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You are here: Home / Agenda / Seminars / Cycles de séminaires / Les engagements épistémiques des théories de la complexité / Second cybernetics. the science of saving energy / From cybernetics to complexity

Second cybernetics. the science of saving energy / From cybernetics to complexity

Thomas Turnbull & Jean-Pierre Dupuy
When Jan 18, 2021
from 11:00 to 12:30
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18 January - from 11 am to 12.30 pm


  • "Second cybernetics. the science of saving energy", Thomas Turnbull (Article Thomas Turnbull : here)
  • "From cybernetics to complexity", Jean-Pierre Dupuy (2 Articles Jean-Pierre Dupuy : here and here)

------> video available : HERE

List of invited speakers :
- Jean-Pierre Dupuy (CV)


From Cybernetics to Complexity and Back - Jean-Pierre Dupuy

In spite of its explicit goal – the study of “teleological mechanisms” -, of its manifest ambition – the design of autonomous machines – and of its groundbreaking achievements – e.g. the first model of a neural network in the work of Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts and the prolegomena of molecular biology-, cybernetics was never able to reach a full understanding of the nature of life seen as a complex, self-organizing system.It will be shown that this blockage came from the dominance of the engineering mindset that sees in any complex organization in nature and life the result of a design. The theory of complex systems that was born within cybernetics but soon broke away from it (especially in the work of John von Neumann) was able to conceive the idea of a natural machine, that is to say, deprived of a designer. It will also be shown that this momentous breakthrough is today put in jeopardy and the return to the design paradigm more and more a fait accompli due to such technological feats as the NanoBioInfoCogno convergence, synthetic biology and the editing of the human genome.
2 Articles Jean-Pierre Dupuy : here and here

Systematising Energy Saving at the RAND Corporation in the 1970s - Thomas Turbnull

In revisiting the history of the now common-sense notion of energy saving, this paper will address the relation between modelling the dynamics of energy demand and the messy complexity of energy systems in practice. To do so, we will turn to the nineteen-seventies, when archetypal Cold War think tank the RAND Corporation turned its expertise toward the problem of energy demand. The organisation’s researchers realised that utility-led forecasting contributed to growth in electricity use. By developing an independent forecasting method, they reconceptualised the various components of society’s fuel consumption in general systemic terms. This approach was heavily informed by cybernetics. It was suggested that demand reducing feedback loops could be introduced into the system of energy use, iteratively reducing demand over time and with minimal impact on welfare and economic growth. This work marked a conceptual extension of previous attempts by electrical engineers to use the power grid as means of resource conservation. Whereas power engineers had restricted their claims to grid mechanics, RAND researchers suggested the entire energy system could be reconfigured as a sociotechnical means of conservation. This idea followed in an intellectual tradition which considered the grid as a networked computational system, while also reflecting a later cybernetic preoccupation with the relation between energy and information. Many aspects of RAND’s approach were operationalised in California, and the distinction between energy saving in theory and in practice will provide a point of conclusion.

Thomas Turnbull : here