Founders of Cybernetics


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Rudall, B.H. (2000), "Founders of Cybernetics", Kybernetes, Vol. 29 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Founders of Cybernetics

Founders of Cybernetics

Keywords: Automation, Cybernetics, Research

Professor Stafford Beer had the privilege, he writes (Beer, 1999), to know most of the founders of cybernetics. He particularly honours three as his mentors: Norbert Wiener, Ross Ashby and Warren McCulloch. At the recent triennial 11th World Congress of Cybernetics (1999), organised by the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics, of which he is the president, Professor Beer spoke of his admiration for the contribution of Warren Sturgic McCulloch. He was born on the 16th November 1898 in Orange, New Jersey, USA. Many readers will have joined Professor Beer in celebrating Warren McCulloch's centenary year in 1998.

At the 11th World Congress the participants had the rare treat of seeing and hearing "Stafford Beer on McCulloch" during the screening of a video that had been recorded in his home in Canada. Others who attended the World Multiconference on Systems, Cybernetics and Informatics (1998), held at Orlando, Florida, USA, in McCulloch's centenary year, will have also listened to Professor Beer's speech. The full and emended text of this has now been recently published (Beer, l999). Under the title "Let us now praise famous men and women too" (from Warren McCulloch to Candace Pert) he records his thoughts on the early years of cybernetics and the interactions of its founders with whom he was so well acquainted. In this text he presents his tribute in a very personal way by considering: "A centenary celebration for Warren McCulloch" with a "Thumbnail sketch of McCulloch"; "In the small conference Mode" (the notion of a meeting in conference as a small group, with no outside audience); "In the mode of scientific and papers" there is an important collection of his seminal papers (McCulloch, 1965; 1989); "Some personal memorabilia" (personal relationship of Stafford Beer and McCulloch).

Stafford Beer continues with a section "Views from the bridge" with notes about: "Understanding Models", "Not understanding jokes"; "The hardening of the categories"; "On the potency of invariance"; and "The viable system model (VSM)"; he concludes his text with "A celebration for Candace Pert" (Dr Pert, it will be recalled, discovered, some 25 years ago, the opiate receptor, the site in a cell that can recognise an opiate) and a "Centenary valedictory for Warren McCulloch" (Pert, 1997).


Asby, W.R. (1952), Design, For a Brain, Chapman and Hall, London.

Beer, S. (1999), "Let us now praise famous men and women too (from Warren McCulloch to Candace Pert)", Systemic Practice and Action Research, Vol. 12 No. 5, pp. 433-56.

Flood, R.L. (l998), "Stafford Beer", in Warner. M. (Ed.), IEBM Handbook of Management Thinking, International Thomson Business Press, London.

McCulloch, W. (1965), Embodiments of Mind, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

McCulloch, W. (1989), Collected Works of Warren McCulloch (Volumes 1-4), Intersystems, Salinas, CA.

Pert, C. (1997), Molecules of Emotion, Scribner, New York, NY.

Rudall, B.H. (Ed.) (1993), Kybernetes, A Special Issue Dedicated to Stafford Beer, Vol. 23 No. 6.

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