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September 22, 2014

From Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings, published in 1950:


"Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must ac­cept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is per­fectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present reces­sion and even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many indus­tries — possibly even the industries which have taken advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an in­dustrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get out before the crash touches him personally."

Posted by gerardvanderleun at September 22, 2014 9:37 PM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

There were an interesting number of books published in the 50s and early 60s before Leery and Alpert and a few other psychologists took some dubious shortcuts to mental development using psychotropic and hallucinogenic drugs. They figured chemicals were better than good old mental exercise and personal efforts. I think it was just a rationalization for getting stoned but what do I know?

Here is a cross-reference to Wiener's book and the concepts he worked with taken from Wikipedia:

Psycho-Cybernetics is a self-help book written by Maxwell Maltz in 1960 and published by the non-profit Psycho-Cybernetics Foundation. Motivational and self-help experts in personal development including Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy have based their techniques on Maxwell Maltz. Many of the psychological methods of training elite athletes are based on the concepts in Psycho-Cybernetics as well. The book combines the cognitive behavioral technique of teaching an individual how to regulate self-concept developed by Prescott Lecky with the cybernetics of Norbert Wiener and John von Neumann. The book defines the mind-body connection as the core in succeeding in attaining personal goals.

Maltz found that his plastic surgery patients often had expectations that were not satisfied by the surgery, so he pursued a means of helping them set the goal of a positive outcome through visualization of that positive outcome. Maltz became interested in why setting goals works. He learned that the power of self-affirmation and mental visualisation techniques used the connection between the mind and the body. He specified techniques to develop a positive inner goal as a means of developing a positive outer goal. This concentration on inner attitudes is essential to his approach, as a person's outer success can never rise above the one visualized internally.

While the names Psycho-Cybernetics and Cybernetics seem to declare a close affinity, the domain of the former and the discipline and academic credentials of the latter are not bridged effectively in the writings of either.

Posted by: chasmatic [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 3:56 AM

Whew. After that lengthy and serious comment I say, roll 'em, I just ... feel somethin':

My ubiquitous uncle Louie Lozko, we all called him "Letsgo Lozko", he raised bantam chickens. I remember him saying on more than one occasion that he "never read any of them fancy books other than the Reader's Digest and neither did any a my chickens". they both did very well with that practice.

OK, out of my system.

Posted by: chasmatic [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 4:02 AM

Whew, chas, you beat me to it. What I get for wasting time sleeping..... The first thing that came to my mind upon reading this post was Maxwell Maltz, whose stuff is unfortunately sort of the basis for most of the New Age woowoo we're so buried in today - and whose adherents have largely given us the current political mess. I was introduced to Psycho-Cybernetics by my mother-in-law (never mind) in the middle '60s; no question that she'd be a gluten-avoiding Obama cultist if she were still alive. It was said of her that she was the type of hypochondriac who, if given a clean bill of health on a checkup, would find a new doctor. But I digress. What I'd bet most readers won't get here is that in 1950 "cybernetics" was the hip new word for computers and all their implications, which is what Norbert Wiener was on about. Maxwell Maltz, for all his unfortunate superficiality, came upon one profound insight - that (a) the brain equals a computer, and most importantly (b) that like a computer it will output what it's input, which implies that it can be programmed for better results. Garbage in, garbage out. Most of the readers of his stuff, I'd warrant, got about as far as using it as a roadmap to a new guru, which led to the whole "self-help"/Human Potential Movement explosion of the '70s, everything from Zig Ziglar to Fritz Perls to assorted cults. Howsomever.....It also gave me the basis, 40 years later, for understanding the arguments of Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac. Among other things, in the early part of that book Kramer advances a case for the biological (as opposed to psychological) basis for clinical depression, the study of which eventually led to the development of antidepressants like Prozac: Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors. Where this connects to Maxwell Maltz is Kramer's position that........the brain is like a computer. Rather than the facile assertion that You'll Feel Better If You Practice Positive Thinking (which after all is the sum total of Zig Ziglar/Tony Robbins/Emile Coue/every butterfly-brained actress divulging her latest Secret To Being Like Me)- Kramer makes the case that the human brain, being the supreme example of the adaptive organism, spends its existence gamely attempting to provide a sufficient answer to the problems with which it's been presented. If the problems proposed are insoluble, e.g. in the case of a mind damaged by prolonged abuse or externally-imposed insanity, then the mind will, like a computer, produce short circuits in an attempt to get around the crazy parts. And thus the self-adaptation is thwarted, and the cycle deepens. If a severely abused child, or a mind-blown combat vet, or a holocaust survivor is left (as most are) to continue on his own to Take It One Day At A Time, then when new situations/problems inevitably arise which the brain recognizes/mistakes for the same sort of double bind the short circuits take over and the cycle repeats itself, with increasingly dismal results. And it gets worse, not better, as time goes on and the life-situation gets more and more complex. Kramer's argument, popularized from the work of neuro-scientists who've been working at the mechanical causes of depression for at least as long as the Freudian/Jungian axis has been going at it from the psychological side, is that it seems to him well-established that the brain functions best and can heal itself in a sufficiently serotonin-rich environment - and therefore SSRI's like Prozac work. The implications of this are primarily that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is not inevitable or fatal, which of course was an occasion of great hope for guys like me. On a side note, it's to be said that Kramer's main thrust in Listening to Prozac is not the proposal of anti-depressants as a cure-all, but rather a thoughtful consideration of how the use of psycho-active medication may be altering the nature of human consciousness itself. Worth reading.

