Portrait of Norbert Wiener

Norbert Wiener

Mathematician and Philosopher
November 26, 1894 – March 18, 1964

Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician and philosopher. He was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A child prodigy, Wiener later became an early researcher in stochastic and mathematical noise processes, contributing work relevant to electronic engineering, electronic communication, and control systems.

Wiener is considered the originator of cybernetics, the science of communication as it relates to living things and machines, with implications for engineering, systems control, computer science, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and the organization of society. He is credited as being one of the first to theorize that all intelligent behavior was the result of feedback mechanisms, that could possibly be simulated by machines and was an important early step towards the development of modern artificial intelligence.

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Mentioned in 19 documents

Russell Ackoff

From Mechanistic to Systemic Thinking

Presented at the Systems Thinking in Action conference, Ackoff states that humanity is in the early stage of a transition from the Machine Age to the Systems Age. The Machine Age was characterized by belief in complete understandability of the universe, analysis as a method of inquiry, and cause and effect as a sufficient relationship to explain all. The dilemma that disrupted such beliefs was systems thinking. The Machine Age began to die when humanity gave up the principle of understandability. Gradually, it’s become accepted that there can be no complete understanding of the universe because nothing can be understood independently of its environment—all is environmentally relative. While analysis produces knowledge, it is synthesis that produces understanding. Furthermore, the Systems Age recognizes that cause and effect is just one way of looking at reality among an infinite number.

Terence McKenna

Future of Art

Ludwig von Bertalanffy

General System Theory

In his seminal work, biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy outlines a theory of systems that breaks down disciplinary boundaries and argues that there are general principles and laws applicable to systems of all kinds. He contends that phenomena should be viewed not in isolation but as components of systems interacting with their environments. Bertalanffy proposes that there are commonalities across biological, physical, and social systems that can be explored through systems thinking. He suggests the need for an overarching systems science to uncover these universal system principles. The book develops key concepts like open and closed systems, steady states, growth, feedback, homeostasis, differentiation, hierarchy, and emergence. General System Theory was groundbreaking in its interdisciplinary approach and helped foster the growth of systems theory across academia and society.

Heinz von Förster

Interview on Cybernetics

Marvin Minsky and Jeffrey Mishlove

Mind As Society

Conscious intelligence may be viewed as a computer system composed of many smaller parallel processing programs. Marvin Minsky, Ph.D., is one of the acknowledged founders of the mathematical theory of computation, artificial intelligence, and robotics. He argues that understanding the individual as a very sophisticated machine actually affirms human dignity.

Gregory Bateson

Mind and Nature

Renowned for his contributions to anthropology, biology, and the social sciences, Bateson asserts that man must think as Nature does to live in harmony on the earth and, citing examples from the natural world, he maintains that biological evolution is a mental process.

Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers

Order out of Chaos

Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers and Ilya Prigogine, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work on the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems, make their ideas accessible to a wide audience in this book, which has engendered massive debate in Europe and America. Stengers and Prigogine show how the two great themes of classic science, order and chaos, which coexisted uneasily for centuries, are being reconciled in a new and unexpected synthesis.

Terence McKenna

Our Cyberspiritual Future

Terence McKenna holds court on our civilization's journey toward the eschaton at this weekend Esalen gathering. With humor and eloquence he riffs on topics from psychedelic states and alien intelligences to time travel and VR. McKenna argues we're evolving toward an unimaginable state of accelerating novelty, propelled by advancing technology. A mind-expanding ride for the open-minded psychonaut or armchair traveler, guided by one of the twentieth century's most eclectic thinkers.

Alan Watts

Power of Space

Weaving connections between Eastern thought and modern science, Alan Watts explores the wonder of space. For him, space is no mere emptiness but a cosmic tapestry integral to existence. He draws parallels between space and the Buddhist void, seeing both as the interwoven ground of being that allows consciousness to emerge.

