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The Cybernetics of Methodology , 3rd European Congress of Systems Science, Salpience University, Rome, 1-4 October, 1996,

Maurice Yolles Liverpool John Moores University, 98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, UK.

Abstract Methodological complementarism is one way of dealing with the fragmentation that is talked about in the systems domain. However, stakeholders of paradigm incommensurability decry it as a possibility. One approach is explored that enables complementarism to be seen as valid. It distinguishes on the one hand between cognition and form that is equivalent to the relationship between the metasystem and the system, and on the other in terms of inquiry between the cognitive model of a paradigm and the resulting behavioural model called method. These are two levels that are linked cybernetically through the process of organising.

Introduction Paradigms have as their basis cognitive models that involve cognitive organisation of beliefs, attitudes, and values. They are determinants for practical behaviour, and operate through control processes that enable behavioural organising to occur. While we may speak of paradigms in the context of organisational activity in general, in this paper we shall restrict our interest to methodology and methodological complemantarism. Complementarism requires that methodologies can be used together. A barrier to this comes through what is referred to as paradigm incommensurability. This tells us that paradigms (or their associated methodologies) cannot be used together or mixed because their cognitive models are different, and there is no basis for comparison. There are responses to this, for instance by Flood and Romm [1995]. Our argument is that complementarism is not about mixing cognitive models, but rather about behaviour and behavioural organising. This does not deny the stakeholders of paradigm incommensurability, but rather suggests that this represents an altogether distinct problem. One of our interests is the comparison of the behavioural organising aspects of methodologies. In particular this means comparing their control mechanisms. In order to do this we introduce a generic form of inquiry involving the nodes of analysis, synthesis, and choice linked sequentially by the processes conceptualisation, constraint, and action.

2. Cybernetic Principles The principles of cybernetics may best be identified from the work of Beer. It effectively consists of a system, and its associated metasystem that is concenred with what we may refer to as at least a metaphorical cognitive control process. The principles of cybernetic are identified as:

Principles of Cybernetics

a system

has identity that it should maintain

exists in an environment, is influenced by it, and can learn from the relationship with it

has a metasystem

can be partitioned into a hierarchy of subsystems each of which has a metasystem

requires communication and information for its viable survival


can enable self-regulation and is connected to self-organisation

has components that may be distributed throughout the structure of a system

Any system can be seen in terms of cybernetic prinicples. In particular, we can therefore refer to pedagogic processes as also having cybernetic prinicples.

Weltanschauung and the Paradigm Human being need to assign themselves to groups that enable their identities to be reinforced by providing an objective rather than only a subjective reality. Group membership offers an identity to an individual, but this is not the same as the individual’s independent identity. “The two realities correspond to each other, but are not coextensive. There is always more objective reality ‘available’ than is actually internalised in any individual consciousness, simply because the contents of socialisation are determined by the social distribution of knowledge. No individual internalises the totality of what is objectivated as reality in his society, not even if society and its world are relatively simple ones” [Berger and Luckman, 1966, p163]. The idea that individual and group normative world views are not coextensive leads us to differentiate between the concepts of weltanschauung and shared weltanschauung. When we talk of weltanschauung we are referring to a world view. It is the system of beliefs, attitudes and values that Rokeach [1968] refers to as cognitive organisation, and the set of cultural constructs and informal propositions that make up an individual’s or group’s view of reality. When we talk of group weltanschauungen, we should rather talk of a shared weltanschauung. This is because there is always a distinction between the individual and the group. The development of group norms can be referred to as socialisation [Berger and Luckmann, 1964, p152]. It is a dialectic process, so that group norms are established through an interactive process from which all of its members learn. In this way new norms can develop and old ones wither. Individuals identify with a group, and take on its members’ roles, attitudes, and generalised perspective. Identity is thus objectively defined through the group. However, there is always a distinction between the individual and the group. There is a difference between informal and formal weltanschauung. We refer to formal weltanschauung as paradigm. The nature of the paradigm is that it provides a formalised framework of thought and conceptualisation that enables organised action to occur, problem situations to be addressed, and constrains the way in which they can be described. The paradigm, according to Kuhn [1970], involves four dimensions of common thought: common symbolic generalisations; shared commitment to belief in particular models or views; shared values; shared commitments of exemplars, that is concrete problem solutions. However, it can be argued Yolles [1996] that it can equivalently be expressed in terms of: a base of propositions; culture, including cognitive organisation and behaviour; language; exemplars. The paradigm is a group phenomenon, and as such we must recognise that it operates with a culture of its own. The concept of culture [Williams et al, 1993, p14] involves not only values and beliefs, but also attitudes, and behaviours which are predicated on belief. The definition of a paradigm might usefully be extended from Kuhn to involve culture. To see why, consider the nature of the components of culture. Beliefs determine paradigms as they do weltanschauung. They represent predispositions to action, and may be conscious or unconscious. A belief may be [Rokeach, 1968, p113]: existential and thus related to events in a situation; it may be evaluative and thus related to subjective personal attributes (like taste); or it may be prescriptive relating, for example, to human conduct. Beliefs are conceived to have three components: (1) cognitive, representing knowledge with degrees of certainly; more generally [1] cognition is “of the mind, the faculty of knowing, perceiving or conceiving”, (2) affective, since a belief can arouse an affect centred around an object, which may be other individuals or groups, or a belief, (3) behavioural, since the consequence of a belief is action. Beliefs are a determinant for values, attitudes, and behaviour. Values [Rokeach, 1968, p124] are abstract ideas representing a person’s beliefs about ideal modes of conduct and ideal terminal goals. Attitude [ibid, p112] is an enduring organisation of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner. Action (or behaviour) can also be referred to as social action [Mitchell, 1968, p2]. It is social when the actor behaves in such a manner that his action does or is intended to influence the actions of one or more other persons. We may say that it is normative when it defines a set of constraints on behaviour, identifying what is acceptable and what is not.

