The Governance of Self and Civilization

Copyright 1998 © Barnabas D. Johnson


See Conclusion


SOCRATES: Or again, in a ship, if a man having the power to do what he likes, has no intelligence or skill in navigation [αρετης κυβερνητικης, aretes kybernetikes], do you see what will happen to him and to his fellow-sailors?

Plato, Alcibiades I; Benjamin Jowett, translator



The French “cybernétique” was coined in 1834 by André-Marie Ampère (1775-1836).

The English “cybernetics” first appeared in Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine (1948), a book by Norbert Wiener (1894-1964).

These and related words in other languages are rooted in the ancient Greek word κυβερνητικός or kybernetikos, meaning (good at) steering. The precise concept was αρετης κυβερνητικης, aretes kybernetikes. As we shall see, areté (impeccability) is hard to define.

Kybernetes (sometimes spelled kubernetes) denoted a rudder, rudder-man, steersman, or skipper. The Latin form was gubernetes or, later, gubernator.

The phrase Kybernetike tekhne — the art of the helmsman was favored by Aristotle, tekhne meaning “art” (from which we get the word technology). Aristotle insisted that tekhne implied, not mere knowledge or skill, but teleological or goal-oriented activity.

To Aristotle, in short, governance was an art, not a science.

See Note on Tekhne.


Thus, “cybernetics” shares the same root as the word “governance” andcontrary to simpleton notionshas relatively little to do with computer-aided, internet-mediated machinery and institutions. It has everything to do with thought-aided, purpose-directed, history-illuminated, feedback-dependent, and future-affirming or “feed-forward”[1] governance.


The distinction between science and cybernetics becomes ever more crucial as the “found-in-nature” and the “made-by-culture” become ever more intertwined. This intertwining must not be haphazard, yet it is irreducibly complex and therefore unpredictable. In one instance, however, science and cybernetics are (arguably) indistinguishable, and this instance is most revealing, as we shall see — the exception that proves the rule.

Both nature and culture are multi-causal, non-linear, synergetic, impossible to fathom, and difficult to control or even guide. Their modern combination is awe-inspiring, the best antidote against hubris.

Weaving “found” and “made” calls forth complications to be embraced, not bemoaned.


The synergetic intertwining of science and art is very familiar to lawyers, especially common-law scholars. The common-law system of case-by-case analysis, synthesis, construction, recalibration, and evolution is quintessentially cybernetic, focused on that “governance” which is itself governed: by feedback-driven, history-informed, goal-refining dialectics or “conversations” among the bits, bytes, and constituent subsystems of coevolving nature and culture.

Being synergetic, this coevolution is only partially knowable through “science” — broadly defined as the fruits of all systematic empirical inquiry, including systematic inquiry into the history of ideas about the relationships of art to science, culture to nature. Yet, in an odd sense, as we shall see, common-law jurisprudence reflects a sort of long-term “controlled experiment” that we are conducting upon ourselves.

The conversation between found and made is its own best meme or, more precisely, memeplex: a mutually-defining group of seminal ideas. If the evolution of regenerative intelligence on this planet is fundamentally unintelligible or mysterious, then perhaps our best fallback position is simple acquiescence: That which cannot be fully understood must be respectfully engaged.

Whatever counsels against hubris should, additionally, be loved. We celebrate ignorance as the first step towards enlightenment — and, hence, the enlightened governance of self and society.


To say that cybernetics is the “science” of communication, feedback, and control in mechanical, biological, and social systems (as some do) derogates from the vital point that cybernetics is an “art” focused on converting knowledge (including arguably-irreducible limits upon knowledge) into choice (including the choice not to choose) and converting choice into action (including deliberate — deliberative? — inaction).

Cybernetics is quintessentially teleological. To the extent that our “future making” will be assessed and evaluated in the future, as we now assess and evaluate previous eras, cybernetics is also “science”: an eon-spanning controlled experiment we are conducting upon ourselves.

Let us explore further.


