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Humanist Archives: Sept. 9, 2019, 9:22 a.m. Humanist 33.235 - cybernetics

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 235.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2019-09-09 05:58:35+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: cybernetics

Possibly not many of us are all that familiar with the hugely influential 
field of cybernetics. Cybernetics went through two major phases, the first, 
as Wikipedia puts it, "a transdisciplinary approach for exploring 
regulatory systems — their structures, constraints, and possibilities", 
and the second shifting to a focus on relations between cybernetic systems, 
including the role of the participant-observer. It was once thought to be an 
arena of activity that would gather in all disciplines. To explain its 
importance to us now (other than to those who are historians) would simply 
take too long even for a message on Humanist :-). Experience tells me that 
for interdisciplinary enquiry into some, if not many of the directions in 
which digital humanities could most rewardingly go, its history is a most 
powerful resource.

Two books bring it to mind:

Jasia Reichardt, ed., Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the 
Arts. London: Studio International, 1968; reissued 2018. See the 
announcement at:
Histories of computing and the arts during this exciting time are 
important (see e.g. Brown et al, White Heat Cold Logic), but Reichardt’s 
collective documentation of the event brings us wonderfully close to the 
primary evidence and points to the literature of the time. The artists 
who got involved then were WAY ahead of their time.

Philip Mirowski, Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. There are other ways into
cybernetics and its deep influence on the sciences; Steve Heims' The
Cybernetics Group and Jean-Pierre Dupuy's Aux origines des sciences
cognitives, trans. On the Origins of Cognitive Science, come to mind.
But Mirowski's book is, I think, best for an understanding of the
longer-term future under that continuing influence.

Read them tonight, as my old friend used to say to me distressingly


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org)

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