What Ashby Says...


On Science
Science is The Oberserver's Digest.
The Cyberneticist observes what might have happened but did not.
A System is a set of variables sufficiently isolated to stay discussable while we discuss it.

On Man
Division of the world's system into Natural and Man-made died with Darwin.
Man is not the measure: first comes the measure, then we see where he falls; so far the result has always been humiliating.

On Evolution
The brain is merely Nature's latest means of self-preservation.
The goals of a species, such as Homo, are what natural selection has driven it to.
Poor M. Jourdain! He now has to understand that he has been behaving homeostatically all his life, when he thought he was merely minding his business.

On Psychology
For two thousand years psychology was a simple description of Man's highest faculties--most of which he does not posses.
The scientist does not believe in effects without causes, not even when they happpen in the brain.

On Introspection
A man no more knows how he thinks, just because he has a brain in his skull, than he knows how he makes blood, because he has marrow in his bones.

On The Brain
The brain has no brain inside to guide it.
To think is to act--inside the brain.
The brain controls nothing--it transmits.
The brain organizes nothing--it acts.
The brain has no gimmick, just five billion years of research and development.

On Neurophysiology
Natural selection insists that the nature of the parts shall be irrelevant fo the behavior

On Learning
No man knows what to do against the really new.
All wisdom is wisdom after the event.
Every system changes its mind by breaking.
The educated brain is the wreckage left after the experiences of training.

On Memory
Don't appoint, as the President's driver, an Englishman who has spent thirty years learning to drive on the left.
A system that stores its memories away from their site of action must do much work remembering where it put that memory.

On Intelligence
Today, those who don't know what "intelligence" means must give way to those who do.
A mechanism is "brain-like" so far as it is effective.
The only people who talk today of "real" intelligence are those who hope to find a meaning for the adjective later.
Intelligent is as intelligent does.
That the brain matches its environment is no more surprising than the matci ******* the two ends of a broken stick.
Change the environment to its opposite and every piece of wisdom becomes the worst of folly.
For every bump of the phrenologist there exists an environment that demands a depression.
Everyone is World Champion at some game (although some of the games have not yet been recognized).
An Intelligence Test measures the degree to which Tester and Subject think alike.
Is there a general intelligence? A universal Weapon is as likely.

On Logic
A man can be a pure logician only if it makes him feel good.
Every skilled dramaticist understands the inexorable logic of the emotion.

On Artificial Intelligence
He who would design a good brain must first know how to make a bad one.
Pattern-recognition is a throwing away of information.
Any device that can lose information can generalize.

On Deduction
Deduction is the running-down of a determinate mechanism.
Newton arrived at F = ma after a part-random search; the apple arrived at the ground by pure deduction.

On Computers
The general purpose computer is freer than the trained brain.
Today's digital computer is organized like an army of a million men that can only get two into action at a time.

On Organization
It is an open question which has the richer organization: a living cow or a working silo.
Which biological organization proved more resistant to the Spainards: the Aztecs of Mexico or the jungle of the Amazon?
Can a system be self-organizing? No system can permanently have the property that it changes properties.

On Requisite Variety
Man adapts by conquering the reducible; the irreducible is impregnable.
We have broken into the Aladdin's cave of brain-like mechanisms; we find we can have anything we like--provided we pay for it!