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"Solve unto me the enigma that I then beheld, interpret unto
me the vision of the lonesomest one! Thus Spake Zarathustra."

"The profane existence of error is compromised once its
celestial oratio pro aris et focis has been refuted."
-Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique... :Intro.

"And Ye shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you free"

(John, VIII:32)

"It was an initial idea that we had for TDB.
To do with boats...It is called 'The Boatman'."
-Storm Thorgerson

A Cybernetic Solution

from: Take it Back video

"The dissemination of any scientific secret
whatever is merely a matter of time..."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"Organized communication is the key." -Publius

Cybernetics: "the science and art of understanding" -Humberto Maturana

[UPDATE: A condensed and much easier to understand explanation of this page is HERE >>>]

"The presence of cybernetics' firstborn, the Atomic Bomb, makes it impossible to ignore. The mushroom cloud is simply the very large trace -- the cultural icon-under-erasure -- obscuring a much more intangible yet more monumental explosion in epistemology called cybernetics. It is the accomplice term which first masks and then becomes simply the shock troops for a larger epistemological invasion."
-David Porush, "The Bomb was a Cyborg"

There are several reasons why our discussion of the enigma might lead towards cybernetics. Publius uses the term "steer" in two contexts: "As your thoughts will steer you" and "I will be able to help steer you from time to time." At any rate, Publius even writes that his (or whatever) role is that of a "guide". Steering implies control. The word cybernetics is derived from the Greek word kubernetes which means steersman, or helmsman, or boatman perhaps. For the ancient Greeks, the word meant the art of guiding people, or the science of governance. (click here for an explanation of the significance of the name 'Publius') In terms of communication theory, cybernetics, though originally designated 'the' science of communication at its birth, is today often differentiated from other schools of thought in communication as a discipline that emphasizes feedback--in its simplest form, two-way communication--which is precisely what Publius emphasizes--more on that later. It seems that there are many definitions of cybernetics. In the grounbreaking and prophetic book The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, Norbert Wiener begins Chapter I as follows:

"Since the end of World War II, I have been working on the many ramifications of the theory of messages. Besides the electical engineering theory of the transmission of messages, there is a larger field which includes not only the study of language but the study of 'messages' as a means of controlling machinery and society, the development of computing machines and other such automata, certain reflections upon psychology and the nervous system, and a tentative new theory of scientific method. This larger theory of messages is a probabilistic theory,...
Until recently, there was no existing word for this complex of ideas, and in order to embrace the whole field by a single term, I felt constrained to invent one. Hence 'Cybernetics', which I derived from the Greek word kubernetes, or 'steersman', the same Greek word from which we eventually derive our word 'governor'. Incidently, I found later that the word had already been used by Ampere with reference to political science..."

Some people confuse cybernetics with the field of artificial intelligence. This isn't entirely correct. The field of artificial intelligence developed from cybernetics and can be thought of as a type of applied cybernetics. Others think that cybernetics is all about sensory prosthesis or something, which represents only a small fragment of all that cybernetics implies. Cybernetics is sparcely studied as an independent field today. It dissipated with the designations of more narrowly focused fields such as computer science, artificial intelligence, behavioral psychology, communication theory, systems science, complexity theory, etc. Most people doing cybernetics today are actually applying cybernetic principles in other fields; although it might be more accurate to say that cybernetics has evolved, rather than died.

"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

The cybernetic paradigm proposes an entirely new way of thinking in terms of communication, control, and information flows. A preoccupation with pattern and process (naturally involving a time dimension) rather than the physical makeup of things, is a distinction of the cybernetic point of view. "Organized Communication" is the essence of cybernetics. Publius writes: "Your newsgroup's resourcefulness -and knowlEdge of subjects (from physics to geography) is quite reassuring. Be sure, this caliber of analysis is the means to the enigma solution..." Cybernetics was founded as a sort of meta-science, overlapping with math, physics, biology, military science, psychology, electrical engineering, social engineering, psychotronics, etc. In fact, it's difficult to find a field that hasn't been influenced by cybernetics, or alternatively, a field where cybernetic thinking hasn't been applied.

