Publication 4708

Pickering A. (2004) The science of the unknowable: Stafford Beer’s cybernetic informatics. Kybernetes 33(3/4): 499–521. Fulltext at
This essay explores the history of Stafford Beer’s work in management cybernetics, from his early conception and simulation of an adaptive automatic factory and associated experimentation in biological computing up to his development of the Viable System Model of complex organizations and its implementation in Chile. The essay also briefly pursues Beer into the arenas of politics and spirituality. The aim throughout is to show that all Beer’s projects can be understood as specific instantiations and workings out of a cybernetic ontology of unknowability and becoming: a stance that recognizes that the world can always surprise us and that we can never dominate it through knowledge. The thrust of Beer’s work was thus to construct information systems that can adapt performatively to environments they cannot fully control.

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