Cybernetics is an advanced form of mechanism, but it is still mechanism, which I consider a poor metaphor for any living system—a metaphor missing the system’s very essence. Guattari argues that cybernetic machinery, which introduced the capacity to collect all manner of feedback to increase control, has, with the advent of the Internet, made elite control more insidious and effective than ever. He is right that elites have learned to control society by deliberately working to construct society itself as machinery and teaching people to see it as machinery, because machinery can be controlled. That does not mean that psyche, society, and nature are machinery. All living beings can read feedback from their environments!
The confusion of mechanism and organism is extremely widespread in today’s world and causes a great deal of confusion, even among scientists, especially those in Artificial Intelligence (AI). It accounts for such beliefs as that computers and/or robots will eventually come to life, that living cells can be assembled from molecular components, and that minds can be downloaded into computers. Physicist Fritjof Capra has done an excellent job of debunking these notions in his book, The Web of Life,
Chapter 5, Models of Self-Organization. Mechanistic thinking led the fathers of science in Europe to model the universe as clockwork and to Descartes’ belief that animals
were mechanisms devoid of feeling. As inventors of machinery themselves, these founders of science completely understood and controlled machinery and therefore believed that a mechanical universe would also be understandable and its forces subject to control at least here on Earth. They even projected their engineering abilities onto God as “Grand Engineer,” thereby seeing themselves in His image.
Unfortunately, there were no founding mothers of science to temper their hubris and work for a better understanding of life. Organism and mechanism actually operate
by completely different logical rules or principles that should not be muddled. A computer will not change in your absence without your instructions, while your colleague had better change while you are away or she or he will be dead. Mechanisms are allopoietic (other-created), requiring intelligent inventors, engineers, and operators to construct and maintain them according to plans and rules of operation programmed into them, while organisms are autopoietic, developing from seeds or eggs, with their plans, their self-governance, and ability to care for themselves inherent. By this same distinction, a complex evolving universe of pure matter/energy must indeed have been created and maintained by a “Grand Engineer” God, but throwing out its inventor and still calling it a mechanism is illogical.
An alternative scientific conceptualization of the universe—as in the view of paradigm shifters—is as a conscious living autopoietic universe in which mechanism, rather than consciousness, is an emergent product of living beings. Note well that every mechanism invented by humans is modeled on some naturally occurring creature or process, from weaving like spiders to pumping water like trees; from flying like birds to sounding like dolphins and computing like brains. Note also that the originals are created at ambient temperatures (no heat, beat, treat production) with no waste that is not naturally recycled and greater efficiency than any of our attempted copies.
I honor Naess’s deep ecology and Guattari’s recognition of psyche, culture, and nature as levels of ecosophy, but cannot logically promote an ecosophy in terms of cybernetic mechanics. Both pleaded for a human society fully integrated into the rest of nature, and with that I wholeheartedly agree.
Phi Beta Iota: We inserted the title for this extract from a forthcoming article. Science is dead and cybernetics is dead science. Only the full fusion of science and the humanities with philosphy and reglion — respect for humanity and the cosmos — will yield greater understanding and consciousness. Anything less is reductionist.