40th Anniversary Annual Conference


The Conference was held on Saturday 20th September 2008
The Council Room, King's College, 152-170 Strand, London WC2R 1ES


9.30     Registration

10.00 "Cybernetic Serendipity: Living with Machines" Jasia Reichardt. Creator of the Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition and author of several books including “Robots-Fact, Fiction and Prediction”.

10.45 "The Evolution of Knowledge and Knowledge Systems" Dr. George Mallen, Computer Scientist, Founder and Chairman of System Simulation Ltd, a company specialising in the development of software for large scale multimedia repositories

11.30 Break

11.45 "The Misapplication of Shannon's Information Theory to Humans" Dr. Lance Nizami. The Centre for Hearing Research, National Research Hospital, Omaha, USA.

12.30 "On the nature of the electron" Dr. John G. Williamson. Department of Electronics & Electrical Engineering at the University of Glasgow formerly at CERN and the Advanced Theoretical and Experimental Physics Group, Philips Research Labs

1.15 Lunch at Caffe Amici

2.30 "Biosemiotics" Prof. Jack Cohen DSc. Warwick Mathematical Institute, author of Figments of Reality, The Collapse of Chaos and The Science of Discworld.

3.15 "Knowledge Cybernetics" Prof. Maurice Yolles. Vice President for Research and Publications, International Society for Systems Science.

4.00 Break

4.15 "The Application of the Viable System Model to the design of Personal Learning Environments" Oleg Liber, Professor of e-Learning and Director of the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at Bolton University.

5.00 "The Role of Sociocybernetics in Understanding World Futures". Dr. Bernard Scott, Head of the Flexible Learning Support Centre, Cranfield University, Defence College of Management and Technology, Defence Academy.

5.45 Further questions for any speaker.

Finish at 6.30 to be followed by dinner at 7.30pm at Salieri's, Strand.

Cybernetics Society members, staff, students and alumni of King's College are admitted free of charge. Non-members may apply to join at the conference. The membership fee for the three months to the end of the year is £5. The student membership fee for the three months is £2.50. Any applicants not subsequently approved for membership by the Council will have their fees refunded in full.

To apply for membership of the Cybernetics Society follow this link

Conference Contact.

Photograph from the proceedings

Abstracts and supporting media Received

"On the nature of the electron"

Dr. John Williamson writes:

How does the underlying structure of the universe cause particles to form, oscillate quantum mechanically, appear large in one context yet small in another and maintain their integrity in violent collisions?

The necessary properties of any algebra of reality and a proposed candidate. Why the underlying nature of the universe may be, on the one hand, a little more complex than 4-dimensional space-time and on the other hand just a bit simpler. A first benefit of a proper basis: a unified statement of Maxwell's equations.

A candidate extension of the electromagnetic equations to include the generalised forces. A proposed solution: the electron as a purely electromagnetic vortex. How the electron (re) creates itself from itself. Nature of the vortex: what is spinning and what is it spinning in. the harmony of phases, the de Broglie relation and the uncertainty principle. Some properties of the model: the origin of charge and half-integral spin. A possible basis for the exclusion principle.

Speculations on other particles and other forces. The quark symmetries, weak strong and gravitational forces.

Informal video of the talk (43 mins, 125 MB).

Foils from presentation in .pdf document.

Download the foundation paper "Is the electron a photon with a toroidal topology?" Williamson and van der Mark, Annales de la Fondation Louis de Broglie, Volume 22, no.2, 133 (1997).

Draft paper on new theory "electremdense2008v4.pdf" for Kybernetes.

"The Application of the Viable System Model to the design of Personal Learning Environments"

Professor Oleg Liber writes:

Recent developments within the World Wide Web, typically known as social software or Web 2.0 have made it possible to re-imagine the role of technology in education, distinct from earlier Learning Management Systems or Virtual Learning Environments. Whereas these provided tools for institutional management of learning and learners, Personal Learning Environments have put the focus on the individual's need to manage their learning activities and their relationships with co-learners, teachers and institutions. This paper discusses how the Viable System Model, usually applied to the design of organisational structures, can be used in the design and specification of Personal Learning Environments.

"The Role of Sociocybernetics in Understanding World Futures"

Dr. Bernard Scott writes:

Sociocybernetics is concerned with applying theories and methods from cybernetics and the systems sciences to the social sciences. Sociocybernetics offers concepts and tools for addressing problems holistically and globally. This paper sets out some ideas about how sociocybernetics can contribute to understanding possible world futures. A central concept in cybernetics is ‘governance’, the art of steersmanship. As conceived by Ashby, Beer and others, this art is concerned with the management of variety. How do we face the challenge of managing all the variety that makes up ‘possible world futures’?

"The Evolution of Knowledge and Knowledge Systems"

Dr George Mallen writes:

The rapid and continuing accumulation of reliable scientific and engineering knowledge is at odds with the ability of social governance to react to and make use of that knowledge. The challenge for cybernetics today, indeed as it was 60 years ago, is how best to apply its principles and understandings at a time of looming crises and inadequately informed policy and decision processes.

This paper will look at the evolution of human cultures as the development of forms of externalised, shared understandings which originally evolved as best practice in primitive times. There is growing neurological and cognitive science evidence that the human brain has evolved structures for empathetic reading of others' experiences and sharing them. This has obvious survival value for small groups. This paper will look at the hypothesis that large scale externalised knowledge systems allow us to generalise the concept of empathetic systems to the very large scale. The cybernetics and dynamics of such systems will be considered and particularly how the interfaces to governance and political power structure can be more effectively designed.