"Cybernetics is concerned with complex interacting systems and their control, particularly where transfer of information is an essential component... The concept of a Virtual World has evolved over the last decade: the increasing sophistication of the human-computer interface has enabled the mind to be persuaded into interpreting simulated surroundings as real."
-'What is Cybernetics?' University of Bradford - Department of Cybernetics

"The word (cybernetics) refers to much more than the electronic computer--it definitely carries the connotation of control. Today, however, the prefix 'cyber', with inane hyphenation, refers primarily to telecommunications via the electronic digital computer."
-'Overview of the Norbert Wiener Centenary Congress and Acknowledgement'

Whenever you see the prefix 'cyber' used, you can safely thank Norbert Wiener. (not to mention the terms 'input', 'output' and 'feedback', see here) Following its birth after WW II, the field of cybernetics as an institution became a focus of debate regarding automation, technological progress, or life in general during the post-war, cold-war, "cybernetic age". The cybernetic paradigm, in which system boundaries are defined by flows of information, implied a radically new way of thinking about living organisms, machines, and environments; thus, the conception of the cybernetic organism, or cyborg. Norbert Wiener, as the pioneer of the field, was an outspoken critic of the changes that he was helping to bring about. What did it all mean for humanity? Perhaps more than any scientist of his time, Wiener addressed the social and human implications of the work that he was doing.

"Wiener's ethical vigilance... initially inspired reflexive and critical scholars, such as Gregory Bateson, Anthony Wilden, Heinz Von Forrester, and Stafford Beers, to make use of cybernetic imagery and techniques in struggling for a more just and ecologically sane order of things."

For an excellent and accessible explanation of Wiener's role in the advent and early days of cybernetics check out Chapter Five: Ex-Prodigies and Antiaircraft Guns, of Tools For Thought by Howard Rheingold:

"Because of the discoveries of Norbert Wiener and his colleagues, discoveries that were precipitated by the wartime need for a specific kind of calculating engine, 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."

It would be enlightening to discuss how cybernetics and the ideas in the book relate to culture, particularly during the time in which TDB was made, but I'll leave that open as common knowledge.

"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

"It was sex, drugs and rock and roll all over again, only worse."
-Barrie Sherman, Virtual Reality and its Implications

"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, New York Times

"virtual reality is, in fact, a manifestation of a cybernetician's ultimate dream: a pure information space which can be populated by a host of pure cybernetic automatons or, in Gibson's more precise and less anthropomorphic terms, data constructs."
-David Thomas, "Feedback and Cybernetics: Reimaging the Body in the Age of the Cyborg"

"We can now venture to the limits of the cosmos because we are not bound by earthly dimensions. Cybernetics does not discriminate by looks, race, disabilities, sex, species because it is pure brain to brain communication."
-Cyber Dada Manifesto

"Weizenbaum was undoubtedly right about the temptation to use computers for stimulating fantasies of omnipotence over fantastically controllable worlds."
-Howard Rheingold, Witness to Software History: The Mascot of Project MAC (in Tools for Thought)

"You can own everything you see... Sell your soul for complete control... Is that really what you need..."

The Dark Side of Cyberspace, Virtuality, and All That

(Pink Floyd are sooo British)

As was mentioned in the introduction, a key idea here is that 'The Division Bell' album is intentionally related to the book Cybernetics and Society, and that is the key to appreciating the album and the enigma, which can be thought of as an extension of the ideas expressed in the music. You might be wondering: What does this crazy book have to do with anything, and why would Pink Floyd base an album on it? Cybernetics and Society is the laymans version of the book Cybernetics, and together these books, as expressions of the thinking and ideas of Norbert Wiener, have had a tremendous impact on not only scientific and academic fields, but literature and the arts as well. In the book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, Katherine Hayles describes Wieners role in the cybernetic movement as that of "a visionary who could articulate the larger implications of the cybernetic paradigm and make clear its more cosmic significance." Cybernetics and Society has been a key influence for the likes of Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, others, William Burroughs, and by extension, the cyberpunk movement. [not to mention much of popular culture, science-fiction, and the course of western civilization in general] You should read the Norbert Wiener Quotes page on this site to see some of the content of the book. David Porush characterizes the cybernetic works that he discusses in the book The Soft Machine: Cybernetic Fiction as a sub-class of postmodernism:

"Each of them concerns some aspect of the recent explosion in communications and computer technologies called in some places 'cybernetics'. Either they concern robots, cybernauts or computers directly, or they confront the deeper implications of the mechanization of man on some metaphorical level. Secondly, and crucially, they are self-reflexive, illustrating in form and style their cybernetic themes."

