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I was a too-serious biochemistry pre-med student in 1980 when a dull professor with a dull-sounding class (Computer Modeling of Biological Systems) made me read this book. The writing style is so dry and calculated you can almost hear the language creak and the subject is at the same time simple but difficult to grasp - and no, that's not a contradiction in terms, trust me. But a chapter or two into this book the scales fell from my eyes. I had the true-believer's reaction of, "why doesn't everyone know this!? Why isn't this truth shouted from the rooftops!?" The truth in the book comes mainly from Alan Turing's discoveries in machine theory, a field he basically invented. But the author's achievement is to set forth these ideas, and many others developed later through his work and that of others, in clear, concise words - no mean feat with these subtle but extremely powerful concepts. Previous reviewer David C. Hay hit the nail on the head with his comment that "the insights into the true nature of the way things work are as significant as those of Newton or Einstein". Overstatement? If you are reading this review on a computer (yes, you are), you can thank the concepts in this book - they are that fundamental to the development of computers. As I say, the insights are mostly Turing's, but Ashby lays them out in a way that the dedicated reader of moderate intelligence (like myself, for example: I'm no Alan Turing!) can grasp without too much effort. The book's approach might have been softened to include some historical perspective or more concrete examples, but the author chose to refine his message to a distilled essence as clear and powerful as lightning.Read more ›
In a very clear, concise manner, Ashby explains the laws of nature that control the way systems work -- all systems, whether they be organisms, corporations, or governments. His insights into the true nature of the way things work are as significant as those of Newton or Einstein.
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Since its creation as a new field of science, Systems thinking has influenced most other areas, including the fields I'm active in myself, such as psychology and social sciences. This out-of-print book is considered so important by the people of the Principia Cybernetica Project that they want this book to reach as an wide audience as possible. As their website indicates: "W. Ross Ashby is one of the founding fathers of both cybernetics and systems theory. He developed such fundamental ideas as the homeostat, the law of requisite variety, the principle of self-organization, and the principle of regulatory models." Of course, nothing goes above getting your hand on a *real* copy of this book, but the next best solution is getting the free e-book version which the Principia Cybernetica Project published on their web site with the agreement of the Ashby estate (the copyright holders). Just search for Principia Cybernetica on the web, and surf from there... Patrick Merlevede co-author of "7 Steps to Emotional Intelligence"
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