The Philosophical Society of Washington
Friday, February 1, 1991, at 8:15 pm
John Wesley Powell Auditorium, Cosmos Club
Paul Pangaro, Cybernetic Research and Development, PANGARO Incorporated
Cybernetics: The Center of Science's Future
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.
The speaker, Paul Pangaro, was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology in Humanities and Computer Science and holds a doctoral degree
in Cybernetics from Brunel University, UK He has worked with Nelson Max
on international award-winning computer-generated films, with Jerry Lettvin
on neural modeling, with Nicholas Negroponte on color graphics and animation
systems, and with Gordon Pask on the cybernetics of learning. In 1981, PANGARO
Incorporated of Washington, DC was formed to provide a vehicle for cybernetic
research and development.