Themes of control and reflection are not unique to The Division Bell for Pink Floyd. Grandiose concepts are not new to Pink Floyd either.
"What did you dream,... it's alright we told you what to dream" -"Welcome to the Machine"
The song "Welcome to the Machine", on Wish You Were Here, concerns the theme of control and reflects upon the music industry.
Almost entirely, The Wall concerns the band-audience relationship, and the experience of being rock star. The wall is a barrier to communication. Lyrics are directed to the audience as You. (Hey You) The leader of the band is presented as a control bearing dictator. The song "Run Like Hell" plays on the theme of control with the audience.
David Gilmour thinks in terms of feedback and control in 'Live at Pompeii':
"but always things are down to how you control them, and whether you're controlling them, and not the other way around ... the equipment isn't actually thinking about what to do any of the time. It couldn't control itself."
"Where would rock and roll be without feedback?"
As innovative electronic musicians, Pink Floyd are pioneers of man-machine communication in their own right.
David Gilmour speaks through "Talk Box" during performance of "Keep Talking"
The songs of Pink Floyd also contain enigmatic references and effects that lead some people to seek secret messages in the music. As one of the most successful rock bands ever, the band has gathered a cult-like following in some circles. Pink Floyd are just a group of human beings playing music, though. One picketer protested at a Pink Floyd concert: "Worship God, not Pink Floyd!"
The idea of relating a book to an album is not new to, atleast the former members of, Pink Floyd. Some people draw a connection between Animal Farm, by George Orwell, and Animals. More recently, Roger Waters was influenced by the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, in making Amused to Death. (1992) Both Cybernetics and Society and Amusing Ourselves to Death, can be classed as communication theory books that are critical of society and culture.
OK, but why would Pink Floyd create a concept influenced by a seemingly obscure book written decades ago?
The ideas in Cybernetics and Society have had a major impact on science, thought, and culture in the second half of the 20th century, and are all the more significant today as we set off to homestead the Internet. (the new frontier) See what others have to say:
The ideas of Norbert Wiener have influenced art and literature too. Pioneer of algorithmic art, Roman Verostko, created "A Decision Machine Suite" of interactive electronic sculpture in homage to Norbert Wiener. Philip K. Dick was greatly influenced by the ideas of Norbert Wiener, eventually conceiving a vision of VALIS. (Universe as vast-active-living-intelligence-system) Kurt Vonnegut was influenced by the book. The concepts for Sirens of Titan and Player Piano can be traced directly to Cybernetics and Society:
"Because of the discoveries of Norbert Wiener and his colleagues, ... software has come to mean much more than the instructions that enable a digital computer to accomplish different tasks. From the secrets of life to the ultimate fate of the universe, the principles of communication and control have successfully been applied to the most important scientific puzzles of our age."
-Howard Rheingold, Tools For Thought
"The rise of cybernetics in this broad and interconnected community of scientists ... was the manifestation of a deep current in Western philosophy and culture."
-David Porush, "The Bomb was a Cyborg"
"There are works that come along once in an age and influence much of what comes later. Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics and Society is one of these seminal works for the information age... Wiener shows a prophetic understanding of the nature of information, communication, and automated control of our environment. If you want a book that tells you about the future of the Internet, buy the one that was written in 1950, thirty years before the Internet became a reality."
-Neon Alley on Cybernetics and Society
"In my own life, there was a book that did more than UNIVAC to revise my understanding of information and the machinery that manipulated it. In 1950 the mathematician Norbert Wiener wrote a pioneering and widely read study called The Human Use of Human Beings"
-Theodore Roszak, The Cult of Information
(author of The Making of a Counterculture)
"This was the original premise of purposive systems as expounded by Norbert Wiener and Julian Bigelow in 1943: intelligent behavior evolves as a consequence of the ability to measure and keep account of the effects of a given signal through feedback loops that return a message signifying the magnitude of the result. These principles are common to automatic anti-aircraft guns firing at a moving target, neurons seeking to make the right connections inside the brain, laboratory animals facing a maze, corporations facing a free-market economy, or any other situation where it is possible to place a value on an objective at which to aim."
-George B. Dyson, Darwin among the Machines
"The result of Wiener's book (Cybernetics, the technical version of Cybernetics and Society) was that the notion of feedback penetrated almost every aspect of technical culture. Though the central concept was both old and commonplace in specialized circumstances, Wiener gave the idea legs by generalizing the effect into a universal principle... Within a year or two of Cybernetics's publication, electronic control circuits revolutionized industry."
