Second-order Dialogue and Higher Order Discourse for the Future


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens - TRANSCEND Media Service

Potential Implications of Second-order Cybernetics and Higher-order Communication Possibilities


7 Aug 2023 – The importance of second-order cybernetics — for technical understanding and control of complex systems — has long been recognized.  It is a form of cybernetics in which “the role of the observer is appreciated and acknowledged rather than disguised, as had become traditional in western science”. It was developed between the late 1960s and mid 1970s by Heinz von Foerster and others (Margaret Mead, The Cybernetics of Cybernetics***, Purposive Systems, 1968; Heinz von Foerster, The Cybernetics of Cybernetics, 1974; Magoroh Maruyama, The Second Cybernetics: deviation-amplifying mutual causal processes, American Scientist, 51, 1963, 2).

The focus in what follows is on how those insights might apply to the processes of dialogue, discourse and conversation. The assumption is that it is one thing to develop a conceptual framework for the role of the observer in systems control. However, this tends in practice to avoid attention to the matter of how such insights apply to dialogue itself, and the role of the participants experiencing it.

Since calls for dialogue are frequently made in the face of dangerously conflictual situations, of particular concern are assumptions made regarding the quality and adequacy of dialogue associated with those situations, as may be variously discussed (Questionable adequacy of “dialogue” as practiced? 2022; Challenging impoverishment of conventional discourse, 2016).

The question is somewhat naive since it might be assumed that it is effectively addressed in the literature relating to meta-discourse and meta-dialogue, or in any consideration of self-reflexive dialogue. Rather than such academic concerns, the focus here is however on the insights in play in active participation in dialogue in contrast to external observation and reporting of it. In particular, how might such insights and “ways of looking” be recognized and valued in collective debate — most obviously in legislative assemblies considering matters of global import (Questionable adequacy of “dialogue” as practiced? 2022)

On the other hand, it could be argued that participants in any form of negotiation, whether political or business-related, must necessarily engage — in some manner — in reframing the process in which they are engaged. This would be done such as to recognize strategic opportunities for playing its development to gain an advantage — or to recognize the failure of a particular discourse modality. This implies a developed perspective on that dialogue, presumably meriting recognition as a “second-order” perspective.

In this light it might then be asked whether there are even “higher” cybernetic orders of discourse in which some have the capacity to engage — as with the most persuasive and skilled negotiators. With dialogue potentially to be understood as a form of game, how might those with higher order skills engage in the process? Rather than seeking to gain advantage as in any binary competition, would subtler concerns then take precedence? Clearly of significance to future global governance is the potential of such elusive modalities in response to the dynamics of a chaotic context.

There is also the question of whether there is a general trend towards “meta-perspectives” — somewhat ironically highlighted by a preoccupation with meta-data. This could be understood as a psychosocial analogue to the increasing focus on humanity’s potential future shift to outer space and distant planets — a mass migration of humanity to a new cognitive frontier (Future Global Exodus to the Metasphere, 2022). Such a shift may well be enabled by artificial intelligence, as can be speculatively explored (Use of ChatGPT to Clarify Possibility of Dialogue of Higher Quality, 2023).

Potentially even more intriguing is the challenge offered by contact with hypothetical extraterrestrials. It is possible that their most remarkable characteristic may take the form of a modality of dialogue which would be experienced as extremely elusive by conventional human norms — or too readily “understood” through simplistic human conventions. That modality might explain the Fermi paradox regarding the apparent absence of ET contact with humanity — framed by them as committed to an overly primitive style of communication.


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