W. Ross Ashby quotes

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W. Ross Ashby

Birthdate: 6. September 1903
Date of death: 15. November 1972

W. Ross Ashby was an English psychiatrist and a pioneer in cybernetics, the study of the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things. His first name was not used: he was known as Ross Ashby.

His two books, Design for a Brain and An Introduction to Cybernetics, were landmark works. They introduced exact and logical thinking into the brand new discipline of cybernetics and were highly influential. Wikipedia

„All the changes that may occur with time are naturally included, for when plants grow and planets age and machines move some change from one state to another is implicit.“

—  W. Ross Ashby

Source: An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956), Part I: Mechanism, p. 9: Chapter 2 Change, lead paragraph.
Context: The most fundamental concept in cybernetics is that of "difference", either that two things are recognisably different or that one thing has changed with time. Its range of application need not be described now, for the subsequent chapters will illustrate the range abundantly. All the changes that may occur with time are naturally included, for when plants grow and planets age and machines move some change from one state to another is implicit. So our first task will be to develop this concept of "change", not only making it more precise but making it richer, converting it to a form that experience has shown to be necessary if significant developments are to be made.

„Cybernetics treats not things but ways of behaving.“

—  W. Ross Ashby

Source: An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956), Part I: Mechanism, p. 1; As cited in: Stuart A. Umpleby, "Ross Ashby's general theory of adaptive systems." International Journal of General Systems 38.2 (2009): 231-238.
Context: Cybernetics treats not things but ways of behaving. It does not ask “what is this thing?” but “what does it do?”... It is thus essentially functional and behaviouristic. Cybernetics deals with all forms of behavior in so far as they are regular, or determinate, or reproducible. The materiality is irrelevant... The truths of cybernetics are not conditional on their being derived from some other branch of science. Cybernetics has its own foundations.

„Variety can destroy variety.“

—  W. Ross Ashby

Source: An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956), Part 3: Regulation and control, p. 207

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„Every isolated determinate dynamic system, obeying unchanging laws, will ultimately develop some sort of organisms that are adapted to their environments.“

—  W. Ross Ashby

Ashby (1962), quoted in: V. Lawrence Parsegian (1972) This cybernetic world of men, machines, and earth systems'. p. 178: About the principle of self-organization

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