TILT Seminar by Tim Falkiner

"THE LAW AND SCIENCE - Cybernetics, the Meta-Grammar of Legislation”

Tim is a retired lawyer and town planner from Melbourne, Australia.

Tim was one of the last generalist lawyers, educated in every field of law and he had, largely through accident, an enviably wide practical experience as both a lawyer (humanity) and town planner (science). In the sixties and mid-seventies he worked as an articled clerk and then as a solicitor with a law firm. In 1976 he took a job as a town planner in the Town and Country Planning Board studying part-time to obtain a Diploma of Applied Science (Town Planning). He then worked as the legal officer at the Ministry for Planning. In the late 1980s, Tim was employed in Constitution, Legislation and Advisings at the Victorian Crown Solicitor’s Office. Then he left and joined the Victorian Bar where, as a barrister, he carried out a wide range of advocacy, advice and drafting work.

Tim thus had an unusually wide range of experience, particularly at the Ministry for Planning. There, he was advising on and assisting in the administration of a wide range of planning and environmental statutory schemes at a time of great change and he could get some overview of their operation.

In the sixties and seventies the law was less complex, less voluminous and more certain. In the town planning course Tim was taught some control systems theory by two great mentors. Tim was interested in computers and, as a member of the Micro Computer Club of Melbourne, he learnt computer programming. He studied micro-Prolog and attempted to write computer programs to solve legal issues.

In the early 1990s, Tim noticed parallels in a book written by a lawyer on legislative drafting and a book written by the project manager of the IBM 360 computer and operating system. Tim tried to write a book integrating the knowledge of writing large sets of instructions (control systems) gained by the legislative draftspersons and software engineers.

The breakthrough came when Tim found a book in the Melbourne library titled, “Cybernetics – Brain of the Firm” by an English scientist, Stafford Beer, which enabled Tim to at least partly understand the underlying nature of control systems and enabled him to write his 1992 book, “Scientific Legislation”.

Nothing happened for over twenty years. But a few years ago, Tim was contacted by an Austrian informatics academic, who very kindly wrote, “… your book is definitely the only book I know which connects cybernetics and legislation and hence is going to the root causes [of vagueness and complexity in law]. A lengthy correspondence followed and this correspondence rekindled Tim’s interest in the work. Tim has since given lectures at the Parliamentary Counsel offices in Victoria and Tasmania.

Tim believes it is important that lawyers learn to understand law from a scientific, a cybernetic, viewpoint. In the 1960s, our laws were far more certain than they are now. Our society is more complex and, unless we can handle that complexity, our social, economic and environmental systems will continue to behave erratically or worse.


The object of this lecture is to bridge the widening gap between law as a humanity and the hard sciences. There are natural laws that apply to control systems and, since legislation is a control system, these natural laws apply to legislation too.

General Systems Theory

Recapping some of the basic principles of general systems theory: the importance of interaction of parts of things, the dynamic nature of the interaction and the arbitrariness of the definition of any system.

Control Systems Theory – Cybernetics

Plato and Ampere used the term cybernetics. The modern science of cybernetics was developed in Britain and the USA following World War II.

The basic laws of control systems are:

  1. There are fundamental principles of control which apply to all large systems. (e.g. the mind, computers, social and economic systems).
  2. All large systems have a control mechanism. (e.g. forest, motor car, corporation, modern civilized society).
  3. The control system is isomorphic with the system under control.
  4. The control system is part of and grows with the system under control.
  5. The rate of change of the control system matches that of the system under control.
  6. The regulator must match the variety of the regulated system to assure control (Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety).

Ashby’s law is further examined together with the viable systems model, the nesting of viable systems and the application of the viable systems model to government.

Designing laws

Some advice is given on the implication of cybernetic laws in the design of legislative schemes with some remarks gathered from the lecturer’s own experience.

  1. The system one is working on must be defined.
  2. The purpose of the system must be defined using Stafford Beer’s principle of POSIWID (the purpose of a system is what it does).
  3. The regulating agency must be organized isomorphically with the system under control.
  4. The variety of the controlling and controlled systems must be balanced using variety attenuators and variety amplifiers.
  5. The model must be tested with a variety of inputs to ascertain the outputs.
  6. Monitoring and feedback mechanisms must be set up.
  7. Feedback systems must be in real time and they should be acted on.
  8. The regulator must be able to accommodate external disturbances.
  9. Levels of government should share the same isomorphic structure.

Book “Scientific Legislation” applying cybernetics and software engineering knowledge to legislation. Need for reviewing and re-writing. Beginnings of outline of future legislative style based on cybernetic principles which might overcome problems of vagueness, complexity, volume and problems with current legislative maintenance.

Registration: g.vdnmaagdenberg@tilburguniversity.edu

Location: M 1003

When: 14 September 2017 13:00

End date: 14 September 2017 14:00