======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 4 Number 6, Jul. 2005 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================

Cyber U

"Youth here doesn't seem to know about the disappearance of the old school." -- The Firesign Theater, 1971 "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005T7IS/hip-20 ) I have a dream, a vision, a plan, for an institute of higher learning called "Cybernetics University," employing the principles of cybernetics and systems theory in undergraduate and graduate education.


The beginning of this idea came when I was new student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I thought the best thing about the school was its location in the redwood forest overlooking the Pacific. I thought the worst thing about the school was the layers of bureaucracy over us imposed by the University of California system. It made me bristle that every time I paid a fee to the school I had to write a check to the "Regents of the University of California," implying the money went straight to Sacramento and that 25-person board of Important Personages chaired by the governor of California -- at the time a crotchety old right-winger named Ronald Reagan, who said of the Berkeley "People's Park" demonstrators "If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with," and then sent in the National Guard in who fired on the crowd, killing one person and blinding another. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People's_Park ) I would write my checks to "the Reagents of the University of California" in a pointless protest. (The cashier always accepted them anyway.) Closer to home, I was how the UC system hindered innovation and interdisciplinary exploration. I wondered how a privately funded school on a similar campus would fare in striking out in new, promising directions. During my freshman year I went hiking every week, to explore the forest I was in, and soon discovered there was undeveloped forest land west of campus, still visible today on Google Maps. ( maps.google.com/maps ) ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/kresge.jpg ) Some of it has been periodically logged. I think it's a slice of commercial timber land between the university and Wilder Ranch State Park. On one of these hikes I found an oak meadow on the edge of redwood forest, with an ocean view, on a south-facing hill. I thought it would a swell place to build a geodesic dome to live. While working at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the summer of 1973, ( www.beachboardwalk.com ) ( www.themeparkbrochures.com/maps/2004/scruz2004.html ) I would sometimes take my dinner breaks in a cafe with an upstairs ocean view, and while pumping quarters in the juke box to play the song "Been to Canaan" (1972) by Carol King ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00001NFOP/hip-20 ) would sketch floor plans for my dome in the meadow, which I began to think of as my "promised land." Later, in my mind the idea slowly changed into a plan for a private college on the same land, and the obvious question was, what would the curriculum be? I thought about that in the back of my mind for a while.


