80 episodes

Interviews with Scholars of Systems and Cybernetics about their New Books
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New Books in Systems and Cybernetics Marshall Poe

    • Science
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Interviews with Scholars of Systems and Cybernetics about their New Books
Support our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/systems-and-cybernetics

    James Ladyman and K. Wiesner, "What Is a Complex System?" (Yale UP, 2020)

    James Ladyman and K. Wiesner, "What Is a Complex System?" (Yale UP, 2020)

    While i find it pretty easy to recognize when i'm reading articles in complexity science, i've never been satisfied by definitions of complexity and related concepts. I'm not alone! Researchers' own attempts to define complex systems incorporate a mix of folk wisdom and fraught assumptions anchored to a menagerie of contested examples. The field was ripe for a 2013 article proposing a unified account of complexity, and it's no less ripe today for this book-length expansion.
    In What Is a Complex System? (Yale UP, 2020), philosopher of science James Ladyman and physicist and mathematician Karoline Wiesner systematically interrogate popular definitions. They break the most commonly cited features into three bins: truisms on which there is universal agreement, the conditions necessary for complexity to arise, and various emergent products of complexity. A key insight of their account, for me, was to understand emergence as a relation between features rather than one feature among many.
    The book is compact, accessible, and at times profound. Indeed, James and Karoline bring the lessons of their account to some of the most consequential complex systems of our time, including Earth's climate and biosphere as well as our global social media ecosystem. I was honored to host them in conversation on this episode, and i encourage listeners to pick up the book itself for deeper dives into the topics we discussed.
    James Ladyman is professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol and works mainly in the philosophy of science. Karoline Wiesner is professor of physics at the University of Potsdam and uses information theory to understand complex systems.
    Cory Brunson is a Research Assistant Professor at the Laboratory for Systems Medicine at the University of Florida. His research focuses on geometric and topological approaches to the analysis of medical and healthcare data. He welcomes book suggestions, listener feedback, and transparent supply chains.
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    • 1 hr 14 min
    Martin Reynolds and Sue Holwell, "Systems Approaches to Making Change: A Practical Guide" (Springer, 2020)

    Martin Reynolds and Sue Holwell, "Systems Approaches to Making Change: A Practical Guide" (Springer, 2020)

    Practitioners from all professional domains are increasingly confronted with incidences of systemic failure, yet poorly equipped with appropriate tools and know-how for understanding such failure, and the making of systemic improvement. In our fragile Anthropocene world where ‘systems change’ is often invoked as the rallying call for purposeful alternative action, this book provides a toolkit to help constructively make systems that can change situations for the better.
    Reflecting on the decade that has passed since the publication of the first edition of Systems Approaches to Making Change: A Practical Guide (Springer, 2020), Reynolds writes: “Global turbulence and conflict associated with trade wars, terrorism and destabilization have been significantly accentuated in the last 10 years… issues of sustainability are prevalent (ranging) from extensive deforestation of Amazonia… to contentious fracking for continued fossil-fuel extraction amongst more industrialised nations predominantly in the northern hemisphere”. In other words, there has been no easing up when it comes to the big messes that plague us—in fact, the need for effective techniques for making systemic change has no doubt never been greater.
    Viable Systems Model, Soft Systems, SODA… oh my! Where should the practitioner start? Which approach should I deploy in my work? What about using more than one model—or perhaps a combination of models? The five approaches outlined in this book offer the systems thinking practitioner a range of interchangeable tools for pro-actively making systemic improvements amidst complex situations of change and uncertainty. Systems Approaches to Change offers an excellent introduction for those seeking to understand systems thinking and to enact systems thinking in practice. The book helps practitioners from all professions to better understand inter-relationships, engage with multiple perspectives, and reflect on boundary judgements that can inhibit or enhance improved purposeful change.
    Kevin Lindsay is a 25+ year Silicon Valley software product strategist and marketer, and graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
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    • 1 hr
    Warren Mansell, "The Interdisciplinary Handbook of Perceptual Control Theory" (Academic Press, 2020)

    Warren Mansell, "The Interdisciplinary Handbook of Perceptual Control Theory" (Academic Press, 2020)

    Regular listeners to this podcast will be well aware of my strong conviction that the Perceptual Control Theory initially formulated by William T. Powers entails many significant contributions to the domains of systems and cybernetics despite the fact that, for the last several decades, its applications have been further developed in a largely “adjacent” academic community. 
    It is in the ongoing spirit of a much-needed rapprochement between these fields, that previous guest, Warren Mansell, returns to this podcast; this time, as editor of The Interdisciplinary Handbook of Perceptual Control Theory – Vol. 1, out from Elsevier in 2020. Astonishing in its sweeping, panoramic view of the contemporary sciences, both “natural” and “social,” this magnificent volume brings together the latest research, theory, and applications of Powers’ powerful and parsimonious theory proposing that the behavior of a living organism lies in the control of perceived aspects of both itself and its environment. Illustrating both the fundamental theory and the application of PCT to a broad range of disciplines, various chapters illuminate why perceptual control is fundamental to understanding human nature, describe a new way to do research on brain processes and behavior, reveal how the role of natural selection in behavior can be demystified, explain how engineers can emulate human purposeful behavior in robots with significantly lower computational expense, and so much more. If ever there was a book that could consolidate some of the world’s most rigorous applications of PCT in a manner rendering its remarkable explanatory power and paradigm exploding practical value in vivid detail and inspiring insight, this is it.
    Tom Scholte is a Professor of Directing and Acting in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia located on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Musqueam people.
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    • 1 hr 4 min
    Tyson Yunkaporta, "Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World" (HarperOne, 2021)

