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(1) The science of communication and control in animal and machine. (2) Perhaps because the field is still young, there are many definitions of cybernetics. Norbert Wiener, a mathematician, engineer and social philosopher, coined the word "cybernetics" from the Greek word meaning steersman. He defined it as the science of communication and control in the animal and the machine. Ampere, before, him, wanted cybernetics to be the science of government. For philosopher Warren McCulloch, cybernetics was an experimental epistemology concerned with the communication within an observer and between the observer and his environment. Stafford Beer, a management consultant, defined cybernetics as the science of effective organization. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson noted that whereas previous sciences dealt with matter and energy, the new science of cybernetics focuses on form and pattern. (3) A way of looking at things and a language for expressing what one sees (Margaret Mead)
The term derives from the Greek word for steersman. Initially, the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine (Wiener). Before this modern definition, the science of government (Ampere). Now an interdisciplinary approach to organization, irrespective of a system's material realization. Whereas general systems theory is committed to holism on the one side and to an effort to generalize STRUCTURal, BEHAVIORal and developmental features of living organisms on the other side, cybernetics is committed to an epistemological perspective that views material wholes as analysable without loss, in terms of a set of components plus their organization (see epistemology, analysis, system). Organization accounts for how the components of such a system interact with one another, and how this interaction determines and changes its structure. It explains the difference between parts and wholes and is described without reference to their material forms. The disinterest of cybernetics in material implications separates it from all sciences that designate their empirical domain by subject matters such as physics, biology, sociology, engineering and general systems theory. Its epistemological focus on organization, pattern and communication has generated methodologies, (see methodology) a logic, laws, theories and insights that are unique to cybernetics and have wide-ranging implications in other fields of inquiry.

In cybernetics, theories tend to rest on four basic pillars: variety, circularity, process and observation. Variety is fundamental to its information, communication and control theories and emphasises multiplicity, alternatives, differences, choices, networks, and intelligence rather than force and singular necessity. Circularity occurs in its earliest theories of circular causation or feedback, later in theories of recursion and of iteration in computing and now involving self-reference in cognitive organization and in autonomous systems of production (see autopoiesis). Traditional sciences have shied away from if not exorcised the use of circular explanations. It is this circular form which enables cybernetics to explain systems from within, making no recurse to higher principles or a priori purposes, expressing no preferences for hierarchy. Nearly all cybernetic theories involve process and change, from its notion of information, as the difference between two states of uncertainty, to theories of adaptation, evolution and growth processes. A special feature of cybernetics is that it explains such processes in terms of the organization of the system manifesting it, e.g., the circular causality of feedback loops is taken to account for processes of regulation and a system's effort to maintain an equilibrium or to reach a goal. Finally, observation including decision making is the process underlying cybernetic theories of information processing and computing. By extending theories of self-reference to processes of observation including cognition and other manifestations of intelligence, cybernetics has been applied to itself and is developing an epistemology of systems involving their observers (see second-order cybernetics) qualitatively unlike the earlier interest in the ontology of systems which are observed from the outside (see first-order cybernetics).

The early contributions of cybernetics were mainly technological (see technology), and gave rise to feedback control devices, communication technology, automation of production processes and computers. Interest moved soon to numerous sciences involving man, applying cybernetics to processes of cognition, to such practical pursuits such as psychiatry, family therapy, the development of information and decision systems, management, government, and to efforts to understand complex forms of social organization including communication and computer networks. The full potential of cybernetics has not yet been realized in these applications. Finally, cybernetics is making inroads into philosophy. This started by providing a non-metaphysical teleology and continues by challenging epistemology and ethics with new ideas about limiting processes of the mind, responsibility and aesthetics. (Krippendorff)

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