As should become evident further on, an immediate and striking characteristic of both the enigma and TDB album (like 'The Wall') is self-reflexivity. Of Vonnegut, Porush writes:

"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

Theodore Roszak, author of The Making of a Counterculture, writes in The Cult of Information:

"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"

One of the most interesting and significant disciples of Wiener's thinking, at least as far as you and I here are concerned (communicating via computer and with computer), was the psychoacoustics (pitch perception modeling, etc.) specialist, pioneer of interactive computing, and architect of man-machine symbiosis, J.C.R Licklider. (who in concert with Robert Taylor really did invent the foundations of the Internet - ARPAnet, which was meant in a sense to augment human knowing by means of "organized communication", in the spirit of the interdisciplinary meetings hosted by Norbert Wiener perhaps) Unbeknownst to most people, contemporary computing on personal computers of the variety that most people imagine when they think of computing, is actually a sub-genre of computing that prevails today known as "interactive computing". When you use a computer, you are essentially interacting, communicating, with that (this) computer.

[Now, let me provide a few answers that will perhaps inspire more of you.]

First of all, as you read further...

"It is the thesis of this book that society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever increasing part."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

The idea of relating an album to a book is not new to, at least the former members of, Pink Floyd, as Roger Waters' Amused to Death bears testament. (see also Radio Kaos for explicitly cybernetic themes) It has been brought to my attention that the album cover image of TDB is strikingly similar in form to the cover of a certain print edition of Cybernetics and Society. It represents a feedback system. (to be discussed further) Before moving forward it might be useful to discuss a few basic elements of the cybernetic paradigm as put forth uniquely by Norbert Wiener in the pioneering work: Cybernetics and Society. These include those of message, pattern, information, control, and feedback.


"It is the thesis of this book that society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it..."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"The message itself is what's important." -Publius, The Message

The primary unit of analysis in cybernetics, as conceived by Norbert Wiener, is the message, a concept which Publius emphasizes a lot to say the least. (THE MESSAGE, THE NEW MESSAGE, etc.) Cybernetics might even be thought of as the science of messages, which is in fact the definition of the related field of information theory.

"As Wiener saw it, pure communication processes involve similar, definable elements, whether they are conducted by machines or man. If those elements, or messages, once they were defined, could be rigorously controlled, then they could also be used to control both machines and human beings. And, by being able to modify behavior by learning from these processes, both man and machine could evolve to higher levels of functioning."
-Jones Telecommunications & Multimedia Encyclopedia


Pattern is simply the arrangement or the order of elements of a message. Wiener put forth the idea that human beings can be thought of as messages, consisting of patterns, years before the discovery of DNA. The importance of this idea within the overall vision of Norbert Wiener will become more apparent later in the discussion in light of the organism as message metaphor.


"Information is the name for the content of what is exchanged with the outer world as we adjust to it, and make our adjustment felt upon it."

"Just as entropy is a measure of disorganization, the information carried by a set of messages is a measure of organization. In fact, it is possible to interpret the information carried by a message as essentially the negative of its entropy, and the negative logarithm of its probability. That is, the more probable the message, the less information it gives. Cliches, for example, are less illuminating than great poems."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

Information is the measure of the regularity of a pattern. A breakthrough, usually credited to Shannon and Weaver (the information theorists working at Bell labs), was the mathmatical quantification of information (bits), establishing information theory and hastening the advancement of the digital computer.


"When I control the actions of another person, I communicate a message to him..."

"It is the purpose of Cybernetics to develop a language and techniques that will enable us to indeed attack the problem of control and communication in general,..."

"This principle of control applies not merely to the Panama locks, but to states, armies, and individual human beings."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"What is the Matrix?,... Control." -Morpheus, The Matrix

"Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been" -WYWH

"Left to itself, cyberspace will become a perfect tool of control..."
-Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

"...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."
-David Gilmour, 'Live at Pompeii'

"I like it to be at the point where it's all running away from you and you're only just about in control. In fact, I sometimes like it when I'm not sure whether I'm in control, or the guitar and amplifier are."
-David Gilmour, 'Guitar Shop' (1996)

"You can own everything you see
Sell your soul for complete control
Is that really what you need"