By my senior year I had put together an individual major in "Whole Systems," and as part of it taught a course in "Understanding Whole Systems" in winter quarter of 1975. I based by general design of the ten week class on the 9 minute film "Powers of Ten" (1968) by Charles and Ray Eames, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305943877/hip-20 ) which I showed at the first class meeting. If you haven't seen it, the film takes the audience on a voyage from human scale to out beyond galactic clusters, and then back in, continuing to the atomic nucleus. ( www.powersof10.com ) At that meeting I also handed out the course "SILLY-BUS" which was the first issue of a "Weekly Rag" of reprints and other information for the class that I produced on a mimeograph (including, in later issues, student-written book reviews and other stuff.) I have scanned page one of that first handout: ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ws_wr.jpg ) I cringe now at its aggressively jocular tone, and the fact that I recommended books I hadn't read. My students gave me feedback on that! As a convenience I am providing links to the books from that list that I still recommend. (Please note that this not the same as the curriculum I would devise today. That is a bigger project than hyperlinking this scanned document.) Here is the syllabus with each week's concepts, system of interest, and reading: WEEK: 1 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * information * the universe * system READING: * "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" (1969) by Buckminster Fuller ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671207830/hip-20 ) * "The Cosmic Connection" (1973) by Carl Sagan ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521783038/hip-20 ) WEEK: 2 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * entropy * solar system * feedback READING: * "View from a Height" (1963) by Isaac Asimov ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0380003562/hip-20 ) * "The Last Whole Earth Catalog" (1972) edited by Stewart Brand ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394709438/hip-20 ) WEEK: 3 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * synergy * eco/bio-system * pattern integrity READING: * "The Closing Circle" (1971) by Barry Commoner * "Purposive Systems: Proceedings of the First Annual Symposium of the American Society for Cybernetics" (1968) edited by Heinz Von Foerster WEEK: 4 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * teleology * (human) species * coevolution READING: * "Sciences of the Artificial" (1969) by Herbert Simon ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262691914/hip-20 ) * "The Descent of Woman" (1972) by Elaine Morgan ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0285627007/hip-20 ) ( www.grahamhancock.com/forum/MorganE1.php ) WEEK: 5 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * context * culture * steady state READING: * "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" (1971) by B. F. Skinner ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0872206270/hip-20 ) * "Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology" (1972) by Gregory Bateson ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226039056/hip-20 ) * "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" (1964) by Marshall McLuhan ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262631598/hip-20 ) WEEK: 6 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * humor * social structures * double bind READING: * "The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society" (1950) by Norbert Wiener ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0306803208/hip-20 ) * "The Pump House Gang" (1968) by Tom Wolfe ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553380613/hip-20 ) WEEK: 7 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * deutero-learning * the self * consciousness READING: * "Two Cybernetic Frontiers" (1974) by Stewart Brand ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394492838/hip-20 ) * "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg: Challenging Constructs of Mind and Reality" (1971) by Joseph C. Pierce * "The Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space" (1972) by John Lilly ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0870980637/hip-20 ) WEEK: 8 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * cancers * genetics, chemistry * viruses READING: * "The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA" (1968) by James Watson * "The Politics of Ecstasy" (1971) by Timothy Leary WEEK: 9 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * uncertainty * subatomics * I-Thou READING: * "The Soft Revolution: A Student Handbook for Turning Schools Around" (1971) by Niel Postman and Charles Weingartner ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440080835/hip-20 ) * "Mr. Thompkins in Paperback" (1965) by George Gamow ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521447712/hip-20 ) WEEK: 10 CONCEPTS: SYSTEM: * the tao * the void * reality READING: * "The Book (On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are)" (1966) by Alan Watts ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679723005/hip-20 ) * "Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change" (1971) by Victor Papanek ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0897331532/hip-20 ) Teaching this "student-directed seminar" was very educational, and some day I will write about it in more detail -- and scan the rest of the "Weekly Rags."


"Both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought." -- Napoleon Hill, 1937 "Think and Grow Rich" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0449214923/hip-20 ) Ten years passed. I made a new friend, Bob B., who convinced me to take the "est Training" (others had tried) and also of the virtue of having a goal to get rich. This at first seemed like heresy given my antimaterialist counter-culture roots, but as we debated the idea I began to see the logic of being able to afford to donate to causes, fund efforts for change, and otherwise make a difference with money as a resource. Then, during a period of prolonged financial crisis in 1985, I began to work on the mental aspects of creating prosperity. My text was the grandaddy of all self-help books, "Think and Grow Rich" (1937) by Napoleon Hill. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0449214923/hip-20 ) One of the suggestions Mr. Hill made was to write down goals and say them aloud every morning. I put together a list of goals with deadlines at five year intervals, from 1990 through 2020. Only a few of the goals were things I planned to accomplish; most of them were things I wanted to "have happen" -- not done by me. (By the way, I no longer recommend this form of goal-setting.) My goals included: * Geoscope operational ( www.well.com/~abs/geoscope.html ) * Somascope operational ( www.well.com/~abs/Somascope/Somascope.html ) * no nuclear weapons threaten humans * an end to starvation * human disease is eradicated * average human lifespan over 100 * healthy children possible to all parents * self-reproducing space colonies built in two years One of the few goals I actually DID want to achieve myself was: * Cybernetic University One day in the winter of 1986, as I recall, I spent the day with my friend Will A., riding buses around San Diego, looking at architecture, and just talking. He had seen my list of goals that I read aloud each morning, and the one he was curious about was "Cybernetic University." I must admit I didn't have many answers for his curious questions. I'd thought of "Cyber U" as -- obviously -- a place to build a college curriculum around cybernetics ands systems theory, but beyond that I hadn't worked much out. Still, having these words, "Cybernetic University," pass my lips each morning for years did begin to convince me of the importance and even inevitability of the idea.


