Cybernetics and Spring Cleaning

Dad was a theoretical physicist, probably a better name for his field would be ‘applied mathematics’. He was more at home with math than people. He had a hard time figuring them out and left that to Mom. Looking back, Dad would have probably qualified to be on the spectrum of autistic personalities, had one existed in his day. One thing about Dad though, was his love of the beauty of the universe. He gravitated to the work of Spinoza, who (according to my simple understanding of his philosophy) replaced the concept of ‘god’ with ‘nature’.

I am grateful that Dad passed on his love and wonder of life to me. He died about 7 years ago and I still have many of his books. Some of them are too complex for me to understand without buckling down and trying to puzzle them out, step-by-step, delving into my own (perhaps lost) mathematical abilities.

One of Dad’s books that I am very proud to have, is an early edition of Norbert Wiener’s book, Cybernetics. Cybernetics was a field developed as a result of monthly discussion sessions about scientific method, officiated by Dr. Arturo Rosenbluth, at Harvard University in the 1930s. Wiener became an active member of these sessions in order to address mathematical questions. He and Rosenbluth felt that potentially fruitful areas for scientific growth lie in the “no-man’s land between the various established fields.” (Wiener, N. Cybernetics New York, John Wiley & Sons (1951) pg. 8)

Cybernetics and me:

The basic concept of cybernetics (as I understand it): approaching problems in one field with the aid of concepts in another, blended quite nicely with my own tendency to think ‘outside the box’. For example, early in my college days (circa 1970), I got approval from the engineering school to forge a course of study combining electrical engineering with biological sciences. At that time there were no established biomedical engineering curricula.

Spring cleaning:

Once again, I am attempting to lighten my load of possessions. This is my yearly bout with the concept of spring cleaning. With a less stringent standard of which books are ‘keepers’ and which are disposable, I started sorting again. Of course, Cybernetics is a keeper. Not only is it a wonderful reference and an historic document, it also has emotional value because it belonged to my Dad.

Two other books on cybernetics that I picked up over the years, have been languishing on my book shelves: The Cybernetics Group by Steve Heims (MIT Press 1991) and Cybernetics, Transactions of the Eight Conference (Progress Associates 1952). I was just about ready to let them go until I came upon two extraordinary articles – more precisely, article titles. The first, in the latter-mentioned book is called, Communication Between the Sane and Insane: Hypnosis by Lawrence S, Kubie. The second article was chapter 6 of the book by Heims: Problems of Deranged Minds, Artists and Psychiatrists.

I have not read either article in detail, but each touches on issues in which I am deeply interested. Although communicating with the ‘insane’ doesn’t quite characterize my efforts to  communicate with my older brother Mike, who is low functioning, autistic and nonverbal, I am hoping that this article will give me some new insights to my long-term struggle to understand him.

The second article promises to address other issues which hold my attention: artistic expression and mental health in relation to self expression. It would be a real bonus if the ‘problem’ of deranged minds, artists and psychiatrists can be framed in terms of creativity.

I will try my utmost to review each of these articles in short order. Spring cleaning will have to wait. For these two books, anyway.

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