Cybernetics and memory

by CarlD

Giovanni at Bat, Bean, Beam has been kind enough to link to an old post of mine on ‘therapeutic history’ as part of a terrific new post. His general interest is memory. Here he works through the cybernetics movement of the 50s and 60s, starting with Norbert Wiener’s classic Human Use of Human Beings (1950) and getting right to an extended riff on Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics (1960), a popular self-help book about how to do plastic surgery on your own thoughts and feelings, in part by recutting your memories to create a more positive self-image.

I love Giovanni’s sense of the absurd, and without coming to a clean, neat point he walks around the topic taking in the sights, recruiting Borges and Calvino to observe with him the confident technical rationality of a completely plastic human nature and the oozing ghosts that haunt it. Well worth reading, and indirectly illuminating for some of the things we’ve been talking about around here recently.


11 Comments to “Cybernetics and memory”

  1. That was a good post. I’m putting Giovanni on my blog rounds.

    I suppose it’s totally coincidental that just today, Kvond pointed me at a blog post of his that involved Cybernetics and a 17th century rationalist philosopher whose name eludes me at the moment.

  2. It was a good post. And thanks to Asher, too, for the link to that post by Kvond.

  3. Forgive me if I reject the “rationalist” categorization of the said philosopher.

  4. Forgive me if I reject the “rationalist” categorization of the said philosopher.

    Speaking of which, have you ever looked at the Wikipedia entry for Spinoza? I was wondering why it was so awful, and I looked at the talk page, to find the following gem:

    Not to get competitive, people, but Nietzsche has around 75 references; Spinoza has only 40. And Nietzshe is better written. Come on, people, let’s get with it. Spinoza might think this was totally determined, but I’m determined to give Nietzsche a run for his money.Tomwsulcer (talk) 00:34, 9 September 2009 (UTC)Tomwsulcer

    And, since I’m ranting here, I think there are way too many “cherems” in it; like cherem this, cherem that, cherem again. I could see one or two cherems max, but come on people; plus, I don’t even know how to pronounce it (chair-him?). And doesn’t picture of Spinoza make him look a little fat?–Tomwsulcer (talk) 21:43, 16 September 2009 (UTC)

  5. Ha. No, never looked at it. Hilarious.

  6. None of them are really very good, but sometimes I turn to them when I’m painfully uneducated about a philosopher and need some direction about where to find a particular idea in their works. In this case, I was looking for pointers to the “intutional state of awareness” idea that you mentioned, but I got cherems and chubbiness instead.

  7. Would it somehow be invalidating if Spinoza was, in fact, a little fat? I mean moreso in his case than just the general body-ideal prejudices? Is that like finding out he had stock in the Dutch East India Company or something?

  8. The formula for a public figure in the U.S. would be overweight => lazy => preaches self-deprivation => hypocrite, but in my limited knowledge, I don’t see how you’d hook up the self-deprivation bit.

  9. Carl: “Is that like finding out he had stock in the Dutch East India Company or something?”

    Kvond: Well, he kinda did have stock, at least in trade, for quite a while, as I’ve tried to explore:

    The community had very strong relationships to the sugar trade and possibly the slave trade. Spinoza’s brother ended up, likely, with some slave trade envolvement.

    He certainly renounced these relationships, but they were rather close to him, both during his time as a merchant, and after (insurance calculations were being done by close associates).

    And yes, Spinoza fat would be interesting. We know his diet, which was very spare (refusing as he did any financial generosity from friends). Beer and tobacco were his two indulgences.

    Fat of course would not mean lazy in that society, but rather, wealthy. And not a menial laborer. And Spinoza was a laborer.

  10. Thank you Carl – much appreciated and a little bit awed by the company here.

  11. Ciao Giovanni, it’s lovely to see you here. This is a good crew but we’re just folks; hope you’ll visit and chat with us often.

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