Literature/1948/Wiener

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Wiener, Norbert (1948). Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. 2nd ed., The MIT Press, 1965.

Excerpts[edit]

  • The terms "black box" and "white box" are convenient and figurative expressions of not very well determined usage. I shall understand by a black box a piece of apparatus, such as four-terminal networks with two input and two output terminals, which performs a definite operation on the present and past of the input potential, but for which we do not necessarily have any information of the structure by which this operation is performed. On the other hand, a white box will be similar network in which we have built in the relation between input and output potentials in accordance with a definite structural plan for securing a previously determined input-output relation. (p. xi)
  • As to sociology and anthropology, it is manifest that the importance of information and communication as mechanisms of organization proceeds beyond the individual into the community. On the other hand, it is completely impossible to understand social communities such as those of ants without a thorough investigation of their means of communication ... (p. 18)
  • It is certainly true that the social system is an organization like the individual, that it is bound together by a system of communication, and that it has a dynamics in which circular processes of a feedback nature play an important part. (p.24)
  • We consider a communication system and an observer (or auxiliary device) who can see both what is sent and what is recovered (with errors due to noise). This observer notes the errors in the recovered message and transmits data to the receiving point over a "correction channel" to enable the receiver to correct the errors. The situation is indicated schematically in Fig. 8. (p. 68) [c 1]
  • The odors perceived by the ant seem to lead to a highly standardized course of conduct; but the value of a simple stimulus, such as an odor, for conveying information depends not only on the information conveyed by the stimulus itself but on the whole nervous constitution of the sender and receiver of the stimulus as well. Suppose I find myself in the woods with an intelligent savage who cannot speak my language and whose language I cannot speak. Even without any code of sign language common to the two of us, I can learn a great deal from him. All I need to do is to be alert to those moments when he shows the signs of emotion or interest. I then cast my eyes around, perhaps paying special attention to the direction of his glance, and fix in my memory what I see or hear. It will not be long before I discover the things which seem important to him, not because he has communicated them to me by language, but because I myself have observed them. In other words, a signal without an intrinsic content may acquire meaning in his mind by what he observes at the time, and may acquire meaning in my mind by what I observed at the time. The ability that he has to pick out the moments of my special, active attention is in itself a language as varied in possibilities as the range of impressions that the two of us are able to encompass. Thus social animals may have an active, intelligent, flexible means of communication long before the development of language. (p. 157)
  • As in the case of the individual, not all the information which is available to the race at one time is accessible without special effort. There is a well-known tendency of libraries to become clogged by their own volume; of the sciences to develop such a degree of specialization that the expert is often illiterate outside his own minute specialty. Dr. Vannevar Bush [1] has suggested the use of mechanical aids for the searching through vast bodies of material. These probably have their uses, but they are limited by the impossibility of classifying a book under an unfamiliar heading unless some particular person has already recognized the relevance of that heading for that particular book. In the case where two subjects have the same technique and intellectual content but belong to widely separated fields, this still requires some individual with an almost Leibnizian catholicity of interest. (p. 158)

Comments[edit]

  1. See also Cherry (1957) "Object-language and Meta-language" (pp. 91-93), and Bateson (1976) in the evolutionary perspective of w: second-order cybernetics.

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See also[edit]

  • Wiener, Norbert (1950). The Human Use of Human Beings. 2nd ed., Houghton Milfflin, 1954. [^]
  • Cherry, Colin (1957). On Human Communication: A Review, a Survey, and a Criticism . The M.I.T. Press, 1966. [^]
  • Abramovitz, Robert and Heinz von Foerster (1974). Cybernetics of Cybernetics or the Control of Control and the Communication of Communication (result of a course, fall semester 1973, continued through spring semester 1974, sponsored by a grant from the Point Foundation to the Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois), Urbana, Ill.: Biological Computer Laboratory, 1974. [^]
  • Bateson, Gregory & Mead, Margaret (1976). "For God's Sake, Margaret: Conversation with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead." CoEvolutionary Quarterly (Summer 1976) no. 10, pp. 22-44. [^]

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Notes[edit]

  1. Bush, Vannevar (1945). "As We May Think." The Atlantic Monthly (July 1945): 101-108. [^]
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The shade of the bar looks invariant in isolation but variant in context, in (favor of) sharp contrast with the color gradient background, hence an innate illusion we have to reasonably interpret and overcome as well as the mirage. Such variance appearing seasonably from context to context may not only be the case with our vision but worldview in general in practice indeed, whether a priori or a posteriori. Perhaps no worldview from nowhere, without any point of view or prejudice at all!

Ogden & Richards (1923) said, "All experience ... is either enjoyed or interpreted ... or both, and very little of it escapes some degree of interpretation."

H. G. Wells (1938) said, "The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate."