Re: [pcp-discuss:] New Paper: Definitions

From: Shann Turnbull (
Date: Thu Mar 01 2001 - 00:31:51 GMT

  • Next message: Alexei Sharov: "Re: [pcp-discuss:] New Paper: Definitions"

    Dear Francis

    Thank you and Cliff for your paper which I found most informative. On the
    first page you define the word "control" as "maintenance of a goal by
    active compensation of perturbations".

    This definition means that control is dependent upon a goal being known and
    the need for feedback communication. In social organisations a goal may
    not be known or agreed upon and feedback can be problematical or non
    existent. It is possible to direct, command or order action on personal
    whims without an operational goal or without the need to obtain immediate
    feedback on the outcome. Regulation on the other hand requires feedback to
    allow "active compensation of perturbations".

     From my reading of Ashby's introduction to cybernetics your definition of
    control is how he uses the word "regulate".

     From your text your definition of control would also seem to mean regulate?
    Do you identify any difference between these two words?

    Might it be useful, at least in the social sciences, to make a distinction
    between the two words? That is between when a goal is not known and/or
    feedback is not required and when feedback is required?

    Social scientists use the word control in both senses or ambiguously which
    makes rigorous analysis of social systems ambiguous, difficult or impossible.

    For example, Tannenbaum (1962: 5) defined 'control' as "any process in
    which a person or group of persons or organisation of persons determines,
    i.e. intentionally affects, what another person or group or organisation
    will do". This definition provides a word/concept to describe a situation
    where no standard of performance is required.

    On the other hand, Etzioni, (1965: 650) and Downs, (1967: 144) use the word
    'control' in the sense you use of meeting some standard of performance.

    So to establish a rigorous basis to analysis the control, regulation,
    governance, self-regulation and self-governance of firms I have found it
    useful to use the Tannenbaum definition of control and your definition of
    control to mean regulate. I appreciate that that your paper was written
    for "hard scientists" but might it not also be useful for natural
    scientists to identify words which can distinguish between goal directed
    action (regulation) and non goal directed control? Natural selection
    depends upon creating variety on a trial and error basis. If such
    distinction in concepts/language and words could be agreed upon I believe
    that this would assist in grounding the social sciences in the natural sciences

    The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines control in both senses.

    The first definitions do not require feedback are as follows:
    1. The fact of controlling, or of checking and directing action;
    domination, command, sway.
    2. Restraint, check 1594
    3.A method or means of restraint; a check 1752.
    4 A person who acts as a check; a controller.

    The second definitions that requires feedback is:
    1. To check or verify, and hence to regulate (payments, etc); by comparison
    with a duplicate register

    In their definition of "regulate" the Shorter Oxford Dictionary uses the
    word control to describe the process of regulation. Sometimes you seem to
    use the word in the same way in your text. On page 5 your see the need to
    make a disctinction between "goal-directedness and contol in your
    statement: "It thus seems to have taken over the cybernetics banner in its
    mathematical modelling of complex systems across disciplinary boundaries,
    however, while largely ignoring the issues of goal-directedness and
    control." Your definition of control makes the words "goal-directedness"
    redundant as you state on page 12 when you consider both issues and state
    that "goal-directedness implies regulation".

    I find making a distinction between control and regulate useful in
    analysing communications within firms or between firms and outside agencies
    to control and regulate firms.

    Can you or anybody else on this list provide references in the cybernetic
    literature which makes these distinctions, and defines the concepts and
    language, that I find useful to analyse the information and control systems
    (cybernetic architecture) of social organisations?

    Downs, A. 1967, Inside Bureaucracy, Little Brown & Co., Boston.
    Etzioni, A. 1965, 'Organizational control structure', in Handbook of
    Organizations, ed. J.G. March, Rand-McNally, Chicago, 650-77.
    Tannenbaum, A.S. 1962, Control in organizations, McGraw-Hill, NY.

    Kind regards

    Shann Turnbull

    At 03:06 AM 24/2/2001, you wrote:
    >As I announced some time ago, I was invited to write a review paper on
    >cybernetics for the Encyclopedia of Physical Science & Technology (3rd
    >ed.), (Academic Press). The final version of the paper is now ready, and
    >available at
    >Although it is obviously very difficult to summarize all the main ideas of
    >cybernetics in a single paper without remaining very superficial, I think
    >my co-author Cliff Joslyn and I have managed to do a quite decent job, and
    >I would recommend the paper to anybody who wants to get an introduction to
    >and overview of the main concepts (e.g. variety, feedback, closure,
    >control, constructivism, ...) and principles (e.g. law of requisite
    >variety, requisite hierarchy, self-organization, ...) of cybernetics.
    >Where possible, the ideas have been made explicit using simple formulas
    >and diagrams. Since this is meant for a "hard science" encyclopedia, we
    >have focused more on the "hard" ideas, and less on the philosophical,
    >social and psychological implications, although these are implicit
    >throughout the article.
    >We thank Val Turchin and Ranulph Glanville for reviewing the manuscript
    >and suggesting improvements. Although the Encyclopedia requested us to
    >write the paper in an "authoritative" manner, as if we were expressing the
    >general consensus in the field, it is obvious that such a consensus does
    >not really exist, and therefore the paper should be read as our own view
    >on cybernetics. Still, I think we have managed to include most of the
    >ideas that cyberneticians generally agree upon, although other authors
    >might have liked to put the emphasis differently.
    >Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics
    >Francis Heylighen
    >Free University of Brussels
    >Cliff Joslyn
    >Los Alamos National Laboratory
    >I.Historical Development of Cybernetics
    >I.2.Second Order Cybernetics
    >I.3.Cybernetics Today
    >II.Relational Concepts
    >II.1.Distinctions and Relations
    >II.2.Variety and Constraint
    >II.3.Entropy and Information
    >II.4.Modelling Dynamics
    >III.Circular Processes
    >III.4.Feedback Cycles
    >IV.Goal-Directedness and Control
    >IV.2.Mechanisms of Control
    >IV.3.The Law of Requisite Variety
    >IV.4.Components of a Control System
    >IV.5.Control Hierarchies
    >V.1.Requisite Knowledge
    >V.2.The Modelling Relation
    >V.3.Learning and Model-Building
    >V.4.Constructivist Epistemology
    >Dr. Francis Heylighen <> -- Center "Leo Apostel"
    >Free University of Brussels, Krijgskundestr. 33, 1160 Brussels, Belgium
    >tel +32-2-6442677; fax +32-2-6440744;
    >Posting to from Francis Heylighen <>

    Shann Turnbull
    P.O. Box 266 Woollahra, Sydney, Australia, 1350
    Ph: +612 9328 7466 office; +612 9327 8487 home; Fax: +612 9327 1497;
    Life long E-mail:
    Papers at:
    with other papers & book at

    Posting to from Shann Turnbull <>

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