Cybernetics

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Cybernetics is pre–eminent when the system under scrutiny is involved in a closed signal loop, where action by the system in an environment causes some change in the environment and that change is manifest to the system via information, or feedback, that causes the system to adapt to new conditions: the system changes its behavior. This "circular causal" relationship is necessary and sufficient for a cybernetic perspective.[citation needed] System Dynamics, a related field, originated with applications of electrical engineering control theory to other kinds of simulation models (especially business systems) by Jay Forrester at MIT in the 1950s. Convenient GUI system dynamics software developed into user friendly versions by the 1990s and have been applied to diverse systems. SD models solve the problem of simultaneity (mutual causation) by updating all variables in small time increments with positive and negative feedbacks and time delays structuring the interactions and control. The best known SD model is probably the 1972 The Limits to Growth. This model forecast that exponential growth would lead to economic collapse during the 21st century under a wide variety of growth scenarios.

Contemporary cybernetics began as an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mechanical engineering, logic modeling, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and psychology in the 1940s, often attributed to the Macy Conferences.

Other fields of study which have influenced or been influenced by cybernetics include game theory, system theory (a mathematical counterpart to cybernetics), perceptual control theory, sociology, psychology (especially neuropsychology, behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology), philosophy, and architecture and organizational theory.[1]


Definition

The term cybernetics stems from the Greek κυβερνήτης (kybernētēs, steersman, governor, pilot, or rudder — the same root as government). Cybernetics is a broad field of study, but the essential goal of cybernetics is to understand and define the functions and processes of systems that have goals and that participate in circular, causal chains that move from action to sensing to comparison with desired goal, and again to action. Studies in cybernetics provide a means for examining the design and function of any system, including social systems such as business management and organizational learning, including for the purpose of making them more efficient and effective.

Cybernetics was defined by Norbert Wiener, in his book of that title, as the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine. Stafford Beer called it the science of effective organization and Gordon Pask extended it to include information flows "in all media" from stars to brains. It includes the study of feedback, black boxes and derived concepts such as communication and control in living organisms, machines and organizations including self-organization. Its focus is how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes or can be changed to better accomplish the first two tasks [2]. A more philosophical definition, suggested in 1956 by Louis Couffignal, one of the pioneers of cybernetics, characterizes cybernetics as "the art of ensuring the efficacy of action" [3]. The most recent definition has been proposed by Louis Kauffman, President of the American Society for Cybernetics, "Cybernetics is the study of systems and processes that interact with themselves and produce themselves from themselves" [4].

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