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Feedback Forms: Behaviorism, Cybernetics, Autopoiesis by Ana Teixeira Pinto

Nervous Systems: Finissage-Lectures
Sun, May 8, 2016

Cybernetics, simply put, is the treatment of feedback as a conceptual abstraction, which defines itself by establishing an operational dichotomy between “system” and “environment.” This dichotomy, in turn, gives rise to the concept of “information” as that which the system extracts from its environment. The concept which Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana came to name autopoiesis describes how a biological system can be, at once, operationally open and informationally closed. A frog’s visual system, for instance, registers the movement of jittering insects but fails to report on a conspicuously still human observer. There is no world “out there” being represented “in here,” rather the activity of the nervous system is determined by the nervous system itself. Autopoiesis, one could say, mirrors the main insight of structural linguistics: that language may be interpreted as a formal system of differential elements.

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