Autoorganization and Cybernetics | Miquel Lacasta

Cartel de apertura de la exposición Cybernetic Serendipity inaugurada en el ICA de Londres en 1968 y comisariada por Jasia Reichardt
Cartel of opening of the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity inaugurated in the ICA of London in 1968 and curator for Jasia Reichardt

Lately the notion of self-organization has taken a certain protagonism in the conception of the city and the architecture, probably to political / social current recomic singer of the situation. In a sense it can sound to chimera the fact that so much, objects as persons, have a trend towards an organization not programmed in advance. It is more, I suspect that it is an idea that makes specially nervous those that take the control and the punishment as a mission, one of the props of our company.

Far from trivializing the term, and assuming that the technology us there brings term over increasingly to models organized of much more complex form, so much the idea of self-organization as that of cybernetics, mother of the idea of interaction, they should form a part of our vocabulary. The paper of the architect, so questioned today, would have to read as a strategist of devices, so much conceptual as objetuales, that had always an opened end, so that it was allowing to the company to give his last word in positive from an interactive model. Something like to give an opportunity to which our designs are involved of full form in the daily occupation of the people, and that in turn, from this use, to be able to improve them.

The idea is that if we could incorporate more strategy and fewer sobrediseño, probably we would obtain a certain dose of interactivity in our cities from opened and autoorganized systems. It is because of it that seems to me to be important to go to the sources of the concept of self-organization and of cybernetics, which since we will see they are intimately related.

While the notion of spontaneity is very ancient, this one only crystallized in the term self-organization in the years later to the second world war in the circles connected to the cybernetic movement that was agglutinating a many-colored group of investigators as the mathematician Norbert Wiener, author of the book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine,1 also mathematician of Hungarian origin John von Neumann, who between other investigations proposed the architecture of the computers as knows himself now, the engineer and mathematician Claude Shannon, who defined the mathematical concepts of the theory of the communication, self-taught Stafford Beer, creator of the Viable System Model, the physicist Heinz von Foerster, author of the theory of the radical constructivism and of the cybernetics of the second order, the anthropologist and linguist Gregory Bateson, who in 1972 compiled his studies in the influential book Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology2 and the outlined one in this investigation Gordon Pask.

The first appearance of the term self-organization arose in 1947 in a few papers of the psychiatrist William Ross Ashby3 and rapidly it was adopted by all those partners to the system theory in the decade of 1960, but it did not turn into a scientific common place up to his adoption on the part of the physicists and, in general, of the investigators of complex systems into the decades of the seventies.

According to the investigator and Samantha Diegoli confers a doctor’s degree in psychology:

The term self-organization arose in the fifties when mathematical models began to construct the cybernetic ones to explain the dynamics of the networks neuronales. The first model was treating of a model simplified in the shape of a binary network of interconnected bulbs that they were igniting or extinguishing in agreement with the result of a rule of connection applied to the previous bulb. The system was beginning with random winkings, but always it was coming to a point where bosses been ordained as winkings could identify and up to repeated cycles. To this spontaneous emergency of tidy bosses there was called he a self-organization.4 

The concept of self-organization is connected directly with the General Theory of Systems developed in 1937 by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, where it outlined the above mentioned theory in Charles Morris‘s seminar in the University of Chicago and System Theory published later in General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications5 in 1969.

In the book a theoretical body is structured, actually it is a theory of theories, which departing from the very abstract concept of system, search you rule of general value applicable to any system and in any level of the reality. These theories conceive in terms of relations, context and connectivity of everything, contrasting with the former exposition of analysis of a system on his parts.

The most relevant aspects of the General Theory of Systems are the change of area that happens of considering the parts to considering quite, that is to say, it happens to consider the alive systems to be integrated totalities which properties cannot be reduced to those of his smaller parts, so that the systemic properties arise from the relations between the parts that are persons in charge of establishing the organization of the system, with everything; the development of a process of contextual thought where different systemic levels exist, or, systems inside systems in which every level corresponds to a degree different from complexity and the observation of a phenomenon in certain level, reveals properties that do not exist in the low level and consequently, does not have felt to analyze the parts for yes alone, since his properties depend on the context inside which it is operating the environment or the major system and finally, in the configuration of a structure of networks there is perceived that the change of the parts to everything can be contemplated also as the change of objects to relations; the structure in network represents the non-linear thought, where there is no a structure more basic or fundamental that different, but they are interrelated as a network to form the complex reality completely.6

The Cybernetics are intimately tied to the General Theory of Systems up to the point that manages to think that his field of study is the same. Nevertheless the Cybernetics are more orientated to the study of the control, the control, the regulations and the government of the systems, mechanisms that allow a system to support his dynamic balance and to manage or to support a condition. The Cybernetics definitively are the study to interdiscipline of the regulatory structure of the Systems, applicable so much to physical as social systems.

he Cybernetics are specially relevant when the system to studying is wrapped in a closed circuit of signs where the action of the system in an environment generates some change in the latter, and this change demonstrates in the system route information, that is to say obtains a feedback, which causes some type of change in the behavior of the system. Therefore the system and the environment interact.

