the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine

— Norbert Wiener

At MIT in particular, there was a tendency to take "the image of the machine as the basis for the understanding of man"

— Harold Hatt

  • (first-order) cybernetics deals with feedback systems
  • John von Neumann extended cybernetics with cellular automata, and then universal constructor concept, which led to the concept of self-replication, adopted by cyberneticians as a core concept:

    The concept that the same properties of genetic reproduction applied to social memes, living cells, and even computer viruses is further proof of the somewhat surprising universality of cybernetic study.

  • notes related to cybernetics:

The idea that Man and his environment are mechanical systems which can be studied, improved, mimicked and controlled (...) gave way to disciplines such as cognitive science and artificial intelligence.


Bush not only proposed that the machine might learn from the human via what was effectively a cybernetic feedback loop - he proposed that the human might learn from the machine. As the human mind moulds the machine, so too the machine "remolds" the human mind, it "remolds the trails of the user's brain, as one lives and works in close interconnection with a machine"

-- The Technical Evolution of Vannevar Bush’s Memex The cybernetics phase of cognitive science produced an amazing array of concrete results, in addition to its long-term (often underground) influence:

  • The use of mathematical logic to understand the operation of the nervous system
  • The invention of information-processing machines (such as digital computers), thereby laying the basis for artificial intelligence
  • The establishment of the metadiscipline of systems theory, which has had an imprint in many branches of science, such as engineering (systems analysis, control theory), biology (regulatory physiology, ecology), social sciences (family therapy, structural anthropology, management, urban studies), and economics (game theory)
  • Information theory as a statistical theory of signal and communication channels
  • The first examples of self-organizing systems

The Embodied Mind

This is yet another application of Self-Cybernetics on myself making my experiments visible to me, reminding myself to reflect on them, and presenting them to myself in a way that works around my psychology.

  • setting time for reflection makes it possible to learn things about myself, and that knowledge is important - it can guide what I choose and how I live my life (Reflective Practice as a part of Self-Cybernetics loop?)
  • relying on Self-Cybernetics to model ones behaviour could make one completely lost without those external inputs
    • reference: "Accelerando" and Manfred's glasses
  • influenced by Cybernetics, Claude Shannon, communication theory, Birkhoff's semiotics
  • related to cybernetics

    The work of art is more amenable to cybernetic analysis than a work of science, precisely because its criteria of validity are much less exact and above all much less coherent than those of the latter. Non-representational art in particular claims only that a certain quantity of order is present in the product to give it a consumer value, without indicating the distribution of that quantity of order existing in the different levels of this hierarchy of utilized semantemes.

  • similar to how I leave physical things I need to take with me near my shoes - Self-Cybernetics

second-order cybernetics refers to the practice of cybernetics where cyberneticians understand themselves to be part of the system they study. This is strongly associated with Heinz von Foerster

  • is Self-Cybernetics a Second-Order Cybernetics?
    • or even higher, since the cyberneticians not only understand that they part of the loop, but also changes the loop based on the feedback from that loop?
  • Cybernetics applied to oneself, by oneself
    • creating feedback loops where there aren't any
    • making personal data visible, actionable
    • creating the environment to promote specific way of acting / thinking
  • Cybernetics and Me

    Model: Viewing yourself and your environment interacting as a system Action: Generating your own cybernetic systems to alter what you do

    1. Storing information into your environment
    2. Treating your future self as an unreliable actor and trying to influence it
    3. Creating or using tools/rules that generate a self-cybernetic system

    non-cybernetic thinking: what type of note-taking system is the easiest to look things up? cybernetic-thinking: what type of note-taking system will cause me to write things down in a way that is easy to look them up?

    • Self-Cybernetics is about building systems (tools, visualizations, feedback loops) to guide behaviour

    How do you know when you're caught in a harmful cybernetic system (...)?

    • there are issues with Self-Cybernetics approach - I found out that the way I show the time-tracking data to myself can have a huge impact on how I act, and I can't always easily control the side-effects (for example overshooting on too much client work) - You Get What You Measure

    Do self-cybernetic systems weaken your willpower? Or is an emphasis on willpower less compassionate and understanding of the social environments that affect us? As opposed to self-cybernetics, what are self-agency exercises? Travel is perhaps an exercise where you do not design environments but appreciate them.

    • I'm not sure how "chanting" and other repeated "magic words" are related to this, but I think that there are some connections here, maybe a way to "program" yourself through words (also further related to ideas of Linguistic Determinism)

The music isn't in the piano.

— Alan Kay

  • maybe the music is in the piano, at least a bit? - we build and tune pianos in a very specific way, to support making music, and these Tools are Building Us
  • Gordon Brander argues that looking through a Cybernetic lens, the music is in a feedback loop between the piano and the player
  • of course there's a Cybernetics lens on this, where acting generates knowing, and knowing, in turn, generates acting:

    A common preconception is that generally, understanding should precede acting and that theory is superior to practice (which depends on and is justified by theory), with post-rationalisation usually regarded as a shortcoming. In the context of radical constructivism, this preconception seems shortsighted: If acting generates understanding, and understanding, in turn, generates acting, the relationship of acting and doing can be described more appropriately as cyclical.

    — Christiane M. Herr - Design Cybernetics: Constructing Cybernetic Thinking, Design, and Education