Beyond the Fatal Groove:
From the Vicious Cycle to the Virtuous Circle.

 Lowell Christy
Cultural Strategies Institute
Seneca, MD


Social and Cultural transformation, seen as cybernetic systems, is the unfinished promise of the original 10 Macy Foundation Conferences (1946-53). 

Pathologies of thought – a Fatal Groove- exist not just in individuals but also in cultures/societies, in the structure of thought and communications. The Fatal Groove, first used in 1912 in the “New Age” publication about the emerging Irish problem of terrorism is still with us 100 years on.  “Getting Out of the In Box” requires theories of Mind, the relationships of Minds and answers to how Minds evolve. 

Does Cybernetics have something to contribute beyond battlefield robotics, computers on the front line and operations research streamlining the military supply chain?  Is there a meta contribution to intractable human conflicts that moves beyond vicious cycles to virtuous learning circles.  Is this the next frontier of Cybernetics?

Notions of circularity, feedback, game theory, & the role of the observer all led to tangible results with operations research, robotics, and scenario based planning, computers. The cybernetic revolution has impacted the human condition.   

But there was another voice at the original Macy Conferences of people like Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead whose challenges to the conference required new ways of thinking about cybernetics and its impact on social systems understanding and actions.  The focus of the engineers and scientists at the conference and their legacy has been on how we control the world. 

However, the technologies and systems management techniques fall apart when we deal at the relationship of Minds.  The quest for a cybernetics that could help prevent the occasions of war and how to wage it still eludes us.  A cybernetic contribution to Peace is the challenge 

Building a human brain in the fields of robotics and computers is an admirable task.  But the challenge now lies in better understanding many minds and new approaches to Mind. People like Gregory Bateson talk about “Steps to an Ecology of Minds” or Stuart Umpleby speaks about the Cybernetics of Conceptual Systems (see attached), or Kenneth Boulding writes about “The Image” and the necessity of creating new ways of research and praxis.

The promise of using systems thinking for positive social/cultural transformation has not developed the rigor, disciplines and methodologies that lead to positive social transformation. 

This session will ask hard questions about how to move beyond creation of an individual brain into the dance of many minds to improve the human estate. 

Queries for this session

Why has the promise of Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and others in dealing with the complexity of Minds, their interaction  (Ecology of Minds) and ways of thinking about social/cultural issues shown such few results?  Does the structure of the university and research itself militate against dealing at this fundamental level?

Is there a Cybernetics of the relationships of Minds that builds upon but must necessarily transcend input/output models, feedback and circuitry?  Do we need concepts of the sacred or space of wholeness added to our discourse?

Building on the legacy of Cybernetics, what else is required in theoretical constructs, methodologies and types of problems addressed to have a positive impact on culture and society? 

In the original conferences the topic that started many conversations was goal directness or purposive behavior presented by Arthur Rosenblueth.  Gregory Bateson saw the limits of human purposive behavior but what theories help us understand unintended consequences and the Ecology of Minds and the Earth?

How systems learn?  (Evolution as a learning system)  Is there a Cybernetics contribution to the Iraq War? 

Session will discuss approaches to overcoming the Fatal Groove.

William Smith will present his organizational theories of “fields of thought” by better understanding power, influence and appreciation:

Lowell Christy, Co-Founder of the City of Mind and the Cultural Strategies Institute and his concept of culture as an information operating system;

Mary Catherine Bateson will discuss her unique contributions on the transformative power of conversation

And of course YOU
See the attachment to stimulate our thinking


Stuart Umpleby

Social cybernetics, or the cybernetics of conceptual Systems, is compatible with or lends support to several existing 
Trends.  If the cybernetics of conceptual systems becomes a Subject of interest among at least part of the academic 
community, several consequences can be expected.
     1.   Analysis of social systems would move away from descriptions of "forces" and "structures" and focus instead on 
the beliefs of people.  Beliefs are no doubt the result of experiences, but different people will interpret similar 
experiences differently.  Scientists interested in conceptual systems would study how different groups of people think, how 
opinions change, and how fast opinions can change.

     2.   The cybernetics of conceptual systems would be compatible with a "second order game theory," which would go 
beyond developing strategies to win a struggle with groups composed as they are and instead seek to persuade people to 
change their conceptualization of the game itself.  The meta-game is to change conceptions of the game.  
The assumption would be that the purposes, motivations, and conceptions of both "allies" and "opponents" can change.  

     3.   In policy research the intent would be to increase awareness of the role of theory, beliefs, and assumptions in 
policy formulation.  Analysts would not simply use the prevailing metaphors but would deliberately seek to 
invent more suitable metaphors.  A major part of the effort would be to create knowledge of how 
scientific knowledge is used.
     4.   In negotiation a conceptual systems approach would focus on constructing a metalanguage for discussing 
how the prior points of view of the various parties fit together.  The effort would be to develop a frame of reference 
in which the origins of the various points of view could be examined in the context of the long term interests
of the total group.  

     5.   In science a conceptual systems approach suggests analyzing the social and philosophical assumptions 
underlying a program of research.  The purpose of doing so would be to generate additional lines of inquiry.  

     6.   In education emphasizing conceptual systems helps students to understand how and why 
new points of view were created and how ideas have evolved.
     A cybernetics of conceptual systems would be a way of "controlling" not just machines or organizations but the ideas 
used in thinking about any subject, including how we think about theories and philosophies.  Further progress, 
both in achieving acceptance of cybernetics and in bringing about more tolerant and humane political systems, 
will require, in my judgment, focusing attention not just on the observer, but on the specific ideas in 
the minds of observers. 
     Whereas the first phase of cybernetics took an empirical approach to the nervous system, 
the second phase of cybernetics created a philosophy based on the findings of neurophysiological investigations.  
The third phase, the cybernetics of conceptual systems, looks at the community that creates and sustains ideas 
and the motivations of the members of that community.