian economic theory and consumerism seem to be characterized by a mental attitude to plan in the short time (not to speak of consequences of more general order, like distortions of the socio-ecological balance) while conditions of hypertension, urgency, stress, future shock, etc., may also be considered fundamentally as "time problems". Although the historical relation between perception of time (especially socially-hypostatized "clocktime") and health is beyond the immediate scope of this paper, all of these problems seem to have a common origin in a lack of adaptive flexibility. Therefore all these diseases and discomforts can be properly considered in the ambit of a well defined pathological condition: "the Less Flexibility Syndrome" [6].

At this point, the pragmatical cybernetic problem becomes that of piloting one's psychic structure through the harbour of the family, steering as close as possible to the ideal psychocybernetic channel, and to reach the open seas of information coming from the more elevated levels of culture and science. But (at the risk of running the metaphor itself aground), two further considerations are in order.

The more serious one is just the vicious circle produced by the psychological dependence. Once one is conditioned to accept information from "convincing" authority, one seeks more and more immediate conviction; a more remote leader is superexceeded by one's own aggregation or dependence level and ultimately, only oneself. In such a trend towards a leader of always lower level, information coming from the upper levels of culture and science (and civilization generally) will have a very little or nil convincing power, even if presented with the utmost scientific consistency. Not coincidentally, this closely describes the mental state of drug addiction.

This veritable whirlpool in the way of our craft may seem insuperable, but let us look again at the harbour, the larger collective system, in which there is growing concern with this still unresolved problem, and a pressing demand for lowering social tension. (Needless to say, at the present time, this pressure brooks no *political* delay. It is thus responded to in authoritarian, "war against drugs" terms which -- as many observers have noted -- only make the problem worse).

The precise answer to it is, finally, primary prevention; the adoption by parents of the educational model here designated "Dialectic Education" aimed at the formation of a flexible and autonomous personality, the mind of the young individual is strengthened against the risk of passing from 'soft' psychodependence to the "hard" dependence on medicines and drugs.

The other hazard, like a reef, is a particular characteristic of verbal language. Indeed, in interpersonal relationships, the same two functions occur in each action of language: that of subjective relation or 'command', and objective 'digital' content or "news" [5]. Each action of language modifies the interpersonal relationship in which it occurs, in the sense that it can support or loosen the linkage of hierarchical subordination which joins the two speakers, independently of the "content" of the message. "Killing the messenger" (of ostensibly bad news) is one manifestation of this.

In neither case, however, are we dealing with insuperable obstacles, within a pragmatical viewpoint of human communication. The solution of the "cybernetic problem" seems to consist in providing parents with the information relative to the possible adoption of an educative model able to provide the young individual with the fit formative environment. Such a family educative pattern, reasonably aimed at allowing her the self-organization of a well balanced or psychocybernetic mindframe, not only will allow one to arrange one's own individual behavior according to the more complex demands of the system, but will lead to a better balanced social environment as well, in which much provision of information is conventional, rather than the radical departure it is today.

Of course, there is a term already in use to describe this "provisioning" aspect of society; that is, education. Cybernetically, we may no say that appropriate educational practice aims at the formation of the psychically independent personality. It offers the chance of overcoming the particular mistake of hierarchical order, inherent in the attitudes of uncritical dependence on the social leadership, which is variously called reductionism, specialism, or disintegration. Indeed, the neuropsychical framing of the individual towards a personality more or less conditioned to the psychodependence on the leader's consent, must be understood in relation to the compulsory collective necessity of hierarchical order.

To this end, it seems useful -- even if somewhat arbitrary -- to posit a cultural gradient of evolutionary maturation, in regard to the characteristics of the leader by which s/he is chosen for hir particular hierarchical role of command. On the lowest or primordial level of such an arbitrary schedule, the necessary prerogative to become a leader is seemingly the muscular strength and the aggressiveness. Climbing upwards, we will find the exhibition of status-symbols, the manual and sporting ability, the wealth, the rhetorical skill, the rank in the different social hierarchies. On the higher levels we find the artistic, cultural, sociopolitical and scientific productivity, and, most of all, self-consciousness.

One's learning processes will be as much rational and flexible according to how much one is able to relate with aggregation levels and leaders of a higher order, of which the topmost scientific level is -- wonder of wonders! -- just that interdisciplinarity with which Cybernetics is credited. In this last case, the individual will be endowed with the maximum readiness to lower tensions wherever they may be, in a wholly integrated manner and consistent with the total and exhaustive understanding of all the possible operative variants of the system. The bowsprit of such an attitude will point unswervingly towards the deeps of totalitarianism, to bring its life-saving cargo of open-mindedness where it is most desperately needed.

On that horizon, one may say, is the wave of the future.

* The latter phrase emerged during on-line discussions following a further presentation at Kos [7]. We recognize that, by and large, the whole of education has been commmandered by only the formal and institutional part, and that our revanchist claim to the word risks being dismissed as Yet Another Pedagogy (YAP). It is in view of the imminent disestablishment of "Education" under the guns of "connectivity" (whose flagship is the "Internet") that we persist, in hopes of preserving the concept of education as a *learning* process even as the bastions of *teaching* collapse.

top page


References

1. Firrao S.: "Theory of Self-Organizing Systems", CENS, Milano Liscate, 1983
2. Rossin A. "NecessitÓ di sviluppo del linguaggio dialettico in Pedagogia", Cybernetics Notebooks n 3, CENS, Milano Liscate, 1987
3. -- Chapter 7 of Zielo, ed. _Droga & Famiglia_. Padova, 1990, ISBN 88.85689.13.2
4. -- "The cultural part of the family communication patterns in building flexibility in people's minds". A paper read at the Pogress Publishing Group Corporation Conference 'Education under Cultural Shock: Experiences of a new Futurology', at Moscow, Russia, Sept. 1994.
5. -- "Social problems with hard solution". The LFS Prject, Taglio di Po Town Councillorship, Italy 1996.
6. -- "The Less Flexibility Syndrome". Read at the IX Conference "Medicine and Culture" of the European Society of Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care, at the International Hippocratic Foundation of Kos, Greece, Sept. 1995
7. -- "The Word and the Health". Read at the 35th International Congress on the History of Medicine, at the International Hppocratic Foundation of Kos, Greece, Sept. 1996

top page



Antonio Rossin
Neurologist - Family Doctor
45010, Ca' Vendramin (RO)
Italy
www.flexible-learning.org

Last update: 06/17/03