To trace a shift in attitudes towards control since the mid-twentieth century, as reflected in a shift in rhetoric that accompanied the extension from first- to second-order cybernetics.
Narratives of exploration that have emerged from NASA’s lunar programme and recent design cybernetics are juxtaposed to show a transition away from the legitimisation of goal-oriented decision-making and control towards advocacy of partial control avoidance and accommodation of the unanticipated.
Contemporary cybernetic theory recognises the importance of both the partial presence and the partial absence of control in creative epistemic practice. It is thus unsurprising that, according to historical records, NASA’s journey to the moon was enabled not only by the assurance of control but also by lapses of control. However, NASA’s rhetorical posture during the race to the moon focused on predictable control and goal orientation, differing notably from the recent design-cybernetic openness towards uncertainty, error, and serendipity. This difference is encapsulated by the “Failure is not an option” dictum that was associated with NASA’s lunar programme and the “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better” equivalent associated with design cybernetics. Recognition of the more recent cybernetic perspective is impeded by its continuing omission from narratives of earlier cybernetic accomplishments.
To the extent that narratives examined in this paper refer to exceptional initiatives and spontaneous events, the repeatability and generalisability of the presented argument are limited.
The paper highlights changing cybernetic narratives of creative invention by examining how spontaneous changes in variety were reported to have been addressed in NASA’s lunar programme, and how recent cybernetic design theory suggests they should be addressed.
The author gratefully acknowledges valuable comments and suggestions received on drafts of this paper from A. Scott Howe, Timothy Jachna, Tom Scholte, Guillermo Sánchez Sotés and from anonymous reviewers.
Fischer, T. (2020), "Narratives of exploration: from “Failure is not an Option” to “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”", Kybernetes, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-07-2019-0502Download as .RIS
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