First Things First

The most evocative (and possibly the first recorded) discussion of the relationship between cybernetics and governance appears in Plato’s Alcibiades I, at 134(e)-135(b):

SOCRATES: For if a man, my dear Alcibiades, has the power to do what he likes, but has no understanding, what is likely to be the result, either to him as an individual or to the state—for example, if he be sick and is able to do what he likes, not having the mind of a physician—having moreover tyrannical power [135a], and no one daring to reprove him, what will happen to him? Will he not be likely to have his constitution ruined?

ALCIBIADES: That is true.

SOCRATES: Or again, in a ship, if a man having the power to do what he likes, has no intelligence or skill in navigation [αρετης κυβερνητικης], do you see what will happen to him and to his fellow-sailors?

ALCIBIADES: Yes; I see that they will all perish.

SOCRATES: And in like manner, in a state, and where there is any power and authority which is wanting in virtue [135b], will not misfortune, in like manner, ensue?

ALCIBIADES: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Not tyrannical power, then, my good Alcibiades, should be the aim either of individuals or states, if they would be happy, but virtue.

ALCIBIADES: That is true.

Benjamin Jowett, translator


Cybernetics and governance are quintessentially teleological.

As ontology (asking, What is?) called forth epistemology (asking, How do we know what is?), so these two coevolved, over time, to call forth the teleological question — ultimately the touchstone of human striving and the greatest philosophical question of any time and all times — So what?

What should I do with my ontology and epistemology this morning? How shall we live our lives? How can humankind best balance liberty and justice, here and now? How can our emergent planetary civilization find and pursue the path of virtue? In short, how can wisdom, sophia, put Logos — knowledge of the naturally found — into best service to the culturally made, the Nomos: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and know-how focused on ordaining and establishing “quality” governance that will sustain Regenerative Intelligence Still Evolving (RISE)?


The teleological quest for “good government” was the preoccupation of the ancient Sophists, of whom (despite Plato’s protestations) Socrates was the greatest. As cybernetics is quintessentially teleological, so law must advance as a quintessentially cybernetic “calling” — transcending science as science transcends logic.

Logic, science, and cybernetics are each indispensable. Feedback processes among them are essential to worthwhile global progress. Such feedback requires distinctions between “self” and “environment” no less than between “knowing” and “doing” — because feedback consists of “news about” difference, similarity, and (in a word) significance.

Significance always implies context. The context of wisdom, of sophia, and of friends of wisdom, philosophers — so thunders logic, science, cybernetics, and the history of thought and action! — is the forging of a better future, an embodiment of areté.


The ancient Greek idea of areté is hard to translate, but all its meanings evoke that same quest for highest “quality” impeccability — in thought and action.

Socrates — that is, Plato [2] — used αρετης (aretes, translated by Jowett, above, as “skill” and translated by most as “excellence”) to modify κυβερνητικης (kybernetikes, “good steering”), thereby reinforcing the quest for “highest quality” or “impeccability” in the art of the kybernetes, the good governor.

Areté is often translated as “virtue”; perhaps “impeccable bearing” standing, walking, running, fighting, peacemaking, singing, debating, and otherwise embodying the best one can be and do provides the best translation; yet these and all other definitions of areté serve only as “pointers” towards the transcending quest of areté: seeking highest quality in all choices and actions.

Seeking is the operative word here.

Personal virtue, societal excellence, evolutionary impeccability, etc., must never be conceived as a plateau of perfection that can ever be reached. Rather, the goal must be an ongoing process of reaching, of seeking, of becoming, of evolving.

Areté is less a result than a yearning for “quality relationships” between self and society and among all humans and our cultural institutions, etc. Cybernetics transcends ontology and epistemology, as precious as these are, in order to put logic, science, experience, and wisdom to good service aimed at the impeccable “self-governance” of individuals and societies. As already suggested, the concepts “self” and “self-governance” are not self-defining.


The idea of know-how is crucial here, for it implies a learning-by-living process of acquiring, improving, and accumulating skills aimed — in the art of good governance — at converting past experience into future choices and actions which are feedback-sensitive, subject to revision and further learning-by-living.

A government that does not cultivate and harvest feedback, including “unwelcome” news and reproof, is a contradiction of terms. It is illogical. It flies in the face of systematically-gathered, analyzed, and synthesized experience, thereby mocking science. And it is not cybernetic. It is not a “government” worthy of that word. It is not good.