PowerPoint presentation

"The Misapplication of Shannon's Information Theory to Humans"

Dr Lance Nizami writes:

In 1951, Garner and Hake introduced an experiment claimed to quantify “how much information an O [observer] obtained about which of several alternative stimuli occurred” in a perception. They required, and supplied, a Shannon information- theory analysis of the resulting data. The Garner-Hake approach was quickly and widely accepted; hundreds of published estimates of Garner-Hake “information transmitted” have since been made. From the start, however, some theorists expressed reservations about what was actually quantified. Here, the highlights of Shannon’s “general communication system” and of his quantification of transmitted information are briefly recapitulated, followed by a precis of the Garner-Hake interpretation. Garner and Hake only identified one of the six parts of Shannon’s system, the transmitter; further, the de facto possible events and communicated outcomes differ, contrary to Shannon. Thus Garner-Hake “information transmitted” is ambiguous. The subject’s evident actual task in the Garner-Hake experiment, contrary to claim, is to compare the stimulus-evoked sensation to boundaries of ranges of sensations, established from what remains of the sensations evoked by various exemplar stimuli presented at the experiment’s start. That is, Garner and Hake tested memory. A novel qualitative model of that test is presented. It explains the observation that Garner-Hake “information transmitted” does not asymptote with increase in the number of exemplars, as they expected, but peaks instead.

About our speakers

Jasia Reichardt has been Assistant Director of the ICA in London and Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery. She has taught at the Architectural Association and other colleges. She organised the exhibition, Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968. She has written several books, including The Computer in Art, and Robots - Fact, Fiction and Prediction. She edited Cybernetics, Art and Ideas. She also worked on Fantasia Mathematica a visualisation of mathematics project. She was one of the directors of ARTEC (art and technology) biennale in Japan. She staged the exhibition Electronically Yours, on electronic portraiture, at the Tokyo Museum of Photography.

Nick Wadley, former Head of Art History at Chelsea School of Art, opened the Conference on her behalf.


George Mallen, BSc, PhD, MBCS, CEng, FRSA is founder and Chairman of System Simulation Ltd, a company specialising in the development of software to support large scale multimedia repositories. SSL was formed in 1970 after a period as Research Associate and then as Deputy Research Director of System Research Ltd, the cybernetics research company created by Gordon Pask. George's work there was on simulating crime intelligence systems and on developing models of learning processes. SSL pioneered work in film animation in the 1970s and search and browsing text databases in the 1980s. He held a Research Fellowship at the Royal College of Art and is Chair of the Computer Arts Society, a British Computer Society Specialist Group.


Dr. Lance Nizami is an independent research scholar living in Decatur, Georgia, USA. He has been a Research Associate in hearing research at Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska. He earned his Bachelor’s in Physics, Masters in Physiology (Theory) and Doctorate in Psychology at the University of Toronto.

Dr. John G. Williamson is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electronics & Electrical Engineering at the University of Glasgow. He worked previously at CERN, Geneva and at the Advanced Theoretical and Experimental Physics Group at Philips Research Labs, Eindhoven. Dr. Williamson has co- authored just under a hundred scientific papers in the fields of High energy Physics, Solid State Physics and Electronics. His research interests include the mathematical structure of space time, extended electromagnetism, Quantum Electrodynamics, Relativistic and Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics and Special and General Relativity.


Prof Jack Cohen

Jack Cohen is Honorary Professor at the Warwick Mathematics Institute. He was reproductive biologist in the Zoology Dept at Birmingham University for thirty years. He has published about 120 research papers. His books include The Collapse of Chaos and Figments of Reality: the evolution of the curious mind with Ian Stewart, Stop Working and Start Thinking: how to become a scientist with Graham Medley, and the three Science of Discworld books with Ian Stewart and Terry Pratchett.


Prof. Maurice Yolles is Editor of the International Journal of Organisational Transformation and Social Change and Head of the Centre for Creating Coherent Change and Knowledge. He is Vice President for Research and Publications in the International Society of Systems Science, Honorary Associate of the Centre for Leadership and Organisational Change at Teesside University and an Honorary Fellow of the Richardson Institute for Conflict Studies at Lancaster University. His specialist area is management systems and managerial cybernetics. He has undertaken a number of international research and development project s for the EU.

Related paper "Knowledge Cybernetics as part of Post-Normal Science".


Professor Oleg Liber is Director of the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton. After a decade in teaching, he has spent 25 years working in educational technology, and has been involved in many pioneering projects and innovations in learning management and learning design. He is the director of the UK Universities and Colleges national Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (JISC CETIS), which provides strategic advice to national educational bodies, represents the UK on international educational standardisation initiatives, and provides supports for national funding programmes in the educational technology field. His key interest is in understanding the impact of technology on the organisational structure of the education system and its institutions, and how management cybernetics can illuminate this


Dr. Bernard Scott, Head of the Flexible Learning Support Centre, Cranfield University, Defence College of Management and Technology, Defence Academy, UK and Director of the On-Line Learning Knowledge Garden website project in collaboration with UHI, Salford and De Montfort Universities.