Cybernetics is the metaphysics of the atomic age.
- Martin Heidegger
The science of cybernetics studies self-guided, goal-seeking systems.
There's a long and interesting history to this discipline, which traces back to the works of Norbert Wiener around the time of World War II.
Wiener believed that his new science could show the way to create machines that thought like a human being.
The result was something far more sinister.
Cybernetics didn't show us how to build machines that think like humans.
It transformed man into a kind of machine.
Metaphorically speaking. For now.
We're talking about a revolution in thought. It became possible for the first time to think of human beings as nothing more than a pattern of loops between stimulus and response.
Cybernetics lies behind (almost) every major innovation in psychology and sociology in the later half of the 20th century. Today's cognitive sciences study human beings as if we were a type of computer or information-processing device.
It may sound cool. But there's a darker implication here, well beyond the punk status of the cyborg aesthetic we had back in the 80s and 90s.
Cybernetics carries on the same process of subversion, the 'disenchantment of the world', that got started in the scientific revolution and entered full swing after Marx, Darwin, and Freud got their hooks into intellectual culture.
But there's a kink in the works here.
Science doesn't answer questions about values. It doesn't take any official position on what is worth doing. Science doesn't explain why we ought to prefer one course of action over another.
Science isn't supposed to be metaphysical.
There's a lot of weight resting on that word "supposed".
Truth is, it's probably impossible to get rid of all metaphysics. You can't just drop in neato buzzwords like "objective" and "impartial" and "logical" and get rid of all your background assumptions.
That might be only because it's impossible to believe certain things that your great-great-great-grandaddies believed. There's a "negative" metaphysics at work.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger has a lot to say about this. Any new revelation of truth requires covering up something else. Every discovery also hides assumptions that can't be stated.
And modern technology? The cybernetic understanding of man as machine?
These new sciences try to understand human nature without making any value judgments or metaphysical assumptions.
They don't quite get there. The metaphysics hides just out of sight.
We may no longer be able to believe in gods or God. But we haven't gotten rid of the old-time theology. We've only replaced God with our own human interests. We talking apes think mighty highly of ourselves, and cybernetics puts us completely in charge.
But there's a catch.
You and me, that thing we like to call "I" or the self? That's just an illusion.
We're rattling around in a hall of mirrors full of dead machines.
If cybernetics is the metaphysics of the modern age, then we're all living in a bizarre death cult.
Living things aren't really alive. They're just concoctions of chemicals and information.
Your mind isn't really your mind. It's an evolved system of 'hacks' that work to keep your body alive and able to reproduce.
Humans put ourselves at the center of the universe and then discovered we were never really here to begin with.
If you've ever wondered why so many people today feel anxious, hopeless, without meaning or purpose, bored, empty, and pessimistic, you've got a glimpse at the answer.
We believe we've mastered nature. We've put ourselves into nature as another object to control.
And look where it's got us. Technological marvels... and more people than ever can't see any point in it.
It doesn't have to be like that, though.
If we humans are up to our eyebrows in metaphysics and values no matter what we do, then we've got more options than the eggheads in labcoats want us to think.
Follow the science? If it says anything worth saying, sure.
But that's up to us to decide, not for the death-worshipers to dictate to us.
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