Sensemaking: Beyond the Servo Metaphor

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Since Wiener presented the Cybernetic Hypothesis, the automatic control system has been an important metaphor guiding research on cognitive systems. This metaphor has helped us to appreciate goal orientation within cognitive systems. It has also helped us to appreciate the closed-loop nature of perception and action. However, as with any metaphor, there are important limitations with respect to the phenomenon being represented - in this case, the dynamics of cognitive systems or the dynamics of sensemaking. One important limitation is that the source of goals and values is extrinsic to automatic control systems, but an intrinsic aspect of sensemaking. A second limitation is that the control and observation problems tend to be modularized in automatic control systems. In this context, the observation problem is reduced to the information-processing problem of filtering signal from noise. This tends to underplay the abductive dynamics of meaning processing that are essential to adaptation in a changing world. Finally, the servo metaphor tends to focus attention on the information processing system as a `mechanism?? apart from its environment. This tends to underplay the tight coupling between agent and environment both in terms of constraining relations and emergent properties. It is time to move beyond the servo metaphor. However, the analytic tools of control theory will become even more important as we explore the more complex dynamics of sensemaking.


Presented at the IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, The Hague, Netherlands, October 10-13, 2004.



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