When a democracy guarantees freedom of inquiry, association, and expression, including a free press; and establishes checks and balances among governmental organs that include an independent judiciary; and ensures free and fair elections for legislators and highest-level executive officers; and forbids electoral and governmental corruption in its many sordid guises, including debasement of the Conversation of Democracy by lies, defamations, unfair restrictions on media access, unwarranted governmental secrecy or manipulation of truth, and the silencing or unjust prosecution of critics; when, in short, a democracy ordains institutions by which majority and coalition rule is competently balanced by minority and individual rightsand otherwise establishes Ordered Liberty based on the Rule of Law governed by the Rule of Reason then, and only then, does it merit being called a constitutional democracy.

A constitutional democracy is a government under law in which coalition and majority rule is balanced by minority and individual rights, and in which most [3] rights are balanced by responsibilities — including the responsibility of each citizen to study the history of constitutional government in order to illuminate it in ways that no definition ever can … and in order, thereby, to allow it to evolve further in light of ancient wisdoms and the needs of our evolving global civilization.


All Things Considered

As we have seen, “cybernetics” shares the same root as the word “governance” andin its essencehas relatively little to do with computer-aided, internet-mediated machinery and institutions. It has everything to do with thought-aided, purpose-directed, history-illuminated, feedback-dependent, and future-affirming or “feed-forward” governance. That said, our modern age of computer-aided, internet-mediated knowledge and conduct, etc., enhances the cybernetics of self and society. That enhancement might trigger a near-future “singularity”: a difference not merely of degree but of kind — a fundamental reshaping of self and society, with deepest implications for human liberty, justice, accountability, and governance.

This website will explore the realms of cybernetics, properly understood, in all respects. It seeks to illuminate the “art of governance” in aid of illuminating the meaning and importance of constitutional democracy, worldwide … and possibly beyond our current biosphere. Medium and message will be mutually-defining. How we proceed in addressing this subject is the key to understanding it.

Of this we must be clear: “Inevitable historical forces” are not controlling. Winds of change without leaders to trim the sails will not avail.


In asserting the relationship between “government” and “cybernetics” Socrates was essentially summarizing the entirety of Greek philosophy, thus far, integrating Mythos, Logos, and Nomos.

This kind of deliberative piloting must integrate knowledge of the changeless (metaphor: “stars”) and the naturally changing (“winds and waves”) in order to alter and fine-tune the humanly changeable: the angle of the rudder, the trim of the sail.

Note that the rudder and sail are “linked” not physically but cybernetically, informationally, and this linkage is somewhat analogous to that of the three branches of government in a competent, checks-and-balances, constitutional democracy. Changing one affects the others. These branches co-exist, indeed coevolve, in a dynamic “self-governing equipoise” that has been designed — consciously as well as through distributed intelligence, including tacit (unarticulated) cultural know-how — to secure liberty, justice, the general welfare, and institutions of systemic oversight.


Arguably the most important attribute of constitutional democracy is that it is an “elevated message” from the past to the present and future. Therefore, “dumbing down” this message destroys it. We must understand, and thereby allow ourselves to be inspired.

Humans have evolved into free, thinking, choosing, learning, self-aware, and socially-empathetic creatures, and must evolve further on this course. “Liberal-arts” education, properly understood, is vital to that endeavor. As already emphasized, the worthwhile survival of Regenerative Intelligence Still Evolving (RISE) depends on liberty, free inquiry, independent choice, purposive activity, the pursuit of excellence, and all that these imply.

Thinking creatively and optimistically about this, we realize that we must be equal in our liberties, and hence equal in all constitutional restrictions upon our fundamental rights. Thus, we must be equal under the law. That is the essence of justice — the path towards individual and societal health — according to the so-called Western Legal Tradition. This theme is developed “mythologically” in Arakam to Jurlandia, whose pedagogical approach is intended for deep, internet-mediated explorations of the First Trinity — Mythos, Logos, and Nomos. This theme is central to that “evolving jurisprudence” which undergirded isonomia: justice, properly understood: that necessity which is the mother of our resulting invention, demokratia.

The “subordination” of demokratia to isonomia is crucial. There is far too much talk of democracy and far too little of constitutional democracy.


