Indigenous Cybernetics: The Original System Theorists
Cybernetics, the interdisciplinary study of systems, control, and communication in animals, machines, and organizations, is frequently linked with modern computational technologies. However, the essence of cybernetics can be traced back to the ancient wisdom of indigenous communities.
The Essence of Cybernetics
At its core, cybernetics is about understanding and manipulating feedback loops in dynamic systems. The term, derived from the Greek word "kybernetes" meaning "steersman," revolves around governance and the idea that systems can be self-regulating through feedback.
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
For millennia, indigenous people have developed intricate understandings of their environments, societies, and relationships. Their survival depended on their ability to perceive, understand, and adapt to complex feedback loops, be it in hunting, farming, medicine, or social dynamics.
Take, for instance, the Indigenous Australians' practice of "fire-stick farming." By deliberately setting fires under controlled conditions, they stimulated the growth of specific plant species and controlled pests—a cybernetic act of ecosystem management.
Rituals and Feedback Loops
Many indigenous rituals can be seen as feedback mechanisms. Rituals and ceremonies often acted as tools to recalibrate societal dynamics, restore balance, or predict future challenges. The Native American potlatch, a grand gift-giving feast, for example, acted as both a societal leveling mechanism and a means to establish and reinforce social ties.
Systems Thinking as a Way of Life
For indigenous cultures, systems thinking was not a mere academic exercise but a way of life. Their existence was rooted in the awareness that everything is interconnected. The Maasai of East Africa, for example, possess an intricate understanding of their environment. Their decisions on where to graze their cattle consider not just immediate fodder availability but its impact on the ecosystem, the behavior of predators, and the well-being of their community. It's a holistic view that modern system theorists aspire to achieve.
Rediscovery and Integration
It's a stark irony that modern researchers often take decades to "discover" what indigenous communities have known through generations. Today, as the world grapples with challenges ranging from climate change to societal polarization, there's much to learn from these original cyberneticists. The fusion of traditional indigenous knowledge with contemporary cybernetic thinking can offer profound insights into sustainable and balanced living.
Preserving and Elevating Indigenous Wisdom
The next frontier in cybernetics might not be in the realm of artificial intelligence or robotics but in the libraries of ancient indigenous wisdom. Recognizing and valuing the cybernetic foundations of indigenous practices is not just about giving credit where it's due—it's about ensuring that this deep understanding of systems and feedback loops continues to benefit humanity in an increasingly interconnected world.
The wisdom of indigenous cybernetics offers a profound reminder that understanding and living in harmony with complex systems is not a novel concept. As we delve deeper into the age of technology, looking back to the original system theorists might provide the grounding and guidance we so desperately seek.
Ames, Kenneth. Chinookan Plankhouses. A complex and long-lasting technology forming a 400-year-long house. Cybernetic systems of maintaining the house, and so on. https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/chinookan_plank_houses/