Memories of Another Future: Andrew Pickering on Cybernetics

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Memories of Another Future: Andrew Pickering on Cybernetics

lecture notes and recording, plus Q&A

Utopian thinking has long been out of fashion in academia but there was a palpable sense of nostalgia in Andrew Pickerings talk last week for a time when scientific practice still seemed to hold the key to another world. Drawing on his book The Cybernetic Brain, Pickering offered cybernetics as an unrealised alternative future: a non-modern ontology of unknowability and becoming. In his account, cyberneticists undertook daring experiments with adaptive systems and ecologies, and in doing so they offered an alternative to the modern understanding of science as mastery over nature and the imposition of categories and hierarchies on the world. However, as his rousing talk also made clear, there are many shades of cybernetics to chose from. Pickering favoured the playful and performative experiments of the early cyberneticists over what he called “second order” cybernetics: the preoccupation with command and control and the epistemological analysis of situated observers.

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