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Humanist Archives: March 13, 2019, 6:52 a.m. Humanist 32.540 - events: history & philosophy of computing (Bergamo); cybernetics and mysticism (Milan)

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 540.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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    [1]    From: ldemol 
           Subject: 2nd CfA HAPOC-5, 28-30 October 2019, Bergamo, Italy (107)

    [2]    From: Jeffrey Mathias 
           Subject: CFP: SHOT Milan Panel 'Cybernetics and Mysticism' (89)

        Date: 2019-03-13 06:41:28+00:00
        From: ldemol 
        Subject: 2nd CfA HAPOC-5, 28-30 October 2019, Bergamo, Italy

HaPoC 2019: 2nd Call for Abstracts

5th International Conference on the History and Philosophy of Computing

28-30 October 2019

Bergamo, Italy
Website: https://hapoc2019.sciencesconf.org

Email: hapoc2019@sciencesconf.org

Today more than ever computers have taken center stage in our lives:
science, economy, politics, art, there is no single human endeavour that
has been left unaffected by Information Technologies. Whether this
impact is positive or negative, is still very much up for debate.

People connected to the Internet can enjoy an unprecedented amount of
information and computing power at their disposal, but more and more
negative side effects of a widespread use of computers are brought to
our attention: automation bias, echo chambers, shortened attention
spans, job displacement, election hacking are just a few examples. The
latest AI-hype fuelled by computationally feasible machine learning
techniques have brought to reality philosophical topics previously
relegated to mental experiments and theoretical discourses. The trolley
problem has never been more popular thanks to self-driving cars.

The need to conduct a systematic and well-informed discussion in a
context ranging from theoretical and mathematical problems to labour and
resource exploitation issues is evident. The broken dialogue between
young and aggressively finance-oriented tech moguls and old-school
politicians fumbling for regulation of little-known phenomena is not

HaPoC’s appeal to historical and philosophical reflection aims at
addressing this shortcoming. We aim to bring together researchers
exploring the various aspects of computation: historians, philosophers,
computer scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, designers,
manufacturers, practitioners, artists, logicians, mathematicians, each
with their own experience and expertise, all part of a society impacted
by computation, and all necessary to the creation of a better discourse.

Main Topics

For HaPoC 2019, we welcome contributions from scholars who intend to
participate in the debate on the impact of computers on culture,
science, and society from the perspective of their area of expertise,
and who are open to engage in interdisciplinary discussions across
multiple fields. Topics include but are not limited to:

     History of computation, computers, algorithms, programs, paradigms,
software and hardware companies and communities, …

     Philosophy of computation, philosophy of the mind in relation with
computer science, ethics of computer science, epistemology of computer

     Foundational issues of computation, limits of computability, the
Church-Turing thesis, formal systems, semantic of programs, …

     Computation in the Sciences, experiments and simulations with
computers, big data analytics, epistemological issues, …

     Computation in Society, social networks, news and content
distribution, automation, digital divide, privacy and security, …

     Computation in the Arts, digital art, interactivity, computer
games, affective computing, human-computer interaction, …

How to submit

We cordially invite researchers working in a field relevant to the main
topics of the conference to submit a short abstract of 180-200 words and
an extended abstract of at most a 1000 words (references included)
through EasyChair at:


Accepted papers will be presented in 30 minute slots including
discussion. Abstracts must be written in English. Please note that the
format of uploaded files must be in .pdf. Submissions without extended
abstract will not be considered.


Submission deadline: April 30, 2019
Notification of acceptance/rejection: June 30, 2019

Conference dates: October 28-30, 2019

Travel Grants

The HaPoC Council is happy to announce the availability of four HAPOC
travel grants of $250 each to support participation at the conference.
An accepted paper is required in order to be eligible for the grant. In
order to apply, please send the following details to info@hapoc.org:

     CV and a brief (up to 200 words) description of why you require
financial support

     The title of your HaPoC 2019 submission

     Detailed budget indicating any other funding possibilities (if

        Date: 2019-03-13 06:40:20+00:00
        From: Jeffrey Mathias 
        Subject: CFP: SHOT Milan Panel 'Cybernetics and Mysticism'

