Observing Observing

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation at conference/workshop/seminar


It is within the context of a notion of ubiquitous crisis that the call by artists, designers, scholars in art and design disciplines, as well as indigenous researchers from a wide variety of backgrounds for renewed reflection on the methodologies employed in processes of inquiry recently seems to have led to broader response. The rise of interest in non-orthodox research methodologies has also led to a push in attention for critical and systemic transdisciplinary methodologies, including cybernetic modes of research, with their focus on including subjective observers. The 2024 publication The Blind Spot by Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson mentions – albeit briefly – cybernetics as one of the modes of inquiry that defines a new desirable approach to research as it incorporates subjective experience in its research method (2024). The book, however, does not cover cybernetic history, and Norbert Wiener’s early and explicit contribution to the discussion, entitled ‘The role of the observer ’ (1936), for instance, is not mentioned. The open-access essay collection Cybernetics for the 21st Century, edited by Yuk Hui and also published this year (2024), explicitly explores the possibilities of cybernetics with its subjective observer as a research methodology for contemporary times. The collection also includes contemporary inquiries from scholars beyond the Anglo-American and central-European contexts in which cybernetics is typically discussed.

As valuable as these publications are, there is cybernetic expertise on what it means to observe observing that they have not touched upon. I would like to use this session to re-enquire the particularity of cybernetic second-order observation. Ranulph Glanville’s objects, in this context, for example, could immensely enrich the debate (1975). Other participants of this conference may bring their cybernetic observation examples to this session. If the weather permits, we can take all of these insights with us to the Zoo because it will help us to turn this session into a journey that is somewhat Batesonian (1972).


Bateson, Gregory. [1972] 1987. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc.

Frank, Adam, ‎Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson. 2024. The Blind Spot. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Glanville, Ranulph. 1975. A Cybernetic Development on Epistemology and Observation Applied to Objects in Space and Time (as Seen in Architecture), Unpublished PhD Thesis. London: Department of Cybernetics, Brunel University.

Hui, Yuk, ed. 2024. Cybernetics for the 21st Century: Volume 1: Epistemological Reconstruction. 1: Epistemological Reconstruction vols. Hong Kong: Hanart Press.

Wiener, Norbert. 1936. “The Role of the Observer.” Philosophy of Science 3 (3): 307–19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/184668.

Period16 Jun 2024
Event titleASC 2024: Living Cybernetics: Playing Language: the 60th Anniversary Meeting of the American Society for Cybernetics
Event typeConference
LocationWashington, DC, United StatesShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • second-order Cybernetics
  • cybernetics
  • observer
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Heinz von Foerster
  • Norbert Wiener
  • subjective experience