The Cybernetics of Learning

Conflict denotes the existence of a difference between what has been sensed and what the individual believes it ought to be. Therefore, the response to a conflict, or in other words, the attempt to close the gap, can lead to no less and no more than two distinct behaviours:

  1. either focus on changing the outside stimuli, and by doing so, making them closer to their equilibrium, maintaining the status quo ante, or
  2. take a look inwards and change their own equilibrium, and by doing so, having it aligned with the perceived information.

We will discuss the former in the next blog post (The Cybernetics of Dispute); the latter, however, is the mechanism of learning in viable systems, and in human beings specifically, that we need to understand since it plays a significant role in the process of mediation.

Conflict driving the learning process - changing the equilibrium
Conflict driving the learning process, changing the equilibrium

We, human beings, learn through conflict, and moreover, this is the only driving force behind our learning capabilities. Those of us who look more inwards learn more and adopt new equilibrium states, and those who seldom look inside, rarely change their beliefs, values, and understandings.

Many have observed an apple falling down, and many never perceived a conflict; they were secure in their equilibrium bobbles, believing that this is self-evident: When you release an apple from a height, it will fall down, and that’s all there is to it. The human race needed someone who questioned their own beliefs, curiously looking at the falling apple, astonished and amazed, attempting to understand, since he, indeed, perceived a discomforting difference between what he saw and what he knew. This is the true definition of curiosity, a critical skill of complex systems necessary to secure their viability.

Learning is, in fact, moving from one equilibrium state to the next. The above figure illustrates the fact that the equilibrium state for each person changes as they learn more. Learning changes the equilibrium state, and by doing so, people move from one state to the next. The more curious the individual, the more flexible they are in learning new things and discovering new equilibrium states.

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