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Neocybernetic Emergence: Retuning the Posthuman

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This essay offers an overview of the issues addressed in our volume Emergence and Embodiment: New Essays in Second-Order Systems Theory (Clarke & Hansen, 2009), a collective effort to update the legacy of second-order thinking in systems theory. We review the history that has unfolded second- from first-order cybernetics, and take exception to some recent accounts that discount the importance of the second-order or neocybernetic line of development. We argue that neocybernetic concepts in the line from von Foerster to Maturana, Varela, and Luhmann challenge not just the rigidities of AI and first-order mechanical and social systems engineering, but also, and more profoundly, the epistemological foundations of philosophical humanism. We join Dirk Baecker and others' calls for a slowing down of systems theorizations, and acknowledge a similar need for a slowing down, in our case of everything that has recently come together under the rubric of the posthuman, for the purpose of careful neocybernetic consideration. To understand today's hyper-acceleration of technoscientific incursions into the human, and to arrive at more highly articulated observations of the systemic situatedness of cognition, we correlate epistemological closure with the phenomena of ontological emergence. If the human is and has always already been posthuman, this understanding demands the perspective afforded by neocybernetic recursion.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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