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Cybernetics: Sketches of Another Future

Dr. Andrew Pickering
Professor of Sociology at the University of Exeter

ABSTRACT: What do robotic tortoises, homeostats, the anti-psychiatry movement, complexity theory, buildings that reconfigure themselves in use, the 60s counterculture and tantric yoga have in common? All the above examples are drawn from the history of the post-World War II science of cybernetics—the study of control and communication in animals and machines. This talk suggests that each example acts out a vision of the world radically different from that of modern science and western commonsense. The talk will explore the politics of cybernetics, suggesting that its aim is an experimental openness to what the world has to offer, rather than a grim quest for domination and control.

THE SPEAKER: Andrew Pickering began life as a physicist, with his first degree from Oxford and a PhD in particle physics from University College London. He changed fields to science and technology studies, joining the Science Studies Unit at Edinburgh University in the late 1970s. He taught for many years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before returning to Britain as professor of sociology at the University of Exeter. Along the way he has been a Guggenheim Fellow and held fellowships at MIT, Princeton and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and at the Institutes for Advanced Study at Princeton, Durham and Konstanz. His books include Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics (1984), The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) and, most recently, The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future (2010). His current project, 'Art and Agency,' grew out of earlier research on cybernetic as Timothy Wilson. I thought his last book Strangers to Ourselves was a masterpiece. Redirect is more than its equal."

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