"Leading the blind while I stared out the steel in your eyes..." -TDB

Messages are a means of control. Cybernetics is most interested in those messages which effect control. A general dictionary definition of control is "purposive influence toward a predetermined goal" (Beniger, The Control Revolution) Right now, I'm to a certain extent controlling your thought by means of the content of this web page. In terms of your sensory sphere right now, this web page is probably the most controlling, and thus the most interesting, message in your environment right now from a cybernetic point of view. Of course, you're to a much greater extent controlling yourself. Control is a much more general concept than one might at first realize. The concept of control is tremendously important to an understanding of the cybernetic paradigm. A basic premise of cybernetics, according to Norbert Wiener, is the idea of a probabilistic universe. It is precisely because we cannot predict with complete certainty the behavior of molecules, or by extrapolation, events and phenomena in general, that techniques of control to effectively deal with future contingencies are necessary. (something like that anyway) The primary technique by which control is accomplished and enhanced is feedback. In fact feedback is a basic ingredient of control in general.


"Inseparable from the concept of control are the twin activities of information processing and reciprocal communication, complementary factors in any form of control... (hence the term feedback for this reciprocal flow of information back to the controller). So central is communication to the process of control that the two have become the joint subject of the modern science of cybernetics"
-James R. Beniger, The Control Revolution

"Furthermore, if my control is to be effective I must take cognizance of any messages from him which may indicate that the order is understood and has been obeyed."

"This control of a machine on the basis of its actual performance rather than its expected performance is known as feedback, and involves sensory members which are actuated by motor members and perform the function of tell-tales or monitors--that is, of elements which indicate a performance."

"I repeat, feedback is a method of controlling a system by reinserting into it the results of its past performance. If these results are merely used as numerical data for the criticism of the system and its regulation, we have the simple feedback of the control engineers. If, however, the information which proceeds backward from the performance is able to change the general method and pattern of performance, we have a process which may be called learning."

"The process of receiving and of using information is the process of our adjusting to the contingencies of the outer environment, and of our living effectively within that environment."

"We have thus established the basis in man for the simplest element in his communication: namely, the communication of man with man by the immediate use of language, when two men are face to face with one another... this capacity is not intrinsically restricted to the immediate presense of the individual, for we have many means to carry this tool of communication to the ends of the earth."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"Although a textual element can be isolated, computer-based systems are primarily interactive rather than one-way, open-ended rather than fixed. Dialogue, regulated and disseminated by digital computation, de-emphasizes authorship in favor of 'messages-in-circuit' that take fixed but effervescent, continually variable form... The message-in-circuit is both addressed to and addressable by us; the mode is fundamentally interactive, or dialogic... Like face-to-face encounter, cybernetic systems offer (and demand) almost immediate response... The temporal flow of once-only quality of face-to-face encounter becomes embedded within a system ready to restore, alter, modify, or transform any given moment to us at any time."
-Bill Nichols, "The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetics"

"But in addition to logging an ongoing 'comparison of inputs to goals,' cybernetic feedback processes involve something more interactive - 'a reciprocal flow' of 'two-way interaction between controller and controlled.' This operates 'not only to communicate influence from the former to the latter, but also to communicate back the results of this action.'"
-Stephen Pfohl, The Cybernetic Delirium of Norbert Wiener

"Direct yourselves with communication"

"All of you must open your minds and communicate with each other, as this is the only way the answers can be revealed."

"Rest assured that I am always watching and will certainly return to aid in the event of any serious deadlock."

"If you choose to discuss your progress openly on this forum, I will be able to help steer you from time to time. "

"I am encouraged by the positive response to my last post..."

"While I am encouraged by the positive response to my last post, I understand that many of you still doubt my authenticity." -Publius, "THE MESSAGE"

"Where would rock and roll be without feedback?"
-David Gilmour, "Live at Pompeii"

"Feedback loops are the most powerful process we know of, being responsible for everything from guitar howlround to the evolution of life. As their power begins to invade all of the electronic transactions of our lives, the effect will be, Iím convinced, as fundamental as the invention of printing, broadcasting, and telephony."
-Douglas Adams, AppleMasters

Cybernetics is most interested in those dynamic systems/mechanisms in which the different parts (people possibly) affect each other. When a circularity of action exists between the parts of the dynamic system, feedback is said to be present. Feedback is a basic and fundamental principle in the functioning of any complex system. The cybernetic paradigm sees the human being, for example, as essentially a certain type of complex machine, or feedback system. A primary concern of cybernetics was at one point the relationship between the behavior of certain computing machines and the human brain; thus, the development of Artificial Intelligence. This analogy found greatest expression through the concept of feedback, and the analogy of the nerve impulse/digital pulse (bit). Humans, like some machines (computers are only machines too remember) are able to alter their future actions based on messages received from their environments. That is, based on the "feedback" (returned messages) they have "received" from previously sent "messages" or actions. A bouncing ball (table tennis) might be an appropriate metaphor. Another simple expression of feedback in action might be a boxing match in which the behavior of each boxer is determined by that of the other. It's a game. Without feedback there is no learning.

