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Complexity, Cybernetics and Human Knowing

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Two perspectives on the nature of humanness concern me when contemplating myself and others as knowledge producers. The first relates to the kind of knowledge we consider humans produce. How may we talk of the level of security with which we hold our knowledge? In what senses do we take our knowing as truthful and objective, or as useful and subjective?

The second perspective concerns the human condition being characterised by self production. Philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt posit that there are ways in which we can comment upon our self-production, which reveal judgements of a qualitative kind. They argue that we can to some extent forfeit our distinctness to an all-conforming sameness of society. Heidegger describes this forfeiting as succumbing to a caclulative rather than meditative way of being. Arendt terms this as a move from 'action' (which is self-revelatory) to making (or merely behaving-conforming).

In reflecting on the use (others and mine) of General Systems Theory, first order cybernetics (and to a much lesser degree second order cybernetics), or the sciences of complexity in social research, I am concerned about the assumptions held regarding the knowledge generated. Concomitantly, I am interested in the sense of ourselves as knowledge producers, that these frameworks engender (or attract). This paper questions the implications for humanness, of approaches to these cybernetic frameworks. The potential for Complexity Theory to emphasise uncertainty and the illusory nature of truth, and thereby, to encourage intellectual acumen, authenticity and humility is also explored.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre For Systemic Development, University Of Western Sydney, Richmond, NSW Australia, 2753. Email:

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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