Cybernetics as a way of life

This is a wonderful section from pg 9 of Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain:

Unlike more familiar sciences such as physics, which remain tied to specific academic departments and scholarly modes of transmission, cybernetics is better seen as a form of life , a way of going on in the world, even an attitude, that can be, and was, instantiated both within and beyond academic departments, mental institutions, businesses, political organizations, churches, concert halls, theaters, and art museums. This is to put the case positively. But from another angle, we should note the continuing marginality of cybernetics to established institutions.

It captures why I find the early British sociologists so fascinating, for whom sociology was a way of life in the same sense conveyed here. Even if institutionalisation was necessary for sociology to grow, it’s hard not to wonder if this more than anything else was what eroded the liveliness Pickering conveys here, which these sociologists had in common with the cyberneticians he describes.

2 responses to “Cybernetics as a way of life”

  1. The quote by Ross Ashby on p. 19 is probably the clearest account of object oriented ontology that I have come across

    “What is being suggested now is not that black boxes behave somewhat like real objects but that real objects are in fact all black boxes, and that we have been operating with black boxes all our lives”

    My reading of this – and Pickering’s posthumanism – is that new materialism can only really be unpacked by considering subject-object relationships as a relationship between complex dynamic systems i.e. in the spirit of the British cybernetics tradition.

    Makes me think that some new materialist writing is just REF clickbait 🙂

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