The group of scientists tied to the cybernetics before alluded, Shannon, Neumann, Bateson, Foerster, Pask, Beer and Wiener, joined to investigate the mathematical representation of the cerebral mechanisms. The central attention was relapsing on the bosses of organization, centering in the wealth of the natural bosses and looking for a theory of the life, centring on the control across the programming or searching the common boss who is behind the alive phenomena, describing them holistic.

His descriptions of the similarities between the functioning of the brain and of the computer influenced the cybernetic thought the cognition during three decades.

The cybernetics tried to create principally models mecanicistas of alive systems and his major contributions come from the process of comparing machines with alive beings and especially the cybernetics relate to all the forms of behavior, independently that these are very far from being regular, certain or reproducible.

Definitively what the cybernetics provide is something more than a theory or a line of study, in William Ross Ashby’s words

what the cybernetics offer is a frame where all the machines individually can be arranged, categorized and understood.7 

There is specially interesting the parallelism that Ashby uses to put in context the idea of cybernetics and that I reproduce literally here:

The position of the cybernetics in relation to a royal, electronic, mechanical machine, neuronal or economic, is similar to since the geometry is positioned in relation to a royal object in our terrestrial space. It had a time where geometry was meaning a type of relations capable of being demonstrable in a three-dimensional object or in a two-dimensional graph. The forms provided by the land, animal, vegetable and mineral, they were enormous in number and rich in properties and nonetheless they could be provided by an elementary geometry. In these days a form suggested by the geometry but that could not be demonstrated in the ordinary space was immediately suspicious or unacceptable. The ordinary space was dominating the geometry.

Today, this positioning is clearly different. The geometry exists for own right and for his own force. Nowadays it can process is necessary and coherent a catalogue of forms and spaces that exceeds for a long time that one that the terrestrial space can provide. Today it is the geometry the one that contains the terrestrial forms, and not vice versa, while these terrestrial forms are merely special cases of the wide spectrum that includes the geometry.

The position gained by the development of the geometry needs to be showed. The geometry acts today as a frame where all the terrestrial forms can find his natural place, and where the relations between different forms can be estimated rapidly. To this growth of the understanding of the geometry there has corresponded to him an increase of the power of control.

The cybernetics are similar in the relation with the current machine. Capture like subject of his own essence the domain of ” all the possible machines ” and only it is secondarily interested in knowing if some of these machines still have not been realized already be for the hand of the man or for the nature.8 

This point of view both for the cybernetics and for the geometry is specially interesting while it reflects a certain idea of independence of the object of study, of the fact of which this reality exists really, or not, llamémosle machine, city or object, undoubtedly an example of the advanced and ultramodern vision of these times.

It runs the year 1956 when Ashby compiles his texts in this book and we are on the verge of a change of mentality to all the levels that the geometry will allow to relate and therefore the architecture, the cybernetics and therefore the science, with the unknown thing, the indeterminate thing and the diffuse thing for felt.

It is more, so much in the field of the science as in that of the architecture, the fact that it does not exist, allows the audacity of being able to be imagined, projecting and therefore studied and terms of reference, as the generation of Utopian architects and a numerous group of specially bold scientists, they will do in the 60s, inaugurating this way the age of the complexity to the present day.

Miquel Lacasta. PhD architect
Barcelona, may 2013


1 WIENER, Norbert, Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the MachineThe MIT Press, Cambridge, 1948.

2 BATESON, Gregory, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and EpistemologyChandler Publications and Co., San Francisco, 1972.

3 There is specially interesting William Ross’s file Ashby whose original manuscripts can be consulted in

4 DIEGOLI, Samantha, The behavior of the small groups of work under the perspective of the complexity: descriptive Models and study of cases, doctoral thesis of the Division of Sciences of the Health, Faculty of Psychology of the Department of Social Psychology of the Universitat of Barcelona, 2003, p. 45.

5 VON BERTALANFFY, Ludwig, General System theory: Foundations, Development, ApplicationsGeorge Braziller, Nueva York, 1969

6 To penetrate into this theory to see CAPRA, Fritjof, The plot of the life, Anagrama, Barcelona, 1998, specially the chapter 3: General Theory of Systems.

7 ASHBY, William R., An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman & Hall, Londres, 1956, p. 2

8 Op. Cit., ASHBY, p. 2.

Es cofundador en ARCHIKUBIK y también en @kubik – espacio multidisciplinario. Obtuvo un Ph.D. con honores (cum laude) en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya UIC y también fue galardonado con el premio especial Ph.D (UIC 2012), M.arch en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, y se graduó como arquitecto en ETSAB Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya . Miquel es profesor asociado en ESARQ desde 1996. Anteriormente, fue profesor en Elisava y Escola LAI, y también en programas de postgrado en ETSAB y La Salle. Fue arquitecto en la oficina de Manuel Brullet desde 1989 desde 1995.


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