Publication 5746

Glanville R. (2014) Thinking through the technology. In: Arnold D. P. (ed.) Traditions of systems theory: Major figures and contemporary developments. Routledge, New York: 45–77. Fulltext at
Cybernetics, in its modern guise, was reborn in 1948 with the publication of Norbert Wiener’s book Cybernetics. The name was intended to bring focus to “control and communication in the animal and the machine,” which was the book’s subtitle. In his follow-up, The Human Use of Human Beings (Wiener 1950, with a second and much improved edition in 1954), Wiener commented “Until recently, there was no existing word for this complex of ideas and … I felt constrained to invent one.” He saw the new subject as the outcome of a co-operative process. These bald statements are an enormous simplification. They are little more than captions, as I indicate by my choice of words. During the Second World War, boundaries across science, and certain aspects of scientific conservatism, were temporarily replaced by an untypical, speculative openness. People took risks, worked across subjects, gave mindspace to the bizarre. Interdisciplinarity was perhaps the great development in working practice.

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