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Elle est une fausse connaissance.

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Il faut aller plus loin. Nous connaissons relativement mieux ce que nous croyons que ce que sont les justifications ultimes de ce que nous croyons Ils interrogent par exemple au lieu du physicien un oracle. La connaissance au service de la vie la meilleure. Ces trois motifs de plaisir sont les plus importants, mais il y a encore, suivant la nature du sujet connaissant, beaucoup de motifs secondaires Est-ce simplement une histoire?

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Desktop version Mobile version. Results per book Results per chapter. La destruction de la raison. Search inside the book. Table of contents. Cite Share. Cited by. Index Text Notes Author. Full text. However, there is a recurrent tendency in early French introductions to cybernetics to extend this genealogy, first of all with reference to the word itself.

La reconstruction de la raison

Linguistically speaking, Wiener's neologism was an inspired choice, a perfect crystallization of the technical and conceptual field he wished to describe. This attempt to reclaim the name of cybernetics is accompanied by a reconstruction of its scientific genealogy, a genealogy in which the importance of French contributions is highlighted.

Thus Pascal is invoked as a precursor in the construction of calculating machines, and Descartes for his analogies between the machine and the animal Latil, pp. Another type of domestication takes place, it could be argued, with respect to the lexical field of cybernetics. On the one hand, the science and technology informing cybernetics was international; it would be difficult to argue for any kind of cultural—scientific relativism in this respect. On the other hand, the manner in which some of the central concepts of cybernetics were translated into French was not entirely straightforward.

André Charrak, Empirisme et Métaphysique, Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines...

In the sample of texts considered here, it could be said that in certain cases the translation process creates a different constellation of terms in relation to the Anglo-American original. The result in the texts considered here is therefore a distribution or dissemination of the concept of control across a network of associated terms. In the generation of machines that informed Wiener's theorization of cybernetics, such control is effected by way of an information-bearing signal defining the actions to be performed.

The first term commande clarifies the semantics of sequence: the order or command is unidirectional and precedes its execution.


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The more general-purpose term asservissement describes the hierarchical control relationship between programme and servo mechanism, the second subordinated to the ends dictated by the first. If one is attempting to track the impact of cybernetics on the subsequent intellectual history of post-war France, it is interesting to note that it is the information-theoretical side of cybernetics, as articulated in sequences such as programme—code—communication—signal—message, that seems to have had the greatest impact on the development of structuralism.

While, as the preceding analysis has shown, these two sides of cybernetics are not in principle separable, it could be argued that a certain history of ideas has tended to privilege the information-theoretical side of cybernetics, in particular in its relation to structuralism, and tended to neglect the equally important question of how cybernetics might have contributed to French thinking and debate about technology in the s and s.

In the remainder of this article I will therefore take a closer look at the representation of technology in early French mediations of cybernetics. Latil, Guilbaud, and Ducrocq are categorical in their insistence that cybernetics is not simply about machines: this has become one of the popular perceptions of cybernetics that it is the duty of the informed science writer to correct. Like Wiener, they argue that the cybernetic revolution is as much an epistemological as it is a technological revolution. The principles it reveals are of the highest order of generality, applicable to living systems as well as to machines.

The following analysis will look at the different definitions of the machine provided by the three authors, as well as specific examples of key areas of post-war technological development: industrial production, aviation, and computing. The operation of this category of programmed machines is, however, rigid, its predetermined sequences of actions functioning at fixed intervals, as in clockwork mechanisms or punch-card-operated weaving machines or pianolas.

Or c'est bien brimer l'homme […] que de l'employer comme simple maillon dans une boucle d'asservissement. It is not only the factory system — the paradigmatic case of human alienation — that is subject to the effects of the cybernetic revolution. The post-war technological landscape is in fact marked by a range of higher-level substitutions of the human agent by the machine. In the field of aviation, for example, Ducrocq notes that the function of the pilot has been transformed over a period of less than twenty-five years. Whereas in flying was still an art, the pilot handling his or her machine in much the same manner as one would handle a horse, in the present day the pilot's perception, judgement, and actions are mediated by radar and a host of electronic equipment located both in the plane and on the ground pp.

The other key domain of machine substitution referred to by the authors is that of the human mind itself. It is certainly automatic, but its programme is rigid and thoroughly determined. It will perform, with spectacular speed, precision, and reliability, calculations that are beyond the capacity of the human computer, but it is not, properly speaking, cybernetic pp. Ducrocq notes a geometrical progression in the production of computers in Western-bloc countries, with a numerical preponderance of these machines in the United States and England.

