Ranulph Glanville

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Ranulph Glanville (13 June 1946 – 20 December 2014) was an Anglo-Irish cybernetician and design theorist.


  • We have our gurus, we admire them – and with good reason. But they become in the end a source of laziness because we just accept them and we know the little we know of them without feeling the need either to pursue their work very thoroughly, or the need to question it.

Second Order Cybernetics[edit]

Glanville, R. (2002) “Second Order Cybernetics” in Systems Science And Cybernetics – Vol. III -

  • Second order Cybernetics presents a (new) paradigm in which the observer is circularly (and intimately) involved with/connected to the observed. The observer is no longer neutral and detached, and what is considered is not the observed (as in the classical paradigm), but the observing system. The aim of attaining traditional objectivity is either abandoned/passed over, or what objectivity is and how we might obtain (and value) it is reconsidered. In this sense, every observation is autobiographical. … The principle of the Black Box is that, where we observe some change in a behavior, we construct and insert a Black Box allowing us to interpret the change as the result of the operation of an invisible mechanism, held within the Box, on what is now seen as input giving rise to output. The observer/scientist develops a description functioning as a mechanism/explanation (i.e. model) which accounts for the transformations of what are now input into output. The explanation is purely historical and the product of the interaction between the observer and his inventive, fictional insertion, the Black Box. What is vital, for the development of second order Cybernetics, is that the Black Box is essentially and crucially a construct of the observer. When we use this concept, we bring the observer in to the process, rather than denying him. That the Black Box requires the observer’s presence is acknowledged, and is circularly connected in. The observer watches and changes. What the observer learns he learns from interaction with the Black Box (which is his construct). When what is observed is observed by an observer, that observer is responsible for the observation, the sense he makes of it, and the actions he takes based on that sense. Von Foerster gives an Ethical Imperative: “Act always so as to increase the number of choices.” (This is joined by an accompanying Aesthetical Imperative: “If you desire to see, learn how to act.” The third is that we construct our realities. “Draw a Distinction!”
My major initial concern was to develop a set of concepts that might explain how, while we all observe and know differently, we behave as if we were observing the same thing. To use a metaphor: my work is the creation of games fields: others create the games to play in these fields and still others play them. Finally, some are spectators. The point of an account that admits others is not that it is right, but that it is general (and generous). Cybernetics is often considered a meta-field. The Cybernetics of Cybernetics is, thus, a meta-meta-field. My work is, therefore, a meta-meta-meta-field.
  • As cited in: Michael Lissack, "What I Learned from Ranulph: A Grateful Tribute to Ranulph Glanville." Cybernetics and Human Knowing 22.2-3 (2015): 121-129.

External links[edit]

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