Norbert Wiener
1894-1964

Wiener on Science and Cybernetics

"Thus, as far back as four years ago, the group of scientists about Dr. Rosenblueth and myself had already become aware of the essential unity of the set of problems centering about communication, control, and statistical mechanics, whether in the machine or living tissue. On the other hand, we were seriously hampered by the lack of unity in the literature concerning these problems, and by the absence of common terminology, or even of a single name for the field. After much consideration, we have come to the conclusion that all the existing terminology has too heavy a bias to one side or another to serve the future development of the field as well as it should; and as happens so often to scientists, we have been forced to coin at least one artificial neo-Greek expression to fill the gap. We have decided to call the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or the animal, by the same Cybernetics, which we form from the Greek "cybern" or steersman. In choosing this term we wish to recognize that the first significant paper on feedback mechanisms is an article on governors, which was published by Clerk Maxwell in 1868, and that governor is derived from a Latin corruption of "cybern". We also wish to refer to the fact that the steering engines of a ship are indeed one of the earliest and best-developed forms of feedback mechanisms".
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"At this point there enters an element which occurs repeatedly in the history of cybernetics - the influence of mathematical logic. If I were to choose a patron saint for cybernetics out of the history of science, I should have to choose Leibniz. The philosophy of Leibniz centers about two closely related concepts - that of a universal symbolism and that of a calculus of reasoning. From these are descended the mathematical notation and the symbolic logic of the present day. Now, just as the calculus of arithmetic lends itself to a mechanization progressing through the abacus and the desk computing machine to the ultra-rapid computing machines of the present day, so the calculus ratiocinator of Leibniz contains the germs of the machina ratiocinatrix, the reasoning machine. Indeed, Leibniz himself, like his predecessor Pascal, was interested in the construction of computing machines in the metal. It is therefore not in the least surprising that the same intellectual impulse which has led to the development of mathematical logic has at the same time led to the ideal or actual mechanization of processes of thought".
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"As a final remark, let me point out that a large computing machine, whether in the form of mechanical or electric apparatus or in the form of the brain itself, uses up a considerable amount of power, all of which is wasted and dissipated in heat. The blood leaving the brain is a fraction of a degree warmer than that entering it. No other computing machine approaches the economy of energy of the brain. In a large apparatus like the Eniac or the Edvac, the filaments of the tubes consume a quantity of energy which may well be measured in kilowatts, and unless adequate ventilating and cooling apparatus is provided, the system will suffer from what is the mechanical equivalent of pyrexia, until the constants of the machine are radically changed by the heat, and its performance breaks down".
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)

"There is no Maginot Line of the brain".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"The modern physicist is a quantum theorist on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and a student of gravitational relativity theory on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On Sunday he is neither, but is praying to his God that someone, preferably himself, will find the reconciliation between the two views".
(The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society)

"The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat".
(Philosophy of Science, with A. Rosenblueth)

"Scientific discovery consists in the interpretation for our own convenience of a system of existence which has been made with no eye to our convenience at all".
(Quoted in D MacHale, Comic Sections, Dublin 1993)

"All the great successes in precise science have been made in fields where there is a certain high degree of isolation of the phenomenon from the observer"......"It is in the social sciences that the coupling between the observed phenomenon and the observer is hardest to minimize. On the one hand, the observer is able to exert a considerable influence on the phenomena that come to his attention. With all respect to the intelligence, skill, and honesty of purpose of my anthropologist friends, I cannot think that any community which they have investigated will ever be quite the same afterward. Many a missionary has fixed his own misunderstandings of a primitive language as law eternal in the process of reducing it to writing. There is much in the social habits of a people which is dispersed and distorted by the mere act of making inquiries about it......In other words, in the social sciences we have to deal with short statistical runs, nor can we be sure that a considerable part of what we observe is not an artifact of our own creation. An investigation of the stock market is likely to upset the stock market. We are too much in tune with the objects of our investigation to be good probes..... There is much which we must leave, whether we like it or not, to the un-"scientific," narrative method of the professional historian".
(Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine)


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