In situations of inquiry, it can be seen that different paradigms govern the way in which people build and apply models, that is the behavioural organisation of inquiry. Different approaches thus occur because different paradigms operate within different groups. Paradigms offer a framework of thought about how a situation may be addressed, and a language through which to describe what they see. Since the paradigm is a cultural phenomena involving cognitive organisation and normative behaviour, it will also have a language associated with it that enables the ideas of the group to be expressed. There is a body of theory that expounds the relativity between culture and language. For instance, in the study of natural languages within sociocultural environments, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis [Giglioli, 1972] explains that there is a relativistic relationship between language structure and culture. It in particular relates to the communication of ideas between members of the group. This line of thought is also supported, for instance, by Habermas [1979], and by Maturana [1988] and the ideas contained within the subject of autopoiesis or self-producing systems [Mingers, 1995, p79]. Here, language is considered to be an activity embedded in the ongoing flow of actions, rather than a purely descriptive thing. It therefore has the attributes of activities that occur within a sociocultural environment, to which it responds. Language operates as an enabling mechanism for the paradigmatic group. Since communications is central to the ability of the group to work, language may be seen as a way of enabling a class of paradigmatic explanations to be generated. The framework of thought that develops within the group is cultural and will therefore be reflected in the language used to transmit those ideas. The propositional base of the paradigm that lies at its foundation will determine the language of the group, just as the language itself develops this base in a mutual development. This determines what can legitimately be described and the terms defined in order to enable those descriptions to be made. These ideas are illustrated in figure 1.

Culture Attitudes Beliefs Values Language Cognitive Normative behaviour Action/behaviour space Concepts,
Concepts, knowledge &
meaning to construct behaviour
Propositional base & logic.
& communication
Figure 1
Concept of a Paradigm

The Paradigm Cycle In the same way as there is a distinction between weltanschauung and shared weltanschauung, there

is a distinction between weltanschauung and paradigm. This latter relationship is shown in figure 2,

and is referred to as a paradigm cycle [Yolles, 1996]. By paradigmatic inquiry we mean the application of cognitive organisation, behavioural norms and propositions in an inquiry of the real

world. This occurs through behavioural organisation as a methodology. Paradigmatic inquiry is essentially a control loop linking and reinforcing an interpretation of

a real world situation. As such, we can view this relationship as a cybernetic system. Thus we can see

a reflection of the real world as a system, examine aspects of control, make decisions from a

metasystem, and undertake other explorations of methodology that are cybernetically related, like the examination of viability, the nature of the creation of its requisite variety, the way stability is maintained, the nature of its behaviour and what this means beyond the threshold of it control in the region of chaos.

