Why Cybernetics

Why Cybernetics

In classical binary logic, Aristotle’s principle of non-contradiction states that things cannot be ‘A’ and ‘Not A’ at the same time, and therefore, everything can be categorized into a distinct group: Either ‘A’ or ‘Not A’; and furthermore, ‘A’ into ‘B’ and ‘Not B’; and so on, creating a hierarchy chart.

As an example, a person is a citizen of a country, and within that country, resides in a specific province, and within that, in a specific city, and furthermore, on a particular street, and in a certain house (figure below). This approach has been deeply entrenched in our way of thinking, creating this tendency to view and understand everything in divisions and categories.


The word ‘science’ itself has its roots in notions such as to cut, divide, and split[1]: Cutting down things as much as possible and focusing on the smallest piece to investigate and understand, and by doing so, we build models to define and understand complex things around us.

The established way to come up with such models is by identifying and distinguishing what is and what is not; in other words, what elements and characteristics (let’s say A, B, and C) are required for something to be identified as the subject at hand. This is the way we see the world, make sense of our surroundings, and organize things, and as a consequence, our methods of management and understanding have become utterly reductionist in essence, hierarchical in principle, and divisive in approach.

The reality, however, is much more complicated than this. The A’s, B’s, and C’s of these models are inseparably interconnected to a multitude of variables. Therefore, for these models to have any meaningful outcome, they have to capture all the intricate and, many times, obscure relations. Any sort of simplification (i.e., reduction) will limit the model’s ability to describe the real concept in its entirety.

Another example of this categorization and reductionist approach is the different modes of ADR[2], such as Mediation, Arbitration, etc.; however, with Mediation and Arbitration covering some parts of the real world, new areas such as Med-Arb have been created to address what lies in-between. Nonetheless, the question remains: Amongst all these silos and categories we create, is there anything in between for which we have no names yet? Will there be some unknown areas into which our understanding has yet to reach?

The same generalization can be recognized with Dispute Resolution. Crafting a category and labelling it ‘Litigation’ as the primary method of dispute resolution, we constructed courts, legal systems, lawyers, codes of ethics, and everything necessary for the proper operations within the walls of this category. This (litigation) was our complete response to such complex systems as dispute and conflict.

Learning more about human behaviour, the complexities of various disputes, and the shortcomings of the litigation process, another category of dispute resolution was created and was labelled ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ as an ‘alternative’ way of resolving disputes—the ‘A’ and ‘Not A’ kind of thinking.

Even the name itself, dispute resolution, has a binary logic to it. We purposely chose the word resolution because if there was a problem, we needed to break it down into its parts (Its A’s, B’s, and C’s) and then understand whether it could be resolved or not.[3]

As human beings, understanding the unknowns and controlling our world have been, and will be, major drivers in our survival and development. We model complex systems to theorize and understand their behaviour and mechanisms so that we can control and manage them. This is precisely what Cybernetics is, but through utilizing a holistic and systemic approach, looking at a complex system as a whole, understanding the underlying dynamics, and learning about how control mechanisms work in such systems.

The reductionist or problem-solving paradigm teaches that a problem can be isolated and acted on; and therefore, it leads to focusing on protecting the endangered animal A, and after a while, when another animal species is found out to be at risk, adding animal B to the list of endangered animals to be protected.

The Cybernetics paradigm, however, fundamentally states that all things are interrelated: A ‘problem’ is a ‘state’ of a system, which itself is embedded within larger systems. Resolving a problem requires managing/controlling the system to reach an equilibrium state, in which the problem is not produced.

The above-highlighted statement is the cornerstone, enabling us to construct our holistic view of mediation, step by step, knowing that dispute is a state of a social system, and for it to be resolved, our approach needs to be able to manage the system to define and reach an equilibrium state. To accomplish that, we need to learn more about the Cybernetics of conflict and dispute and find out how to maintain equilibrium.



[1] From Latin scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” from sciens “intelligent, skilled,” present participle of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide” (from PIE root *skei- “to cut, split”)


[2] Alternative Dispute Resolution

[3] Resolution comes from the old French resolution (a breaking into parts), or directly from Latin resolutionem (process of reducing into simpler forms), from past participle stem of resolvere (loosen) (the same root as Resolve)

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