15 Nov 2016 12:00pm - 1:30pm Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building


Readng Group Session

W. Ross Ashby, Design for a Brain and the humanity of the non-human

In keeping with the Cartesian duality that continues to inform our attitudes towards knowledge, learning commonly appears to be an activity of the mind, not matter. We presume, therefore, that only entities endowed with a 'mind' or a 'soul' or a 'spirit' possess the ability to learn. In the early postwar era, W. Ross Ashby, a prominent British cybernetician, challenged this notion by designing a highly unusual model of the brain – one that explored processes of learning and adaptive behaviour at a machinic level.  In our next reading session, we will examine Ashby’s place in the wider history of cybernetics through an examination of his most prominent invention, the homeostat – an electro-mechanical model of the brain that explored homeostasis and adaptive behaviour in relation to a dynamic and complex environment.  Ashby’s famous model brain captivated audiences in his own time. (One journalist even likened the machine’s clicking sounds to human thoughts.)  His work fundamentally reshaped the division between the human and non-human, and provides a significant point of entry into contemporary debates about posthuman epistemology.

Papers are pre-circulated and should be read in advance.  
Please contact Nima Paidipaty at lsp33@cam.ac.uk for access to the research group’s Moodle site.

Coffee and tea will be served after.  


Part of Cybernetics and Society Reading Group, series.

Administrative assistance: gradfac@crassh.cam.ac.uk

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