Consciously and deliberatively coevolving our freedoms and empathies, and “incarnating” their governance within natural, made, and moral-intellectual environments, we have traveled far. As we reflect upon the human condition, upon this long-term “controlled experiment” we are performing upon ourselves and our planetary Self — thereby uniting science and cybernetics in global inquiry and artistry — we know that freedom has formed us, empathy has expanded our capacities, purpose has steeled our common determination, and the Conversation of Democracy has become our preferred path towards defining, and governing, that “motile colony” by which our biosphere has parented its memesphere, this Info-world of coevolving ideas and ideals that compose us and offer our emerging global civilization’s salvation.


Standing Tall

Some say we know much about our universe, including its origins about 14 billion years ago. However, according to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), between 90% and 96% of our universe is composed of “dark” matter that we cannot detect; furthermore, “the universe may not only be filled with dark matter, but with dark energy … [called] ‘quintessence’.” (p. 171). Of the detectable, much is said to be “strange” or “charmed” or strung together with metaphors that celebrate poetic license rather than empirical exactitude. Our nest’s “world view” and “world to view” are utterly mysterious — a dancing of quarks, quanta, and quintessences. Truly, we are children of unfathomable mystery.

Yet in recent times the veil of mystery has been lifted somewhat, and here we can start (as the ancient Greeks did) to convert Mythos into Logos, a world of eternal gods into one of abiding truths and values built up, over time, through systematic observation, thought, planning, action, and reflection.

Furthermore, systematic action and reflection play an ever more crucial role in converting Logos into Nomos: “the conventions of conduct” — of mutual undertakings on which others may reasonably rely — undergirding law.

The beginning point of legal inquiry is the question: What does it mean to be a human? What does it mean, today, to be a child of convention-refining planetary civilization?


Over two million years ago, as our ancient forebears rose up onto their hind legs and lifted their eyes and arms towards the stars, they had — as it were — “time on their hands” to evolve opposable thumbs, nimble fingers, the capacity for tool-making, and an inclination to dream and plan.

Since that time, the human forebrain has tripled in volume, largely because our tool-making capacity allowed, indeed required, specialization: hunters, gatherers, farmers, builders, craftsmen, sailors, administrators of waterworks, coordinators of city states, and composers of symphonies and global constitutions and thus-far unimaginable creative endeavors.

All this specialization — and particularly that essential “meta-specialization” of being multi-competent (see below) — required communication and information exchange, both inside and outside our brains. Arguably the greatest impetus for brain growth has been the necessity for ever-greater sub-systemic and pan-systemic communication and information-processing that presumably accords survival advantages to those who are most adept at cultural “communification”: another heuristic term denoting a largely-unmapped yet intuitively-grasped territory.

The fact that, with the dawn of our computer- and internet-mediated era, ever more information can be stored outside the brain, probably provides an added impetus for brain growth, albeit now our greatest “internal genius” must involve, first, knowing how to access and use the external InfoSphere; second, learning how to integrate all available knowledge and know-how; and third, discerning — case by case — how to focus logic, science, and cybernetics in aid of action, especially mutual action and cultural construction.


The most complex “thing” our brains evolved to deal with was other humans navigating, as all must, among the rocky shoals and warm harbors of … each other, of civilization in the making, and (increasingly) of RISE.

Arguably, the human brain is the most complex phenomenon we know of in our universe, except for civilization itself. Our galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, yet the human brain has hundreds of billions of cells, and those cells are connected (on average) to about twenty thousand others. The number of combinations and permutations of possible connections among those hundreds of billions of cells is utterly staggering: Try about 100 billion times 20,000 times 19,999 times 19,998 times 19,997 … etc.

Yet that vast number of “potential info-bits” contained in each human brain is itself vastly eclipsed by the number of actual info-bits generated within and among the billions of humans on this planet … aided by libraries, universities, think tanks, and websites galore!

Quantity does not imply quality, of course. However, what “being human” involves has to include mind-boggling quantities of “mental activity” with staggeringly non-trivial qualitative implications.

Human civilization is, indeed, worth contemplating. Yet the “datum of analysis” that is the focus of this website transcends it, dwarfs it.

RISE requires “modern civilization” as its foundation, yet builds beyond anything our current conception of civilization contemplates.

