Item – Thèses Canada

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Wright, Katharine Celeste,1970-
Being human in postwar American thought and culture : a history from the cybernetic perspective.
Ph. D. -- University of Toronto, 2003
Ottawa : National Library of Canada = Bibliothèque nationale du Canada, [2004]
3 microfiches.
Includes bibliographical references.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, cybernetics offered the idea that man and machine could be understood using the same functionalist analysis. In the form that mathematician Norbert Wiener popularized it, cybernetics was also deeply conflicted by the implications of this common analysis, and fought to preserve the idea that true thinking was a uniquely human capacity. During a period when many scientists were re-examining the role science ought to play in the postwar age, the cybernetics conferences sponsored by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation were a forum for discussing the nature and role of science. Cybernetics is particularly well suited to cultural history, since it resonated with an American cultural mood that included Cold War anxieties, and worries that communism indicated that human beings could degenerate into unthinking, perfectly obedient robots. The Macy conferences as well as Norbert Wiener's published books emphasizing the dangers of the nuclear and machine age--urgent problems to which cybernetics might provide solutions--attracted a reasonable amount of attention from the popular press. The idea of the individual was also widely perceived to be under threat, ostensibly due to the mindless conformity of postwar life. This thesis explores the ways in which cybernetics understood, affected, and reflected the conceptions of human beings and machines dominant in postwar American thought and culture. Reading cybernetics in light of the cultural preoccupations of the period shows that far from being the prophetic movement historians have often thought, it was very much rooted in its time. Other historians have argued that cybernetics was the foundation of a new era in American thought and culture, bringing about a period that N. Katherine Hayles calls posthuman. The thesis concludes with a critical examination of posthumanism and its relationship to cybernetics.