Cybernetics, Language and Control

As with many other thinkers we’ve read in the past few months–Focault comes to mind—Wiener believes that information is the cornerstone of control, because all groups, from the ant to humans, run on information.  Be it simple, like a scent, or complex, like language.  The Observer gleans information from watching, as in the example of meeting an “intelligent savage” in the woods and not sharing a common language. “Thus social animals may have an active, intelligent, flexible means of communication long before the development of language” (p.157).  Hayles says Weiner defined information as “a series of probabilities”.  The control then is exerted when one overriding message comes out of the cacophony of the group. Because Cybernetics is derived from the greek word which means “steersmanship”, feedback is important, it is the way that information is relayed to the helm.  So in the case of a body, the helm tells it to dial a telephone number, feedback says how far along in the dialing the hand has gotten.

In her comprehensive look at Wiener’s body of work, Katherine Hayle says that “across the range of Weiner’s writing, the rhetorical trope that figures most importantly is analogy.”(p. 91).  Every communication has two parts, the part going out and the part being received, both equally important, and both vastly different.   For example, a professor says something in a classroom, it is heard by 15 students who hear it 15 ways, depending on their relationship to the words, their point of refreence, their level of comprehension of the individual words themselves.  All of this then makes communication relational. 

She goes on to say that because of his dependence on analogy, all communication is relation, eschewing essence.  He questioned whether anyone, “humans, animals, machines” have essence as each depends on its relation to and with a network of others. “Cybernetics as Wiener envisioned it is all about relation, not essence” (p.97). 



3 Responses to “Cybernetics, Language and Control”

  1. I think you have very well highlighted the relationship between words and communication. Your Eg. of professor teaching in class clearly says how different people can hear the same thing in different ways. Hence i think communication is definitely related to what goes out and what is received at the other end making it dependent on each other.

  2. I really appreciated your explanation of “essence” as I did not really understand what Hayles meant by “essence” in my reading of the text. I didn’t see it as an option in opposition to relation, but rather, an attempt to criticize the separation of man and machine. You bring more meaning for me to the word and her entire argument by creating a system of relationships between all humans, animals and machines that perhaps creates a new sense of communal “essence” and breaks out of the confines of individual essence.

  3. katherineer Says:

    I definitely agree with you that cybernetics is all about relation and not essence because relationships and communication are very important and the two work hand in hand. There is no conversation that work with only one individual. It takes two to tango, therefore there is a definitely like you said, a relaying information and responding back to what was said. These two parts to communication are very important.

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