the study of “control and communication in the animal and the machine.
the postwar science of communication and control, looked for commonalities in biological, mechanical, and social systems.
Cybernetics often mixed metaphors from engineering and biology to describe the behavior of complex systems ranging from the electromechanical operation of a computer to the function of the human brain. Some members of the cybernetics community viewed cybernetics as a universal language for the scientific study of machines, organisms, and organizations
The study of feedback processes in machines, organisms, and social organizations became a distinguishing feature of cybernetic work and departed from the linear cause-and-effect relationships that, until then, had dominated scientific practice
the steering that systems undergo is not conducted by an outside agency but by the system itself and its constituent parts.
concerned how any kind of system, be that an engineering or electronic system or a biological or social system, was organised; what the different parts of the system were, what function they played; and, importantly, how they operated together to make up the whole.
For Beer, the notion of cybernetic control did not have anything to do with domination, and indeed the titles of some of his other books such as Designing Freedom make that clear. Control is self-control, self-steering, the self-organising processes of bodies that allow them to define and achieve goals in tandem with an environment
From its earliest days cybernetics valued the cross-disciplinary pollination that occurred when experts from a variety of fields convened to discuss a common problem
Cybernetics “is likely to reveal a great number of interesting and suggestive parallelisms between machine and brain and society,” Ashby predicted. “And it can provide the common language by which discoveries in one branch can readily be made use of in the others
2. Cybernetics and the Vietnam War
Systems analysis and computer modeling also played important roles in formulating strategies used by the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. These approaches allowed the government to compile detailed quantitative maps of the political climate in different regions of Vietnam and use these data to guide U.S. wartime tactics. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara championed these so-called scientific approaches and used them to create what he believed to be objective policies that emphasized cost effectiveness and centralized decision making
3. Cybernetics and city planning
Pittsburgh city planners drew explicitly from the work of defense intellectuals at RAND and elsewhere and used these approaches to predict future city processes, such as determining residential patterns
Lindsay’s view of the city as an information system spurred the creation of computerized data systems to increase data sharing among city departments and centralize decision making and control, although such efforts did not succeed in cutting city operating expenses nor, as Light observes, did they make life noticeably better for city residents.
the interpretative flexibility and broad applicability of cybernetic ideas also caused some in the scientific community to dismiss the field as a pseudoscience that lacked disciplinary rigor
With regards to application to social systems:
These approaches have subsequently been criticized for oversimplifying the dynamics of social systems and for encouraging policy makers, academics, and Wall Street bankers to place too much trust in numbers
In addition, critics have pointed out that quantitative approaches encourage top-down management hierarchies that have grafted the structure and culture of the military onto the civilian agencies, businesses, and institutions of a democracy
if we use ‘control’ in the sense of ‘maintain a large number of critical variables within limits of tolerance’.
5. See also
6.1. In my garden
Notes that link to this note (AKA backlinks).
- H. T. Odum's Environment, Power and Society
- Anarchist Cybernetics
- All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
- Project Cybersyn
- Beyond the horizontal and the vertical
- Red Enlightenment: On Socialism, Science and Spirituality
- Management cybernetics
- Neither Vertical Nor Horizontal
- There are different strands of cybernetics
- Epistemology vs ontology
- second-order cybernetics
- Half-Earth Socialism
- Soviet Cybernetics and the Promise of Big Computer Socialism
- Complexity and the left
- The Cybernetic Hypothesis
- General Intellect Unit
- Soviet cybernetics