Norbert Wiener
1894-1964

Wiener on Society and Religion

"It is the thesis of this book that society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever increasing part".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"To live effectively is to live with adequate information. Thus, communication and control belong to the essence of man's inner life, even as they belong to his life in society".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"It is the purpose of Cybernetics to develop a language and techniques that will enable us to indeed attack the problem of control and communication in general, but also to find the proper repertory of ideas and techniques to classify their particular manifestations under certain concepts".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"When I control the actions of another person, I communicate a message to him, and although this message is in the imperative mood, the technique of communication does not differ from that of a message of fact. Furthermore, if my control is to be effective I must take cognizance of any messages from him which may indicate that the order is understood and has been obeyed".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"When I give an order to a machine, the situation is not essentially different from that which arises when I give an order to a person..."
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"Thus the theory of control in engineering, whether human or animal or mechanical, is a chapter in the theory of messages".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"We have thus established the basis in man for the simplest element in his communication: namely, the communication of man with man by the immediate use of language, when two men are face to face with one another. The inventions of the telephone, the telegraph, and other similar means of communication have shown that this capacity is not intrinsically restricted to the immediate presence of the individual, for we have many means to carry this tool of communication to the ends of the earth".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"The community extends only so far as there extends an effectual transmission of information".
(Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"The present time is the age of communication and control".
(Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"The fate of information in the typically American world is to become something which can be bought and sold".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"We are in an age where the enormous per capita bulk of communication is met by an ever-thinning stream of total bulk of communication. More and more we must accept a standardized inoffensive and insignificant product which, like the white bread of the bakeries, is made rather for its keeping and selling properties than for its food value".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"The intrinsic limitations of the commodity nature of communication are hardly considered by the public at large".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"I protest, not only as I have already done against the cutting off of intellectual originality by the difficulties of the means of communication in the modern world, but even more against the ax which has been put to the root of originality..."
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"I repeat, to live effectively is to participate in a continuous stream of influences from the outer world and acts on the outer world, in which we are merely the transitional stage. In the figurative sense, to be alive to what is happening in the world, means to participate in a continual development of knowledge and its unhampered exchange".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"It is rare to find a large number of thoroughly clever and unprincipled persons playing a game with each other. Where the knaves assemble, there will always be fools; and where the fools are present in sufficient numbers, they offer a more profitable object of exploitation for the knaves. The psychology of the fool has become a subject well worth the serious attention of the knaves..."
(Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"The newspaper is a vehicle for advertisement and an instrument for the monetary gain of its proprietor, as are also the movies and the radio. The school and the church are not merely refuges for the scholar and the saint: they are also the home of the Great Educator and the Bishop".
(Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"The matter of time is essential in all estimates of the value of information. A code or cipher, for example, which will cover any considerable amount of material at high-secrecy level is not only a lock which is hard to force, but one which takes considerable time to open legitimately".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"I have previously said that when an invention is made, a considerable period generally elapses before its full implications are understood".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"There are communities ruled by despots, in which every relation between two subjects becomes secondary to the relation between the subject and his king".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"Many of those who are most attached to this orderly state of permanently allotted functions would be confounded if they were forced to admit this publicly. They are only in a position to display their clear preferences through their actions. Yet these actions stand out distinctly enough".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"I am afraid that I am convinced that a community of human beings is a far more useful thing than a community of ants, and that if the human being is condemned and restricted to perform the same functions over and over again, he will not even be a good ant, not to mention a good human being. Those who would organize us according to permanent individual functions and permanent individual restrictions condemn the human race to move at much less than half-steam. They throw away nearly all our human possibilities and by limiting the modes in which we may adapt ourselves to future contingencies, they reduce our chances for a reasonably long existence on this earth".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"I have said that the modern man, and especially the modern American, however much 'know-how' he may have, has very little 'know-what' ".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"A faith which we follow upon orders imposed from the outside is no faith, and a community which puts its dependence upon such a pseudo-faith is ultimately bound to ruin itself because of the paralysis which the lack of a healthily growing science imposes upon it".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"It matters little whether the military band to which one has pledged oneself be that of Ignatius Loyola or that of Lenin, so long as he considers it more important that his beliefs should be on the right side than that he should maintain his freedom and even his professional naivete".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"Any religious order which is based on the military model is under this same temptation to lapse into the Manichaean heresy".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"There is a second class of machines with which we have also been concerned... These machines may be used to make up for the losses of the maimed and of the sensorily deficient, as well as to give new and potentially dangerous powers to the already powerful".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"Power and the search for power are unfortunately realities that can assume many garbs".
(God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion)

"Any machine constructed for the purpose of making decisions, if it does not possess the power of learning will be completely literal minded. Woe to us if we let it decide our conduct, unless we have previously examined its laws of action, and know fully that its conduct will be carried out on principles acceptable to us!"
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"Its real danger, however, is the quite different one that such machines, though helpless by themselves, may be used by a human being or a block of human beings to increase their control over the rest of the human race or that political leaders may attempt to control their populations by means not of machines themselves but through political techniques as narrow and indifferent to human possibility as if they had, in fact, been conceived mechanically".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

The dominance of the machine presupposes a society in the last stages of increasing entropy, where probability is negligible and where the statistical differences among individuals are nil. Fortunately we have not yet reached such a state".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"The sense of tragedy is that the world is not a pleasant little nest made for our protection, but a vast and largely hostile environment, in which we can achieve great things only by defying the Gods; and that this defiance inevitably brings its own punishment".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"We are the slaves of our technical improvement and we can no more return a New Hampshire farm to the self-contained state in which it was maintained in 1800 than we can, by taking thought, add a cubit to our stature or, what is more to the point, diminish it. We have modified our environment so radically that we must now modify ourselves in order to exist in this new environment. We can no longer live in the old one. Progress imposes not only new possibilities for the future but new restrictions".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"In a world ruled by a succession of miracles performed by an irrational God subject to sudden whims, we should be forced to await each new catastrophe in a state of perplexed passiveness".
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"The aspiration of the fascist for a state based on the model of the ant [which] results from a profound misapprehension both of the nature of the ant and of the nature of man".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"Or perhaps we may say that among the gentlemen who have made it their business to be our mentors, and who administer the new program of science, many are nothing more than apprentice sorcerers, fascinated with the incantation which starts a devilment that they are totally unable to stop"
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"The penalties for errors of foresight, great as they are now, will be enormously increased as automatization comes into its full use".
(God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion)

"Homeostasis, whether for the individual or the race, is something of which the very basis must sooner or later be reconsidered" .
(God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion)

"Permanent homeostasis of society cannot be made on a rigid assumption of a complete permanence of Marxianism, nor can it be made on a similar assumption concerning a standardized concept of free enterprise and the profit motive. It is not the form of rigidity that is particularly deadly so much as rigidity itself, whatever the form".
(God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion)

"It is only in the large community, where the Lord of Things as They Are protect themselves from hunger by wealth, from public opinion by privacy and anonimity, from private criticism by the laws of libel and the possession of the means of communication, that ruthlessness can reach its most sublime levels" .
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"That system which more than all others should contribute to social homeostasis is thrown directly into the hands of those most concerned in the game of power and money (...) one of the chief anti-homeostatic elements in the community" .
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)


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