The subject “Systems sciences and cybernetics” is the outcome of the convergence of a number of trends in a larger current of thought devoted to the growing complexity of (primarily social) objects and arising in response to the need for globalized treatment of such objects. This has been magnified by the proliferation and publication of all manner of quantitative scientific data on such objects, advances in the theories on their inter-relations, the enormous computational capacity provided by IT hardware and software and the critical revisiting of subject-object interaction, not to mention the urgent need to control the efficiency of complex systems, where “efficiency” is understood to mean the ability to find a solution to many social problems, including those posed on a planetary scale. The result has been the forging of a new, academically consolidated scientific trend going by the name of Systems Theory and Cybernetics, with a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary focus and therefore apt for understanding realities still regarded to be inescapably chaotic. This subject entry is subdivided into four sections.
The first, an introduction to systemic theories, addresses the historic development of the most commonly used systemic approaches, from new concepts such as the so-called “geometry of thinking” or the systemic treatment of “non-systemic identities” to the taxonomic, entropic, axiological and ethical problems deriving from a general “systemic-cybernetic” conceit. Hence, the focus in this section is on the historic and philosophical aspects of the subject. Moreover, it may be asserted today that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, problems, in particular problems deriving from human interaction but in general any problem regardless of its nature, must be posed from a systemic perspective, for otherwise the obstacles to their solution are insurmountable. Reaching such a perspective requires taking at least the following well-known steps: a) statement of the problem from the determinant variables or phenomena; b) adoption of theoretical models showing the interrelationships among such variables; c) use of the maximum amount of – wherever possible quantitative – information available on each; d) placement of the set of variables in an environment that inevitably pre-determines the problem. That epistemology would explain the substantial development of the systemic-cybernetic approach in recent decades.
The articles in the second section deal in particular with the different methodological approaches developed when confronting real problems, from issues that affect humanity as a whole to minor but specific questions arising in human organizations. Certain sub-themes are discussed by the various authors – always from a didactic vantage –, including: problem discovery and diagnosis and development of the respective critical theory; the design of ad hoc strategies and methodologies; the implementation of both qualitative (soft system methodologies) and formal and quantitative (such as the “General System Problem Solver” or the “axiological-operational” perspective) approaches; cross-disciplinary integration; and suitable methods for broaching psychological, cultural and socio-political dynamisms.
The third section is devoted to cybernetics in the present dual meaning of the term: on the one hand, control of the effectiveness of communication and actions, and on the other, the processes of self-production of knowledge through reflection and the relationship between the observing subject and the observed object when the latter is also observer and the former observed. Known as “second order cybernetics”, this provides an avenue for rethinking the validity of knowledge, such as for instance when viewed through what is known as “bipolar feedback”: processes through which interactions create novelty, complexity and diversity.
Finally, the fourth section centres around artificial and computational intelligence, addressing sub-themes such as “neural networks”, the “simulated annealing” that ranges from statistical thermodynamics to combinatory problem-solving, such as in the explanation of the role of adaptive systems, or when discussing the relationship between biological and computational intelligence.