At his talk to the American Society for Cybernetics in 2012 in Asilomar, Terry Deacon asserted that 'Cybernetics isn't enough', as he attempted to argue the case for absence to be taken seriously in information theory. This didn't go down terribly well, with one very eminent member of the ASC heard to mutter "what you just heard was a sham!" - despite much of what Deacon was arguing for being prefigured in the work of Bateson and a few others.
To me, Deacon was uttering a statement that was a reaction to a peculiar kind of stasis that has struck the cybernetic discourse in recent years - really in the years following the deaths of the most significant thinkers in the discipline: Heinz von Foerster (died 2002), Gordon Pask (died 1996), Stafford Beer (died 2002), Niklas Luhmann (died 1998), Bateson (died 1980) and Ernst von Glasersfeld (died 2010). It's unfortunate that stasis has set in alongside the biggest global economic crisis since the 2nd world war... in fact, since the very original crisis which was the source of the remarkable synergistic, trans-disciplinary creativity of the Macy conferences. But exactly what "isn't enough?".My view is that what "isn't enough" for Deacon is what might be called "positive cybernetics". That is the study of theoretically-proposed actual feedback mechanisms which are seen to be responsible for the phenomena of the world. In 2nd order cybernetics, the existence of these mechanisms calls into question the ontological status of matter. Biologically-inspired totalisations characterise material experience and psychological phenomena with individual mechanisms of coordination of coordinations (so my coordinations coordinate your coordinations - and vice-versa - and the dynamics of these coordinations produce the experience of a shared reality). However, despite these mechanistic operations calling into question the nature of reality, the ontological status of the mechanisms themselves remains untouched. They merely assert themselves by their capacity to reduce highly complex phenomena to highly logical recursive formulae.
There is much of value in these ideas. They are ingenious, rich and fascinating. But at root, there is an assumption that reasoned abstraction of all the complexity of life is conceivable by an individual but operates at a deeper ontological level than individual perception. This is a heavy-duty metaphysical assertion, and Deacon finds this hard to swallow - and so do I. As Wiener put it over 60 years ago,
"the whole mechanist-vitalist controversy has been relegated to the limbo of badly posed questions"