Lecture Series

09 December 2022


Life-in-formation: Cybernetics of Heart (Cybernetics for the 21st Century)


media lab

Cybernetics in the 20th century was a systems theory of mechanism and enframing (Gestell) that has been the driving force of the global domination by modern technology that concealed the fundamental dynamic of making sense of lived experience of the living being, and we lost our meaning of life: nihilism. In the classical cybernetics, however, there was a latent potential to reopen a biological worldview which enable us to observe the process of construction of our world of significance (in-formation), for it was not a study of how to reduce the living being into the machine, but rather how to realize the living being reducing its overwhelmingly unpredictable environment into something capable to survive from its perspective. The word cybernetics is etymologically derived from steering technics. Cybernetics is technics that helps the living being steer its passage of life. It is a study on the observation from within the living being. This aspect of cybernetics has been respected by neocybernetics since the late 20th century. It took a step further in terms of the observation. There are two modes of observation in the new systems theory.
On the one hand, a systems is observed as an object by an observer as a subject from outside the system. On the other hand, a system recursively observing itself observing. From these bi-observation, the living system is observed as materially open and in-formationally (operationally) closed system.

The in-formational closure means that the process of the living system is recursive and autopoietic, from which a world of significance to the system is constructed. It means that the in-formationally closed system is autonomous. On the other hand, the living system is also open and heteronomous, for there are inputs and outputs and its operation is determined or constrained from outside itself, from the perspective of the material observation. In other words, the living system is living in its world of significance, constructing the world of significance itself to live in, and is itself living constructed in the world it itself constructed. This ambiguity of autonomy and heteronomy is the mode of operation of the living system. As described in the concept of hierarchical autonomous communication system (HACS) in fundamental informatics, the ambiguity of living system, like a human being as a social being, can be observed as correlative operations of the lower and higher autonomous systems, like the psychic system and the social system, the correlative operation of which coordinated by technics as media. Today, the task for the new cybernetics is to transform the correlative operations of the psychic, social, and global systems and their media technics into different possible forms from the dominant global capitalist system and its media of enframing technology. I suggest cybernetics for the 21st century should take one more step further in the direction. It should be media technics that help us steer our process of heart and future correlative transformation of the psychic, social, and global systems that value and take care of life-in-formation, or life living our lives.

Daisuke Harashima is a research associate of Future Robotics Organization at Waseda University (Tokyo, Japan). He writes and teaches on humanities and technics in contemporary information societies from the perspective of fundamental informatics and new cybernetics, which focuses on the differences between living beings and machines as systems, to reflect on the modern technological condition and to realize new values based on respect for life.

His writings are published in books, including Critical Words: Media Theory (Filmart, 2021; co-authored, in Japanese), Autonomy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence: Reconstructing the Basic Concept for the Future [AI jidai no jiritsusei: Mirai no ishizue to naru gainen wo saikouchiku suru] (Keiso Shobo, 2019; co-authored, in Japanese), Frontiers of Fundamental Informatics: Can Artificial Intelligence Have Its Umwelt? [kiso jouhogaku no furonteia: jinkou chinou ha jibun no sekai wo ikirareruka?] (University of Tokyo Press, 2018; co-authored, in Japanese), and in journals including Gendai Shiso and Eureka. He is also the translator of Yuk Hui’s Recursivity and Contingency [Saikisei to Guzensei] (Seidosha, 2022; in Japanese) and Tim Ingold’s Being Alive [Ikiteirukoto: Ugoku, Shiru, Kijutsusuru] (Sayusha, 2021; co-translated, in Japanese).

About Lecture Series

The Lecture Series is an annual event revolved around a theme curated and presented by Media Lab, inviting scholars and artists from different fields to engage in a dialogue between art, technology, and philosophy to explore critical issues in media studies.