In first-order cybernetics the object of investigation was to study balancing feedback loops as control mechanisms in systems. The word cybernetics comes from Greek κυβερνητική (kybernētikḗ), meaning "governance". The field of cybernetics was pioneered by John von Neuman and Norbert Wiener (John Neuman and Nobert Wiener, 1 januari 1948). The behavior of a system was observed from a distance. Gradually, it became apparent that the observer cannot be ruled out from a system because, especially in biological and social systems, the observer perceives the system in certain ways which might influence the course taken by the system. Second-order cybernetics marked a shift from observed systems to observing systems.
Second-order cybernetics was pioneered by the likes of Heinz von Foerster, Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Stafford Beer, Humberto Maturana, and Francisco Varela. Especially Von Foerster advanced the notion of second-order observation. However, Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form provided the mathematical rigor to understand the nature of self-referential and therefore recursively operating systems.
- Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, John Neuman and Nobert Wiener, MIT Press, 2nd revised ed. 1961, 1 januari 1948.