Among the many debates that characterized the Macy Conferences, which publicly launched the cybernetic movement, none were more heated and acrimonious than those generated by psychoanalysis. Although many of the participants were trained in psychiatry, neurophysiology, and psychology, only Lawrence Kubie was a practicing psychoanalyst.
Yet what is most surprising about the seminar is the attention and significance Lacan granted to cybernetics and information theory.... Indeed, on June 22, 1955, a week before its last yearly meeting, Lacan presented a paper to the Société française de psychanalyse entitled ‘‘Psychoanalysis and Cybernetics, or on the Nature of Language.’’... he asserts ... cybernetics was a new kind of ‘‘conjectural science’’ that for the first time made it possible to understand the autonomy of symbolic processes
It has to function in the real, independently of any subjectivity. This science of empty places, of encounters in and of themselves has to be combined, has to be totalized and has to start functioning all by itself. What is required for that? To support this, something must be taken from the real. From the beginning, man has tried to join the real in the play of symbols. He has written things on the wall, he has even imagined that things like Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin, get written all by themselves on walls, he has placed figures at the pot where, at each hour of the day, the shadow of the sun comes to rest. But in the end, the symbols always stayed where they were intended to be placed. Stuck in the real, one might think that they were just its landmark.
But cybernetics permits these symbols ‘‘to fly with their own wings’’ (300), that is, to operate simultaneously in the real and in the circuit of pathways Lacan calls ‘‘the discourse of the other.’’
In The Freudian robot, Lydia Liu analyses the links between psychoanalysis, cybernetics and digital media. ... At the heart of Liu’s book is the ‘‘emergence of Freudian robots in the post-war Euro-American world order’’, and ‘‘any networked being that embodies the feedback loop of human–machine simulacra and cannot free her/him/itself from the cybernetic unconscious is a Freudian robot
What is a Freudian robot? I define the Freudian robot as “any networked being who embodies the feedback loop of human-machine simulacra and cannot free her/him/itself from the cybernetic unconscious.”
I spent a lot of time researching how Lacan was first introduced to cybernetics and game theory and published the results in an article called “The Cybernetic Unconscious” in Critical Inquiry in spring 2010.
From the time he is said to have played a role in Shannon's designing of the Ultimate Machine to the publication of The Society of Mind (1986) and The Emotion Machine (2006), Minsky has long engaged Freud in unique and fascinating ways. His work suggests that Freudian psychoanalysis has shadowed the cybernetic experiments of AI engineers and theorists throughout the second half of the twentieth century down to the present
His term "the cognitive unconscious" derives from Jean Piaget, whom Minsky often cites along with Freud. Whereas Piaget introduces a distinction between affect and intellect as in his use of separate terms for "the affective unconscious" and "the cognitive unconscious;' Minsky has reformulated Piaget's ideas to absorb affect into the intellectual sphere, hence the Emotion Machine.
1995 is the centennial of the first good book on structural psychology, namely Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, which came out in 1895. It’s the first major work which discusses the mind as though there weren’t a single little homunculus or mastermind in the middle of it pulling the strings.
If you look at the later Freud a lot of people think that Freud must have studied emotions and emotional illnesses and disorders because that was the really hard and important problem, but Freud himself said the really hard thing to understand is how people do ordinary everyday non-neurotic reasoning.
The reason I suggested that he was a great AI researcher is that in trying to make this theory of how people’s motivations worked in this period 1895 and a couple years thereafter, he wrote this long essay, some of which is lost, for the Project for Scientific Psychology. The project wasn’t published until around 1950 by Carl Pribram, and it has little diagrams which are sort of neural network like, but more like the hydraulic motivation theory that later Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz won the Nobel Prize for, this diagram that is the foundation of modern ecological theory.
But the point is that Freud is an important figure because he’s the first one to consider that the mind is a big complicated kludge of different types of machinery which are specialized for different functions.
What is understanding? It seems to me that the problem that has happened in psychology on the whole and even in artificial intelligence, is that they’ve missed the lesson that Freud taught us, and I’m not saying that I’m a great admirer about the next 40 years of his research on psychosexual theories and so forth. I read a lot of that once but it seems to me that by 1905 Freud had produced a whole bunch of AI-like ideas that should have been followed up, but people got more interested in his theories of emotions and neuroses.
What is understanding? What I claim is that there isn’t any such thing. There is no such thing as consciousness...So what is there if there is no such thing as understanding? Here is a little paradox, it’s the reason that everybody in the philosophy business has gotten trapped into hopeless nonsense
The same thing with Penrose who says, “I don’t see any method by which a computer could be conscious, and so it must be...” – it’s like the real reason why people think that Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare is that they look at these plays and they say that nobody could write well enough to write these plays, so it must have been someone else!
Computer science was the first way of talking that let you think about how complicated processes could go on. So, that’s what’s missing in these traditional philosophers like Penrose and Searle, they’re still using the ordinary, naive ideas like understanding and consciousness.