Society for the History of Technology, Annual meeting 2019, Milan,
24-27 October 2019
Session proposal: "Cybernetics and Mysticism"

Jeffrey Mathias, Cornell University
Jan Müggenburg, Leuphana University Lüneburg


"The reprobation attaching in former ages to the sin of sorcery attaches
now on in many minds to the speculations of modern cybernetics" (Wiener
1963, 49).  Norbert Wiener's repeated comparison of 'modern cybernetics'
- the Cold War science of communication and control - and ancient
sorcery was motivated by a humanist impulse, attempting to strictly
separate superstition from science and disenchant the cybernetic
machines that seemed disturbingly lively (ibid., p50). Wiener fretted
over the possibility of his scientific peers exploiting the awe of the
"man on the street" at these machines for political purposes. For
Wiener, the sin ultimately might lie not in the sorcery of cybernetics
but in "using the magic of modern automatization to further personal
profit or let loose the apocalyptic terrors of nuclear war" (ibid. p.
52). Seen from a cultural historical perspective, this intuition that
cybernetics might be perceived as a successor to occult and mystical
practices- and that this has particular political stakes- allows us to
get at the heart of many of the questions provoked by cybernetics.

Indeed, cybernetics inspired and proliferated all kinds of 'magical
thinking'. At its margins, fringe groups like L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics
and countercultural figures such as neurophysiologist and 'LSD guru'
John C. Lilly and video artist Paul Ryan tried to combine cybernetic
theories with mystical and religious concepts (Kline 2015, p. 183)
(Lilly 1972) (Sachs-Collopy 2015). Within the original cybernetic
cluster, many key figures found themselves drawn to holistic and
esoteric styles of thought. In his 1953 popular book _The Living Brain_,
William Grey Walter, for one, couched his theoretical neurophysiology in
broad speculation about telepathy, dreams, and the uncanny powers
displayed by Indian yogis (Walter 1953) (Pickering 2011).  Heinz von
Foerster was further a certified magician and, to a certain degree,
understood the construction of cybernetic machines as a continuation of
his engagement with magic (Müggenburg 2018). Stafford Beer,
disillusioned by the violent collapse of Project Cybersyn in Chile,
turned to tantric yoga, a practice he saw as largely consonant with
management cybernetics (Medina 2014).

Beginning from this "mysticism" as a racialized, colonial formation,
this panel this aims to take seriously the esoteric and utopian
imaginaries that emerge from and subtend cybernetics and its associated
sciences. A central question of the panel is thus how mystical thinking
and gendered concepts of charisma and polymathy in cybernetics relate to
each other. We ask how narratives of cybernetics as "an up-to-date form
of Black Magic" play out central anxieties and tensions- political and
personal- inherent to this variegated interdisciplinary field (Young,
quoted in Kline 2015, p.183). To what ends did these imaginaries function?

Kline, Ron (2015): /The Cybernetics Moment. Or Why We Call Our Age the
Information Age/, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Lilly, John C. (1972). /Programming and metaprogramming in the human
biocomputer: theory and experiments/ (2nd ed.). Julian Press.

Medina, Eden (2014): /Cybernetic Revolutionaries:Technology and Politics
in Allendes Chile/, Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press.

Müggenburg, Jan (2018): /Lebhafte Artefakte. Heinz von Foerster und die
Maschinen des Biological Computer Laboratory/, Göttingen: Konstanz
University Press.

Pickering, Andrew (2011): /The Cybernetic Brain. Sketches of Another
Future/, Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Sachs Collopy, Peter (2015): /The Revolution Will Be Videotaped: Making
a Technology of Consciousness in the Long 1960s/, Publicly Accessible
Penn Dissertations.

Walter, William Grey. (1953). /The living brain./ New York: Norton.

Wiener, Norbert (1963): /God & Golem, Inc. A Comment on Certain Points
were Cybernetics Impinges on Religion/, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Jeffrey Mathias
Department of Science and Technology Studies
Cornell University

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