“When is Cybernetics?”

  • MIT Media Lab Colloquium
  • Hosted by Patrick Purcell
  • E15–401
  • Wednesday, March 16, 1988
  • 4:30 PM–5:30 PM
  • Paul Pangaro, Ph.D


The title is interpreted in three ways to provide:

  1. A brief historical review of work in and of cybernetics
  2. Examples of recent applications of cybernetic principles to biology,
  3. psychology and machine intelligence, and thereby
  4. A display of the view from cybernetics, not for objective science and
  5. modeling reality, but of the construction of agreement within a shared subjectivity.

Devalued by its constant use as a cliche, the term cybernetics appropriately refers to the study and implementation of purposive systems, circular causality and the mutual creation of observer and observed. Recent work in the field has emphasized how observation is a subjective act taking place in the consensual domain of language. When reality is a construction, the only hard-valued objective measure is that of agreement. At the macro-level this concerns all discourse and hence science, politics and education; at the micro-level it concerns the nature of organism, mind, and the implementation of AI. Cybernetics, once the science of feedback and control, becomes the art and craft of living systems.

Paul Pangaro was awarded a Bachelor of Sciencein Humanities and Electrical Engineering in 1974 from MIT, where he alsoreceived the Stewart Award for his contributions to the Drama program. Afterworking with Nelson Max in computer generated film, and Jerry Lettvin inneural modeling, he joined the Research Staff of the Architecture MachineGroup in 1976. Pangaro began the study of cybernetics with Gordon Pask in1978 and was awarded a PhD from Brunel University (United Kingdom) in 1987. In order to pursue research in cybernetic applications, he formeda consulting firm in 1982 with offices in Washington, D.C. and London forclients such as the UK Admiralty, US Army and NY State power utilities.He has constructed “intelligent” systems for training cognitivemodeling and decision support. Pangaro is presently working with Symbolics,Inc. to tailor the THOUGHTSTICKER system for their use as an on-line tutorial,and is co-founder of SOLITON, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) to further commercialize this work.

© Copyright Paul Pangaro, 2013.