What are some modern uses of cybernetics

Cybernetics and cultural criticism. To Friedrich Jünger and Arnold Gehlen

Table of contents

1 Introduction

2. A (very!) Short history of cybernetics

3. The main branches of cybernetics
3.1 Biological, medical and biomedical cybernetics
3.1.1 Biological cybernetics
3.1.2 Medical cybernetics
3.2 Second order cybernetics
3.3 Sociocybernetics
3.4 Further cybernetic areas of application
3.5 The relationship between the humanities and the natural sciences (interim balance sheet)

4. In the vortex of cybernetics
4.1 Friedrich Ernst Jünger: The perfection of technology
4.2 Arnold Gehlen: The soul in the technical age

5. Closing remarks

6. Bibliographical information
6.1 Literature used
6.2 Further reading
6.3. Cybernetics on the internet (z)
6.3.1 Cybernetics Research Organizations
6.3.2 European Cybernetics Research Institutes
6.3.3 Scientific magazines on cybernetics
6.3.4 Internet presence of prominent scientists
6.4 Cybernetics in (SiFi) literature

As a dynamic, self-regulating and self-organizing system, humans can only exist and develop further because they recognize.

- Georg Klaus[1]

1 Introduction

In the spring semester of 2009 at the University of Bern, the topic of a seminar was “Forms of thinking in cultural criticism - 17.-20. Century". The content of the seminar was designed and offered as part of the university's comparative literature program. To go into the exact content of the seminar would not be appropriate at this point, as a summary of this course is not to be reproduced in this work. Rather, the focus should be on the beginning of the 20th century and on what would become known under the name "Cybernteik" and experience a great boom.

Part of the seminar, as its title may already suggest, was to consider the different epochs from a cultural-critical perspective, including modern times. It was important to identify existing political, artistic and cultural systems and ideas in order to see how the people of the respective epoch not only saw and processed their near past, but especially how it came about - as a result of the criticism of the old system - new systems emerged. By reading Friedrich Ernst Jünger[2] and Arnold Gehlen[3] we were in the 20th century. So we inevitably came to Norbert Wiener[4] who is commonly regarded as the founder of cybernetics. In this context we also dealt with how cybernetics found its way into literature[5] of the 20th century, holding up a mirror to society.

Among other things, the present work deals with the question of the basis on which the formation of the scientific branch of cybernetics came about. In addition, an overview of the various (sub) disciplines of cybernetics is to be created in the same framework. It should be noted at this point that this happens for two reasons. On the one hand, this overview is intended to offer - at least a small - insight into the diverse program of cybernetics and show that we have to do with cybernetics almost every day without ever being aware of this term. Second, I would like to point out that whenever a special discipline of cybernetics is discussed, a bridge to cultural criticism (in the sense of Ernst Jünger and Arnold Gehlen) can be created. This will not always be done explicitly in the course of this work, as some implications should be left to the interpretive power of the reader. It will show itself - at least I hope so - why cybernetics was, or had to be, of interest for an advanced course in cultural criticism.

After this brief overview of cybernetics and its legacy, I will come to the relevance of Friedrich Jünger's and Arnold Gehlen's texts with regard to cultural criticism. For this purpose, I will briefly outline the main points of the texts in order to then attempt to draw a general arc from the relevance of the history of cybernetics.

At the end of a work like this, there is usually 'only' bibliographical information on the works used, or at least on those works that triggered or inspired the writing of the work. However, I have included a somewhat longer list of additional literature on all areas of cybernetics that are touched upon in this paper. This extensive list is intended to provide the interested reader with assistance for their own research. For the same purpose I have added a small collection, which refers to interesting websites on the subject. Last but not least, there is also a small selection of science fiction literature.

2. A (very!) Short history of cybernetics

As the opening quotation to this work might suggest, cybernetics moves in a field that is part of the tradition of knowledge acquisition. So it is to be expected that cybernetics emerged as the science of connecting varying systems of knowledge acquisition. It is also suggested that knowledge has to do with recognizing facts and the connections between them. This ability of knowing is in turn - at least in its origins - one inherent in man. The knowledge that man has collected and acquired through these recognition processes over the centuries, even millennia, was used more and more to simplify daily work through technical aids, and later (to a certain extent of what is feasible) even to automate. Cybernetics has made a significant contribution to this. Cybernetics was originally developed by its founder Norbert Wiener[6] but is defined as the science of communication and control (regulation) of living organisms and machines and is sometimes also referred to as the art of controlling[7] and was originally developed for the command and control of missile systems. Cybernetics does not ask what a certain something is but what this something does. In this respect, then, cybernetics investigates Behaviors (of systems), originally in the technical-mathematical and physical research area:

