One of the lost classics of French philosophy, Cybernetics and the Origin of Information has never before been published in English. Raymond Ruyer—who was a major influence on Simondon and Deleuze, among others—originally wrote this book, one of the first critiques of Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics program, in 1954. At once critical and analytical, it is a deep exploration of information theory, cybernetics, and the philosophical assumptions and implications of both. Among the themes covered in the book are the main types of information machines, information’s relationship to behavior and communication, and the nature of entropy and time in cybernetics. This translation contributes to understanding the rich history of cybernetics and the philosophy of information. A true hidden gem in the history of philosophical thought, this text will help readers understand foundational criticisms of ideas that have led to artificial intelligence.
Raymond Ruyer (1902–1987) was professor of philosophy at the Université de Nancy. A highly original and prolific philosopher, he sought to provide a metaphysics adequate to the discoveries of science. Today his works are being rediscovered by a new generation, both in France and beyond. Cybernetics and the Origin of Information is his third book to appear in English translation, after Neofinalism and The Genesis of Living Forms.
Amélie Berger-Soraruff is research project manager at the Maison Française d’Oxford.
Andrew Iliadis is assistant professor of media studies at Temple University.
Daniel W. Smith is professor of philosophy at Purdue University.
Ashley Woodward is senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Dundee.
Translator’s Introduction: Raymond Ruyer and the Philosophy of Information
Note on the Translation
1. The Main Types of Information Machines
2. Framing Activities and Framed Mechanisms
3. The Space of Behaviour and Axiological ‘Space’
5. The Origin of Information
6. Negative Anti-chance and Positive Anti-chance
7. Past-Future and Cybernetics
8. The Mixed Origin of Information
9. Summary and Conclusion (to the First Edition)
10. The Problems of Cybernetics in 1967
About the Author and Translators
This book should be read by anyone interested in cybernetics, information theory, and the philosophy of information. In it, Ruyer critically distances himself from classic approaches to automation and information, which will shape the development of information and communication technologies in the following decades. His philosophical discussion is balanced and insightful, often anticipating much later debates, and when the history of the philosophy of information will be written, Ruyer’s work and this book will undoubtedly deserve a chapter. The translators must be congratulated for making this volume available in English, in an accessible and reliable translation.
Ruyer’s Cybernetics and the Origin of Information, in addition to being an important historical document, remains surprisingly relevant to contemporary debates about information technologies. Insisting that information has not one but two dimensions of mechanical transmission and the meaning it has for senders and receivers, Ruyer’s analysis sheds light on contemporary debates about whether algorithmic texts can have meaning. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the founding and contemporary periods of cybernetics.
Cybernetics is a hugely important part of the story of the twentieth century, persisting today in our imaginations, science fiction, language, and the stories we tell about ourselves, technology, and the future. While many critical texts and histories came from the US and UK, Ruyer's Cybernetics and the Origin of Information is key to the French story. This English translation opens this world of thought and this pivotal early cybernetic text to a broader audience, filling an incredibly important gap in the history and knowledge of computation. I couldn’t be more excited about this essential contribution.
Raymond Ruyer writes with remarkable prescience of cybernetics and information theory, anticipating the rise of AI as the formation of a new conceptual as well as material technics. He reveals the force of technology in transforming our lives, as well as its conceptual limits. This is an original critical study of information technologies, as well as a necessary counterbalance to some of its key aspirations to autonomous activity.
This is a welcome addition to the growing body of Raymond Ruyer's work now available in English translation. Ruyer's critique of the mechanistic theory of information remains as trenchant and timely as it was fifty years ago. His inquiry into information's origin and relation to living systems is especially pertinent to current discussions of the human-digital interface.
While we marvel at artificial neural networks and contemplate the disturbing prospects of deep learning technologies, third wave AI is still awaiting a philosophy. Raymond Ruyer’s discussion of cybernetics prepares the ground. His metaphysics of form and information offers profound insights for a critical appraisal of today’s ongoing revolutions.
Raymond Ruyer’s Cybernetics and the Origin of Information is not only a necessary read for understanding the history of the reception of cybernetics in France, but also for understanding the evolution of automation up to our time. This original and speculative treatise on information will continue contributing to the development of a philosophy of information in the twenty-first century.