Based on current trends, he predicts a doubling every two years in the number of computers in global use p.


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  • The computer is therefore paradigmatic of the acceleration in technological development experienced in the second half of the twentieth century, a development that is inseparable from the revolution in electronics. While, as Ducrocq reminds us, the basic principles of mechanical calculation remain unchanged since Pascal's invention of , the transition in the first part of the twentieth century to electromechanical operation gears activated by electric motors and more recently to properly electronic operation electrical pulses moving through circuits has led to exponential increases in calculating speeds.

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    The use of electrical signals as triggers and switches in these more recent machines has resulted in the definitive liberation of information processing from the inertia of mechanical parts Ducrocq, pp. Je recule mes limites. To summarize on the representation of technology: the taxonomy of machines and history of technology found in Latil, Guilbaud, and Ducrocq can be seen to constitute a convergent narrative that takes the reader from the simplest manifestations of human technical activity to the most advanced delegations of technical function in self-correcting machines.

    This quasi-teleological narrative allows the reader to understand the past and the present of technological development and also to extrapolate to its near future. In this respect, and in line with our initial description of cybernetics as a New Scientific Enlightenment, the representation of technology in these early texts is almost without exception a positive and optimistic one. It describes a universal history of technical perfectibility in which humanity achieves an ever more precise and effective control over the material world through the delegation of an ever-increasing proportion of human function to the machine.

    Like all universal histories, it designates significant turning points, in this case, pre- and post-war, the first half of the twentieth century and the second, in which advances in the rapidly moving field of electronics are integrated into a growing range of technical applications. Like all enlightenment narratives, it anticipates the liberation of the individual from servitude — in the second half of the twentieth century, servitude to mental as well as manual forms of labour.

    At the same time, through the universalization of the concept of information, this narrative proposes new ways of understanding the nature of life, mind, and society. The systematic optimism of these accounts of cybernetics — their confidence in humanity's capacity to understand, master, and adapt to its inventions — cannot be seen as entirely typical of post-war attitudes towards technology. The kind of scientific humanism they propose is indeed quite different from that of the founding father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, whose attitude towards the Second Industrial Revolution was somewhat more ambivalent.

    On the one hand, Wiener was deeply concerned about the unchecked effects of industrial automation in the United States. Part of the popular appeal of Cybernetics and The Human Use of Human Beings lay in their author's ability as a scientist to crystallize this ambient concern about technology and explain to an educated public what was different about the machines emerging in the wake of the Second World War.

    On the other hand, there was the continuing question, during what was now officially the Cold War, of the military applications of cybernetics. Wiener himself had worked on the automation of anti-aircraft weapons systems during the war, research that subsequently formed the basis of his first theoretical publications on cybernetics. Descriptions of automatic pilots and workerless factories alternate with references to guided missiles and pilotless rockets, supported by analogue computers designed to simulate their flight and digital computers to calculate their trajectories.

    These military developments of cybernetics are presented as facts rather than questions, part of the cutting edge of the autonomous technologies of the period. This article has examined two dimensions of the early reception of cybernetics in France. First, we have seen that this reception involves a process of domestication, both with respect to the prehistory of cybernetics and the patterning of its lexical field. If cybernetics as a named and designated field begins with the individual inspiration of a North American mathematician in , it must also be reclaimed and recontextualized as a properly international phenomenon.

    While the scientific and technical referents remain the same, the constellation of terms that describe and define them does not.


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    As I have suggested, the reconstruction of elements of this lexical field may be particularly useful in tracking the incidence of cybernetics in the subsequent intellectual history of France, across a wide range of thinkers and texts. The second part of this analysis of French cybernetics focused on the representation of technology. The texts considered above replicate Wiener's original evaluation that there is something qualitatively different about the technological revolution of the post-war period, and each of them attempts to provide the reader with an informed understanding of the science behind this revolution as well as its wider implications for society.

    It has been impossible to convey, within the space of this article, the sheer range of technical description and diagrammatic exposition presented to the reader in these accounts: it is necessary physically to open the books in order to get the proper measure of this technical culture. For this reason, the early French reception of cybernetics should be viewed as an important incubation period for subsequent debates about science and technology in post-war France, a field that is certainly in need of further exploration.

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