One thing I know now, and didn't know then, is that the wealthy philanthropist who endows a university doesn't usually get to pick the faculty and courses. The tale of Walt Disney and Cal Arts is instructive, as told in "Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando" (2001) by Richard E. Foglesong. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0300098286/hip-20 ) I also came to understand that I'd was missing part of the point of the "Think and Grow Rich" approach: it isn't think ONLY, but think FIRST. The thought precedes, but does not replace, action. And I understand now that it is disempowering to wish for things and not get them. In setting goals, it is import to really want to achieve them; the affirmations and other tools are to feed that desire. The desire leads to finding a way, a realistic plan and determined action. (I just wanted the nukes to vanish without any effort on my part.) The flip side is that it is empowering to set goals and achieve them, leading to more confidence and more ambitious goals. A side effect of carefully choosing goals to commit to is ending up with a pile of "proto-goals," which might become goals later on but are now in limbo. This is where the Cybernetic University currently sits with me.


Even in its proto-goal state, the Cyber U has been coalescing in my mind. I realize now that it is more important to reform American education than indulge my old wish-fulfillment fantasies. My conception of the University has been redrawn based on the goals I want it to achieve. Here is a draft version of these goals: * preservation of knowledge There's no money in Encyclopedias anymore, but they are more essential then ever in a world of Information Overload. Wikipedia has shown the way. It is time for the Encyclopedia Universica, written by the masses, moderated by the grad students ender faculty supervision, with illustrations (some of them 3-D interactive) by the undergrads, threaded throughout with hyperlinked mathematical theorems. Work with the Long Now foundation, ( www.longnow.org ) described in "The Clock of the Long Now" (2000) by Stewart Brand, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465007805/hip-20 ) and create a set of carved titanium tablets of "The Way Things Work" (1988) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0395938473/hip-20 ) (or an improved version thereof) to help the next civilization. * making a fuller role in education for cybernetics, simulation, numerical experiments, Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" (2002) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1579550088/hip-20 ) and similar sytems-theoretical ideas. Obviously, the main course of this feast is cybernetics. Ashby's "Introduction to Cybernetics" (1959) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0416683002/hip-20 ) (now a free e-Book from the "Principa Cybernetica" web site) ( pcp.lanl.gov/ASHBBOOK.html ) provides a wonderful starting point. * increasing the rate of paradigm shifts According though "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (1967) by Thomas S. Kuhn, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226458075/hip-20 ) in the recent past it took a whole human generation for a new "paradigm" in science to prevail. When the last of the old guard retired or died a new paradigm would be swept in. An example of this is described in "Rejection of Continental Drift" (1999) by Naomi Oreskes. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195117336/hip-20 ) I observed that during the computer revolution, in that industry, paradigm shits happened much more quickly, such as mainframe to minicomputer to workstation to PC (to handheld to cell phone?). This has been done mostly by an influx of newcomers over and over, with a few superflexible mavens braided through. A goal of the Cybernetic University is to find ways to create faster paradigm shifts without people having to die, retire or change careers. There is a relevant item quoted in Michael Crichton's new novel "State of Fear" (2004), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0061015733/hip-20 ) in the bibliography: Dorner [umlaut over the o], Dietrich. "The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations." Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 1998. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201479486/hip-20 ) What prevents human beings from successfully managing the natural environment and other complex systems? Dozens of pundits have weighed in with their unsubstantiated opinions. Dorner, a cognitive psychologist, performed experiments and found out. Using computer simulations of complex environments, he invited intellectuals to improve the situation. They often made it worse. Those who did well gathered information before acting, thought systematically, reviewed progress, and corrected their course often. Those who did badly clung to their theories, acted too quickly, did not correct course, and blamed others when things went wrong. Dorner concludes that our failures in managing complex systems do not represent any inherent lack of human capability. Rather they reflect bad habits of thought and lazy procedures. * reducing the wall between between theory and practice, and other similar intellectual splits in our civilization C. P. Snow described "The Two Cultures" (1959) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521457300/hip-20 ) as being the humanists versus the scientists. But an even more insidious split is between thinkers and doers. This schism goes back at least as far as Athens, where Plato thought about shadows as abstract metaphors while slaves did the work. This abstract/concrete segregation persists in aerospace companies. When I worked at Rockwell in Downey in the same building where the shuttle Atlantis was being built, I was friends with an engineer on the shuttle project. He came to work every day in a white shirt and tie, and sat at a metal desk near the titanium body of the orbiter, at a beat-up old steel desk, with a mechanical pencil, waiting, while union machinists in overalls installed titanium parts on the airframe following "blueprints" which were really huge pen-plots from an IBM mainframe computer's CAD software. Infrequently they found something that didn't fit. Perhaps a hole was drilled in the wrong place for a bolt. The machinists would go to my friend and show him the drawing and the parts that didn't fit. The engineer would draw a new hole on the plot, and initial and date it, with his mechanical pencil. Then the machinists could drill the hole. They couldn't touch the pencil, and he couldn't touch the drill press. It used to be worse. As I explain in my self-published book "A Survival Guide for the Traveling Techie" (2005), ( travelingtechie.com ) a move in the direction of integration occurred in the 13th Century: ... in a collection of essays on the history of technology by Lynn White, Jr., called "Dynamo and Virgin Reconsidered" (1969, book) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262730243/hip-20 ) ... he tells how the Bendictine monks were ordered to pray by laboring. The had to do manual labor as a form of religious worship. This included hauling water in buckets for their gardens. They could read and write, however, and they had some of these old Latin and Greek documents on how to make pumps laying around, and so they re-invented the windmill, and began using wind power to pump water. (As long as illiterate peasants were the only ones who had to carry water, these innovations didn't happen.) This lit the fuse for the Industrial Revolution, which evolved through wind power, water power, steam power, diesel power and finally nuclear power. (Ironically we are now in the process in some areas of switching from nuclear to wind.) The Cybernetic University will attempt to blend the liberal arts and the technical arts, and mix engineering with philosophy, and work to further dissolve the archaic class barriers between analysis and action.


