It’s doubtful that there is a better introduction to the forces and implications of positive feedback than “The Second Cybernetics: Deviation-Amplifying Mutual Causal Processes”, published in 1963 by the all-too-unknown Magoroh Maruyama.
Since its inception, cybernetics was more or less identified as a science of self-regulating and equilibrating systems. Thermostats, physiological regulation of body temperature, automatic steering devices, economic and political processes were studied under a general mathematical model of deviation-counteracting feedback networks.
By focusing on the deviation-counteracting aspect of mutual causal relationships however, the cyberneticians paid less attention to the systems in which the mutual causal effects are deviation-amplifying. Such systems are ubiquitous: accumulation of capital in industry, evolution of living organisms, the rise of cultures of various types, interpersonal processes that produce mental illness, international conflict, and the processes that are loosely termed as “vicious circles” and “compound interest”: in short, all processes of mutual causal relationship that amplify an insignificant or accidental initial kick, build up deviation and diverge from the initial condition.
In contrast to the progress in the study of equilibrating systems, the deviation-amplifying systems have not been given much investment of time and energy by the mathematical scientists on one hand, and an understanding and practical application on the part of geneticists, ecologists, politicians and psychotherapists on the other hand.
The deviation-counteracting mutual causal systems and the deviation-amplifying mutual causal system may appear to be the opposite types of systems.
But they have one essential feature in common: they are both mutual causal systems, i.e. the elements within a system influence each other either simultaneously or alternatingly.
The difference between the two types of systems is that the deviation-counteracting system has mutual negative feedback between the elements in it, while the deviation-amplifying system has mutual positive feedbacks between elements in it.
- “…modernist cybernetics has trivialized escalation processes into unsustainable episodes of quantitative inflation, thus side-lining exploratory mutation over against a homeostatic paradigm. ‘Positive feedback is the source of instability, leading if unchecked to the destruction of the system itself’, writes one neo-Wienerian, in strict fidelity to the security cybernetics which continues to propagate an antidelirial technoscience caged within negative feedback, and attuned to statist paranoia of a senescing industrialism.” (Nick Land, “Circuitries”, in Fanged Noumena, pp. 297-298)