Cybernetics was originally closely linked to physics in some respects, but is in no way dependent on its properties and laws. Cybernetics examines all forms of behavior that are organized, determined or reproducible in some way. The type of matter is irrelevant for this, as is compliance with the laws of physics.[8]

A fundamental research focus of cybernetics is the investigation of concepts for the control and regulation of systems, regardless of their origin and regardless of their type. This creates a very broad field of research that enables areas as diverse as machines, people and / or organizations to be included their (similar) modes of operation as such and also to be compared with each other. In the years from around 1940 onwards, cybernetics was (further) developed by scientists from a wide variety of disciplines. Up to the present day, cybernetics is of great importance for the development of ever new technical achievements, such as the young field of nanotechnology, which is an area of ​​application originating from physics and chemistry, which is technically in the smallest 'sizes' emotional[9]. The term "nanotechnology" is based on the common order of magnitude of the individual atom up to a structure size of 100 nanometers (nm), to which all participating nano research areas refer or limit. In literary terms, this young technology can be found in science fiction literature[10] (SiFi) again, which combines the technical achievements with a variety of creativity and generates forms of it that are far ahead of our time, but - entirely in accordance with the principle of cybernetics - are quite conceivable, provided certain restrictions[11].

Norbert Wiener's prototype for the field of cybernetics is what is known as the feedback system, also known as 'informative feedback'[12] called. A typical feedback system is e.g. B., a thermostat-controlled heater. The thermostat compares the actual value a thermometer with a Setpointset as the desired temperature. A discrepancy between these two values ​​causes the controller in the thermostat to regulate the heating, namely in such a way that the actual value strives for the target value. According to this mechanism, cybernetics models the regulation of the body temperature of a living organism. B., the functioning of the internal structures of a market economy enterprise. It should be mentioned here that cybernetics, often like its original discipline physics, with ideal sizes and is often confronted with criticism as a result. W. R. Ashby is calm about this criticism:

Cybernetics therefore feels that the criticism that some machines with which it deals are not even present in our reality, not at all affected. [...] Only after the research has an adequate overview of the possible Having won relations between machine and machine, she now devotes a small part of her efforts to the question of which forms can be found in reality.[13]

A forerunner of cybernetics is that of James Clerk Maxwell[14] Developed in 1868 Control theory. In his writing On governors[15] he introduces a controller in a steaming machine that regulates the control processes in the machine:

Most governors depend on the centrifugal force of a piece connected with a shaft of the machine. When the velocity increases, this force increases, and either increases the pressure of the piece against a surface or moves the piece, and so acts on a break or a valve[16].

In the further course of his work, Maxwell goes into more detail on the modes of operation of three types of controllers, which, however, should not be raised as a topic here, since Maxwell's descriptions - atypical for cybernetics - only refer to a specific area of ​​application, that of mechanical technology.

In 1940, as mentioned above, Norbert Wiener laid the foundation stone for the field of cybernetics[17]. Wiener noted that there are border areas (“no man’s land”) in the field of science, but apparently nobody seemed to be interested in them. These border areas would hold an undreamt-of potential if one only knew how to proceed correctly:

It is the frontiers of science that offer the skilled researcher the richest opportunities. But at the same time they are the most unruly against the well-worn techniques of broad-based work and the division of labor. If the difficulty of a physiological problem is essentially mathematical, ten physiologists who are ignorant of mathematics will get as far as one physiologist who is ignorant of mathematics and no further. When a physiologist unfamiliar with math works with a mathematician who does not understand physiology, one will not be able to put his problem into terms that the other can work with, and the second will not be able to provide the answers into a form that the other can understand.[18]

Wiener therefore aims to remove the "white fields on the map of the sciences"[19] to be developed through teamwork. However, this company can only succeed if every scientist in a team who is working together on a problem that has turned out to be a white field is on the one hand a specialist in his own field, but on the other has a great sensitivity for the discipline of his colleague .

Dr. Rosenbluth has always been of the opinion that an appropriate exploration of these white fields on the map of the sciences can only be done by a team of scientists, each of whom is a specialist in his field, but everyone also has excellent instinct and experience in dealing with them me who owns his neighbor's territories.[20]

This "comparative"[21]It is the cross-disciplinary approach that is mostly seen as the origin of cybernetics.