Anyhow, like you, I suspect, I find most fascinating about this whole phenomenon of the human awareness literature of the '50s is the aspect of it all happening at once, a wave of unaddressed angst in the culture breaking on the shores of the peaceful '50s. And here we are now, somehow.

Posted by: Rob De Witt [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 8:29 AM

Wiener's opinion works like the successful lie, just enough truth in it to perfume the bullshit. The exact same argument has been used since the dawn of the industrial age. Our present version of unemployment, idleness, and misery are entirely of a political nature and the culture which that has evolved.

"The astonishing fact revealed by economics and biology is that order generated without design can far outstrip plans men consciously contrive."--Hayek

The invisible hand versus the contrived hand.

Bondage to truth to courage to liberty to abundance to complacency to apathy to dependence to bondage.

Posted by: james wilson [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 8:32 AM

In the excerpt presented Wiener was speaking (accurately) of machines displacing less
economically-efficient people.
The burgeoning robotics industry is just the latest development supporting Wiener's forecast.
Our current education system fails by not anticipating these displacements and in not offering people adequate education for preparing them for jobs not economically done by robots or automated machinery.
Our current creed, a current which runs against our development, appears to be 'Stupidity rather than Lucidity.' We can't see beyond our eyelids because too many of us are asleep at the switch; the switch to human striving.

Posted by: Stug Guts [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 3:44 PM

I don't that "anticipating these displacements" and "offsering adequate education" will have much effect. Almost all work for almost all people is a lifetime of repetition. It was always so. Go here, pick berries, go there, dig roots. Hunt the mastadon this week, the deer the next week. Do it every day until you can't.

When the robots do all the repetition, almost everyone is ill-equipped to do the things that robots can't. More and more, only the smartest and brightest and clever and curious will have any work to do.

I see a dramatic trifurcation: deliberately natural people like the Amish, high-class "enhanced" technofolk, and "augmented" humans that work for the enhanced. Since the enhancements and augments don't exist yet, there's some trouble ahead before we're done.

Posted by: John A. Fleming [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2014 4:43 PM

The way I figure, there will always be a need for garbage collectors and light bulb changers and lumber toters and so forth. The trick to successful employment is knowing one's limitations and setting attainable goals.

Can't everyone be an astronaut.

Posted by: chasmatic [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2014 9:55 AM

@ John & chas -- Albert Einstein, asked about how he goes about solving problems as they arise, said something like, "If I have an hour to solve a new problem, I'd spend the first 55 minutes finding the right question to ask."
Do our schools teach kids how to think logically, illogically but effectively, creatively, in the box, out of the box, and as the box as well as the super ellipsoid?
Do they teach kids how to discover presumptions, assumptions and how to properly challenge them?
As you say, in effect it seems too many schools are actually teaching kids to behave as poorly-adapting robots! Time for curriculum and life experience changes to be promoted in schools.
What are appropriate incentives for hard work and persistence -- self-respect, self-development, selfless service to family, friends, and community? Do grade schools and high schools have various projects of the sorts that naturally result in these, let's call them, virtues. Robots do not have these emotion-driven qualities -- at least not yet.

Posted by: Stug Guts [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2014 4:34 PM

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