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Organization as the Message

(The ship is the message)

"Organized communication is the key." -Publius, 'THE MESSAGE'


"I am authorized to read this message. We have spotted the Pink Floyd airship. Do not be alarmed. Pink Floyd have sent their airship to North America to deliver a message. The Pink Floyd airship is headed towards a destination where all will be explained upon arrival. Pink Floyd will communicate."

[The following excerpts from Chapter V (Organization as the Message) of The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1954), by Norbert Wiener, are provided here for non-commercial/educational purposes in the interest of contributing to, in the words of Norbert Wiener, "a continual development of knowledge and its unhampered exchange." I've highlighted text and added images and links for extra fun.]

"The metaphor to which I devote this chapter is one in which the organism is seen as message. Organism is opposed to chaos, to disintegration, to death, as message is to noise. To describe an organism, we do not try to specify each molecule in it, and catalogue it bit by bit, but rather to answer certain questions about it which reveal its pattern: a pattern which is more significant and less probable as the organism becomes, so to speak, more an organism.

We have already seen that certain organisms, such as man, tend for a time to maintain and often even to increase the level of their organization, as a local enclave in the general stream of increasing entropy, of increasing chaos and de-differentiation. Life is an island here and now in a dying world. The process by which we living beings resist the general stream of corruption and decay is known as homeostasis.
[further on described as: negative feedback mechanisms of a type that we may find exemplified in mechanical automata]

We can continue to live in the very special environment which we carry forward with us until we begin to decay more quickly than we reconstitute ourselves. Then we die...

We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.
A pattern is a message, and may be transmitted as a message. How else do we employ our radio than to transmit patterns of sound, and our television set than to transmit patterns of light? It is amusing as well as instructive to consider what would happen if we were to transmit the whole pattern of the human body,...

Let us invade the realm of science fiction. Some forty-five years ago, Kipling wrote a most remarkable little story. This was at the time when the flights of the Wright Brothers had become familiar to the world, but before aviation was an everyday matter. He called his story With the Night Mail, and it purports to be an account of a world like that of today, when aviation should have become a matter of course and the Atlantic a lake to be crossed in one night. He supposed that aerial travel had so united the world that war was obsolete, and that all the world's really important affairs were in the hands of an Aerial Board of Control, whose primary responsibility extended to air traffic, while its secondary responsibility extended to 'all that that implies.' In this way, he imagined that the various local authorities had gradually been compelled to drop their rights, or had allowed their local rights to lapse; and that the central authority of the Aerial Board of Control had taken these responsibilities over. It is a rather fascist picture which Kipling gave us, and this is understandable in view of his intellectual presuppositions, even though fascism is not a necessary condition of the situation which he envisages. His millennium is the millennium of a British colonel back from India.
A collection of wheels.  
Moreover, with his love for the gadget as a collection of wheels that rotate and make noise, he has emphasized the extended physical transportation of man, rather than the transportation of language and ideas. He does not seem to realize that where man's word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to that point his control and in a sense his physical existence is extended. To see and to give commands to the whole world is almost the same as being everywhere. Given his limitations Kipling, nevertheless, had a poet's insight, and the situation he foresaw seems rapidly coming to pass.

To see the greater importance of the transportation of information as compared with mere physical transportation, let us suppose that we have an architect in Europe supervising the construction of a building in the United States... Even at the present, there is no reason why the working copies of these plans and specifications must be transmitted to the construction site on the same paper on which they have been drawn up in the architect's drafting-room... Ultrafax gives a means by which a facsimile of all the documents concerned may be transmitted in a fraction of a second, and the received copies are quite as good working plans as the originals... In short, the bodily transmission of the architect and his documents may be replaced very effectively by the message-transmission of communications which do not entail the moving of a particle of matter from one end of the line to the other.

If we consider the two types of communication: namely, material transport, and the transport of information alone, it is at present possible for a person to go from place to another only by the former, and not as a message. However, even now the transportation of messages serves to forward an extension of man's senses and his capabilities of action from one end of the world to another. We have already suggested in this chapter that the distinction between material transportation and message transportation is not in any theoretical sense permanent and unabridgeable.
This takes us very deeply into the question of human individuality. The problem of the nature of human individuality and of the barrier which seperates one person from another is as old as human history...

One thing at any rate is clear. The physical identity of an individual does not consist in the matter of which it is made... The biological individuality of an organism seems to lie in a certain continuity of process, and in the memory by the organism of the effects of its past development... In terms of the computing machine, the individuality of a mind lies in the retention of its earlier tapings and memories, and in its continued development along lines already laid out...

To recapitulate: the individuality of the body is that of a flame rather than that of a stone, of a form rather than of a bit of substance. This form can be transmitted or modified and duplicated, although at the present we know only how to duplicate it over a short distance...

To hold an organism stable while a part of it is being slowly destroyed, with the intention of re-creating it out of other material elsewhere, involves a lowering of its degree of activity, which in most cases would destroy the life in the tissue...

The fact that we cannot telegraph the pattern of a man from one place to another seems to be due to technical difficulties, and in particular, to the difficulty of keeping an organism in being during such a radical reconstruction...

I have stated these things, not because I want to write a science fiction story concerning itself with the possibility of telegraphing a man, but because it may help us understand that the fundamental idea of communication is that of the transmission of messages, and that the bodily transmission of matter and messages is only one conceivable way of attaining that end. It will be well to reconsider Kipling's test of the importance of traffic in the modern world from the point of view of a traffic which is overwhelmingly not so much the transmission of human bodies as the transmission of human information."

With the Night Mail, by Rudyard Kipling, is available online. Take a look and notice the airships.

After doing so, take a look at some of the following web page:

Pink Floyd's Division Belle Airships

[It might be a stretch, but the theme seems to be control]

"First of all, as you read further, you will better understand why my identity cannot be revealed. Let it be said again that I am a messenger, simple as that. I cannot tell you who has sent me,..."
"It is the message that is important, and not who delivers it."

According to David Porush in The Soft Machine: Cybernetic Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut gives the organism as message metaphor literal literary treatment in The Sirens of Titan:

"'We have already seen that certain organisms, such as man, tend for a time to maintain and often even to increase the level of their organization, as a local enclave in the general stream of increasing entropy, of increasing chaos and de-differentiation. Life is an island here and now in a dying world.'

This passage, with its appeal to the poetic value of the cybernetic metaphor, provides the premise for Vonnegut's next novel, The Sirens of Titan (1959). Winston Niles Rumfoord, a wealthy man, has been reincarnated as a 'wave phenomenon' by the intervention of a superior alien race. Rumfoord thus becomes immortal and nearly omnipotent, able to move at will through time and space and manipulate others to do his bidding. One of those whom he manipulates is the novel's anti-hero, Malachi Constant - the constant and 'faithful' messenger, who desires only to find 'a single message that was sufficiently dignified and important to merit his carrying it humbly between two points.' He discovers, however, that not only is he being manipulated by Rumfoord, and Rumfoord by the aliens known as Tralfamadorians, but the entire fabric of human history has been manipulated as part of a yet larger plot by the Tralfamadorians to deliver a single message to one of their own, stranded on a lonely planet... Vonnegut has taken Wiener's metaphor, in which the organism is equated with a message, and made it concrete."

Check out Astronomy Domine.

Notice the sound (257k wav) effects on the Pulse version.

Publius Enigma: The Final Message