They build too low who build beneath the stars, as Longfellow asserted.[4]  But now, it seems, the stars hang too low.


Our brains have coevolved with our civilization, adding 300,000 cells per generation over two million years, and this process apparently continues. It represents a remarkably rapid genetic advance, giving survival advantage to those who can navigate an ever-more-complex civilization that is (let us hope) still in its infancy. Humans accord ever-greater significance to thinking — as an individual as well as a cultural phenomenon — and our thinking increasingly focuses on how to cultivate and improve a “culture of mindfulness” nurturing, and nurtured by, a free press, regular elections, independent universities, scientific explorations, technological advances, transparent economies, and all the other “cultural tools” of Open World development.


Being Human

Freedom implies obligations, including the obligation to understand how majority and coalition rule is best balanced by minority and individual rights, and how this balance serves those Open World values that keep civilization ever young, always nimble, eternally hopeful … yet also stable and secure. Hope is the mainspring of life. But it must be built on a firm foundation of genuine confidence, which itself is founded on genuine competence — including competence in understanding, and enhancing, liberty bounded by justice, choice bounded by wisdom.

As noted, isonomia predated demokratia. The ancient Greek sequence, whether of thinking or of coevolving reality, was that if we are equal under the law we should be equal in the making of law. Yet note: Isonomia required not merely any kind of law — it required general law, prospectively applied, binding all equally, and always (on principle) subject to reasoned development … the focus of the Sophists. In archaic yet remarkably “modern” terms, these ancient “teachers of virtue” were investigating the Rule of Law based on the Rule of Reason — a special kind of reasoning, what I here call, following Socrates’ famous formulation, “cybernetic reasoning”: the reasoning of the kubernetes, which cultivates and harvests feedback, the abiding lessons of history, the records of current successes and failures, with the purpose of avoiding past mistakes and enhancing future wellbeing.

Isonomia was the foundation of justice, what Aristotle considered the core ingredient of a civilization that seeks to promote individual and social happiness. First ordained by the ancient Athenian lawgiver Solon, isonomia was later championed by the Roman Republic’s finest orator, Cicero; but it was subsequently eclipsed for a millennium, until (in effect) “rediscovered” in the eleventh century A.D. by the true founders of the Western Legal Tradition, the law students of Bologna who synthesized the Greek genius for systematic thought, the Roman genius for pragmatic administration, and the (Western Christian) preoccupation with the “uses” of faith and reason to secure a common humanity under a common deity. Not coincidentally, the “common law” of England (more than is generally appreciated) grew out of, and contributed to, that same nascent “second coming” of isonomia.

The origins of the Western Legal Tradition, the Common Law Tradition, and the “cybernetics of society” suffuse these Jurlandia writings. They examine it from many standpoints, initially summarized for this website in Inquiry and Proposal on the Goals of Law Reform and Legal-Education Reform within the Countries of the Former Communist Bloc. Much of that essay is now superseded by other writings on this website, especially Post-Soviet Law Reform and Legal-Education Reform. Eventually those essays will be completely replaced by an internet-mediated “encyclopedia of constitutional democracy” at this website. Needless to say, or maybe not, this is a huge undertaking.


Integrative Jurisprudence

The Western Legal Tradition has evolved “legal reasoning” into an integrative jurisprudence whose core values compose Open World commitments to liberty, equality, and empathy-based fraternity. These values integrate moral as well as pragmatic considerations; they learn from history; and they accept the burdens of future scrutiny. They include the hard-won lessons upholding property rights and contract rights — albeit limited by isonomia — as essential ingredients of any constitutional democracy worthy of that name, yet they recognize that these achieve their full value only when contextualized by the experimental participation of “Man” with “God” in “Creation” (what the term “synergism” first denoted). This subject is further explored in The Enterprise of Integrative Jurisprudence.


As suggested, Open World “reasoning” prudently recognizes that participatory systems, such as human societies, are very complex; this is partly because our efforts to understand such systems changes them, and changes our relations with them and with our fellow-participants. Accordingly, this reasoning places great faith in the Conversation of Democracy — ongoing free inquiry and debate, periodic elections (and possibly internet-mediated referenda), constitutional checks and balances, and “transparency” which does not unreasonably burden privacy, including the foundational values of private property and freedom of contract. Balancing — a verb, an ongoing, self-reflective, self-governing process — itself “balances” upon faith in free discourse, freedom generally, and all that these imply. Every generation must discover anew how dependent it is upon such balancing.

