Re: reply to Danny Yee

Danny Yee (danny@ORTHANC.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Sat, 26 Feb 1994 16:15:52 +1100

Mike Lieber writes:
> I do not agree that the omission of the marine ecologist's description from
> my ethnographic account is an outcome of either a cybernetic or cultural
> account.
> _More Than a Living ..._ does not pretend to be anything more than a
> cultural account of native fishing activity and its systemic entailments
> in the larger social order informed by a cybernetic (particularly
> Batesonian) framework. I do not think think that either a cultural
> account or a cybernetic approach can be faulted for not being a work of
> a marine biology.

I think there is still a misuderstanding about what I was trying to say.
I was not criticising the validity of the system Mike Lieber chose to
use, or his exclusion of anything from that system. I was suggesting
that a slightly bigger choice of system might have been "better".
(Though I am rightly taken to task for using a review to criticise a
book for *not* being or doing something; several of my motivations for
writing reviews pull in different directions here, and I am not used to
direct feedback from authors!)

Mike's comment brings me back to my uncertainty as to whether the
information flows into his system are relative to the fishermen or to
the system as a whole. It seems to me that there are processes and
events that he has included in his system that do make a difference to
fishermen, but are NOT incorporated into their own understanding of the
world. As a result I took the constraints as being on the system *as a
whole* rather than on individuals within it or the internalised models
of individuals. (Please correct me if this is completely wrong footed.)
I know some will not be happy with this attribution of intentionality to
systems, but that seems to me to be the central idea of cybernetics.
(I am not really familiar with the literature on this, but concur with
Dennett 1987, _The Intentional Stance_, in accepting a broad definition
of intentionality.)

So, assuming that we are talking about everything relative to the chosen
system, Read's argument that "indirect constraints" have to be
considered doesn't hold water, because all such constraints can act only
via direct influences across the boundary of the system. (Compare Gauss'
law in electromagnetism for a visual picture of this.) I fully agree
that, within Mike's choice of system, most of the marine ecology doesn't
make a difference (= isn't directly "contiguous" to the system) and
hence isn't relevant. But it seems possible that those elements of the
marine ecology that DO make a difference are so complexly connected to
one another via "external" elements of the ecology that the system would
actually be "simpler" in some ways if the latter were included. To put
it completely abstractly: whenever any system feeds back on itself
through complex, multifarious links to another system, try considering
the two systems as one.

Something such a bigger system might do a better job of providing is
reasons for traditional Kapinga fishing activity giving "the appearance
of a system designed with conservation in mind" (page 125; reference
found with difficulty due to absence of index :-). Such aren't really
given in _More Than a Living_, though that is hardly suprising given
that the more general issue is the subject of intense dispute among
ecologists, anthropologists and conservationists.

Danny Yee (