"The pupose of applause in the theatre--and it is essential--is to establish in the performer's mind some modicum of two-way communication"
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"You are all owed a sincere round of applause"

"Let me once again applaud your persistence." -Publius

When we, or anything, act on the basis of actual performance rather than expected performance, we're operating according to feedback. In order to act effectively and adapt to environments and events, it's necessary that we, and animals and machines like us, receive information concerning the results of our actions. Imagine an entity that looks like an animate object but doesn't have the capacity to engage in a flow of messages with its environment. (feedback) We might think of a giant teddy bear which is designed to walk as such an obect. The teddy bear might look alive if you saw it walking down the hallway, however, you would realize that it isn't very life-like when it starts banging into walls and falling down from open windows and what not. This is because it doesn't have the capacity to act on the basis of its own performance. Norbert Wiener's observations regarding feedback led to the incorporation of feedback mechanisms in all sorts of devices. As was already mentioned, Wiener's observations sparked the birth of what is now known as artificial intelligence, and altered understandings of the nature of life itself, to a certain degree. The concept of feedback has certain implications regarding the individuality of human beings, according to Norbert Wiener. System boundaries, or the boundaries of what has been called the cybernetic body, including those of the living individual, are defined not by physical matter, physical space, etc, but by the flow of information.

"The idea of the feedback loop implies that the boundaries of the autonomous subject are up for grabs, since feedback loops can flow not only within the subject but also between the subject and the environment. From Norbert Wiener on, the flow of information through feedback loops has been associated with the deconstruction of the liberal humanist subject, the version of the 'human' with which the posthuman is concerned."
-Niran Abbas, The Posthuman View of Virtual Bodies

"Of all the implications first-wave cybernetics conveyed, perhaps none was more disturbing and potentially revolutionary than the idea that the boundaries of the human subject are constructed rather than given. Seen from the cybernetic perspective coalescing into awareness from during and after World War II, however, cybernetic systems are constituted by flows of information. In this viewpoint cane and man join in a single system, for the cane funnels to the man essential information about his environment. Similarly for a deaf person's hearing aid, a voice synthesizer for someone with impaired speech, and a helmet with a voice-activated firing control for a fighter pilot."
-Katherine Hayles, Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled: Norbert Wiener and Cybernetic Anxiety

"...cybernetics proposed that the body be conceived as a communications network whose successful operation was based on 'the accurate reproduction of signal'."
-David Thomas, "Feedback and Cybernetics: Reimaging the Body in the Age of the Cyborg"

"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...
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"Stephen Hawking, cyborg, speaks. Speaks? Stricken limbs and the Voltrax allophone generator built into his wheelchair team up to produce electronically mediated utterances. Immobilized flesh remains mute; fingers almost imperceptibly shift a joystick to select words from a displayed menu, then software and silicon retrieve stored sounds, assemble them into paragraphs, and emit them from speakers. Not the traditionally constituted body, but a new sort of electrosomatic construction now becomes the site of practice and project."

"For cyborgs, then, the border between interiority and exteriority is destabilized. Distinctions between self and other are open to reconstruction. Difference becomes provisional."
-William Mitchell, City of Bits

"Won't hear a sound... From my mouth... I've spent too long... On the inside out..."

Progress and Control of Entropy through Feedback:

"Whoever examines the conscience of Europeans today will have to pull the same imperative out of a thousand moral folds and hideouts--the imperative of herd timidity: 'we want that some day there should be nothing any more to be afraid of!' Some day--throughout Europe, the will and way to this day is now called 'progress'."
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

"The progress of the human race in understanding the universe has established a small corner of order in an increasingly disordered universe."
-Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

"The simple faith in progress is not a conviction belonging to strength but one belonging to acquiescence and hence to weakness."

"In physics, the idea of progress opposes that of entropy, although there is no absolute contradiction between the two."