-Kevin Kelly, Out of Control
"It is fairly easy to see how the concept of feedback can be further extended to the realm of social groups such as families, firms, and indeed whole societies... Since Wiener wrote his book, the economic policies of this and indeed many other technologically advanced nations have increasingly become feedback controlled..."
-Walter A. Rosenblith, Afterword to the 1967 edition of Cybernetics and Society
"Man was nudged from the center of the universe by Copernicus; Darwin drew man's physical nature within the natural evolutionary process; man's unique claim to rationality was greatly reduced by Freud; and now, it seems, man is nothing but a highly complex communication-control system."
-Harold Hatt, Cybernetics and the Image of Man
"As communicators (of any type) and as communicatees (of any type), about all that we can do, as Norbert Wiener suggests in The Human Use of Human Beings (1954), is to try to create 'islands of decreasing entropy,' where messages retain or gain, rather than lose, data."
-J.C. Merrel, John Lee, E.J. Friedlander, Modern Mass Media
"A bureaucracy and a factory are automated machines in Wiener's view. The whole world -- even the universe -- could be seen as one big feedback system subject to the relentless advance of entropy, which subverts the exchange of messages that is essential to continued existence"
-M. McAdams, Wiener: Ideas
"Cybernetics is simultaneously the most important science of the age and the least recognized and understood. It is neither robotics nor freezing dead people. It is not limited to computer applications and it has as much to say about human interactions as it does about machine intelligence. Today's cybernetics is at the root of major revolutions in biology, artificial intelligence, neural modeling, psychology, education, and mathematics. At last there is a unifying framework that suspends long-held differences between science and art, and between external reality and internal belief."
-Paul Pangaro, New Order From Old
"Vonnegut's earliest novels hint strongly at his familiarity with Wiener's work, The Human Use of Human Beings, especially his first novel, Player Piano (1952), which shows his concern for the social implications of automation, the replacement of human beings with machines."
-David Porush, The Soft Machine: Cybernetic Fiction
Indirectly, the ideas have had an impact throughout the genre of science-fiction (Star Trek and teleportation, for example) and cyberpunk literature and film. (The Matrix etc.)
Perhaps most interestingly, though, the vision of Norbert Wiener, expressed in the book, influenced work that led to the development of the Internet.
"I have always
understood that the Internet was founded on the precepts of
respecting other community members..."
"... another computer pioneer, J.C.R. Licklider, who would play an important role in the developing computer revolution, was working on a paper exploring the concept of human-computer interaction that Norbert Wiener had stressed was so crucial."
-Ronda Hauben, Cybernetics, Time-sharing, Human-Computer Symbiosis and On-line Communities Creating a Supercommunity of On-Line Communities
"In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face. That is a rather startling thing to say, but it is our conclusion... And we believe that we are entering a technological age in which we will be able to interact with the richness of living information--not merely in the passive way that we have become accustomed to using books and libraries, but as active participants in an ongoing process, bringing something to it through our interaction with it, and not simply receiving something from it by our connection to it."
-J.C.R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, The Computer as a Communication Device (1968)
Compare the image on the left above from The Computer as a Communication Device (pdf) to the cover image from the "High Hopes" single. The table tennis represents interactive communication - feedback. The table tennis game in the "High Hopes" picture could be another variation of the feedback theme seen throughout The Division Bell artwork.
At the time The Division Bell was being made, computers, cyberspace, and virtual reality, were the happening thing. As much as many fans would like to forget, Pink Floyd was originally a psychedelic rock band. In leugue with the likes of the Grateful Dead, and in tune with the followers of Timothy Leary.
"Technology is the new drugs." -Jerry Garcia
"Personal computers and the PC industry were created by young iconoclasts who had seen the LSD revolution fizzle, the political revolution fail. Computers for the people was the latest battle in the same campaign."
-Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community
"Leary was stepping up to microphones in his white sneakers, telling audiences that the liberation and exchange of knowledge by electronic communication would free their brains and souls from the oppressive orthodoxies of education, religion and politics ... He hailed cybernetics as the new vehicle of expanded consciousness, played with virtual reality, designed computer games and started a software company."
-Timothy Leary Obituary, The New York Times
"It was sex, drugs and rock and roll all over again, only worse."
-Barrie Sherman, Virtual Reality and its Implications
"Creative excitement has gone elsewhere - to science and technology: new ways of seeing things, new understandings of the universe, continual new revelations about how life works, how we think, how we perceive, how we communicate. So this is my second point.
Where, thirty years ago, we used to start up rock bands, we now start up start-ups and experiment in new ways of communicating with each other and playing with the information we exchange. And when one idea fails, there's another, better one right behind it, and another and another, cascading out as fast as rock albums used to in the sixties."
-Douglas Adams, Turncoat