Cybernetics for the 21st Century
Lectures and Symposium
Cybernetics is not only an ephemeral and contingent event in intellectual history, but rather it presents itself firstly as a new science of machines, which breaks away from the mechanism of the 17th century, that is also the reason for which Norbert Wiener in his 1948 Cybernetics: or the Control and Communication in Machine and Animals could claim that cybernetic machines can live a Bergsonian time, namely a biological, creative and irreversible time, in contradistinction to the Newtonian time, which is mechanical, repetitive and reversible; secondly, as a universal discipline, which is able to unify all other scientific disciplines, and later also disciplines of the social sciences, exemplified by the work of Niklas Luhmann, Heinz von Foerster, Maturana and Varela, later called the Second Order Cybernetics; thirdly as a philosophy, or more precisely the latest development of Western philosophy, that which led to Martin Heidegger’s claim that cybernetics marks the end or completion of Western philosophy and metaphysics.
Today we don’t often hear the term cybernetics in universities, and Heidegger’s assertion that cybernetics marks the end of philosophy may sound reactionary since philosophy departments continue to exist, but cybernetics is no longer in the syllabus of university disciplines. The truth is that cybernetics has already been absorbed in almost all engineering disciplines as well as subjects of art and humanities, notably art, media studies and philosophy of technology, and therefore it has realized what it has promised as a universal method; The significance of cybernetics remains to be questioned and taken far beyond what has been characterized as Californian Ideology and its reminiscence. McLuhan said in an interview in the 1970s that the launch of the Sputnik marks the end of nature and the beginning of ecology. With the later image of the whole earth taken from the satellite in the 1960s, the earth became a veritable artifice, or a spaceship in the sense of Buckminister Fuller. It was also at this turning point that the relation between human, nature, and technology entered a new epoch.
This new epoch is where we are living, and more than ever, we are living in an epoch of cybernetics, however, we still easily fall prey to a dichotomy of nature and culture without really understanding the significance and the limits of cybernetics. We, moderns, are alcoholics, who failed to get out of the positive feedback of progress, like what Nietzsche describes in the Gay Science, the pursuit of the infinite leads to the realization that nothing is more frightening than the infinite. A new recursive epistemology in the sense of Gregory Bateson, which inherits cybernetic thinking while seeking to overcome its intoxication, is needed for the program of re-orientation. This new program can only set off from cybernetics and it can only survive by going beyond cybernetics.
This two years public research program of the Times Museum Media Lab titled “Cybernetics for the 21st Century” aims to firstly reconstruct the history of cybernetics, from the perspectives of different geographical locations, political projects and philosophical reflections; and secondly to ask what might be the contribution of the cybernetic movement to the new form of thinking that is urgently needed to understand and reorient our digital earth. The first edition of the program consists of eight lectures and two symposiums with the presentation of philosophers, historians of science, and sociologists, including Andrew Pickering, Katherine Hayles, Brunella Antomarini, Slava Gerovitch, David Maulén de los Reyes, Michal Krzykawski, Mathieu Triclot, Daisuke Harashima. The program is hosted by Yuk Hui and curated by Jianru Wu.
Host: Media Lab of Guangdong Times Museum, Research Network for Philosophy and Technology
Co-Organizer: Hanart Forum
The launch of the program is made possible by the support of M Art Foundation
Supported Networks: Research Center for Science and Human Imagination, Southern University of Science and Technology; CUHK (Shen Zhen) University Arts Centre; Shenzhen Institute of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics for Society (AIRS)
Supported Media: thepaper.cn, The Thinker, LEAP
Supported by Guangdong Times Museum
Special thanks to Times China
Time: October 28th – December 16th, 2022
Lectures will be screening on Lecture Series | Medialab
Speakers and Lectures
Andrew Pickering is now Professor Emeritus of sociology and philosophy at the University of Exeter, UK. He has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and universities including MIT, Princeton, and Durham. He is a leading figure in science and technology studies and has published widely on the history, sociology and philosophy of science, technology and mathematics. His writings have been translated into many languages, including Chinese translations of his books Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics, Science as Practice and Culture and The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science. His most recent book is The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. He is now working on cybernetic relations with nature and cybernetic art.
