By F. H. GEORGE
Department of Psychology, University of Bristol
Cybernetics is a new science. At least it is a new discipline that overlaps many accepted sciences and proposes a new attitude towards those sciences. It has, inevitably, had its own particular teething troubles; it has had its supporters and its critics, and everything done in the name of 'cybernetics' is by no means of uniform value.
In some respects Cybernetics represents a very old point of view dressed in a new garb, since its philosophical forbears are among the Mechanistic Materialists of the eighteenth century. However, while this ancestry may be legitimate, it should be emphasized that it is no more than the bare thread of a materialistic outlook that links the two, and we are not in the least concerned here with such aspects of the subject. It should be quite possible for those who are radically opposed to the Mechanistic Materialists to accept some part of modern cybernetics for its scientific utility and its methodology. I am not concerned in this paper with the general scientific utility of cybernetics, but primarily with its biological utility, a usefulness that it would be difficult to distinguish from its usefulness for the behavioural sciences generally.
Before the evidence can be discussed, we must outline the main ideas of cybernetics. Cybernetics might be briefly described as the science of control and communication systems, although it must be admitted that such a general definition is not altogether helpful. Cybernetics is concerned primarily with the construction of theories and models, both in symbols and in hardware. It insists on a further rather special condition that distinguishes it from ordinary scientific theorizing; it demands a certain standard of effectiveness. In this respect it has acquired some of the same motive power that has driven research in modern logic; this is especially true in the construction of artificial languages and the use of operational definitions. Always the search is for precision and effectiveness. This matter of effectiveness must be discussed in some detail.
The concept of an effective procedure, or algorithm, springs primarily from mathematics. It has been an important mathematical and mathematical logical question to ask whether certain parts or even the whole of mathematics is effectively derivable. Is it possible to derive all the theorems of classical mathematics in a purely machinelike manner? The theorems of Gödel and