[ Home ] [ Biography ] [ Archive ] [ Pictures ] [ Homeostat ] [ What Ashby Says... ] [ FAQ... ] [ Sports Cars ] [ Autobiographical Notebook ] [ End ]
What Ashby Says...
See also the following two web sites.
Ross Ashby collected together a series of his own quotes, loosely based in
Cybernetics themes, some of which he distributed to his students. This is
the complete set taken from his card indexes in the Ashby
On Science [wrasa168.tif]
- Science is the
Observer's Digest. [wrasa169.tif]
- The Cyberneticist observes what
might have happened but did not. [wrasa001.tif]
- A System is a set
of variables sufficiently isolated to stay constant long enough for us to
discuss it. [wrasa002.tif]
- Division of the world's system into Natural and
Man-made died with Darwin. [wrasa003.tif]
- Man is not the measure:
first comes the measure, then we see where he falls; so far the result has
always been humiliating. [wrasa004.tif]
- Man pays for his
knowledge with humiliation. [wrasa005.tif]
On Self Repair
- The fault cannot be in the part responsible for
the repair. [wrasa006.tif]
- The scientist does not believe in events without
causes, not even when they happen in the brain.
- Introspection is the output of the verbalising
- The brain is merely Nature's latest means of
- The goals of a species, such as
Homo, are what natural selection has driven it to.
On Goals [wrasa047.tif]
- The goals in
evolution are what a spicies has been forced to.
On Essential Variables
- Poor M. Jourdain! He now has to understand that he
has been behaving homeostatically all his life, when he thought he was
merely minding his business. [wrasa018.tif]
- For two thousand years psychology was a simple
description of Man's highest faculties--most of which he does not posses.
On Introspection [wrasa084.tif]
- That homo
has a brain no more entitles him to assume he knows how he thinks than
possession of a liver entitles him to assume that he knows how he
- A man no more knows how he thinks,
just because he has a brain in his skull, than he knows how he makes
blood, because he has marrow in his bones. [wrasa011.tif]
- The brain is natures latest and feroucious
instrument of self preservation. [wrasa017.tif]
- The brain has no
brain inside to guide it. [wrasa016.tif]
- Remember: The brain has
no brain inside to guide it. [wrasa012.tif]
- To think is to act--inside the brain.
On the Brain as controller
- The brain controls nothing--it transmits.
On Organisation in the Brain
- The brain organizes nothing--it acts.
- The brain has no gimmick, just five billion years
of research and development. [wrasa172.tif]
- The brain knows
nothing of how it ought to act; it knows only what it does.
- The test of a brain is its achievement of a goal.
- Note for the sociologist:
- The brain uses compulsion throughout.
On the "absolute" Brain
- Every brain is also an anti-brain.
On the "brain-like" mechanism
- No system is brain like - every system is brain
like - as you please. [wrasa043.tif]
- Natural selection has insists that neuronic
details shall be irrelevant for whole behavior.
- Natural selection insists that the nature of the
parts shall be irrelevant for the behavior. [wrasa173.tif]
neurone is the one unit that, in psychology, is quite devoid of interest,
it is too small to be visible in the man's action, and too large to be
sufficient in memory. [wrasa027.tif]
- The neurone is the one unit
that, in behaviour, is quite devoid of interest today; it is too small to
be noticeable in a man's action, and too gross to carry a trace of memory.
- No mammal will ever understand the mammalian brain
- The man who talks today of probability
in the brain is usually trying to return to the days when everything in
the brain was so delightfully vague. [wrasa028.tif]
On the unforseen [wrasa050.tif]
- No man
knows what to do against the really new. [wrasa050.tif]
wisdom is wisdom after the event. [wrasa051.tif]
- When a machine
breaks, it changes its mind. [wrasa049.tif]
- Every system changes
its mind by breaking. [wrasa175.tif]
- The educated brain is the
wreckage left after the experiences of training.