Lecture: Cybernetics in Britain
Slava Gerovitch teaches history of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He holds two PhDs: one in philosophy of science (from the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences and Technology in Moscow) and one in history and social study of science and technology (from MIT’s Science, Technology and Society Program). He has written extensively on the history of Soviet mathematics, cybernetics, cosmonautics, and computing. He is the author of From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics (MIT, 2002), which won an honorable mention for the Vucinich Book Prize for an outstanding monograph in Russian studies, Voices of the Soviet Space Program: Cosmonauts, Soldiers, and Engineers Who Took the USSR into Space (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and Soviet Space Mythologies: Public Images, Private Memories, and the Making of a Cultural Identity (University of Pittsburgh, 2015), the winner of the Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award and a finalist for the Historia Nova Prize for the best book on Russian intellectual and cultural history.
Lecture: Cybernetics Across Cultures: The Localization of the Universal
Michał Krzykawski, Associate Professor in philosophy and head of the Centre for Critical Technology Studies at the University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland. His research revolves around continental philosophy of science and technology, critical theory, and political economy. He is particularly interested in a dialogue between philosophical thinking, technology and science in the context of epistemological, psychosocial, and ecological issues related to the current digital transformation. He is the author of The Other and the Common. Thirty-Five Years of French Philosophy (2017, in Polish) and co-author of Bifurcate. ‘There Is no Alternative,’ edited by Bernard Stiegler with the Internation Collective (2021).
Lecture: Cybernetics and Communism: Cybernetic Thinking in the Polish People’s Republic
David Maulén de los Reyes
David Maulén de los Reyes teaches history of technology at the Metropolitan Technological University (UTEM). He has written about the relationships between art, science, and technology in Chile and Latin America within the processes of social change, developing a specific methodology of the sociology of symbolic production for the retrospective study of project disciplines such as design, architecture, urban planning, and engineering. He has been the curator of the third Biennial of the National Museum of Fine Arts MNBA “Situation of Chilean Contemporary Art;” the project for the new Gabriela Mistral cultural center, visualization of information “Genealogical Trajectories of Buildings for the 3rd United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD III,” and the IFA project “Everyone is a Bauhaus. Past and future of a concept,” at ZKM. He has contributed to the platform “Is Modernity Our Antiquity?” XII Documenta in Kassel. He was co-editor of the special issue on Cybernetics in Latin America published by Springer’s AI & Society Journal, research that he has continued developing.
Lecture: Why Did Cybernetics Disappear in Latin America? An Incomplete Timeline
Brunella Antomarini teaches Aesthetics and Contemporary philosophy at John Cabot University, Rome. She lives in Rome and has a pluri-disciplinary education in contemporary epistemology, aesthetics, anthropology, and post-humanism. Her current research concerns the analysis of the common functions of the organic body and the retroactive machine through an epistemological convergence of different views, such as pragmatism, cybernetics, and systems theory. Among her recent publications: Le macchine nubili (Castelvecchi, Rome, 2020). “The Xenobots as Thought-Experiment: Teleology Within the Paradigm of Natural Selection,” (Studi di Estetica No. 23, 2/2022) “Contact in Absentia: Toward a Cybertouch,” (The Covid Spectrum. Theoretical and Experiential Reflections from India and Beyond, 2021). Peirce and Cybernetics: Retroduction, Error and Auto-Poiesis in Future Thinking. (“Cognitio”, São Paulo, 2017). The Maiden Machine: Philosophy in the Age of the Unborn Woman (Edgewise, New York, 2013); Thinking Through Error. The Moving Target of Knowledge (Lexington Books Lanham, 2012).
Lecture: Leibniz’ Teleology, or A Pre-history of Cybernetics
Mathieu Triclot teaches philosophy at the University of Technology of Belfort-Montbéliard, France. His research belongs to the French tradition of “philosophy of technical milieux” (Simondon, Beaune, Stiegler). His first book Le moment cybernétique focused on the history of American cybernetics and the invention of the notion of information. Since the publication of Philosophie des jeux vidéo, he has participated in the development of game studies in the French-speaking world, notably by defending the perspective of play studies, centered on the phenomenological analysis of the regimes of experience with the computing machine. He has participated in numerous research projects in the field and is now focusing on the problems of a “techno-aesthetic” and the analogies between games and music or dance, focusing in particular on the relationship between gesture, computer program and image. More recently, his research focuses on the role that the notion of “technical milieux” can play in the context of design and the reform of engineering training.
