Archives for category: Cybernetics

– Reading and marking relevant sections in a book is easy. Transcription is is hard, and a long business. Of  course there are ways around this such as OCR, scanning books into selectable text for those who didn’t know, and is something I have been doing small scale. However, the bulk of books I need are locked away in the British Library and in the reading ways there is no way of making copies except by using the extortionate photo-copiers which really isn’t a solution, so its back to long hand transcription for me.

– Getting ill never helps anything, and, while i don’t like to get too personal here, I have been slowed, quite a bit, by being ill. There was the cold/flu that muddled all thinking and coherency, and then there were the, unrelated, physical problems that make impossible to work. The physical stuff I’ve been dealing with for a few years now, but it can still strike and stop productivity dead. I’ve been told by a few people that it’s good I want to write and research, it means I can circumvent the need to be physical, which of course, to me, is stupid. My point is simply that being ill can stop things happening, which is what happened this last week.

– With the week geared towards transcription there was not really any ‘new’ and exciting things to be learned. Except of course finally realising that Norbert Wiener’s life was pretty awful, first his parents and then his wife. I’m sure I don’t have the full picture, but even a diminished amount of what I’ve learned would still lead me the same conclusion: Norbert Wiener was a true, polymathic genius, John Nash called him America’s home grown answer to John von Neumann, yet, at the same time Wiener was tortured in an all together way to Nash.

– week three also saw me begin to realise, more fully, the impact that Anglo-American, analytic, philosophy had on the founders of cybernetics. I mean, Wiener studied with Bertrand Russell for a year in Cambridge after receiving his PhD. Warren McCulloch was inspired by Russell and his ‘what is it to know a number..’. Walter Pitts sent a letter of criticism about Russells philosophy to Russell who invited him to come and study with him, Pitts couldn’t he was fifteen and wasn’t at university. Pitts also wrote a critical letter to Carnap who was at the university of Chicago and this time Pitts did actually go and study with Carnap, dealing with the foundations of logic. A teenager with a master.

– Right now it is easy to see how mathematicians and scientists would have read and been drawn to analytic philosophy, especially as philosophy, and science, was  much more integrated into the wider world.

– I also began to see similarities between feedback loops and hermanetic cricles.

– This last week also saw me become aware of Egle Rindzeviciute whose book Constructing Soviet Cultural Policy: Cybernetics and Governance in Lithuania after World War II I have not read the entirety of, but, what I have read is fascinating, especially as I have so little knowledge of the Soviet Union, and cybernetics outside America. Right at the beginning is this lovely quote:

“I began my journey into ordering in cultural policy. Why were some objects listed as governable by the Ministry of Culture and others not? How could such different objects possibly be labelled with one term (“culture”) and accommodated in one administrative structure? What kind of governmental rationales and techniques made that list possible? Indeed, the fact that I ended up sitting with this list was a consequence of one question: What does it mean to govern and what makes culture governable? “

You Should Read: Peter Galison’s The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision


What can I say, this past week saw the British Library open up its secrets to me, and they are lovely secrets. I know some people who don’t like the exterior of the British Library and love the interior, but I really like both outside and inside. The reading rooms are spacious, cool and feel like a place I want to research and be scholarly. My only niggle is naming, and so to some separating, the reading rooms into Humanities 1 & 2, and Science 1 & 2. I’d prefer a different naming scheme but that’s me.

Some of the material for my cybernetics research is out of print and not held by many libraries, which makes the British library a perfect place for me to get hold of what I need. The man who registered me at the library read my letter of reference, which I needed to join, and was instantly fascinated, he even asked if I had a bibliography which he could check on the catalogue for me. It was quite a personable way to join a library, which I have noticed seems to reflect the majority of the staff in the library.

From Newspeak to Cyberspeak is a book which shows the power and structure of Cybernetics as a universal language for understanding control and communication within human, animals and machines. The book takes the line that Cybernetics is far more than a science or field of inquiry.

I have also been digging into the relationship between Norbert Wiener and Bertrand Russell, the former studied with the latter in Cambridge after receiving his PhD. Forty years later Wiener wrote in his ‘Cybernetics’ that “I am myself a former student of Russell, and owe much to his influence.”

And now for ann interesting coincidence: I wrote a piece on this here blog about disunified research, and it briefly discussed hybrid thinking and new knowledge, it also quickly covered the idea of a ‘pidgin’ language within any research cluster, especially the very new in terms of knowledge being produced. At the same time, or several hours later, depending on how you view such things, I was working my way through ‘From Newspeak to Cyberspeak’ by Slava Gerovitch as part of my cybernetc research and what I quickly came across was the idea that the Soviet Union deliberately used a form of Newspeak to delineate the ‘soviet’ from everybody else. . I don’t think in terms of Godly, or Fately, synchronicity, but I can see how we connect and give meaning to things, again this is something I cover in my thesis and so there will be more thoughts on this in later weeks, socio-cultural pattern recogntion is quickly becoming my craft, whether by choice or not.

I went off track there. What I meant to say is that in separate spheres of my thinking this week the spectre of language and what it means turned up. This is not to reduce the importance of either but remark upon a coincidence and what light it sheds on my week.

