Many workers in the biological sciences—physiologists, psychologists, sociologists—are interested in cybernetics and would like to apply its methods and techniques to their own speciality. Many have, however, been prevented from taking up the subject by an impression that its use must be preceded by a long study of electronics and advanced pure mathematics; for they have formed the impression that cybernetics and these subjects are inseparable.
The author is convinced, however, that this impression is false. The basic ideas of cybernetics can be treated without reference to electronics, and they are fundamentally simple; so although advanced techniques may be necessary for advanced applications, a great deal can be done, especially in the biological sciences, by the use of quite simple techniques, provided they are used with a clear and deep understanding of the principles involved. It is the author’s belief that if the subject is founded in the common-place and well understood, and is then built up carefully, step by step, there is no reason why the worker with only elementary mathematical knowledge should not achieve a complete understanding of its basic principles. With such an understanding he will then be able to see exactly what further techniques he will have to learn if he is to proceed further; and, what is particularly useful, he will be able to see what techniques he can safely ignore as being irrelevant to his purpose.
The book is intended to provide such an introduction. It starts from common-place and well-understood concepts, and proceeds, step by step, to show how these concepts can be made exact, and how they can be developed until they lead into such subjects as feedback, stability, regulation, ultrastability, information, coding, noise, and other cybernetic topics. Throughout the book no knowledge of mathematics is required beyond elementary algebra; in particular, the arguments nowhere depend on the calculus (the few references to it can be ignored without harm, for they are intended only to show how the calculus joins on to the subjects discussed, if it should be used). The illustrations and examples are mostly taken from the biological, rather than the physical, sciences. Its overlap with Design for a Brain is small, so that the two books are almost independent. They are, however, intimately related, and are best treated as complementary; each will help to illuminate the other.