Circularity and the Micro-Macro-Difference

Context: Referring to a recent proposition by Kauffman about the “fundamental nature of circularity in cybernetics and in scientific work in general,” I try to advance this insight with the help of system scientific concepts and a computational model. Problem: Often circularity seems to be taken as a metaphor that does not provide a firm epistemological base that fosters analysis. Method: The methodology builds on mathematics, computer-based modeling, and reasoning. Results: By building on conceptual suggestions for grasping the micro-macro difference of complex systems in terms of computational power, circularity can be conceived of as an emerging macro-level phenomenon. Implications: I show that the seemingly irritating – and traditionally evaded – concept of circularity is a fundamental and ubiquitous phenomenon in complex systems that can be grasped on a firm physical basis open to computational analysis. The proposal could support constructivist reasoning and help to eventually bridge the disconcerting gap between the humanities and natural sciences. Constructivist content: Circularity is a fundamental principle in the conception of second-order cybernetics and in particular in the observation of observing systems, as suggested by von Foerster. Trying to set it up on a firm analytical basis could advance the constructivist approach and further support it in becoming the contemporary scientific epistemology it deserves to be.


Füllsack M. (2016) Circularity and the Micro-Macro-Difference. Constructivist Foundations 12(1): 1–10. Available at