As Socrates long ago noted, we live and learn, as individuals and as societies, integrating certainty with probability, wisdom with will. At some fundamental level what we have learned must be articulated in very personal terms: My liberty is valuable to me because of what it allows me to do, using my own unique insight, wisdom, energy; indeed, my liberty thereby allows me to be fully human. But human liberty — inalienable and unbounded except by isonomia — is even more valuable to me because of what it allows you … and each other “me” … to do, using insights, wisdoms, and energies which I probably cannot aspire to. With your liberty, you can write a book or symphony that elevates the human condition, and hence elevates me; and you can also critique my book or symphony, as I can critique yours; together, bounded by our rights and resulting responsibilities, we can create a Meta Mind that far exceeds the capacities of our individual understanding. While the scientific enterprise partakes of that Meta Mind, this enterprise transcends logic and science — and must itself be subject to purpose-filled, self-governing, self-transforming cybernetics.

Logic, science, cybernetics, these three abide … rooted (as earlier discussed) in ancient ontology, epistemology, and teleology. Mythos begat Logos, and Logos — through ontology, epistemology, and teleology — begets Nomos; these “relic ideas” properly forge the future of Nomos, of human law, and of our emerging cybernetic civilization. Historically, the first and greatest invention of Nomos was isonomia. Democracy must be “under” such law.


Law and Cybernetics

Open World values lie at the heart of open-ended but self-corrective evolution, for they both espouse and limit what is possible by what is evolutionarily viable — including, within ever-tested limits, what civilization has come to uphold as being evolutionarily fundamental, such as liberty under law. These values governing “societal cybernetics” are best advanced when, on principle, every “you” can become a “me” who exercises liberty under isonomia — what Adam Smith championed as individual initiative bounded by equal justice. 

Smith was above all a moral philosopher, as reflected in his early book, A Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). His moral philosophy focused first and foremost on the capacity of humans to stand in each other’s shoes, to see life from others’ perspectives, and to act accordingly. For him, for example, market competition was the result of a higher-order “implicit cooperation” among consumers to (a) obtain and pool market-affecting knowledge, and (b) force producers to provide best-quality goods and services at competitive prices. In truth, “cooperation” and “competition” are terms denoting a continuum of complex interactions. Likewise, “law” and “economics” are coevolving, synergetic; they and related fundamentals of our emerging Open World compose the law, the rules of conduct, the unarticulated major premises, which govern the human enterprise, which keep it focused on ongoing regeneration and improvement.

Law, as suggested, is the quintessential “cybernetic calling”; but lawyers know little of cybernetic theory and cyberneticians know even less of law. Jurlandia seeks to facilitate mutual understanding, thereby enhancing the prospects for healthy Open World governance. Governance is not the same as “government”; governance is much more fundamental.

That government governs best which facilitates self-governance among all systems and sub-systems. A good constitutional democracy ordains and establishes liberty under law as a necessary element of such systemic self-governance.



The “art of governance” is teleological. First, it is focused on the greatest quest of Greek philosophy, namely, integrating “knowledge of the changeless” (metaphor, “stars”) and “knowledge of the naturally changing” (metaphor, “winds and waves”) so as to “inform” the humanly changeable (metaphor, “angle of the rudder, trim of the sail”), which metaphors, together, illuminate that most quintessentially-human endeavorcybernetic, teleological, purpose-driven, future-making “conversion” of self-knowledge (including societal “self-knowledge”) into self-governance (including the self-governance of our emergent global civilization).

Second (and this concept of “teleological” is a direct outgrowth of cybernetic theory), the “art of governance” is based not only on our knowledge of the past and present (feed-back) but also our “knowledge”systematically-derived speculationsregarding the future, or alternative futures (“feed-forward”).

