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Heinz von Foerster's operational epistemology: orientation for insight into complexity

Arantzazu Saratxaga Arregi (Department of Mediatheroy, University of Applied Arts Vienna, Vienna, Austria) (FRIAS Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany)

Kybernetes

ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 14 June 2024

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Abstract

Purpose

Based on the reception of the principle of self-organization, the core of Heinz von Foerster's operational theories, I hypothesize how Heinz von Foerster's theory can be an orientation model for the epistemological problem of complexity. I have chosen this study to demonstrate complexity as an epistemological problem. This is because the question of how order arises - the core problem of complexity - is an epistemological question for which Heinz von Foerster developed an epistemology of self-organization. I do not present new research because HvF already had the complex organization of systems in mind. Rather, I build a critical approach to complexity on the research and work on operational epistemology in HvF.

Design/methodology/approach

This article aims to provide an orientation for a philosophical and epistemological understanding of complexity through a reading of Heinz von Foerster's operational theory. The article attempts to establish complexity as an epistemological phenomenon through the following method: (1) a conceptual description of the science of complexity based on the turn to thermodynamic time, (2) a genealogy of complexity going back to the systemic method, and (3) Heinz von Foerster's cybernetic approach to self-organization.

Findings

Based on the reception of the principle of self-organization, the core of Heinz von Foerster's operational theories, the conclusion is drawn that complexity as a description is based on language games.

Research limitations/implications

The results present complexity not as an object of science, but as a description that stands for the understanding of complex description.

Social implications

The hypothesis that complexity is a question of description or observation, i.e. of description for what language serves, has enormous social implications, in that the description of complexes and the recognition of their orders (patterns) cannot be left to algorithmic governmentality, but must be carried out by a social agency.

Originality/value

HvF's operational epistemology can serve as an epistemological model for critical complexity theory.

Keywords

Citation

Saratxaga Arregi, A. (2024), "Heinz von Foerster's operational epistemology: orientation for insight into complexity", Kybernetes, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-10-2023-2116

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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