Lecture: Cybernetics for the 21st Century? Or Ontology and Politics of Information in the First Cybernetics
Daisuke Harashima is a research associate of Future Robotics Organization at Waseda University (Tokyo, Japan). He writes and teaches on humanities and technics in contemporary information societies from the perspective of fundamental informatics and new cybernetics, which focuses on the differences between living beings and machines as systems, to reflect on the modern technological condition and to realize new values based on respect for life. His writings are published in books, including Critical Words: Media Theory (Filmart, 2021; co-authored, in Japanese), Autonomy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence: Reconstructing the Basic Concept for the Future [AI jidai no jiritsusei: Mirai no ishizue to naru gainen wo saikouchiku suru] (Keiso Shobo, 2019; co-authored, in Japanese), Frontiers of Fundamental Informatics: Can Artificial Intelligence Have Its Umwelt? [kiso jouhogaku no furonteia: jinkou chinou ha jibun no sekai wo ikirareruka?] (University of Tokyo Press, 2018; co-authored, in Japanese), and in journals including Gendai Shiso and Eureka. He is also the translator of Yuk Hui’s Recursivity and Contingency [Saikisei to Guzensei] (Seidosha, 2022; in Japanese) and Tim Ingold’s Being Alive [Ikiteirukoto: Ugoku, Shiru, Kijutsusuru] (Sayusha, 2021; co-translated, in Japanese).
Lecture: Life-in-formation: Cybernetics of Heart (Cybernetics for the 21st Century)
Katherine Hayles, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles and the James B. Duke Professor of Literature Emerita at Duke University, teaches and writes on the relations of literature, science and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries. She has published eleven books and over 100 peer-reviewed articles, and her research has been recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, a Rockefeller Residential Fellowship at Bellagio, a National Humanities Center Fellowship, and a University of California Presidential Award, among other awards. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her books have won numerous awards, including the Rene Wellek Prize for the Best Book in Literary Theory in 1998-99 for How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, and the Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship for Writing Machines. She writes on media theory, experimental fiction, literary and cultural theory, science fiction, and contemporary American fiction. She has won two teaching awards, and has held visiting appointments at Princeton, University of Chicago as the Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor, and Institute for Advanced Studies at Durham University UK, among others. Her most recent book is Postprint: Books and Becoming C’omputational (2021, Columbia UP).
Lecture: Detoxifying Cybernetics: From Homeostasis to Autopoiesis and Beyond
December (time and topics to be announced)
Symposium: Cybernetics for the 21st Century
Initiated in 2019 and officially established in December 2021, the Media Lab of Guangdong Times Museum is dedicated to contemplating and exploring the languages and traditions of art from the perspective of media and technology in an era of accelerated technological development. It aims to deliver a new vision of art and technology by experimenting with the ways in which digital media build new social relationships and foster cultural imagination through rehearsals and speculations.
About Research Network for Philosophy and Technology
The Research Network for Philosophy and Technology was established in 2014 as a project to rethink the relation between philosophy and technology, and the future of this relation from global and historical perspectives. It is first of all an attempt to address the varieties of technological thought, in comparison with and also beyond the dominant Promethean discourses. It also wants to elaborate on and develop further the relevance between non-modern thoughts and modern technologies. These questions are often undermined and ignored in the established academic disciplines on technology and philosophy; this is also the reason for which this network hopes to bring together different points of views and new thinking, based on solid historical research, philosophical speculations and experiments.
M Art Foundation (MAF) is an artist-driven organization founded to support, nurture, and realize the aspirations of leading and emerging contemporary artists pursuing concepts and practices across borders and boundaries. Acting outside of existing institutional formats but maintaining the highest quality and rigor, MAF helps artist find new possibilities in both research and production by matchmaking constellations of cutting-edge positions. We turn ideas into realities.
Hanart Forum was established in 2022 as a discursive platform for contemporary thought, and a site for exploring diverse artistic practices. Hanart Forum is situated in a restored heritage building in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, an Edwardian-colonial style row house that dates from 1920. The site will be ready for projects by mid-summer 2023.