N. Katherine Hayles
Chapter Four, “Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety”
How We Became Posthuman
I. Overview: cybernation blurs the distinction between animate/inanimate, man/tool, man/machine; man ends at his skin? (84)
A. erotic fascination w/ female cyborg in Blade Runner: nebulous body boundaries
B. human body as social construct
1. reconfigured human body as information system
2. became information science that remapped intellectual terrains (electrical engineering to psychology)
D. Norbert Wiener's questions about cybernetics power to reconfigure boundaries:
1. Where should dissolution of boundaries stop?
2. Where do the benefits of reconfiguring boundaries overcome the anxiety this process produces?
E. Wiener's Ambivalent Response to the Boundaries Question:
1. sought new ways to equate humans and machines
2. supported traditional liberal humanist values
3. championed giving machines precedence over humans in making certain decisions
4. cautioned that humans not become slaves to machines
5. “…cybernetic machine was not [to] threaten autonomous, self-regulating subject of liberal humanism…it was to extend that self into the realm of the machine.” (86)
F. Bumpy Melding of Cybernetics and Liberal Humanism
1. Otto Mayr, Authority, Liberty, and Automatic Machine in Early Modern Europe
a. self-reg as key to transition from centralized authoritarian control to decentralized democracy
b. cases in point: Smith's “invisible hand” and self-regulating politics through enlightened self-interest
2. mid-twentieth century:
a. humanism, self-regulating machines, and possessive individualism combine in the cyborg
b. combination undermines liberal subjectivity
G. Wiener's Anti-Cybernetic Machine
1. response to societal structural inequality [liberal class society masked as classless nation] (87)
2. designed to rid society of rigidity, militarism, manipulated human sheep, betrayal, and even death
H. Hayles's verdict on Wiener's liberalism: he offered only platitudes about man controlling machine when he foresaw social dislocation and job loss to working class resulting from cybernetic factory production
I. Chapter Four's Focus: Wiener's Dilemma
1. assumptions behind his ambivalence toward cybernetics
2. emergence of worldview combining cybernetics and liberalism
3. limits of negotiating the contradictions between cybernetics and liberal humanism
4. how to negotiate ambivalence without giving up
5. how posthuman subjectivity displaces the self of liberal humanism
II. “Of Molecules and Men: Cybernetics and Probability” (88)
A. Wiener's Early Work
1. Brownian motion (molecule collision)
2. ergodic hypothesis: regardless of time, distribution of parameters is standard
a. Wiener follows G. Birkhoff and makes above hypothesis more precise
b. Wiener refines W. Gibbs's approach:
i. Gibbs: probability used to predict how initial velocities and
ii. Wiener: initial conditions affect a system's evolution;
aa. its initial conditions, when reasonably know, can predict subsequent states in any chaotic system
bb. Any reality is one evolution instanciated from a range of possible worlds.
iii. Wiener: above insight is beginning of cybernetic research
B. Wiener's Extension of Probability Theory into the Social World
1. the world is essentially probabilistic
2. like the world, the word is probabilistic
3. information theory as active extension of probabilities
a. information: the reception of one of a constellation of messages
b. communication, another synthetic realm
4. cybernetics: a universal theory of knowledge
a. quantum mechanics: probability at microscale
b. communication theory: probability at macroscale
5. Communication transposes probability as relations at the macroscale “into the social world of agents and actors.” (90)
C. Control in the Age of Information
1. James Beniger, The Control Revolution
a. control evolution:
i. mechanical--determinism & predictability predominate
ii. thermodynamic—Brownian motion & probability emerge
iii. information—probability becomes basic attribute of communication
b. vestiges of prior stages as control evolution progresses
2. evolving cybernetic control theory
a. feed back loops between theory & artifact and researcher & research
b. circular relation among experimenter, control mechanism, & system interface: mechanisms & mindsets
c. information: constituted, measured, and communicated as relational differences between elements in a field
3. “Communication is about relation, not essence.” (91)
D. Analogy and Wiener's Writing about Cybernetics
1. analogy—constitutes meaning through relation
2. anticipation of poststructuralist theory:
a. Is there any independent essence beyond the mutual web of relations in which objects exist?
b. scientific observation: valid and necessary
c. instumenatalism: “phyics is merely a coherent way of describing the readings of physical instruments.” (91)
3. world-as-analogy: metaphor to overlay mathematics on emotion, sense perception on communication, and machines on biological organisms
III. “Crossing Boundaries: Everything is Analogy, Including This Statement” (92)
A. Math is Metaphor
1. I Am a Mathematician: hallucinatory episode of Wiener's pneumonia
a. math problem on potential melded w/ social and psychological states
b. Wiener: “…almost any experience may act as a temporary symbol for a mathematical situation…” (92)
2. acceptance of Bronowski's notion that math is metaphor
3. Wiener: math must be judged aesthetically as well as logically
B. Boundaries Make Analogies
1. Wiener as Other:
a. mother's anti-Semitism and his Jewishness
b. he is outside privileged groups
2. “Behavior, Purpose, & Teleology” (1943): cybernetics discourse: boundaries among animals, humans, and machines
a. functionalism privileges structure; behaviorism privileges organism's relation to environment
b. humans and machines behave similarly: they are alike in essence
c. Wiener identified no qualitative differences between man and machine. (94)
i. behaviorist perspective brackets distinctive internal structures: enables above to be valid
ii. only from limited perspective is above true
a. as behavior controlled by negative feedback
b. as purposeful, goal-oriented behavior
i. machines can be goal-oriented
ii. behaviorism's cosmological dimension absent any Aristotelian causality
iii. Newtonian causality vs. Christian teleology as purpose vs. randomness
C. Cybernetics as Metascience
1. alternating focus between behaviorism and internal structure
2. maintains itself as a disciplinary paradigm while penetrating other disciplines
a. structure-free form: men & machine linked eliding internal mechanism
b. structure-rich form: information flow & negative feedback are structural elements
a. Intention does not necessarily reside in behavior.
