Term coined by Norbert Wiener.

  • Cosma Shalizi: He defined it as "the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine," and thought it was basically about Information Theory and FeedBack, and how animals and machines manage to do things; and he warned, as explicitly as possible, against using it for handwaving fluff in Social Science or philosophy. (This was, of course, ignored; but that is also another story.)

Management cybernetics : As applied to Management, Stafford Beer defines cybernetics as "the science of effective organization."


Cosma Shalizi: A science which seems to have dissolved into the others. A lot of good science was done under this banner; it just doesn't seem to hold together. Cybernetics helped give rise to some new fields, like cognitive science; it disseminated about a dozen ideas and bits of applied math which have proved useful (in, e.g., neurobiology); but what else? As a study of abstract machines in general, it becomes identical with dynamics, or computation theory, or some amalgam of both; algebra, even. As a more limited science of "communication and control" it suffers from the fact that communication and control in animals is, when you get down to blood and guts, rather different from communication and control in machines, and neither resembles the mechanisms of C&C in society. This is not to say that there are no similarities; of course there are; but they're at the very general level of things like "feedback" and "you must have an information channel," and pretty much exhausted by ideas which are now common currency in many particular fields. And even then, animals have control without feedback. It may be that we haven't exhausted the potential of a science of communication and control, but I think at this point the burden of proof would be on the optimists.

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