Paradigm cognitive formation/consolidation representation (formalised weltanschauung) cognitive challange and
cognitive formation/consolidation
and learning
Real world
(assumptions, perspectives, basis for
cognitive purpose)
empirical challange

Figure 2 Relationship between paradigm and weltanschauung as a paradigm cycle

The System and Metasystem It is possible to differentiate parts of the paradigm cycle into distinct domains. Following structuralist arguments that enables us to differentiate between deep and surface structure (figure 3), we distinguish between cognitive models and form. They are linked by transformation, also referred to as transmogrify since the results of a transformation can be surprising. We consider that this is a process of organising that we refer to as behavioural organising since form relates directly to behaviour, and it entails cybernetic principles. The duality of cognition and form derives in principle from further considerations of the paradigm cycle. Here, we define the paradigm and weltanschauung as the cognitive component that includes cognitive organisation. This suggests that organisations with a pluralism of paradigms will also have a pluralism of cognitive models. Now, the cognitive model also defines a system’s metasystem [Beer, 1979], and the relationship between cognition and form can be argued to be quite equivalent to that between the metasystem and the system. This approach can also be shown to be linked with that of Schwarz [1994]. He distinguishes three planes: the existential that defines being, the relational plane that defines logical relationships, and event plane populated by objects and energy.

Behavioural models, real world manifestation

System Behaviour organising Methodology (from ideology, norms, values) Cognitive models (beliefs, cognition,
(from ideology, norms,
Cognitive models
(beliefs, cognition,
meaning, metapurpose)

Figure 3 One way of distinguishing between deep and surface structure for which there are a continuity of different ways of manifesting deep phenomena

The existential plane would seem equivalent to our metasystemic domain. For us it is the place of cognition, where beliefs, attitudes, and values are defined, and where understanding and meaning

occurs. It is where weltanschauung and the paradigm coexist. Through the paradigm, it is where “truths” of the metasystem are defined. For us, these “truths” define metasystemic logic. The logical plane is similar to our domain of transformation (transmogrify). As in the work of Schwarz it is the place of symbols and relationships, but for us these are conceptualised in the matasystem. For us this is not the place where logic is defined, since logic is part of the “truth” of the metasystem, but rather the space of organising. It is where the logic defined within the paradigm is harnessed and is then manifested as structures and processes in the physical plane. However, relations can also be seen as transformations in that they act on (and within) events and are responsible for events. Consistent with both approaches, this domain is one of self-organisation, of development, of cybernetics. The physical plane for Schwarz is “reality”. However, this “reality” is seen through our models that may be systemic. Thus in the system-metasystem duality, this domain is that of the system. In our terms, this is the place in which manifest behaviour is seen, and where empirical measurements are taken. It is the place of models of form and behaviour.

Comparing Methodologies It is possible to establish some comparative evaluations of methodologies. All methodologies can be divided into cognitive and behavioural organising components [Yolles, 1970, 1996a]. We propose that a projection of cognitive metapurposes into the field of behavioural organising is the methodological mission, goals, and inquirer aims. Another consideration of behavioural organising is that of control, that distinguishes method from methodology. Control diagrams based on the three phases of analysis, synthesis and control are given in the figures below. As an example of this, Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is given. A full description of this approach for all the methodologies in table 1 can be found in Yolles [1970].



Methodological goals

Inquirer Aims

Systems Intervention Strategy

Balance forces with environment

Technical development, Organisational change, Personal development

Robust strategies Risk/decision analysis


Balance of forces with environment

Resistance to change, Political power, Control



Soft Systems


Cultural integrity, Social conformity, Political consistency



Viable Systems


Dynamic stability, Adaptability

Policy, Coordination Integration, Future




Conflict Modelling

Conflict settlement

Sociocultural adaptation, Sociopolitical reorientation, Behavioural adjustment

Attitudes in group decision making, intragroup power, group behaviour




Logical Systemic

Framework to

Designing (technical), Disemprisoning , sociopolitical), Debating (socioculture)

Organisational metaphors Identify methodologies





Table 1 Comparison of different methodological and individual metapurposes for inquiry

S3 control social and cultural control form comparison S7 conceptualisation constraint models S6 changes S8
social and cultural
comparison S7
models S6
changes S8
relevant system S5
tasks, issues S4
problem situation S3
social &
action S9
redo step S3 if control shows instability

Figure 4 A View of SSM through the Phase Controlled Generic Metamodel excluding pre and post evaluation phases

Conclusion The comparison of methodologies is possible despite the claims of stakeholders of paradigm incommensurability. Exploring the cognitive models of each paradigm and attempting to make comparison at that level is susceptible to incommensurability. However, by introducing the additional dimension of behavioural organising we have a way of removing ourselves from this argument. Two aspects of behavioural organising are apparent. Both are cybernetic in principle. One is the projection from the cognitive model that is metasystem based and defines methodological mission, goals and inquirer aims. The other is the cybernetic control processes that enable us to talk of methodology rather than method.

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Yolles, M.I., 19970, forthcoming book possibly entitled: Systems Methodology: an inquiry. Pitman, London.