You Should Read: From Newspeak to Cyberspeak by Slava Gerovitch – Cybernetics is the reason I read this but it is so much more. The picture of Soviet science it paints is fascinating and enlightening. It removes the iron curtain of ignorance from my eyes.

Hope you all have a good Week

My week in Review

I have something of a fixation for the new. This cybernetics research is new, it is interesting and, I can feel it, important. And it is all these things because the researches of Norbert  Wiener, Gregory Bateson and others did away with the old and using the concepts embedded within Cybernetics as their guiding light they created a new world. The plethora of new ideas, technologies and understandings to come out of this time have fueled the world ever since. To understand why this period is so important to the world we live in now is necessary to find out what happened and why during the 1940’s and 1950’s. I cannot help but want to dive down and bring this history to light, to share it with the rest of the world.

This last week has seen me on a diminished research timeframe due to other factors in life. Nontheless, I started digging into the wealth of data that surrounds Nobert Wiener, not only the father of Cybernetics, but also one of America’s, and the worlds, greatest polymaths whose insights went far outside that of mathematics. The image that is coming out is one of a man for who the beauty of pure mathematics wasn’t enough, and any thing Wiener touched turned into a beautiful example of applied, practical, meaningful mathematics.

I also dug into Gregory Bateson. Now I’m an anthropologist but I have never come across the name Gregory Bateson before now, not even as the husband of Margaret Mead, who in anthropology circles is a very famous, and now controversial, name. However, beginning to sift the data surrounding Bateson reveals an original inter-disciplinary mind who saw the importance of explicating the ‘Cybernetic Explanation’ in terms of humanity and the world in which they lived.

You Should Read:

Dark Hero of the Information Age By Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman – A deep, Humanising  biography about Norbert Wiener. This book makes the great mathematician not simply a set of equations.

‘Cybernetic Explanation’ in Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson – This piece lays out, explicitly, the direction Bateson comes to Cybernetics and humanity, and what it means to him. I was going to say ‘Cybernetics and Anthropology’, but it isn’t that simple with Bateson.

Ocmpoma has posted a link to an article called ‘Systemics and Cybernetics in a Historical Perspective‘ which has the following, very interesting, abstract:

“Systemics and cybernetics can be viewed as a metalanguage of concepts and models

for transdisciplinarian use, still now evolving and far from being stabilized. This is the

result of a slow process of accretion through inclusion and interconnection of many

notions, which came and are still coming from very different disciplines. The process

started more than a century ago, but has gathered momentum since 1948 through the

pioneering work of Wiener, von Neumann, von Bertalanffy, von Förster and Ashby,

among many others. This paper tries to retrace the history of the accretion process and

to show that our systemic and cybernetic language is an evolving conceptual network.

This is of course only a first and quite incomplete attempt, merely destined to give the

‘feel’ of the process. Systemic concepts and models are underlined in order to enhance

the perception of the process, as well as its systemic significance”



Mash has a post detailing ‘The Cybernetic Explanation” which includes the following section which details reversing entropy:

  1. Systematic local reversal of entropy is caused by systematic feedback.
  2. Systematic feedback is caused by directed behavior.
  3. Directed behavior is caused by a Turing machine or the equivalent.
  4. There exist Turing machines.
  5. Therefore there may exist systematic local reversals of entropy.

Shorter version: life is a computation.

But the explanation is actually broader than life. It begins with a fundamental relationship between feedback and entropy. And this makes sense, because feedback can be seen as a way to reverse the arrow of time in a limited but real sense.”

Mash’s post also ends on the following:

“if you are a cybernetic materialist, naturally there is life, and life reflecting on life” which is one thought to end my weekend.

So Begins a new research project and it started like this:

A couple of weeks ago Matt Webb of Berg, posted on his work log that he was interested in the interconnected history of cybernetics from the 1940’s and 50’s, and if anybody was interested, in researching the subject, to get in touch, which I did.

After a couple of back and forth emails, in which i blabbed about who I was and what I did, we met, got on well, it didn’t seem to matter I was half an hour late to our first meeting, and we decided working together was a good idea. And then we met again this morning to sort a few things out, and of course talk and make connections until matt announces he has to get back to work, this may be a trend forming.

So, now we’re ready to go public, and share a little. Which means that  you are all now looking at a researcher delving in to the secret forbidden history of cybernetics and the people, ocassions and situations which gave birth to an, at the time, revolutionary way of looking at the world. It must be said cybernetics is still influencial today, the reason we don’t notice it may have to do with something Webb said this morning ” Do we not talk about cybernetics because it  now pervades everything? like fish don’t talk about water”. I like the idea of swimming in cybernetics and diving under the surface to find a world not explored by many.

Right now my main aim is to assimilate, pull apart, and decant to computer, a core selection of texts which deal with the birth of cybernetics. Once this is done we’ll see where to go later.

I plan to write weekly updates which discuss and reveal a little bit about what what is happening and what kind of paths are appearing in front of Webb and I. I’m sure somewhere down the line Webb will have something to say.

Today also sees the commencement of a scrapbook, or research process platform over, at Haunting Thoughts my Tumblr log.

My name is Benjamin Mankteow and now I have a new research project to obsess over.