The Cybernetic Brain Sketches of Another Future
by Andrew Pickering
University of Chicago Press, 2010
Cloth: 978-0-226-66789-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-66790-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-66792-8
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Cybernetics is often thought of as a grim military or industrial science of control. But as Andrew Pickering reveals in this beguiling book, a much more lively and experimental strain of cybernetics can be traced from the 1940s to the present.

The Cybernetic Brain explores a largely forgotten group of British thinkers, including Grey Walter, Ross Ashby, Gregory Bateson, R. D. Laing, Stafford Beer, and Gordon Pask, and their singular work in a dazzling array of fields. Psychiatry, engineering, management, politics, music, architecture, education, tantric yoga, the Beats, and the sixties counterculture all come into play as Pickering follows the history of cybernetics’ impact on the world, from contemporary robotics and complexity theory to the Chilean economy under Salvador Allende. What underpins this fascinating history, Pickering contends, is a shared but unconventional vision of the world as ultimately unknowable, a place where genuine novelty is always emerging. And thus, Pickering avers, the history of cybernetics provides us with an imaginative model of open-ended experimentation in stark opposition to the modern urge to achieve domination over nature and each other.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Andrew Pickering is professor and chair of sociology at the University of Exeter. He is the author of several books, including Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics and The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

REVIEWS

"The Cybernetic Brain is a rich, ambitious, and highly original work—and a gently hopeful one. Pickering has really written two books in one. The first is a history of the work of several key British cyberneticians and its impact on subsequent scientific and cultural debates. The second is a quietly passionate critique of modernist ways of knowing and being and a plea for the reintroduction of the sorts of practice-based, adaptable, techno-social modes common to cybernetic inquiry. Pickering weaves the analysis and the advocacy together across the book, and his vision of what a non-modern world might look like—or in fact, has looked like—is novel and compelling and will substantially extend our understanding of contemporary technoculture."

— Fred Turner, Stanford University

"What a lovely book this is—it tells a great story from the history of cybernetics and at the same time examines in innovative ways the complex ontological work they were doing. Pickering shows how 'ontology' is integrally about machines, materiality and philosophy—developing what I would call a theory of exploratory ontology."

— Geoffrey C. Bowker, University of Pittsburgh

"By focusing on the developments in Britain, Andrew Pickering's The Cybernetic Brain opens wide new vistas for exploring cybernetic practice and its legacy. For Pickering . . . cybernetics was primarily a science of the brain. As a protean science with connections to psychiatry, theater, music, politics, and counterculture, it was a lot more glamorous and fun than previous accounts of the field would have us believe."
— Science

"Entertaining. . . . The Cybernetic Brain is the first book-length account of UK cybernetics pioneers."—Nature
— Nature

"A significant contribution to the field."
— Choice

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments
1. The Adaptive Brain
2. Ontological Theater
 
PART 1: PSYCHIATRY TO CYBERNETICS
 
3. Grey Walter: From Electroshock to the Psychedelic Sixties
THE TORTOISE AND THE BRAIN
TORTOISE ONTOLOGY
TORTOISES AS NOT-BRAINS
THE SOCIAL BASIS OF CYBERNETICS
RODNEY BROOKS AND ROBOTICS
CORA AND MACHINA DOCILIS
CYBERNETICS AND MADNESS
STRANGE PERFORMANCES
FLICKER
FLICKER AND THE SIXTIES
BIOFEEDBACK AND NEW MUSIC
 
4. Ross Ashby: Psychiatry, Synthetic Brains, and Cybernetics
THE PATHOLOGICAL BRAIN
ASHBY’S HOBBY
THE HOMEOSTAT
THE HOMEOSTAT AS ONTOLOGICAL THEATER
THE SOCIAL BASIS OF ASHBY’S CYBERNETICS
DESIGN FOR A BRAIN
DAMS
MADNESS REVISITED
ADAPTATION, WAR, AND SOCIETY
CYBERNETICS AS A THEORY OF EVERYTHING
CYBERNETICS AND EPISTEMOLOGY
A NEW KIND OF SCIENCE: ALEXANDER, KAUFFMAN, AND WOLFRAM
 
5. Gregory Bateson and R. D. Laing: Symmetry, Psychiatry, and the Sixties
GREGORY BATESON
SCHIZOPHRENIA AND ENLIGHTENMENT
THERAPY
AS NOMAD
 
R. D. LAING
ON THERAPY
KINGSLEY HALL
ARCHWAY
COUPLED BECOMINGS, INNER VOYAGES, AFTERMATH
PSYCHIATRY AND THE SIXTIES
ONTOLOGY, POWER, AND REVEALING
 
PART 2: BEYOND THE BRAIN

6. Stafford Beer: From the Cybernetic Factory to Tantric Yoga
FROM OPERATIONS RESEARCH TO CYBERNETICS
TOWARD THE CYBERNETIC FACTORY
BIOLOGICAL COMPUTING
ONTOLOGY AND DESIGN
THE SOCIAL BASIS OF BEER’S CYBERNETICS
THE AFTERLIFE OF BIOLOGICAL COMPUTING
THE VIABLE SYSTEM MODEL
THE VSM AS ONTOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY
THE VSM IN PRACTICE
CHILE: PROJECT CYBERSYN
THE POLITICS OF THE VSM
THE POLITICAL CRITIQUE OF CYBERNETICS
ON GOALS
THE POLITICS OF INTERACTING SYSTEMS
TEAM SYNTEGRITY
CYBERNETICS AND SPIRITUALITY
HYLOZOISM
TANTRISM
BRIAN ENO AND NEW MUSIC
 
7. Gordon Pask: From Chemical Computers to Adaptive Archictecture
MUSICOLOUR
THE HISTORY OF MUSICOLOUR
MUSICOLOUR AND ONTOLOGY
ONTOLOGY AND AESTHETICS
THE SOCIAL BASIS OF PASK’S CYBERNETICS
TRAINING MACHINES
TEACHING MACHINES
CHEMICAL COMPUTERS
THREADS
NEW SENSES
THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF CYBERNETIC RESEARCH
CAS, SOCIAL SCIENCE, AND F-22S
THE ARTS AND THE SIXTIES
CYBERNETIC THEATER
CYBERNETIC SERENDIPITY
THE SOCIAL BASIS AGAIN
THE FUN PALACE
AFTER THE SIXTIES: ADAPTIVE ARCHITECTURE
 
8: Sketches of Another Future
THEMES FROM THE HISTORY OF CYBERNETICS
ONTOLOGY
DESIGN
POWER
THE ARTS
SELVES
SPIRITUALITY
THE SIXTIES
ALTERED STATES
THE SOCIAL BASIS
 
SKETCHES OF ANOTHER FUTURE
 
Notes
References
Index