The 1,973rd Meeting of the Society

February 1, 1991 at 8:00 PM

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club


The Center of Science's Future

Paul Pangaro

Cybernetic Research and Development, PANGARO Incorporated

About the Lecture

Cybernetics is not the same as robotics, and it has nothing to do with freezing dead people. It is as different from artificial intelligence as philosophy is from mud-pies. And, in the opinion of the speaker, it subsumes the “hard” sciences, the soft sciences, and the humanities as well.

Emerging from control theory and the feeling that trans-disciplinary enquiry was critical, the field of cybernetics surged in the 1940s. By 1960 it had become a political no-no, coincidentally the same period that it exploded into new domains. Today the word has returned to common use, but its meaning and importance are not understood. Cybernetics directly influences revolutionary work in fields such as biology, cognitive science, family therapy, machine intelligence, and management.

But what is it? Primarily an epistemological stance, cybernetics is informally characterized by the speaker as “the science of describing”; that is, a formal approach to the purpose and nature of this universal human activity. As such, it requires an examination of the subjectivity inherent in all description. Insofar as it exposes science as a consensual process (rather than a research for “truth”), it shows how science does not require a “real world” to do its work. Insofar as its primary observable is an “interaction” in which the observer inextricably participates, it is suitable for application to all human activities.

In building his argument for the importance of cybernetics in the future of science, the speaker will give an overview of the philosophy and implications of the field. Examples will be given from his work in software development and management consulting, as well as from other important applications. He will draw implications for an ethics of scientific enquiry, the responsibility of the individual, and the signs of change in the world order.