, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 519-524
Date: 05 Jan 2011

Cybernetics as a usable past

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The Cybernetic Brain is a strange, wonderful, and frustrating book. Beautifully written, passionately argued, and based on a decade’s worth of research, the book presents a detailed, wide-ranging history of British cybernetics as a usable past to challenge how we think about science and modernity.

A sociologist of science who has written landmark books on quarks and “posthumanist” science studies, Pickering explains that Cybernetic Brain “is very much my own history of cybernetics in Britain—not a comprehensive survey, but the story of a set of scientific, technological, and social developments that speak to me for reasons I will explain and that I hope will interest others” (4). To create his own history of cybernetics, Pickering follows a strand of research extending from the work of two first-generation British cyberneticists—brain scientists W. Grey Walter and W. Ross Ashby—to that of second-generation researchers Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask, a strand that extends from the late 19 ...