On Adult Adaptation [wrasa048.tif]
adult brain is the wreckage left by the experiences of childhood.
On Memory [wrasa176.tif]
On the value of
- Don't appoint, as the President's
driver, an Englishman who has spent thirty years learning to drive on the
- A system that stores its memories away from
their site of action must do much work remembering where it put that
- Today, those who don't know what "intelligence"
means must give way to those who do. [wrasa032.tif]
On the "brain
like" control mechanism [wrasa034.tif]
- A mechanism is
"brain-like" so far as it is effective: there is nothing more.
- The only people who talk today of "real"
intelligence are those who hope to find a meaning for the adjective later.
- Intelligent is as intelligent does.
- The drive to equilibrium forces the emergence of
- That the brain matches its
environment is no more surprising than the matching of the two ends of a
broken stick. [wrasa037.tif]
- Change the environment to its
opposite and every piece of wisdom becomes the worst of folly.
- For every bump of the phrenologist there exists an
environment that demands a depression. [wrasa039.tif]
- Everyone is
World Champion at some game (although some of the games have not yet been
- An Intelligence Test measures the
degree to which Tester and Subject think alike. [wrasa179.tif]
there a general intelligence? A universal weapon is as likely.
On Wisdom [wrasa040.tif]
- Every piece of
wisdom is the worst folly in the opposite environment.
On IQ [wrasa044.tif]
- The test mesures
only the degree to which Subject and Composer think alike.
On Logic [wrasa181.tif]
- A man can be a
pure logician only if it makes him feel good.
- Every skilled dramaticist understands the
inexorable logic of the emotion. [wrasa182.tif]
- He who would design a good brain must
first know how to make a bad one.
- Pattern-recognition is a throwing away of
- Any device that can lose information
can generalize. [wrasa070.tif]
- Deduction is the running-down of a determinate
- Newton arrived at F = ma after a
part-random search; the apple arrived at the ground by pure deduction.
On Computers [wrasa052.tif]
- The general
purpose computer is freer than the trained brain.
- Whether a computer can be "really" inteligent is
not a question for the philosophers: they know nothing about either
computers or intelligence. [wrasa054.tif]
- Today's digital
computer is organized like an army of a million men that can only get two
into action at a time. [wrasa056.tif]
- Today's digital computer
has a group velocity that is about a millionth of its wave velocity
On Organization [wrasa064.tif]
- It is an
open question which has the richer organization: a living cow or a working
- Which biological organization proved more
resistant to the Spaniards: the Aztecs of Mexico or the jungle of the
- Can a system be self-organizing? No system
can permanently have the property that it changes properties.
On Requisite Variety [wrasa073.tif]
adapts by conquering the reducible; the irreducible is impregnable.
- We have broken into the Aladdin's cave of
brain-like mechanisms; we find we can have anything we like--provided we
pay for it! [wrasa073.tif]
On Localisation of Memory
- Any system that stores its memories away from the
site of action must do much work in remembering where it has put that
On "Genius" [wrasa074.tif]
magician is a man who does not show all that is significant.
- Every prediction is an operation on the past
- A "Genius" is a man who shows the public
only the results of his labours. [wrasa076.tif]
- To be a thing is to behave in a certain way when
explored with mechanical forces. [wrasa077.tif]
- No man knows what
to do against the purely new. [wrasa050.tif]
- A long sequence of
symbols each form a [wrasa053.tif]
- No the self-organising system.