b. Hayles: behaviorist assumptions used selectively to achieve political ends
D. “The Nature of Analogy” (1950)
1. analogy works for Wiener because cybernetics is about relation, not essence
2. analogy works for perceiving, finite beings, not reifying philosophical realists
3. language as operating analogy: speaker's propositions interpreted through listener's experience
4. Language communicates no Aristotelian essence.
5. Saussurian indeterminance is Wienerian probability
6. Perception does not one-to-one representation of reality.
E. Weiner as abstract giant bereft of skills in patient (for him pedestrian) empirical work
IV. “Entropy as Cultural Relay: Form Heat Engines to Information” (100)
A. Mark Sletzer's 19th-century “dematerialized materialism”:
1. dual focus: physicality & abstract models of bodies
2. statistical representations of human behavior and ergonomic human body:
a. body as material object
b. body as probability distribution
3. 20th century: statistical thermodynamics merged w/ information theory
4. Thermodynamics' 1st and 2nd laws (stability & entropy): model for 20th-century mechanics & biomechanics.
a. two registers of scientific analogies (conservative & disipative)
b. organic bodies and machines share something across registers
B. Boltzman: entropy is a probability function or measure of randomness
1. dematerialized entropy
2. generalized entropy for wider cultural application
C. Entropy and Information
1. Maxwell's Demon: entropy
2. Wiener: Information systems and entropy are inversely related; they are opposites. (20th-century construction)
a. entropy as evil blocker of information
b. Dr. Zhivago coldly losing energy [& time] as message can't get to Laura
3. Shannon: Information is entropy.
a. The more random a message is, the more information it conveys.
b. Entropy is motor that drives systems to self-organization.
D. Wiener: Humans as Patterned Information (Human Use of Human)
1. not blood & bone, nerve & synapse
2. cells & tissues grow, die, & replace, but patterns perpetuate to define individual
3. nimble flexibility, not deterministic mechanism, allows man & machine to survive by relating changes to environment.
a. process: information processing
b. method: feedback loops to homeostasis
E. Wiener as Liberal Humanist (Human Use of Human)
1. great fear: rigid machine dominates, co-opting man's natural [moral] flexibility
2. value: construct machines that reinforces the autonomous self
3. boundaries: remain fluid so as to protect men from oppressive, mechanistic cybernetics
a. Gibbesian universe: probability is supreme
b. machines less than men: can't account for wide range of probability
c. When bad machines control man, entropy in universe exists as probabilities wind down.
F. Morality and Science: playing fair or manipulating the rules
1. Augustinian science: scientists governed by their best moments
2. Manichean chess players: governed by their worst moments
3. Peter Galison: Manichean capabilities in war cybernetics
a. Wiener employed rule-changing probabilities in AA weapons.
b. Wiener engaged cybernetics in bloody WW II struggles.
a. Wiener's writing show aversion to Manichean manipulation.
b. Winer's post-WW II anti-war position manifests liberal humanism.
V. “The Argument for Celibacy: Preserving the Boundaries of the Subject” (108)
A. Human Use of Human, “Information Language and Society”
1. Wiener retreats from discovery that cybernetics can unite physical and social sciences.
2. anxiously reconstituting boundaries w/ sexual metaphor: separation becomes coupling
3. If humans are socially webbed sharers of information, do we lose autonomy in the traditional liberal sense?
4. Are humans sexual cyborgs devoid of sexual plateaus?
5. Is use of the plural pronoun for “intelligent savages” by Wiener an appropriation of the voice of the non-expert Other?
6. body politic
a. anomie reigns: in the mass knaves manipulate fools
b. homeostasis possible only in small, local communities
7. Cybernetics best be limited to physical sciences where man as observer is less coupled with man as object.
a. expectations are not “exaggerated.” (111)
b. Penetration of other sciences by cybernetics is tempting, but celibacy is counseled.
B. Natural Metaphors
1. used by Wiener
2. appreciating how construction of cybernetic body and body of cybernetics relates to autonomous humanist subject
C. 1980s: link between liberal humanism and self-regulation was broken
1. no metascience, but cybernetics permeate culture as it mutates beyond what could be predicted in 1950s
2. The cyborg does not speak in one vioce.