Cloth: 978-0-226-66789-8 | Paper: 978-0-226-66790-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-66792-8
AVAILABLE FROMUniversity of Chicago Press (cloth, paper, ebook)
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ABOUT THIS BOOKCybernetics is often thought of as a grim military or industrial science of control. But as Andrew Pickering reveals in this beguiling book, a much more lively and experimental strain of cybernetics can be traced from the 1940s to the present.
The Cybernetic Brain explores a largely forgotten group of British thinkers, including Grey Walter, Ross Ashby, Gregory Bateson, R. D. Laing, Stafford Beer, and Gordon Pask, and their singular work in a dazzling array of fields. Psychiatry, engineering, management, politics, music, architecture, education, tantric yoga, the Beats, and the sixties counterculture all come into play as Pickering follows the history of cybernetics’ impact on the world, from contemporary robotics and complexity theory to the Chilean economy under Salvador Allende. What underpins this fascinating history, Pickering contends, is a shared but unconventional vision of the world as ultimately unknowable, a place where genuine novelty is always emerging. And thus, Pickering avers, the history of cybernetics provides us with an imaginative model of open-ended experimentation in stark opposition to the modern urge to achieve domination over nature and each other.
"The Cybernetic Brain is a rich, ambitious, and highly original work—and a gently hopeful one. Pickering has really written two books in one. The first is a history of the work of several key British cyberneticians and its impact on subsequent scientific and cultural debates. The second is a quietly passionate critique of modernist ways of knowing and being and a plea for the reintroduction of the sorts of practice-based, adaptable, techno-social modes common to cybernetic inquiry. Pickering weaves the analysis and the advocacy together across the book, and his vision of what a non-modern world might look like—or in fact, has looked like—is novel and compelling and will substantially extend our understanding of contemporary technoculture."
"What a lovely book this is—it tells a great story from the history of cybernetics and at the same time examines in innovative ways the complex ontological work they were doing. Pickering shows how 'ontology' is integrally about machines, materiality and philosophy—developing what I would call a theory of exploratory ontology."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. The Adaptive Brain
2. Ontological Theater
Part 1: Psychiatry to Cybernetics
3. Grey Walter: From Electroshock to the Psychedelic Sixties
4. Ross Ashby: Psychiatry, Synthetic Brains, and Cybernetics
5. Gregory Bateson and R. D. Laing: Symmetry, Psychiatry, and the Sixties
Part 2: Beyond the Brain
6. Stafford Beer: From the Cybernetic Factory to Tantric Yoga
7. Gordon Pask: From Chemical Computers to Adaptive Archictecture
8. Sketches of Another Future