This article examines the intellectual and institutional factors that contributed to the col- laboration of neuropsychiatrist Warren McCulloch and mathematician Walter Pitts on the logic of neural networks, which culminated in their 1943 publication, “A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity.” Historians and scientists alike often refer to the McCulloch–Pitts paper as a landmark event in the history of cybernetics, and fundamental to the development of cognitive science and artificial intelligence. This article seeks to bring some historical context to the McCulloch–Pitts collaboration itself, namely, their intellectual and scientific orientations and backgrounds, the key concepts that contributed to their paper, and the institutional context in which their collaboration was made. Al- though they were almost a generation apart and had dissimilar scientific backgrounds, McCulloch and Pitts had similar intellectual concerns, simultaneously motivated by issues in philosophy, neurology, and mathematics. This article demonstrates how these issues converged and found resonance in their model of neural networks. By examining the intellectual backgrounds of McCulloch and Pitts as individuals, it will be shown that besides being an important event in the history of cybernetics proper, the McCulloch– Pitts collaboration was an important result of early twentieth-century efforts to apply mathematics to neurological phenomena.
Purpose: To show the convergences between Josef Mitterer’s non-dualizing way of speaking and actor-network theory. Method: Comparative analysis of Mitterer’s non-dualizing philosophy and actor-network philosophy. Findings: Profound convergences between the two accounts may lead to a unified account that could redefine traditional philosophical problems. Benefits: The paper extends the range of Mitterer’s non-dualizing philosophy and actor-network theory enabling both to face new problems. Among them, extended non-dualizing philosophy may undergo empirical investigations.
Purpose: Appreciating the relationship between Sylvio Ceccato and Ernst von Glasersfeld, both as people and in their work. Approach: historical and personal accounts, archeological approach to written evidence. Findings: Ceccato’s work is introduced to an English speaking audience, and the roots of Glasersfeld’s work in Ceccato’s is explored. Flaws in Ceccato’s approach are indicated, together with how Glasersfeld’s work overcomes these, specially in language and automatic translation, and what became Radical Constructivism. Conclusion: Glasersfeld willingly acknowledges Ceccato, who he still refers to as the Master. But Ceccato’s work is little known, specially in the English speaking world. The introduction, critique and delineation of extension and resolution of Ceccato’s ideas in Glasersfeld’s work is the intended value of the paper.
For millennia people have wondered what makes the living different from the non-living. Beginning in the mid-1980s, artificial life has studied living systems using a synthetic approach: build life in order to understand it better, be it by means of software, hardware, or wetware. This review provides a summary of the advances that led to the development of artificial life, its current research topics, and open problems and opportunities. We classify artificial life research into 14 themes: origins of life, autonomy, self-organization, adaptation (including evolution, development, and learning), ecology, artificial societies, behavior, computational biology, artificial chemistries, information, living technology, art, and philosophy. Being interdisciplinary, artificial life seems to be losing its boundaries and merging with other fields. Relevance: Artificial life has contributed to philosophy of biology and of cognitive science, thus making it an important field related to constructivism.
The paradox of scientific expertise is that the growth of science leads to a fragmentation of scientific expertise. To resolve this paradox, this paper probes three hypotheses: 1) All scientific knowledge is perspectival. 2) The perspectival structure of science leads to specific forms of knowledge asymmetries. 3) Such perspectival knowledge asymmetries must be handled through second order perspectives. We substantiate these hypotheses on the basis of a perspectivist philosophy of science grounded in Peircean semiotics and autopoietic systems theory. Perspectivism is an important elaboration of constructivist approaches to help overcome problems in cross-disciplinary collaboration and use of science, and thereby make society better able to solve complex, real-world problems.
In philosophy, there is an as yet unresolved discussion on whether there are different kinds of kinds and what those kinds are. In particular, there is a distinction between indifferent kinds, which are unaffected by observation and representation, and interactive kinds, which respond to being studied in ways that alter the very kinds under study. This is in essence a discussion on ontologies and, I argue, more precisely about ontological levels. The discussion of kinds of kinds can be resolved by using a semiotic approach to ontological levels, building on the key semiotic concept of representation. There are three, and only three, levels of semiosis: nonor protosemiotic processes without representation, such as physical or causal processes, semiotic processes with representation, such as the processes of life and cognition, and second-order semiotic processes with representation of representation, such as self-awareness and self-reflexive communication. This leads to the distinction between not two, but three kinds of kinds: indifferent, adaptive and reflexive kinds, of which the last two hitherto have not been clearly distinguished.
Excerpt: As a young man worrying about the fundamental questions of philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology, McCulloch set himself the goal of developing an “experimental epistemology”: how can one really understand the mind in terms of the brain? More particularly, he sought to discover “A Logical Calculus Immanent in Nervous Activity.” The present paper will seek to provide some sense of McCulloch’s search for the logic of the nervous system, but will also show that his papers contain contributions to experimental epistemology which provide great insight into the mechanisms of nervous system function without fitting into the mold of a logical calculus. Moreover, McCulloch was not only a scientist but also a storyteller, poet, and memorable “character. ” I will thus interleave a number of characteristic anecdotes into the more objective attempts at scientific history that follow.
Analyzing the outline of the endless literature on consciousness, the separation between science and philosophy rather than being overcome, seems to come back in different shapes. According to this point of view, the hard problem seems to be how to study consciousness while avoiding a slip back to the old dualism. This article outlines the advantages of the phenomenological method. This method, more than getting over the mind-body separation, anticipates it through an open gaze, able to bring back the human presence as something structurally “ambiguous.” Reintroducing Husserl’s scientific project in a complete way, Francisco Varela opened up a research area yet to be explored, which promises to be fertile for neuroscience, provided that we accept that radicalism essential to phenomenology.
This chapter sketches an intellectual portrait of W. Ross Ashby’s thought from his earliest work on the mechanisms of intelligence in 1940 through the birth of what is now called artificial intelligence (AI), around 1956, and to the end of his career in 1972. It begins by examining his earliest published works on adaptation and equilibrium, and the conceptual structure of his notions of the mechanisms of control in biological systems. In particular, it assesses his conceptions of mechanism, equilibrium, stability, and the role of breakdown in achieving equilibrium. It then proceeds to his work on refining the concept of “intelligence,” on the possibility of the mechanical augmentation and amplification of human intelligence, and on how machines might be built that surpass human understanding in their capabilities. Finally, the chapter considers the significance of his philosophy and its role in cybernetic thought.
The paper is a reading of Martin Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Even) by means of Ranulph Glanville’s notions of black box, cybernetic control and objects as well as by George Spencer-Brown’s notion of form and Fritz Heider’s notion of medium. In fact, as Heidegger was among those who emphasized systems thinking as the epitome of modern thinking, did in his lecture on Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom a most thorough reading of this thinking, and considered cybernetics the very fulfilment of modern science it is interesting to know whether second-order cybernetics, as it was not known to Heidegger and as it delves into an understanding of inevitable complexity and foundational ignorance, falls within that verdict mere modernity or goes beyond it. If modern science in its rational understanding considers its subjects to be objects sitting still while being observed, then indeed second-order cybernetics is different. It looks into the observer’s interactions with black boxes, radically uncertain of where to expect operations of a self, but certain that we cannot restrict it to human consciousness.