Fourth Order Cybernetics

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Can we Define a Fourth Order System?

  • Fourth Order Cybernetics considers what happens when a system redefines itself.
  • It focuses on the integration of a system within its larger, co-defining context.
   * The 4th Order system is contextualised, embedded and integrated into the context
   * It can thereby become representative for the integrated context.
   * It therefore operates at two levels simultaneously.
   * It is no longer a system, but a meta-system.
   * It operates both as a system in its context, and as a system that is part of the context.
   * It thereby has the capacity to integrate and disintegrate the contact between both.
   * It is an active, interactive, reactive and ideally representative agent in/for/with/of that context.
   * This requires a different level of description: not in relationship to the system, but to the relationship between systems.
   * The Interface is now the system of reference, instead of the system.
   * This relationship is the basis of the interaction.
   * The transformation is the basis of the processing.
   * The integration is the basis of integrity.
   * The significant feature of the meta-system is its duality.
   * The essence is the same, but the relevance brings inversion.
   * The metasystem is an object; the meta-system is a subject.
   * Whereas a system can normally be described, a meta-system can only be experienced
   * The ‘pillars’ in this transition are the relationships (Second Order) and the interactions (Third Order).
   * Fourth Order Design would integrate all activities in an inverted, contextualised form
   * It would be embedded in its context and responsible in, and for, its actions
   * The system would act as meta-system and design would act as meta-design.
   * This represents the level of self-awareness.
   * It is where the system reflects upon itself and steers itself (i.e. is autopoietic).
   * These attributes facilitate self-regeneration, thus self-healing.
   * They can therefore be managed to enable a healing process.


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