Operational Closure and Self-Referentiality Hume's Theory of Causal Inference from the Standpoint of Second-order Cybernetics

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Abstract:

This article deals with the problem of how operationally closed systems can construct a reality and therefore get their bearings in the world. But rather than looking for new theoretical solutions, it suggests going back to the empirical philosophical tradition of early modernity, in order to find a solution. Following a suggestion by the leaders of both first- and second-order cybernetics, Wiener and Foerster, this article reframes Hume's theory of causal inference in order to make the case not only that Hume anticipated second-order cybernetics in interesting ways, but also that modern cognitive sciences can use Hume and second-order cybernetics to inform each other leading to a better understanding of both. Starting from the statement according to which the problem of causality represents 'one of the most sublime questions in philosophy,' the article goes deeply inside the problem of causality in order to argue that the modern approach to epistemology has to be conceived of as a process of internalization of cognitive facts. This search path leads to casting a new light on the paramount concept of sign, conceived of as the possibility that certain environmental events or data again set off the self-reference of a cognitive system, which thus switches from memory to expectation. The aim of this article is finally to show that the main results of an interdisciplinary theory of cognition such as second-order cybernetics are particularly congruent with the speculations of the Scottish philosopher, and that Hume's reflections maintain an extraordinary relevance regarding the most advanced elaboration of the main epistemological problems

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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