algorithm, apparatus of capture, authority, biopolitics, call for papers, code, control, cybernetics, desiring machines, einstein, ethics, humanity, language, media, metaphysics, technology

Thinking Cybernetics

(Matt Dixon)

Thinking Cybernetics:
Mapping the Intersections between Metaphysics, Technology, Biopolitics

(abstract for panel)

The purpose of this panel is to gather together ideas, perspectives, and questions from a diverse variety of thinkers and disciplines relating to the theory and practice of cybernetics. Our goal is to raise a series of critical questions concerning the intersection between biopolitics, metaphysics, and technology.

While each paper is devoted to a specific author or authors and is generally focused on a particular theme or aspect of cybernetics, all of us in some way are arguing for a larger transformation of philosophical, political, social, and technological categories. There are many urgent questions posed by cybernetics; and moreover, its development has so far tended to furnish many other fields of investigation with new tools for studying new problems. As St-Exupery wrote in 1939: “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature, but plunges him more deeply into them.” What does philosophy have to tell us today about our relationship to technology? What does cybernetics imply for metaphysics, ethics and epistemology — or even for the future of writing?

Finally, how do we think the relationship between cybernetics and bio-politics? Perhaps the most troubling question raised by cybernetics concerns the relationship between autonomy and authority. It would appear that everything hinges on the inflection placed upon the word “control”! Cybernetics is derived from a Greek word meaning “governance,” from which an apparently simple question arises: Are we controlling — or controlled by — the systems of machines “we” have built?

When Einstein wrote that it has become “appallingly obvious” our technology “has exceeded our humanity,” he was voicing his concern about the disastrous effects of unimpeded technological growth without a corresponding growth in social responsibility. Certainly, at the very least, technology plays more than a purely mediatory role in society.

Thus another important problem brought to the fore by cybernetics is the role of language itself as a socio-political machine. We assert that thinking our relationship to language and technology today demands a wholesale reformulation of old ways of thinking, in order to explore new cybernetic and philosophical problems. The point is that we need more than a new philosophy of cybernetics, we need a “cybernetic philosophy” (though this also requires a transformative reading of the contemporary philosophy of technology.)

Our first hope is that by gathering together concepts which allow a new understanding of our relationship to technology, we can trace original lines of questioning and resistance. Our second hope is that, through these intersections, there may perhaps result new methods of traversing and escaping systems of control. As B.F. Skinner wrote in Contingencies of Reinforcement in 1969, “The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do.”

Panel Members: Joseph Weissman, Taylor

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