The Cybernetic Origins of Life

Kathleen Powers
UC Berkeley

The dissertation project, “Cybernetic Origins of Life”, is about the influence of vitalist concepts of the organism on post-war American neurology. The project focuses on the experiments and writings of neurologist Warren S. McCulloch (1898-1969) on the vertebrate nervous system to gain an understanding of how life was considered in the philosophy of science immediately before the genetic revolution. By analyzing the experiments that informed the brain-computer analogy, the project studies how the question central to 20th c. biology changed from “what is life?” to “what is information?”
This project also addresses the neurological standard for death and presents the post-war influence of the cybernetics movement on American medicine as a way to understand how decisions are currently made in end-of-life care.