Deviation Amplification


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)

The Metabolism of Capitalism

This is the post excerpt.

Screenshot from 2017-05-26 17-47-01

Marx on the positive-feedback dynamic of capitalism, describing the generalized expansionary pulsion as a “metabolism”:

Since money as universal material representative of wealth emerges from circulation, and is as such itself a product of circulation, both of exchange at a higher potentiality, and a particular form of exchange, it stands therefore in the third function as well, in connection with circulation; it stands independent of circulation, but this independence is only its own processes. It derives from it just as it returns to it again. Cut off from all relation to it, it would not be money, but merely a natural object, gold or silver. In this character it is just as much its precondition as its result. Its independence is not the end of all relatedness to circulation, but rather a negative relation to it. This comes from its independence as a result of M-C-C-M. In the case of money as capital, money is posited as (1) a precondition of circulation as well as its result; (2) as having independence only in the form of a negative relation, but always a relation to circulation; (3) as itself an instrument of production, since circulation no longer appears in its primitive simplicity, as quantitative exchange, but as a process of production, as a real metabolism. And thus money is itself stamped as a particular moment of this process of production.

(from Grundrisse, pgs. 216-217)