So with the above as goals, how do you come up with a plan that accomplished them? In "Earthwalk" (1975) by Philip Slater, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385032862/hip-20 ) the process by which societies change is mapped out: Someone volunteers for the job of prophet or messiah. They are going to tinker with the social order. But such tinkering is dangerous. So to avoid "crashing" the social system, the messiah goes off into the wilderness, and builds a MODEL of the social system, at first inside him or her, and later in a social system with the acolytes or disciples. Here the experiments are done, in what today's programmers would call a "sandbox." When the prophet has worked out a social change, she or he returns to society, preaches of the change, is promptly crucified, and then to make sure nobody is swayed by the preaching, the leadership circulates a rebuttal to the prophet. It is this rebuttal which eventually becomes the blueprint for change. Typically about a generation later the prophet's ideas become integrated into society. This, then is my plan (or "proto-plan") for changing America with the Cybernetic University. It is designed to be criticized, blackballed and secretly admired. For this reason I want to make it a non-residential school. I have seen the experiment of a "living-learning environment" at Kresge College in the 1970s. I seek to avoid the inevitable drug trips and sex orgies that seem to dog all "experimental" colleges, as far back at least to the 19th century. If they must happen, let them be off-campus and unaffiliated with the school. I think it is important for the Cybernetic University to vilified for the RIGHT REASONS: for its innovative curriculum.


The design (as it is currently evolved) of the curriculum at Cyber U has a matrix of subjects and methodologies. The methodologies are: * theory * lab/field work * computational experiments Students choose from subjects, some traditional and some not: * astronomy * biochemistry * computer interfaces * earth science * education * game design * homeland security * media epistemology * neuroscience * operations research * sustainability (&etc.) Each field does its own lab/field work. Students and faculty come together for theoretical tools and computational tools. Core courses include: * Ordinary Differential Equations (ODEs) and Partial Differential Equations (PDEs) + framing problems as ODEs and PDEs + analytical tools: linear and chaotic + computational and simulation tools for characterizing ODEs and PDEs * communications theory * cybernetics * fuzzy logic * genetic algorithms * network theory * machine learning * exploring the computability state space (Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science") * electronics and software for lab techs * design of control systems (for aircraft, chemical processes, prosthetics, &etc.) * simulation for "virtual labs" and gaming + Sim City + Sim Geology + Sim Plague (&etc.)


