Steve Joshua Heims

Steve J. Heims, once a research physicist, had devoted his attention to the history of twentieth century science for the last two decades.

  • Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America

    The Cybernetics Group, 1946–1953

    Steve Joshua Heims

    Focusing on the Macy Foundation conferences, a series of encounters that captured a moment of transformation in the human sciences.

    In this sequel to his acclaimed double biography, John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener, Steve Heims recounts another fascinating story in twentieth-century intellectual history - a series of encounters that captured a moment of transformation in the human sciences. Focusing on the Macy Foundation conferences, which were designed to forge connections between wartime science and postwar social science, Heims's richly detailed account explores the dialogues that emerged among a remarkable group that included Wiener, von Neumann, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Warren McCulloch, Kurt Lewin, Molly Harrower, and Lawrence Kubie. Heims shows how those dialogues shaped ideas in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and psychiatry.

    Steve Joshua Heims, once a research physicist, has devoted his attention to the history of twentieth-century science for the past two decades.

    • Paperback $24.00
  • The Cybernetics Group

    Steve Joshua Heims

    The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

    This is the engaging story of a moment of transformation in the human sciences, a detailed account of a remarkable group of people who met regularly from 1946 to 1953 to explore the possibility of using scientific ideas that had emerged in the war years (cybernetics, information theory, computer theory) as a basis for interdisciplinary alliances. The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, as they came to be called, included such luminaries as Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Kurt Lewin, F. S. C. Northrop, Molly Harrower, and Lawrence Kubie, who thought and argued together about such topics as insanity, vision, circular causality, language, the brain as a digital machine, and how to make wise decisions. Heims, who met and talked with many of the participants, portrays them not only as thinkers but as human beings. His account examines how the conduct and content of research are shaped by the society in which it occurs and how the spirit of the times, in this case a mixture of postwar confidence and cold-war paranoia, affected the thinking of the cybernetics group. He uses the meetings to explore the strong influence elite groups can have in establishing connections and agendas for research and provides a firsthand took at the emergence of paradigms that were to become central to the new fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive science. In his joint biography of John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener, Heims offered a challenging interpretation of the development of recent American science and technology. Here, in this group portrait of an important generation of American intellectuals, Heims extends that interpretation to a broader canvas, in the process paying special attention to the two iconoclastic figures, Warren McCulloch and Gregory Bateson, whose ideas on the nature of the mind/brain and on holism are enjoying renewal today.

    Steve J. Heims, once a research physicist, has devoted his attention to the history of twentieth century science for the past two decades.

    • Hardcover $42.00

Contributor

  • Invention

    Invention

    The Care and Feeding of Ideas

    Norbert Wiener

    Internationally honored for brilliant achievements throughout his career, author of Cybernetics, ExProdigy, and the essay God and Golem, Inc., which won the National Book Award in 1964, Norbert Wiener was no ordinary mathematician. With the ability to understand how things worked or might work at a very deep level, he linked his own mathematics to engineering and provided basic ideas for the design of all sorts of inventions, from radar to communications networks to computers to artificial limbs. Wiener had an abiding concern about the ethics guiding applications of theories he and other scientists developed. Years after he died, the manuscript for this book was discovered among his papers. The world of science has changed greatly since Wiener's day, and much of the change has been in the direction he warned against. Now published for the first time, this book can be read as a salutary corrective from the past and a chance to rethink the components of an environment that encourages inventiveness.Wiener provides an engagingly written insider's understanding of the history of discovery and invention, emphasizing the historical circumstances that foster innovations and allow their application. His message is that truly original ideas cannot be produced on an assembly line, and that their consequences are often felt only at distant times and places. The intellectual and technological environment has to be right before the idea can blossom. The best course for society is to encourage the best minds to pursue the most interesting topics, and to reward them for the insights they produce. Wiener's comments on the problem of secrecy and the importance of the "free-lance" scientist are particularly pertinent today.

    Steve Heims provides a brief history of Wiener's literary output and reviews his contributions to the field of invention and discovery. In addition, Heims suggests significant ways in which Wiener's ideas still apply to dilemmas facing the scientific and engineering communities of the 1990s.

    • Hardcover $50.00
    • Paperback $25.00