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Bertalanffy and Hayles (Wed Wk 3)

This week's readings are focused on two readings which serve as a kind of call and response. The first is Bertalanffy's "The meaning of General System Theory". the other is Katherine Hayles' interpretation of Norbert Wiener's treatises on Cybernetics, primarily a critical reading of his Human Use of Human Beings. While Bertalanffy's work is primarily an older order scientific proposition, in the sense that it is not intended to be seen as its own historical evidence, it is an analysis of some of the implications of Wiener's work. Hayles' work is a critical overview, and consequently self-conscious at least in the sense that it is literary criticism (of a sort) and it includes itself as an observer eye in the macrouniversal feedback loop of information consumption, interpretation, modification, and dissemination. (sorry, that was a little on the cerebral side. I'll try to be a little more clear.)

Because of the positioning of these two works, we can see a distinction between them that places Bertalanffy in a surprisingly modernist perspective, despite the fact that he is describing events that will inevitably contribute to the postmodern gestalt. In fact, I would go so far as to attribut his way of thinking as containing some semblance of classic Fordism. For him, his work is simply its own hallmark of good old fashioned progress: "General System Theory will go a long way towards avoiding such unessecary duplication of labor." (34) I can call it Fordism, in the sense that he is equating the functions of science with the functions of labor, but we might even trace it back to older, more "traditional" enlightenment thinking like Smith or Rousseau. The elegance of this statement should also be noted because his idea is thematically succinct with his work. To extract the functions of labor and production as useful descriptors of the functions of science is sytem theory at work. It's an example of principle #4: it is the development of "unifying principles running 'vertically' through the universe of the individual sciences".(38)

Hayles takes a definedly postmodern approach to the work of Wiener (and Bertalanffy implicitly) by using their work as the grist for her own mill. (I index her postmodernity by equating her bread/product with information/memory.)Hers is an examination of where Wiener and Bertalanffy leave off, that is, of the social and ideological implications of their work which they both effectively run away from. Although Hayles spends most of her time on Wiener, who was an indespensible influence on Bert., they both end their respective treatises in a retreat. Hayles aregues that this retreat is the reult of a fear of the loss of the individual, something which would directly threaten their "liberal humanism". Although she doesn't argue in the case Bertalanffy directly, she does claim that Wiener was immanently concerned with his own humanistic implications, and she uses his refusal to do research under military grants after his ballistics reasearch. But, Hayles argues, the ballistics reasearch sealed the deal, so to speak. Once the pilot had been reduced to a functional feedback loop, and cybernetics had firmed its place in the realm of scientific inquiry, the damage was irrevocably done. (not to blame Wiener for anything negative. Not only do I not see his work as implicitly negative, I also would again suggest that there is an inexplicable inevitability to all this. RE: why is the most common patenting problem the timing of the proposed patents(because so many people are all of a sudden trying to patent the same thing at the same time)?)

So on a cultural level, I think what we are seeing here is the foundation for something that I have for years described as "existential terror". first, notice the popularity of horror, particularly the popularity of gore, the splaying and disfiguring of bodies. Once again, look at the dates. First, there's that really creepy recurrance of the year 1968: the birth of software, Bertalanffy's piece, also, Englebert's date of proposal for mouse research, circa Harvey's great decline, etc. I would also introduce the work of Phil K Dick as an interesting addition to these problems of identity and the terror of the loss of the self. 1968 was the year Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published. 1969 would bring Ubik. These are both hallmark novels for him, novels which typify what Brian Harvey call the terror of the post modern.

Other things are traceable in this thread. If we go back to WWII, it should be noted that Korzysky's Institute of General Semantics is founded in 1943, same time that Wiener is doing his ballistics research. This is interesting because they are already talking about analogy. With writers like Hayakawa, Berman, and Russell Meyers, we start seeing articles in their journal with titles like "The Is of Identity and definitions", "The significance of being unique", "Another look at individualism"... The problems of identity loss and the source of what may be the largest spread fear of the last half of the twentieth century may arguably be rooted in the fear of the loss of self.

In a quick, final aside, if anyone who reads this hasn't seen The Ring yet, (not LOTR, leave me alone) based on the Japanese Ringu, then see it. It is the ultimate post modern horror movie. It is also one of the scariest movies to emerge in recent years, I humbly claim.

Below is a posting of a paper I wrote earlier this year. Its kind of a piece of shit because I had to write it really hastily, but I think its interesting how all this stuff was saturating my thinking even before I took the class. Its about people and their rock and roll gods, which is a lot more accessible than ballistics to most people. I strongly doubt anyone will take the time to read it, but here it is.
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