Ross Ashby

Ross AshbyIn science, W. Ross Ashby (1903-1972) was an English psychiatrist, mathematician, neuroscientist, and cybernetician noted for []

In 1943, Ashby reasoned that: [2]

“An outstanding property of the nervous system is that it is self-organizing, i.e. in contact with a new environment the nervous system tends to develop that internal organization which leads to behavior adapted to that environment.”

In 1947, Ashby followed this up with a concise set of principles of self-organizing systems, postulating that “a machine can be at the same time (a) strictly determinate in its actions, and (b) yet demonstrate a self-induced change of organization.” [2]

In 1952, Ashby, in his Designs for a Brain, as summarized by Judson Herrick (1956), was outlining some type of mechanical principles based model, via sections such as “state-determined system”, “organism as machine”, “molecular-basis for memory”, among others; some of which, however, seems error-filled, for example: [7]

“Any comparison of a state-determined system with the other types of system treated in physics and thermodynamics must be made with caution. Thus, it should be noticed that the concept of the state-determined system makes no reference to
energy or its conservation, treating it as irrelevant.”

Ashby, as summarized by American neurological anthropologist Terrence Deacon, defines a self-organizing system as one that spontaneously reduces its statistical entropy, but not necessarily its thermodynamic entropy—[a statement that, to note, makes no sense]—by reducing the number of its potential states, and in doing so equated self-organization with self-simplification. [1] Deacon attributes this entropy self-organization definition to one of Ashby's 1947 publications; possibly his “Principles of Self-Organizing Dynamic System” (check)? [4]

In the 1950s, the work of Ashby was being incorporated into the writings of those such as American mathematician Norbert Weiner. By 1960, the term self-organization was being found convoluted with entropy explanations.

Self- | Issues
In 1961, Ashby notes that: “the adjective [self-organization] is, if used loosely, ambiguous, and if used precisely, self-contradictory”. [2] On the question of organization, Ashby is quoted as asking the question: “can a system be self-organizing?” To which he answers: “no system can permanently have the property that it changes properties.” [6]
The following is another representative view:

“No organism reproduces itself. The only thing that ever has had such a claim made for it was the phoenix.”
— Ross Ashby (1962),“The Self-Reproducing System” [5]

(add discussion)

Information theory
Ashby's views on entropy, to note, seem to be predominately incorrect, being that at some point he began convolute his ideas on brain self-organization together with American electrical engineer Claude Shannon’s ideas on information entropy, in other words he took a ride on the Shannon bandwagon. [3]

1. (a) Ashby, W. Ross. (1952). Design for a Brain. John Wiley & Sons.
(b) Ashby, W. Ross. (1956). An Introduction to Cybernetics. Chapman & Hall.
(c) Ashby, W. Ross. (1962). “Principles of the Self-Organizing Systems”, in: Principles of Self-Organization: Transaction of the University of Illinois Symposium (editors: H. Von Foerster and G.W. Zopf). Pergamon Press.
(d) Deacon, Terrence W. (2011). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (pgs. 243, 551-52). W.W. Norton & Co.
2. Dyson, George. (1997). Darwin Among the Machines (pg. 175-76). De Capo Press.
3. Ashby, Ross W., and Conant, Roger. (1981). Mechanisms of Intelligence (pg. 237). Eipiphiny Society.
4. Ashby, W. Ross. (1947). “Principles of Self-Organizing Dynamic System”, Journal of General Psychology, 37:125-28.
5. Ashby, W. Ross. (1962). “The Self-Reproducing System”, in: Aspects of the Theory of Artifical Intelligence (editor: C.A. Muses) (pgs. 9-18). Plenum Press; in: Mechanisms of Intelligence (pgs. 75-83). Eipiphiny Society.
6. Ross Ashby (quotations) – George Washington University.
7. (a) Ashby, W. Ross. (1952). Designs for a Brain: the Origin of Adaptive Behavior (txt) (state-determined, 59+ pgs; irrelevant, pg. 252). Springer, 2013.
(b) Herrick, C. Judson. (1956). The Evolution of Human Nature (abs) (pg. 130). University of Texas Press.

External links
‚óŹ William Ross Ashby – Wikipedia.

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