A field closely related to cybernetics is connectionism[22], which by Warren S. McCulloch and W. Pitts[23] and was developed around 1943-45. In addition to these two fields, the so-called message theory is often mentioned as a fundamental element of cybernetics. It was also developed around 1945 and comes from C. E. Shannon[24].

As already indicated, cybernetics is used in many areas. From a methodological point of view, cybernetics is based on its inter- and transdisciplinary scientific approach. It manages to create a meaningful relationship between and use of the methods of the sub-sciences. The branches of cybernetics emerged in the course of the famous Macy Conferences[25], and have continued to develop to this day. Applications can be found e.g. B. in modern bioinformatics, or in computational linguistics, to name just two other examples. The following is a list of some of these areas in chronological order in order to give a sense of the rapid pace with which these new branches of science have emerged. The following points are (among other things) the topics of Macy Conferences from 1946 to 1953, or those that developed as a result of these conferences:

1950: Control and regulation technology[26]

1950: Computer architecture and informatics[27]

1956: Artificial Intelligence[28]

1959: Mental Research[29]

1959: Management Cybernetics[30]

1960: System Dynamics[31]

1970: 2nd order cybernetics[32]

1973: autopoiesis[33]

1976: Radical Constructivism[34]

1980: Sociocybernetics[35]

1980: Biocybernetics[36]

In the 1940s, as already mentioned, the roots of the science of cybernetics emerged as commonalities and interfaces between various individual disciplines that looked at topics such as human behavior, communication, regulation, decision and game theory, etc. The Macy Conferences were a catalyst for this development[37] with the topic "Circular causal, and feedback mechanisms in biological and social systems", which took place from 1946 to 1953. Norbert Wiener finally got the term 'cybernetics' from the Greek in the summer of 1947 kybernétes (= 'Helmsman') derived and thus honored the first important article about a feedback mechanism by James Clerk Maxwell (On Governors, 1867/68); there a centrifugal governor is described, which is called “governor” in English. The word 'governor' is derived from the Latin 'gubernator', a translation of the Greek word, kybernétes'. The term “cybernetics” was then probably adopted as the title and leitmotif for the Macy Conferences.


[1] Klaus, Georg: Cybernetics and Epistemology. Berlin: DVW, 1972, p. 2.

[2] Jünger, Friedrich Ernst: The perfection of technology. Frankfurt / Main, 2nd edition 1949.

[3] Gehlen, Arnold: The soul in the technical age and cybernetics. Social-psychological problems in industrial society. Frankfurt / Main 2007, pp. 5-77. (= Arnold Gehlen: Complete Edition, Vol. 6, edited by Karl-Siegebert Rehberg)

[4] Wiener, Norbert: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Second Edition, Cambridge (Massachutts) [1948] 1961.

[5] See e.g. E.g .: Frisch, Max; Homo faber. A report. Text and Commentary, Frankfurt / Main., [1957] 1998.

[6] Wiener, Norbert: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1948.

[7] from altgr. κυβερνήτης (kybernétes) = helmsman

[8] Ashby, W. Ross: Introduction to Cybernetics. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp, ​​[1956, 1964] 1974.

[9] See also Boeing, Niels: Nano ?! - The technology of the 21st century. Berlin: Rowohlt, 2004.

[10] Some references can be found at the end of this work.

[11] Such a restriction would be, for example, the idea that with technical aids so-called Wormholes can be generated in space, which make it possible to travel thousands of light years in a relatively short time and thus to get to a distant galaxy. An artificially generated connection between two different suns systems.

[12] Wiener, Norbert: Cybernerik. Regulation and transmission of messages in living beings and in machines. Düsseldorf, Vienna, New York, Moscow: ECON Verlag, 1992. p. 168.

[13] Ashby 1974: 17-18; Emphasis in the original.

[14] Maxwell, J. C .: On Governors. From the Proceedings of the Royal Society 100, 1868.

[15] governor: = governor

[16] Maxwell 1868: 1.

[17] Wiener, Norbert: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. New York: J. Wiley, 1948.

[18] Wiener 1948: 27.

[19] Ibidem.

[20] Ibidem.

[21] My name.

[22] Connectionism is a problem-solving approach in cybernetics, linguistics, and research into artificial intelligence.Connectionism understands a system as the interaction of many networked, simple units and analyzes their interaction. So with the help of connectionism z. B. tries to simulate, represent and explain work processes in the brain. See e.g. B .: Schade, Ulrich: Connectionism. For modeling speech production. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1992; or also: Pospeschill, Markus: connectionism and cognition. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2004.

