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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- On Artificial Intelligence
- He who would design a good brain must first know how to make a bad
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 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!