The University of Hull

Staffordian Syntegration

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Roger Harnden

Infoset Member

Name: Roger Harnden


Some of you must know that feeling when - dull morning hangover clouding senses and reason - we look into the shaving mirror and think 'God, what's left those marks and furrows on what used to be a carefree brow and a handsome face? Where's my youth? - Where have all the flowers gone?'.

And for me the answer is clear - all the pain and heartache dates from the time I had the misfortune to get in touch with Stafford in 1982, when I was a mature student struggling with my first degree. I addressed to him some neat little undergraduate query and instead of an equivalently neat little supervisor's answer was faced with an opened Pandora's box of systems and cybernetic thinking. And the tragedy - the thing that's left those deep furrows and worry lines on my visage (never mention the ulcers in my stomach!) - is that from that time forth I've never managed to escape! What a fate!

Anyway, for every cloud there is a silver lining. I successfully finished my first degree (the down-side being that I upset all my tutors and supervisors with references to all these oddball people they had never heard of, such as Stafford Beer), and because it was conducted in the School of Independent Studies, at Lancaster University rather than some more conventional department, gained a high grade. 

However, that too had a down side (as well as a silver lining? - well, maybe….). Blind to the fact that I was now dogged by all the untruths and mischief escaped form the Pandora's Box, I found myself thrown into a clearing of significance (or not!) when I studied for my doctorate at Aston University, looking at Stafford's viable system model in the light of the work of Maturana, Varela, Pask, von Foerster and others concerning the biological bases of language.

Now, if one happens to be confused by cybernetics, what better route than to go for broke, jump off the cliff of relative certainty and plunge into the turbulent waters of complete uncertainty - 'cybernetics of cybernetics' (second order cybernetics). Stafford, I deeply appreciate your directing me to consider the nature of paradox, but really - wasn't this too much?

However, once more there was a silver lining - the journey actually got more enjoyable (What was it that T.S. Eliot said? - "it's better to journey than to arrive"). And there's an almost visceral excitation to recursive use of language - an hypnotic effect when faced with a phrase such as Maturana's 'recurrent consensual coordination of consensual coordinations of actions', because the journey becomes all - you sort of never do arrive. And, hey that's fun!

But the new downside was that having successfully both graduated and been granted my doctorate, I was by now totally unemployable. I discovered that the real world is not quite so enamoured with phrases like that above, and sometimes insists on arrival and departure rather than just the journey!

But, Fare Forward voyager! - keep on going, don't give up, and you finally get somewhere. You might not have expected or anticipated it, you might not necessarily like it when you get there. But you can always once more move on.

And via Denis Adams at the then Liverpool Polytechnic, I started painfully to re-enter the real-world of jobs and money, and (heavens!) actually attempt to communicate things that other people think are reality (such as NOT the things 'described' by the recursive use of language), found myself looking at the emerging internet as an infrastructure for communication and a new 'space' for expression, and developing with Roy Stringer the Theseus model. This culminated in 1993 to me being part of a university spin-off (Amaze Ltd) whose business was electronic content and navigation of a complex information space.

10 years have passed and I feel I have almost "arrived at the beginning and know the place for the first time" (note that 'almost' - I've got a nasty feeling that I'll never actually arrive!). I'm presently a director in a company whose expertise is to consider the impact of user interface on effective action. I see Stafford's 1981 insight into what he called the technosphere as a forerunner for what we now call at Nascent Form Ltd- less elegantly - a 'global network of connectivity', an infrastructure that in its emergence impacts on all areas of human behaviour, understanding and social and economic interaction. Hence, the use of the word 'infrastructure - it's a fundamental change to the social infrastucture, rather than just another channel of communication. 

To the degree that individuals in their community and personal orientation CANNOT access THEMSELVES and their needs via this infrastructure, the technosphere is has is incipiently tyrannical. To the degree they CAN (accessing both selves and others in the flow of the co-mingling of existences and experiences), the technosphere is incipiently emancipatory. In our endeavours and acitivities as responsible individuals, we can knowingly or unknowingly contribute to either one of these tendencies, though I believe that both potentialities will always be present - both the threat and the promise. Therein lies the eternal triumph and tragedy of human existence.

This Web-site was developed by Ian Perry.