As part of an ongoing history project, I have been reading a great deal about general systems theory and about cybernetics. Much of this reading began with some of the major works of Ludvig von Bertalanffy (Problems of Life, General System Theory, Robots Men and Minds). It has also included some biographical works about von Bertalanffy, as well as of other scholars involved in systems thinking and cybernetics. I have also pulled from the shelves of my library some classic works by Norbert Weiner and Gregory Bateson and placed them on the front burner.
In the context of this slogan, von Bertalanffy’s criticism of the Weiner’s mechanized cybernetics misses the mark. Weiner himself had deep concerns about cybernetics’ technological impact on society and expressed these concerns in many of his writings. Similar concerns are easily found in the writings of other cybernetic leaders such as Bateson and Margaret Mead; in general, the cybernetic pioneers were actively sympathetic with the notion of applying their scholarly ideas for the betterment of society.
“Science in the service of humanity” strikes me as a particularly powerful notion, and on this first day of 2017 I resolve to explore its implementation in my own scholarly activities.