- Series: MIT Press
- Paperback: 212 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; second edition edition (March 15, 1965)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 026273009X
- ISBN-13: 978-0262730099
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cybernetics, Second Edition: or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine second edition Edition
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It appears impossible for anyone seriously interested in our civilization to ignore this book. It is a 'must' book for those in every branch of science...in addition, economists, politicians, statesmen, and businessmen cannot afford to overlook cybernetics and its tremendous, even terrifying implications. It is a beautifully written book, lucid, direct, and despite its complexity, as readable by the layman as the trained scientist.(John B. Thurston , The Saturday Review of Literature)
About the Author
Norbert Wiener served in the Department of Mathematics at MIT from 1919 until his death in 1964. In 1963, he was awarded The National Medal of Science for his contributions in the fields of mathematics, engineering, and biological science.
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"Cybernetics typically denotes the interdisciplinary study and strategic deployment of communicative control processes in "complex systems" constituted by humans, other animals, machines, and the rest of living-nature. In what follows, I wish to suggest an even broader use of this term. Cybernetics, not simply as a field of techno-science research and application, but as a term connoting the most far-reaching of ultramodern forms of social control. In this sense, I will be using the phrase, social cybernetics, to provisionally configure the fluid, high speed, and densely layered webs of communicatively driven positive and negative "feedback" which, this very moment, affect the ways you are receiving my words. This is a story of how loops of cybernetic feedback are informing the energetic ritual organization of power between ourselves and others. Within the fast-flexible boundaries of global capital, the most dominant, but certainly not all, of these feedback loops carry a masculine, heterosexist, and racially inscribed charge. This is a history of the present." Stephen Pfohl [...] Such is the effect upon readers of Cybernetics by Norbert Wiener.
Let me first say that there were a few chapters in the beginning and end that were needlessly technical and mathematical. It isn't so much that I object to the existence of mathematical proofs in their proper context, but it seemed unnecessarily detailed for the overall purpose and thrust of the book. After working my way through a few of the demonstrations, I eventually gave up an took the author's word on the soundness of his conclusions. I think this is fair enough to do, so much so, in fact, that I started to wonder why he was making me flip past pages upon pages of dense calculus only to arrive at a summary paragraph that would elucidate the meaning of his findings. At one point he attempts to justify this technique by saying something to the effect of: it would take me much longer to put these formulae into common English, so read them for their condensed shorthand value. I, as the reader, would have been perfectly willing to let him dispose of the rigor for the sake of cleaner text. But whatever; maybe people really wanted to delve into that level of demonstration.
In addition, for as direct and focused Wiener seems to be as a mathematician, his thoughts, and even his prose, seem disjointed and meandering. He quickly moves from one large concept to the next, sometimes leaving the reader reeling trying to catch up. He goes on digressions that seemed opinionated and lengthy, and, when returning to the original thread, makes no real indication that he has returned. Other times these digressions will be nearly freeform transitions between concepts, similarly lacking indication that he has departed one concept and started addressing another. That he does both of these leaves the reader wondering if the text is moving forward or looping back. I would like to think that the author was making some larger point about the nature of cybernetics though this ambiguity, but this seems doubtful to me.
These criticisms are small, however, taken in relation to the positive aspects of this book. The conclusions being reached by Wiener might seem banal to a contemporary reader, but this only lends credibility to their influence. Weiner not only anticipates a great deal of the future of computing, he also strongly develops a theory of the animal (and human) as, essentially, an organic computing machine; not just the brain, but the whole organism. Early in the work, he distinguishes this position from simplistic Cartesian materialism (i.e. with respect to Descartes' conception of animals as sophisticated machines), and, instead, argues for a vitalism that explains the soul as a material concept. It is non-symmetrical feedback, as unfolding through time, that makes the system seem vital as opposed to mechanical, and it is this level of complexity that makes the behavior of animals and humans seem so radically different than the motions of planets or pendulums.
The remainder of the work goes on to apply the cybernetic concept of feedback to a whole range of biological phenomena and computational questions in a way that demonstrates the power of the theory and the broadness of its application. So much of what Wiener says is taken as understood in modern times that it is easy to lose sight of how striking his claims really are.