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Introduction to Cybernetics (University Paperbacks)

3.9 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0416683004
ISBN-10: 0416683002
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Product Details

  • Series: University Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen (June 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0416683002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0416683004
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,728,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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 ›
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
Ashby's revelations are so profound that it's almost a disservice to refer to this as a book. Those revelations will not come easily. Ashby develops a very precise vocabulary and it is essential for understanding to learn and remember their meaning. It is this new vocabulary that makes it possible to see the world in a different light.

The impact of those revelations affected my abilities enough that in graduate school cybernetics was made part of the curriculum and later in a business environment the company's middle-management was required to take a course on the subject.

Cybernetics (I prefer Informational Mechanics) is a math similar to geometry except that instead of dealing with shapes and space it deals with change, complex change.

One particularly important aspect of that subject might be labeled the mechanics of human communication. In a nutshell Ashby shows how concepts from Shannon's Information Theory are applicable to human reasoning and communication. Again understanding those concepts is a life altering experience, but not easy.

Learning informational mechanics is a little like learning algebra. You have to understand the fundamentals for it to be useful.

I first read the book in 1957. Fifty-five years later I still refer to it.

There are a number of copycat books that in essence parrot Ashby's vocabulary. They are relatively useless.
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Format: Paperback
This print was scanned from a copy borrowed from the Woods Hole Marine Biological Library, the stamp of which appears on page v. Whoever did the scanning was probably blind in one eye and unable to see out of the other. For example, p.122 (section 7/4) is followed by p. 144 (section 8/5), and the pages then proceed in reverse order back to p. 123 before transitioning to p. 145! I have had similar misfortunes in the "Used" section and from third-party vendors but have never seen such an atrocity sold directly through Amazon.
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Format: Paperback
Many books have been written on the topic of control system theory. After reading a number of such books I can say without reservation Dr. Ashby's is the best treatment of the subject, bar none. His perspective is unique and wholly comprehensive.

To elaborate let me say that one of the goals of any introductory text is to provide a general overview of the subject matter in as clear and concise of manner as possible. Dr. Ashby does one better. Not only does he accomplish this aim, but while doing so he manages to develop a theoretical and technical foundation of understanding that goes right to the bedrock of eternity itself.

For instance one of the most primitive but arcane concepts in all physics is entropy. I personally spent decades trying to reduce entropy to a simple understanding but was always confounded by the "entropy is a measure related to heat engines, but also related to disorder," rhetoric. After all, pragmatically what do heat engines and scrambled eggs have in common? I sure wasn't able to connect the dots in any kind of intelligent way. Moreover it seemed no one else could either. After reading dozens of various books on the matter the explanations of the authors always fell short of offering the simple enlightenment I sought. However, in "Intro to Cybernetics" Dr. Ashby not only explores entropy in a way that is drop-dead simple (the entropy factor is overshadowed by a general principle which governs more than a reservoir of heat energy), but he goes on to show how information and control principles are the flip-side of the entropy principle. Tersely, the entropy principle is abstractly about variety or choice (reflected in Boltzmann's S=kLogW), while information and control is about selection and constraint.
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