THE CYBERNETICS SCARE AND THE ORIGINS OF THE INTERNET
In the late 1950s, as Soviet society began to shed the legacy of Stalinism, science and engineering became new cultural icons. The new, post-Stalin generation was fascinated with Sputnik, nuclear power stations, and electronic digital computers. The popular image of an objective, truth-telling computer became a vehicle for a broad movement among scientists and engineers calling for reform in science and in society at large. Under the banner of cybernetics, this movement attacked the dogmatic notions of Stalinist science and the ideology-laden discourse of the Soviet social sciences.
Proposed originally in 1948 by the American mathematician Norbert Wiener as a science of control and communication in the animal and the machine,1 cybernetics acquired a much wider interpretation in the Soviet context. Soviet cyberneticians aspired to unify diverse cybernetic theories elaborated in the West — control theory, information theory, automata studies and others — in a single overarching conceptual framework, which would serve as the foundation for a general methodology applicable to a wide range of natural and social sciences and engineering.2
The more Soviet society departed from Stalinism, the more radical the cybernetic project became. Step by step, Soviet cyberneticians overturned earlier ideological criticism of mathematical methods in various disciplines, and put forward the goal of “cybernetization” of the entire science enterprise. Under the umbrella of cybernetics, scientific trends that had been suppressed under Stalin began to emerge under new, cybernetic names, and began to defy the Stalin-era orthodoxy. “Biological cybernetics” (genetics) challenged the Lysenkoites in biology, “physiological cybernetics” opposed the Pavlovian school in physiology, and “cybernetic linguistics” (structuralism) confronted traditional comparative philology and historical linguistics. Soviet cybernetics enthusiasts set the goal of achieving a comprehensive “cybernetization” of modern science by representing the subject of every discipline in a unified, formalized way and by moving toward a synthesis of the sciences. They aspired to translate all scientific knowledge into computer models and to replace the ideology-laden, “vague” language of the social and life sciences with the “precise” language of cybernetics.
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