Robots, Men, and Minds [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 22 (3):564-564 (1969)
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What starts out as a run-of-the-mill denunciation of mechanism and behaviorism in the physical and social sciences ends up with some exciting, if sketchy, suggestions for new conceptions of man and his world. The key words for Bertalanffy's psychology are symbolism and system. The former delimits what is uniquely human in human behavior; the latter replaces man as stimulus-response robot with man as "active personality system." After discussing the advantages and drawbacks of man's propensity for the symbolic construction of reality, the author turns his attention to the systems approach to an understanding of man. He warns against the common error of identifying cybernetics with general systems theory. The cybernated system, he feels, is still basically mechanistic, distinguishing itself only by the addition of a feed-back loop to make it self-regulative. It is still closed with respect to the introduction of matter or energy from outside the system, even though it is open to the introduction of information from outside. That is, no matter how complex the cybernetic system, it "can always be resolved into feedback circuits" and thought of in terms of "linear causality." The regulative behavior of general systems, on the other hand, is determined by goal-directed, dynamic interaction between many forces and variables in an open system. Bertalanffy points out that "no comprehensive theory of systems exists today." However, as a model the approach has many advantages, such as obviating the need for the "ghost in the machine" and suggesting some solutions to the mind-body problem. The book, originally the Heinz Werner Lectures at Clark University, is a provocative introduction to systems theory, and the bibliography is especially useful in suggesting further steps in the exploration of this exciting idea.--S. O. H.



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