- 1 No locomotive can be self-pushing, 2 No cat can
be self-washing, 3 No animal can be self-observing, 4 No man can be
- Fro every faculty there is an environment that
pessimises it. [wrasa083.tif]
- We cannot read the book of God,
only the observer's digest. [wrasa078.tif]
- Random choice is an
abrogated choice. [wrasa079.tif]
- "Random" means "you do the
- We show only the inteligence there is
in the environment. [wrasa081.tif]
- The computer can do more than
the trained brain. [wrasa082.tif]
- The rule for decision is: Use
what you know to narrow the field as far as possible: after that, do as
you please. [wrasa085.tif]
- Any system that acheves appropriate
selection (to a degree better than chance) does so as a consequence of
information received. [wrasa087.tif]
- The species is fundamentally aimless (it finds its
goals as it goes along). [wrasa089.tif]
- To recognise a class is to throw away information
- Some say that a first requirement is that it shall
weigh 45 ounces. [wrasa092.tif]
On adapting to a changing world
- No system adapts to the changing: it can adapt
only to what is constant. [wrasa093.tif]
- To speak of human
behaviour, & then to speak of the neuron, is to show that one has not
yet developed a sense of proportion. [wrasa094.tif]
- Only the
environment can design a brain. [wrasa095.tif]
On making an
artificial brain [wrasa096.tif]
- Man's brain contains no blue
print for brains against non-human environments.
On the brain's secret [wrasa097.tif]
secret of the mammalian brain is that it has long and slavishly fashioned
itself to its environment. [wrasa097.tif]
- To refer to the
head-ganglion of Homo sapiens as "Man's brain" is to appeal to our lowest
- Only the incorigibly sentimental speak
of "Man's brain". Those who wish to stay clean - headed speak of the "head
ganglion of Homo sapiens". [wrasa099.tif]
- The liver is the brain
of the inner world. Brain to the inner world is the liver.
On the ethics of a system
- A computer knows no ethics, only its set goal.
- It is only within the memory of living men that
psychology turned from studying how man ought to think, to how he does
actually think [wrasa102.tif]
- Any gibbon, as it throws itself on
parabolic arcs from branch to brance, demonstrates its knowledge of
Newtonian dynamics. [wrasa103.tif]
- What Homo knows at any moment, of the actual
future is absolutely nothing [wrasa104.tif]
- As every machine goes to equilibrium, it selects
- Functionally, the behaviou is the brain.
On Altruism [wrasa107.tif]
- "Help one
another" is the selfishness of the species.
- "Logic" and "logical" are so degraded today that
they convey no useful information. They are still used chiefly because
they look well, either by the **** or by the unthinking
On Music [wrasa109.tif]
- Every dynamic
system has its preferred modes of vibraiton, perhaps simple, perhams
- Rhapodise as you will, a law of nature is
just a constant. [wrasa110.tif]
- Instincts of Homo
- This species is perculiar in that members make an
ever-***** habit of attacking & exter*** weaker groups of their own
On the evolution of Homo sapiens
- For ninety nine hundredths of this time (before
any traces of town dwelling) he inproved chiefly in his efficency in
killing big game & other branches of his own species.
- The specially human part of the brain has been
evolved for the chase and for tribal warfare. The final evolution allowed
armies of continental size to massacre on a continental scale.
- Every one of the faculties boasted of by Man can
become a humilating or fatal embarassment when the environment is not the
usual type. [wrasa114.tif]
- The man who speaks today of free will
is merely a ***** confusiounist [wrasa115.tif]
- The man who talks
of free will in the 60's is trying to pump fog into a situation that he
fears is clearing. [wrasa116.tif]
- Man can remember only those
things that nuatural selection has arranged that he should.
- A concept is that which (which) survives, is
stable under a sequence of operations [wrasa118.tif]
- The brain
takes information from where it is useless & moves it to where it is
- The heart is a mechanical pump - love lies
else where; the brain is an information - processor.
- When the brain is a covection channel it is as
selfish as the heart is unfeeling, when it pumps.
- In the 60's, to introduce the topic of is to
introduce fog into a clearifying situation. [wrasa122.tif]
application of quantitative methods to the brain will squeeze the
remaining superstitions from our ideas about it.