[23] Warren S. McCulloch, Walter H. Pitts: A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity. In: Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 5 (1943), pp. 115-133.

[24] The message theory examines the form and function of communication and is today v. a. taught in communication sciences. A central term in news theory is the 'criterion of topicality': "It describes a characteristic of events that they [the news] must possess in order a) to be reported by journalists and b) to meet the interests of the recipients." (Merten, Klaus: Introduction to Communication Science. Berlin: LIT VERLAG Dr. W. Hopf, 2007, p. 153). In this sense, it is up-to-date when a new information content has been reached that appeals to a relevant number of recipients. .

[25] See also: Pias, Klaus: Ybernetics - Cybernetik, The Macy Conferences 1946-1953. Zurich: diaphanes, 2003.

[26] See e.g. E.g .: Sontag, E. D .: Mathematical Control Theory. London: Springer, 2nd edition, 1998. Or also: Blondel, V. D. and J. N. Tsitsiklis: A Survey of Computational Complexity Results in Systems and Control. Automatica 36 (2000), pp. 1249-1274.

[27] Neumann, John von: First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC. 1945. [Unpublished. A PDF file of the text is available at the following web link: http://www.virtualtravelog.net/entries/2003/10/the_moore_school_lectures_and_the_british_lead_in_stored_program_computer_development_1946_1953.html (as of September 17, 2009, 4:00 p.m.)]

[28] J. McCarthy: McCarthy coined the term "artificial intelligence" (1955) in a funding application to the Rockefeller Foundation. The Dartmouth Conference in the summer of 1956 was the first conference devoted to artificial intelligence (AI). Source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCnstliche_Intellektiven (as of September 17, 2009, 4.30 p.m.)

[29] G. Bateson: Working in a group known as the Palo Alto Group gave birth to his 'double bond theory of schizophrenia'. See: Bateson, Gregory et al .: Towards Theory of Schizophrenia. Behavioral Science 1 (1956), pp. 251-264.

[30] Beer, Stafford: Cybernetics and Management. 2nd edited edition. London, New York: John Wiley & Son Ltd: [1959] 1970. Together with Freudmund Malik, Beer founded the Cwarel Isaf Institute (2000), which makes the work of Stafford Beer available to the public. The CIF is accessible online: http://www.managementkybernetik.com/

[31] Jay Forrester, together with students at MIT, developed a project in the late 1950s that had as its goal a computer-generated system language and is known as SIMPLE (Simulation of Industrial Management Problems with Lots of Equations). Forrester's first publication on the subject was "Industrial Dynamics": Forrester, Jay W .: Industrial Dynamics. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press, 1961.

[32] See below.

[33] Autopoiesis [] (ancient Greek αὐτός “self” and ποιέω “create, build”) is the process of self-creation and self-maintenance of a system. Autopoiesis is the characteristic organizational feature of living beings or living systems. (Source: DUDEN. The foreign dictionary. Ed. By the Duden editorial team. Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & FA Brockhaus, 2007, p. 111.) See also: Francisco J. Varela and Humberto R. Maturana: "Autopoiesis: The Organization of Living Systems, its Characterization and a Model ", Biosystems 5 (1974), pp. 187-196.

[34] The Radical constructivism comes from the field of epistemology and forms a theory of knowledge that is clearly different from other constructivisms. The key message of the Radical constructivism (and thus its radicalism) consists in the fact that, according to him, an objective correspondence between a perceived image and reality is impossible. Every perception of an individual is fundamentally subjective. In the field of cybernetics, the Radical constructivism developed by Ernst von Glasersfeld. See: Glasersfeld, Ernst von: Knowledge, Language and Reality. Working on radical constructivism. Braunschweig / Wiesbaden: Vieweg, 1987c.

[35] Sociocybernetics uses basic cybernetic principles to help explain sociological problems. See e.g. E.g. Beer, Stafford: Cybernetics and Management. London: English Universities Press, 1959.

[36] Most of time Biological cybernetics called. Biological cybernetics applies cybernetic principles to better understand living organisms and ecosystems. See e.g. E.g. Ashby, W. Ross: Introduction to Cybernetics. Frankfurt / Main: Suhrkamp, ​​[1956, 1964] 1974.

[37] See e.g. B .: Pias, Claus: "Time of Cybernetics", in: ders. (Ed.): Cybernetics. The Macy conferences 1946-1953, Volume II - Eassays and Documents, Berlin: Diaphanes, 2004.

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