Aldous Huxley

Realizing Human Potential

What untapped gifts lie dormant within us? Aldous Huxley digs for hidden treasure in the human psyche. He proposes mining the world's traditions to unearth practical techniques for actualizing our latent potential. From revamping education for enhanced perception and creativity, to fostering awareness and kindness, Huxley lays out a thought-provoking vision for human flourishing.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Robots, Men, and Minds

Based on lectures delivered as The Inaugural Lectures in The Heinz Werner Lecture Series at Clark University (Worcester, Mass.) in January 1966, the book introduces new conceptions of humans and their world. After discussing the advantages and drawbacks of humanity's propensity for the symbolic construction of reality, it focuses on the systems approach to an understanding of the species. The author warns against the common error of identifying cybernetics with general systems theory. No matter how complex the cybernetic system, it "can always be resolved into feedback circuits" and thought of in terms of "linear causality." The regulative behavior of general systems is determined by goal-directed, dynamic interaction between many forces and variables in an open system. Bertalanffy points out that "no comprehensive theory of systems exists today." As a model, however, the approach has many advantages, such as obviating the need for the "ghost in the machine" and suggesting some solutions to the mind-body problem.

Terence McKenna

State of the Stone

In this talk, McKenna gives one of his more hopeful presentations about love and the state of humanity at the end of the millenium.

Alan Watts

The Book

At the root of human conflict is our fundamental misunderstanding of who we are. The illusion that we are isolated beings, unconnected to the rest of the universe, has led us to view the “outside” world with hostility, and has fueled our misuse of technology and our violent and hostile subjugation of the natural world. In The Book, philosopher Alan Watts provides us with a much-needed answer to the problem of personal identity, distilling and adapting the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta to help us understand that the self is in fact the root and ground of the universe. In this mind-opening and revelatory work, Watts has crafted a primer on what it means to be human—and a manual of initiation into the central mystery of existence.

Michael Levin

The Computational Boundary of a “Self”

All epistemic agents physically consist of parts that must somehow comprise an integrated cognitive self. Biological individuals consist of subunits (organs, cells, and molecular networks) that are themselves complex and competent in their own native contexts. How do coherent biological Individuals result from the activity of smaller sub-agents?

Erich Jantsch

The Self-Organizing Universe

The evolution of the universe—ranging from cosmic and biological to sociocultural evolution—is viewed in terms of the unifying paradigm of self-organization. The contours of this paradigm emerge from the synthesis of a number of important concepts, and provide a scientific foundation to a new world-view which emphasizes process over structure, nonequilibrium over equilibrium, evolution over permanency, and individual creativity over collective stabilization. The book, with its emphasis on the interaction of microstructures with the entire biosphere, ecosystems etc., and on how micro- and macrocosmos mutually create the conditions for their further evolution, provides a comprehensive framework for a deeper understanding of human creativity in a time of transition.

Alan Watts

The Wisdom of Insecurity

This 1951 classic explores how our modern pursuit of security through money, status, and technology leads to anxiety. Watts artfully weaves Eastern philosophy and Christian mysticism to argue that seeking permanence in an impermanent world is futile. Rather, we must embrace the present moment and recognize the illusion of the ego. Watts writes breezily with penetrating insight about how relaxing our grip on life's impermanence paradoxically allows us to live fully. Though challenging at times, ultimately Watts' message brings great comfort in understanding the futility of chasing security. Give it a read and you may just find the wisdom that insecurity brings!

Fritjof Capra

The World is a Network

In this discussion, Fritjof Capra discusses systems thinking, the cognitive dimension of life, nonlinear causality, emergence of novelty in living systems, ethics, world problems and solutions, transformative learning, and the importance of community. He covers the systems view of life from his book and emphasizes relationships, interconnectedness, and sustainability.

Alan Watts

Truth and Relativity

Through the example of a city, Alan encourages his listeners to reevaluate the definition of their personal identities. Is a person a fully autonomous agent, or might they be a cell in a vast organism? Perhaps it’s necessary to understand both perspectives and recognize that each scale of magnitude depends on all others to manifest as it does.

Joanna Macy

World as Lover, World as Self

This overview of Joanna Macy's innovative work combines deep ecology, general systems theory, and the Buddha's teachings on interdependent co-arising. A blueprint for social change, World as Lover, World as Self shows how we can reverse the destructive attitudes that threaten our world.