- The whole fuction of the brain is summed up in :
error -correction [wrasa124.tif]
- As God has to monitor his
actions*, so must the brain monitor it. *And he saw the light that it was
On decision processes
- The brain decides nothing - it acts
- of what use is the brain? - "To think with" is to
reveal oneself as mediaeval and pre-Darwinian [wrasa127.tif]
- There is no memory in the present - only a
state of affairs [wrasa128.tif]
On the mystery of the brain
- "But that", said Mr Hick contemptuously, "can't be
the explanation - there's no myster in it." [wrasa129.tif]
laws of thought [wrasa130.tif]
- The machine that can produce all
trajectories has no laws. [wrasa130.tif]
On the laws of thought
- The product set has no constraints
On Brain processes
- Life-processes (in species or brains) use only the
additive methods - for the combinatorial there has not been time enough.
On adaptation [wrasa133.tif]
- In this
universe, the life-time of a planet is only sufficient to allow its
evolved life-form to explore the possibilities of additive adaptation
On adaptation as a whole to a whole
- All our adaptations are collections of nearly
independent bits; life is too short to alow us to explore the really
On Man's God-like intelligence
- Intelligence is a specialisation to the
environment that is (?) complexly / aggregately.
On Man's God-like intelligence
- An organism should be as intelligent as its
environment, - no more, no less. [wrasa136.tif]
- Every mechanism
generates improbabilities (Not only natural selection)
- The M.S. [wrasa138.tif]
- Amoung systems in
a net, the struggle for existence is inevitable
- The law of the brain is : What will be, will be.
On long-term planning in the brain
On Man's ability to plan
- The brain is wholly opportunist, no less when it
proposes a long term plan. [wrasa140.tif]
On Progress in
- A brain can improve till it fits ints
- Organisation exists mostly in the eye of the
On Memory [wrasa143.tif]
brain knows only the present and what it can construct from the present.
- Slogan [wrasa144.tif]
- Man lives by
- Which showed the best power of survival
when attacked by the Spaniards: that bio-organisation calle the amazon
jungle: or that bio-organisation called the Aztecs?
- Which out-fought the Spaniards - the Aztec civil
organisation, or that bio-organisation called the Amazon Jungle ?
- The digital computer of today is like a centipede
with a million legs, each of which can go forward in a microsecond; but as
it can move only on e pair at a time the whole animal is easily outrun by
the tortoise [wrasa148.tif]
- When we take the ordiantes of a wave
function and use them to compute their exact values a moment later, we are
(1) demonstrating that the science of quantum physics use determinant
systems. (2) treating the system as determinate.
- Every operation seeks the state that makes it
- A "machine" is a shadow of simple
- "The time it takes increases
exponentially" is a mathematical way of saying it can't be done.
On Evolution [wrasa154.tif]
- By the time
sexual reproduction has been achieved, the main difficulty of evolution is
On Sympathy [wrasa155.tif]
- If my
sympathy with another's sufferings proves the reality of the other's
feelings then the pattern of light & shade that I call a "weeping
heroine" on the cinema screen is genuinely feeling.
On In****strospection [wrasa156.tif]
man can report what happens in his brain only so far as the events reach
the verbalising center. [wrasa156.tif]
- Every dramatist knows the
inexonable logic of the emotions. [wrasa157.tif]
- Disorder never
proceeds to order so milk can never separate into buttermilk and cream.
On the subjective [wrasa160.tif]
- How to
lest whether you're dreaming - kick the fellow in front of you and see who
feels the pain. [wrasa160.tif]
- I am; therefore I think.
On error controlled servo
- The error controlled servo - mechanism is a brain
without eyes. [wrasa162.tif]
- Whatever vibrates is a musical
instrument: whatever is stable is a mechanical brain - the difficulty lies
in making a particular one. [wrasa163.tif]
- Is your life achieving
the full potentialities of carbon ? [wrasa164.tif]
checking remains to be completed. [wrasa001.tif - wrasa164.tif] taken from
Ashby's card index. [wrasa168.tif - wrasa217.tif] from Internet sources.