Emergence and Embodiment

New Essays on Second-Order Systems Theory

Emergence and Embodiment

Science and Cultural Theory

More about this series

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 12 figures Published: October 2009

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Science and Technology Studies

Emerging in the 1940s, the first cybernetics—the study of communication and control systems—was mainstreamed under the names artificial intelligence and computer science and taken up by the social sciences, the humanities, and the creative arts. In Emergence and Embodiment, Bruce Clarke and Mark B. N. Hansen focus on cybernetic developments that stem from the second-order turn in the 1970s, when the cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster catalyzed new thinking about the cognitive implications of self-referential systems. The crucial shift he inspired was from first-order cybernetics’ attention to homeostasis as a mode of autonomous self-regulation in mechanical and informatic systems, to second-order concepts of self-organization and autopoiesis in embodied and metabiotic systems. The collection opens with an interview with von Foerster and then traces the lines of neocybernetic thought that have followed from his work.

In response to the apparent dissolution of boundaries at work in the contemporary technosciences of emergence, neocybernetics observes that cognitive systems are operationally bounded, semi-autonomous entities coupled with their environments and other systems. Second-order systems theory stresses the recursive complexities of observation, mediation, and communication. Focused on the neocybernetic contributions of von Foerster, Francisco Varela, and Niklas Luhmann, this collection advances theoretical debates about the cultural, philosophical, and literary uses of their ideas. In addition to the interview with von Foerster, Emergence and Embodiment includes essays by Varela and Luhmann. It engages with Humberto Maturana’s and Varela’s creation of the concept of autopoiesis, Varela’s later work on neurophenomenology, and Luhmann’s adaptations of autopoiesis to social systems theory. Taken together, these essays illuminate the shared commitments uniting the broader discourse of neocybernetics.

Contributors. Linda Brigham, Bruce Clarke, Mark B. N. Hansen, Edgar Landgraf, Ira Livingston, Niklas Luhmann, Hans-Georg Moeller, John Protevi, Michael Schiltz, Evan Thompson, Francisco J. Varela, Cary Wolfe


Emergence and Embodiment is a highly worthwhile, collection of commentaries that measurably adds to the contemporary discussion of cybernetic ideas. . . . [T]he book contains many valuable and provocative insights and analyses of core ideas of cybernetics that remain as relevant as ever.” — Peter Cariani, Constructivist Foundations

“The book offers some excellent contemporary discussion on emergence and embodiment in a holistic manner. For example it offers the main points of important theories such as autopoiesis and second order cybernetics. Further, another major attraction of the book is chapters on critical theory that offer sharp contrast to purely scientific evaluation of systems theory. The volume is an interesting mixture of ideas from biology, philosophy as well as the humanities.” — Ramesh Mishra, Metapsychology Online Reviews

Emergence and Embodiment is an outstanding collection of sharp, well-crafted essays by prominent authors in the field of science and literature studies, all of whom have made major contributions to discussions of cybernetics, poststructuralism, and posthumanism. Here they demonstrate the viability of neocybernetics as a resource for resolving the dilemmas of the posthuman raised by newer fields of artificial life, complexity theory, and cellular automata.” — Tim Lenoir, Kimberly J. Jenkins Chair of New Technologies and Society, Duke University

Emergence and Embodiment provides a useful overview and detailed analyses of the complex field of neocybernetics and its major thinkers. It indicates the significance and breadth of interdisciplinary work being done in the wake of Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Heinz von Foerster, and George Spencer-Brown, even as it makes demands on its readers to rethink some of their assumptions about he last forty years of ‘theory’ in the humanities and the interdisciplinary social sciences.” — Robert Markley, author of Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bruce Clarke is Professor of English at Texas Tech University and a past president of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. His books include Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems and Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics.

Mark B. N. Hansen is Professor of Literature at Duke University. He is the author of New Philosophy for New Media and Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Neocybernetic Emergence / Bruce Clarke and Mark B. N26. Hansen 1

Interview with Heinz von Foerster / Interviewer: Bruce Clarke 26

Heinz von Foerster's Demons: The Emergence of Second-Order Systems Theory / Bruce Clarke 34

The Early Days of Autopoiesis / Francisco J. Varela 62

Life and Mind: From Autopoiesis to Neurophenomenology / Evan Tompson 77

Beyond Autopoiesis: Inflections of Emergence and Politics in Francisco Varela / John Protevi 94

System-Environment Hybrids / Mark B. N. Hansen 113

Self-Organization and Autopoiesis / Niklas Luhmann 143

Space is the Place: The Laws of Form and Social Systems / Michael Schiltz 157

Improvisation: Form and Event—A Spencer-Brownian Calculation / Edgar Landgraf 179

Communication versus Communion in Modern Psychic Systems: Maturana, Lohmann, and Cognitive Neurology / Linda Brigham 205

Meaning as Event-Machine, or Systems Theory and "The Reconstruction of Deconstruction": Derrida and Luhmann / Cary Wolfe 220

Complex Visuality: The Radical Middleground / Ira Livingston 246

Bibliography 263

Contributors 279

Index 281

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4600-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4581-7
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