Law-making, law-implementing, law-refining, and similar endeavorsall focused on systematically-generated knowledge of the past and speculation about alternative futuresare not only goal-oriented but also goal-redefining, culture-reforming, civilization-reconstructing, etc. They are cybernetic, requiring that we strive to know ourselves better so that we might govern ourselves more wisely, with greater areté.

The most effective reformers must ground their proposals as deeply as possible in “conventional” history and philosophy, claiming nothing truly-new under the sun.

But surely there is something new under the sun.

Our emergent global cybernetics.

Upholding Nomosphere.

Where we began.

Go to Start of Essay.


Note on Tekhne:

This is another of those hard-to-translate ancient Greek words. According to the Mythos, Prometheus was the Titan who (by some accounts) made humans and (by all accounts) gave us fire. Less reported is that Prometheus also gave us tekhne, or, more precisely, entekhnon sophian, the wisdom of the arts — not merely fire, but the “know-how” to do things with fire (besides merely staying warm) and, more generally, the know-how to do things with knowledge, logos, of every kind.

This Mythos was, not surprisingly, recapitulated when Thales and his successor Cosmologists (seekers of the One) systematized logos into Logos and thereby laid the foundations of Nomos — the know-how by which wisdom, sophos, converts Logos (logic, mathematics, astronomy, and other nascent pre-Aristotelian “sciences” [see Note on “Sciences”]) into cybernetics, governance: “made” culture growing out of “found” nature.

The Cosmologists sought the Logos. Subsequently, the Sophists, seeing how the cosmological search for the One had degenerated into a cacophony of competing cosmologies — warring Ones — transcended the “Gordian Knot of Logos” by changing the question and inventing Nomos to answer it.

Prometheus, meaning forethought, was “unbound” (in hindsight) by feedback-dependent wisdom … which the Titans, products of mere causality, could not possibly have aspired to. Or so it seems. See Mythos, Logos, Nomos. (Go back)

Note on “Sciences”:

Although Aristotle greatly advanced the concept of “sciences” as distinct from “arts” and, arguably, from logic and mathematics, he did not have as developed an understanding of what we now call “scientific method” as we do. Our concept of “sciences” is largely based on the scientific method — including controlled experiments introduced 1,900 years later by Francis Bacon. And of course there has been a growing literature on that subject ever since, as anyone who searches the internet for “philosophy of science” will find. Indeed, some modern thinkers question whether “sciences” and “arts” ought always to be clearly distinguished. But then, it was Aristotle who probably first asserted that only similars can be usefully contrasted. I address “similarity” and “difference” and “significance” in First Trinity.

Much of the confusion regarding Aristotle’s concept of “sciences” has to do with the fact that during his long teaching career his thinking evolved (perhaps on this issue more than on any other), so that his writings or, more likely, those of generations of his students (and their students) who, following Aristotle’s death in 322 BCE, created a “tradition” of Aristotelian philosophy can be interpreted to support contrasting if not contradictory opinions. While initially he seems to have believed, with his teacher Plato, that the only “real” knowledge was deductive “demonstration” (little distinguishable from mathematical proofs and logical “demonstrations”), Aristotle’s greatest contribution (arguably) was his elevation of empiricism inductive analysis, synthesis, and categorization based on observed particulars as a source of information that (a) can be organized into “fields of knowledge” and (b) can, as a practical matter, be put to more useful service to humankind than deductive knowledge … especially when employing such science in aid of tekhne: making as distinct from finding.

Granted, such empirical knowledge is of a different quality; it is not certainly true, only probably true and, indeed, is normally subject to further investigation, further “truth testing” in light of subsequent empirical investigations. Yet, on the other hand, arguably most “certainly true” things are essentially tautologies: true but trite such as the assertion that, if A is larger than B, and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C.

Aristotle came to see that the quest for systematic knowledge and understanding must go beyond such self-evident certitudes. His greatest contribution was to “show” how deductive and inductive knowledge can be persuasively combined … albeit no conclusion is ever more certain than its least-certain component. (Go back)

Note on Synergetics:

I have been puzzling over synergy, synergism, or synergetics for a long time. My “Third Year Written Work” (a sort of thesis), required for my graduation from Harvard Law School in 1970, was entitled Cosmic Synergism and the Global Village Discontinuity. One of the goals of the Jurlandia website is to delve further into synergism, discontinuity, and “singularities” (as fundamental changes from “degree” to “kind” are increasingly called).