    Tyson Yunkaporta, "Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World" (HarperOne, 2021)

    Although it is not described as such anywhere in the book, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World (HarperOne, 2021) is indeed a systems-thinking book—one that offers a much-needed fresh perspective. Tyson Yunkaporta stands on the shoulders of who we should consider the original systems thinkers: Indigenous elders—the keepers & teachers of ancient knowledge—to show us that by “emphasizing community and connection over individualism and fragmentation—and by cultivating respect for the land—we can address the urgent challenges we face”. 
    Readers of systems literature will notice familiar themes such as non-linearity, complexity, cause-and-effect and the role of the observer in a system. Each chapter of this paradigm-shifting book starts with some yarning and 'sand talk'— invoking an Aboriginal custom of drawing images on the ground to convey knowledge. The table of contents is a beautiful compilation of Yunkaporta’s sand talk carving illustrations.
    Tyson Yunkaporta offers that there is much to be learned from Indigenous 'knowledge systems', but expressses worry about borrowed ideas getting "tangled and twisted in marketplace of civilization"—and suggests that "symbiotic dances" must instead occur between Indigenous and non-Indigenous systems. The result of such an "interaction of multitude of agents in a sustainable system of emergent entities" could be positive and productive. Tyson Yunkaporta is an arts critic, and researcher—and a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland. He carves traditional tools and weapons and also works as a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. This is his first book.
    Kevin Lindsay is a 25+ year Silicon Valley software product strategist and marketer, and graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Kevin is interested in complexity and paradox, and the power of systems thinking to help us understand and tackle the big messes humanity created and is now dealing with. Kevin has been an NBN host since July 2020.
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    • 1 hr 2 min
    Steve Dixon, "Cybernetic-Existentialism: Freedom, Systems, and Being-for-Others in Contemporary Arts and Performance" (Routledge, 2020)

    Steve Dixon, "Cybernetic-Existentialism: Freedom, Systems, and Being-for-Others in Contemporary Arts and Performance" (Routledge, 2020)

    Like the transdiscipline of cybernetics, the philosophical movement known as Existentialism rose to prominence in the decade following World War II, was communicated to the general public by a handful of charismatic evangelizers who, for a time, became bona fide celebrities in popular culture, generated much excitement and innovation on university campuses across Europe, the Americas and beyond, and, in subsequent decades, seemed to fade to the periphery of intellectual discourse with some declaring both movements dead and others keeping the faith in small circles of committed artists, scholars, and practitioners. Along the way, both movements have found some of their strongest expressions through works of art; from the plays and novels of some of existentialisms key players, to the 1968 Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition that toured America after its original incarnation at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London.
    In the early decades of the 21st century, well into the so-called Information and at a historical moment fraught with new and amplified ethical challenges, both fields seem, to many, to be poised for a comeback. One such observer is Steve Dixon, whose monograph, Cybernetic-Existentialism: Freedom, Systems, and Being-for-Others in Contemporary Arts and Performance (Routledge, 2020), not only explores the often surprising conceptual overlaps between the two fields but manages to offer nothing less than an original aesthetic theory fusing perspectives from the philosophy of Existentialism with insights from the ‘universal science’ of cybernetics to provide a new analytical lens and deconstructive methodology to critique art.
    In this study, Steve Dixon examines how a range of cutting edge contemporary artists’ works embody core ideas from such Existentialist philosophers as Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre on freedom, being and nothingness, eternal recurrence, the absurd, and being-for-others while, simultaneously, engaging in complex explorations of concepts proposed by such cyberneticians as Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, and Gregory Bateson on information theory and ‘noise’, feedback loops, circularity, adaptive ecosystems, autopoiesis, and emergence.
    Dixon’s ground-breaking book demonstrates how fusing insights and knowledge from these two fields can throw new light on pressing issues within contemporary arts and culture, including authenticity, angst and alienation, homeostasis, radical politics, and the human as system. Join me now as Dixon, in his own words, “talks for England” in an energetic romp across these complex, overlapping intellectual and aesthetic landscapes.
    Tom Scholte is a Professor of Directing and Acting in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia located on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Musqueam people.
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    • 1 hr 6 min
    Matthew O. Jackson, "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors" (Vintage, 2019)

    Matthew O. Jackson, "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviors" (Vintage, 2019)

    Social networks existed and shaped our lives long before Silicon Valley startups made them virtual. For over two decades economist Matthew O. Jackson, a professor at Stanford University, has studied how the shape of networks and our positions within them can affect us. In this interview, he explains how network structures can create poverty traps, exacerbate financial crises, and contribute to political polarization. He also explains how a new awareness of the role of networks has been used to improve financial regulation, promote public health knowledge, and guide vaccination strategy.
    Jackson also discusses how he first began to study networks, previously neglected by economists, and how economists can both learn from and contribute to the exciting cross-disciplinary dialogue among researchers from sociology, math, physics, and other fields.
    Professor Jackson's website provides free access to the chapter on contagion, of particular interest in this time of pandemic. For those who want to learn even more than the book can cover, he offers a free online course on the topic.
    Host Peter Lorentzen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of San Francisco, where he leads a new digital economy-focused Master's program in Applied Economics.
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    • 1 hr 6 min

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