Right off, I can think of a bunch of people I'd love to have on the faculty: * Mary Catherine Bateson ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=%22mary+catherine+bateson%22 ) * Steve Birch ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22steve+birch%22+mindtel ) * Brian Eno ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22brian+eno%22&btnG=Search ) * Richard Friedhoff ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22richard+friedhoff%22 ) * Eric Frost ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22eric+frost%22 ) * Medard Gabel ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22medard+gable%22 ) * Alan Garfinkel ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22Alan+Garfinkel%22+PhD ) * Billy Martens ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&safe=off&q=%22william+martens%22+stereo&spell=1 ) * Steve Price ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22stephen+price%22+mindtel ) * Jeff Sale ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22jeff+sale%22 ) * Tom Van Sant ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22tom+van+sant%22 ) * Dave Warner ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22david+warner%22+PhD+MD ) * Stephen Wolfram ( www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&safe=off&q=%22Stephen+Wolfram%22 )


* this place would be a great venue to restart the World Game as an academic exercise * it would also be a great place to try Hesse's "Glass Bead Game" * for the Operations Research (OR) department: teach students how build interfaces between common OR software tools -- like linear and non-linear programming "solvers" -- and modern mission-critical web-services based enterprise applications, such as an airline scheduling system or a credit scoring system * the Education department will focus on pre-kindergarten through adult continuing education, and will work recursively -- older students will create curriculum for younger ones, including web pages, eBooks, Wikis, Java applets "labs", and of course educational games, working with the Game Design department * the Game Design department will study new games and the theory of game change, * also in collaboration with the Sustainability department, they'll bring back the "electrobash" in the context of recycling high-tech equipment * the Sustainability department will also study civil engineering, underground architecture, archologies, space cities, and do experiments like Biosphere II * I am inspired by the San Diego State University (SDSU) Masters program in Homeland Security, ( homelandsecurity.sdsu.edu/detail.php?id=68 ) especially Steve Birch's course in Sensor Networks ( www.sdsuniverse.info/story.asp?id=26711 ) in which the students learn how to implement and use wireless instrument networks for situation monitoring and geo-display * I am also inspired by the "schtick" of Steve Birch and Steve Price interacting to analyze the workability and suitability of vendor equipment, sort of a "tech" consumer reports, which they call "this crap sucks!" (See "electrobash" above.)


My current inkling is to locate it near Julian, CA, in the area of Mount Cuyamaca in San Diego County. This would necessitate a fire defense system (as we saw in the Cedars Fire of 2003), which might as well be built and maintained by another department: the Disaster Prevention and Response department.


What actually puzzles me is why the above ideas are not already mainstream in our universities. They seem obvious to me, so are not really controversial in my mind, but I am realistic enough to know that other people (many of them, and quite a few with a lot of power) do not agree with me, and so embarking on such a plan will kick up a lot of criticism and attack. I'm not even sure if I'm up to it. But it's nice to dream. Dreams are the nursery of plans. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ I was saddened to note the demise of "Weblog Bookwatch." ( www.onfocus.com/bookwatch ) In the on-line farewell address, "Goodbye Weblog Bookwatch," ( www.onfocus.com/2005/07/3715 ) site creator and maintainer Paul Bausch says: I got an email from my ISP today informing me that I was over my bandwidth limit. I thought that was odd, did I get Slashdotted and not know it? My logs didn't indicate any spikes. Nope, the problem was traffic from my machine. In other words, scanning close to 50,000 weblogs every six hours tends to use some bandwidth. That got me thinking about whether or not I can afford to keep the Bookwatch running. But what about all that sweet Amazon cash? It's true that the book links on the Weblog Bookwatch are an associate link to Amazon -- and I get a cut when people buy books through them. But it has never been a big money maker. In Q2 of 2005 I made $118.67, which isn't even close to covering a month of hosting with my current setup. Sounds like my story. He recommends these alternatives: * www.allconsuming.net * www.technorati.com/pop/books ======================================================================== newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047 ======================================================================== Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M from me, Alan Scrivener, at most once month. It may contain commercial offers from me. To cancel the e-Zine send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I receive a commission on everything you purchase from Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================== Copyright 2005 by Alan B. Scrivener