Literature/1950/Wiener

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Wiener, Norbert (1950). The Human Use of Human Beings. 2nd ed., Houghton Milfflin, 1954.



Excerpts[edit]

Preface[edit]

  • This book is devoted to the impact of the Gibbsian point of view on modern life, both through the substantive changes it has made to working science, and through the changes it has made indirectly in our attitude to life in general. (p 11)

1) Cybernetics in History[edit]

  • For any machine subject to a varied external environment to act effectively it is necessary that information concerning the results of its own action be furnished to it as part of the information on which it must continue to act. For example, if we are running an elevator, it is not enough to open the outside door because the orders we have given should make the elevator be at the door at the time we open it. It is important that the release for opening the door be dependant on the fact that the elevator is actually at the door; otherwise something might have detained it and the passenger might step into a empty shaft. This control of a machine on the basis of actual performance rather than its expected performance is known as feedback, and involves sensory members which are actuated by motor members and perform the function of tell-tales or monitors - that is, of elements which indicate a performance. It is the function of these mechanisms to control the mechanical tendency towards disorganization; in other words, to produce a temporary and local reversal of the normal direction of entropy. (p 24-25)

2) Progress and Entropy[edit]

  • It is possible to believe in progress as a fact without believing in progress as an ethical principle; but in the catechism of many Americans, the one goes with the other. (p 42)

3) Rigidity and Learning: Two Patterns of Communicative Behaviour[edit]

  • [F]eedback is a method of controlling a system by reinserting into it the results of its past performance. If these results are merely used as numerical data for the criticism of the system and its regulation, we have the simple feedback of the control engineers. If, however, the information which proceeds backward from the performance is able to change the general method and pattern of performance, we have a process which may well be called learning. (p 61)

4) The mechanism and history of Language[edit]

  • Semantically significant information from the cybernetic point of view is that which gets through the line-plus-filter, rather than that which gets through the line alone. (...) Semantically significant information in the machine as well as in man is information which gets through to an activating mechanism in the system which receives it, despite man's and/or nature's attempts to subvert it. From the point of view of Cybernetics, semantics defines the extent of meaning and contols its loss in a communication system. (p 94)

5) Organization as the Message[edit]

  • If we consider the two types of communication:namely, material transport, and the transport of information alone, it is presently possible for a person to go from one place to another only by the former and not as a message. However, even now the transportation of messages serves to forward an extension of man's senses and his capabilities of action from one end of the world to another. We have already suggested in this chapter that the distinction between material transportation and message transportation is not in any theoretical sense permanent and unbridgeable.(p. 98)

6) Law and Communication[edit]

  • The whole nature of our legal system is that of conflict. It is a conversation in which at least three parties take part—let us say, in a civil case, the plaintiff, the defendant, and the legal system as represented by judge and jury. It is a game in the full Von Neumann sense; a game in which litigants try by methods which are limited by the code of law to obtain the judge and jury as their partners. In such a game the opposing lawyer, unlike nature itself, can and deliberately does try to introduce confusion into the messages of the side he is opposing. He tries to reduce their statements to nonsense, and he deliberately jams the message between his antagonist and the judge and jury.(p. 111)

7) Communication, Secrecy and Social Policy[edit]

  • Like so many Gaderene swine, we have taken unto us the devils of the age, and the compulsion of scientific warfare is driving us pell-mell, head over heels into the ocean of our own self-destruction. 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. Even the new psychology of advertising and salesmanship becomes in their hands a way for obliterating the conscientious scruples of the working scientists, and for destroying such inhibitions as they may have against rowing into this maelstrom.(p 129-130)

8) Role of the Intellectual and the Scientist[edit]

  • Heaven save us from the first novels which are written because a young man desires the prestige of being a novelist rather than because he has something to say! Heaven save us likewise from the mathematical papers which are correct and elegant but without body and spirit.(p 134)

9) The First and Second Industrial Revolution[edit]

  • The existing state of industrial techniques includes the whole of the results of the first industrial revolution, together with many inventions which we now see to be precursors of the second industrial revolution. What the precise boundary between these two revolutions may be, it is still too early to say.(p 153)

10) Some Communication Machines and Their Future[edit]

  • It may be thought that the present great expense of computing machines bars them from use in industrial processes; and furthermore the delicacy of the work needed in their construction and the variability in their construction and the variability of their functions precludes the use of the methods of mass production in constructing them. Neither of these charges is correct. (p 155)

11) Language, Confusion and Jam[edit]

  • The soldier is trained to regard life as a conflict between man and man, but even he is not as tightly bound to this point of view as the member of a militant religious order—the soldier of the Cross or the Hammer and the Sickle. Here the existence of a fundamentally propagandist point of view is much more important than the particular nature of the propaganda. (p 190)

Comments[edit]

People referred to:[edit]

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Related works[edit]

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

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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."