Modern synergetics teaches that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or, more specifically, that the behavior of whole systems is unpredictable based on “full knowledge” (whatever that means) of the behavior of constituent subsystems. You cannot “predict” a molecule based on “full knowledge” of atoms. Of course, nobody tries to “understand” atoms from the standpoint of ignorance about the existence of molecules, so the point seems somewhat artificial. Yet it does have its deeper implications, the most important being a rejection of “reductionism” the sort of silliness one often encounters which says, for example, that we are “nothing more than atoms” or that we are merely the products of our conditioning, etc.

Synergetics (more precisely, “synergism”) started as a theological idea: God depends on human cooperation to carry out, well … Creation. Although I am not religious in any conventional sense, I find this earliest meaning of “synergism” worth pondering. It is a major theme explored in these Jurlandia writings. Rejecting reductionism, I embrace synergism: the belief (for it cannot be proved) that “reality” is emergent, non-linear that, in a manner of speaking, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Around 1972, I started to contrast “synergetics” with “cybernetics” based partly on the works of Gregory Bateson (see Catherine Bateson’s discussion of her father’s works) in the sense that synergetics allows all sorts of things and ideas, etc., while cybernetics weeds out those that are flawed or dysfunctional, etc. Obviously, both synergetics and cybernetics are “heuristics”: ideas, mental constructs, intended to promote further thought. The last thing I want to promote is a new reductionism which asserts that we are merely synergetics bounded by cybernetics. Obviously, we are far more. See Synergetics. See Evolution and Coevolution. (Go back)



[1] In general, wherever in these Jurlandia writings I refer to “feedback” I include what here I have termed “feed-forward” — which is, in essence, feedback based on speculations (presumably responsible and well-grounded) regarding the future, including various alternative futures that might transpire based on past, current, and future choices. The essence of teleology is that it is based not only on knowledge of the past and present, but also on “knowledge of the future” based thereon. Such knowledge is inherently probabilistic, not certain. Cybernetics is by order and dimension teleological, goal-sensitive. Like Janus, cybernetics and its parent, teleology, face forward and backward, simultaneously. How the “brain” of our Janus-like civilization thinks and plans is changed through self-reflection and self-governance. Indeed, arguably the “self” comes into being due to its imbeddedness in choices and actions in the past and present “transported” into the future. See First Trinity. (Go back)

[2] As discussed by its translator, the great Greek scholar Benjamin Jowett, there is a controversy whether Plato wrote Alcibiades I. See Jowett’s Preface. For purposes of this essay, however, that is essentially immaterial. The analogy between the art of the helmsman and the art of the governor was beyond doubt “in the air” during the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and if Alcibiades I was not written by Plato, it might be one of the many lost Dialogues of Aristotle (highly regarded by his contemporaries) or the work of a student of Plato or Aristotle (there were many imitators), or even that of a contemporary of Socrates. The analogy between a helmsman and a governor appears elsewhere in Plato. The text of Alcibiades I is the most evocative of those analogies. Beyond doubt, over the ages many have considered Alcibiades I (as distinct from Alcibiades II) to be one of the best introductions to Plato’s philosophy, whether or not he wrote it. Alcibiades I, named after a real human and a favorite subject for dialogues and commentaries, remains a gem of ancient Greek philosophy. And, all things considered, it was probably written by Plato. (Go back)

[3] The rights of children and the infirm, for example, do not require their contemporaneous “reciprocal responsibilities” to understand the origins of those rights. We accord such rights based on a broader sense of reciprocity: For example, if as children we “had” such rights, or if as adults we now wish we had had them, then as adults we must concurrently secure those rights for succeeding generations; and, to secure them, we must strive (among other endeavors) to understand them. Constitutional democracy requires that, at any given time, an “informed consensus” of responsible adults will secure constitutional democracy as an “intellectual endeavor” which they care, at least minimally, to understand. (Go back)

[4] Longfellow: “He builds too low who builds beneath the stars.” This motto was prominently displayed in the boys’ dorm of Olney Friends School, a boarding school in Barnesville, Ohio, which I attended during 1958-61. (Go Back)


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