"As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness, to move from the least to the most probable state, from a state of organization and differentiation in which distinctions and forms exist, to a state of chaos and sameness... But while the universe as a whole, tends to run down, there are local enclaves of whose direction seems opposed to that of the universe at large and in which there is a limited and temporary tendency for organization to increase. Life finds its home in these enclaves. It is with this point of view at its core that the new science of Cybernetics began its development."

"It is my thesis that the physical functioning of the living individual and the operation of some of the newer communication machines are precisely parallel in their analogous attempts to control entropy through feedback."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"Progress is being made."

"I see that your work is progressing nicely."

"Yes, I've been watching your progress and am duly impressed with the recent discourse."

"It is my impression that searching together and exchanging information openly has enhanced your progress."

According to Norbert Wiener, the living individual and some of the newer communication machines (circa 1950) are analogous in their attempts to control entropy (for us: decay, disorganization, death - the second law of thermodynamics) through feedback. Entropy can be thought of as the statistical tendency toward greater disorder through time within a closed system.

"It was eliminating the stochastic -- the uncertain and probable -- in systematic modelling to which John von Neumann devoted his career... In Wiener's explanation, cybernetics is also conceived, as in Von Neumann's scheme, as an answer to the unholy introduction of uncertainty into science by quantum physics."
-David Porush, "The Bomb was a Cyborg"

[Note: Closely related to thermodynamic entropy and the second law of thermodynamics is the concept of time, as Stephen Hawking makes a point of in A Brief History of Time:

"Our subjective sense of the direction of time, the psychological arrow of time, is therefore determined within our brain by the thermodynamic arrow of time. Just as a computer, we must remember things in the order in which entropy increases. This makes the second law of thermodynamics almost trivial. Disorder increases with time because we measure time in the direction in which disorder increases. You can't have a safer bet than that!"

David Thomas comments:

"Yet another way of grasping the cybernetic automaton's organic nature was through the common temporality that it shared with the world of 'living' organisms. After noting that 'the relation of these mechanisms [the new automata] to time demands careful study', Wiener pointed out:
'It is clear of course that the relation input-output is a consecutive one in time, and involves a definite past-future order. What is perhaps not so clear is that the theory of the sensitive automata is a statistical one. We are scarcely ever interested in the performance of a communication-engineering machine for a single input. To function adequately it must give satisfactory performance for the class of inputs, and this means a statistically satisfactory performance for the class of inputs which it is statistically expected to receive. Thus its theory belongs to the Gibbsian statistical mechanics rather than to the classical Newtonian mechanics.'"
-"Feedback and Cybernetics: Reimaging the Body in the Age of the Cyborg"

"I will be able to help steer you from time to time"

"Orient yourselves a first time, then
Open your minds again a second time to truly move ahead"

"Your interpretations are very astute, but it's time to more explicitly review..." -Publius]

Wiener saw great significance in the quantitative correlation between the measures for thermodynamic entropy and the then new use of the concept in defining information (see above). The universal significance that he grants the concept, the fusion, or confusion, between thermodynamic and informational entropy, is an expression of the unique view of things--in which, for example, organism is seen as message--envisioned by Norbert Wiener. [note: As you should see further on, this is about the only way to account for a theme of communication in "all of the songs", including High Hopes. What kind of river is "the endless river" if not what Norbert Wiener calls the "Niagara of increasing entropy", the "general stream of corruption and decay", the "river of ever-flowing water", against which all life must by definition swim, and against which all communication must occur. How do you relate a game of table tennis in terms of communication to the song without taking cognizance of the concept of feeback with the ball as message.] Feedback is a basic principle by means of which we resist entropy, maintain life, progress, either as individuals or as larger social units.

"The particular power of cybernetics' analogical logic resided in the fact that it was able to redefine the concept of 'life' itself in order to bring it in line with a cybernetic automaton's operational characteristics."
-David Thomas, "Feedback and Cybernetics: Reimaging the Body in the Age of the Cyborg"

Our capacity to receive information and act on the basis of it allows us to maintain a state of homeostasis, in which we counter the effects of entropy, if you will. Progress, learning, and growth, are possible because of our ability to exchange information without. ("Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again") This is true of 'organisms' and other forms of 'organization' in general, (notice the same root) the cybernetic body. Wiener seems to imply that feedback is so fundamental to the functioning of complex systems that it is the glue that holds a society together--the life-blood of inter-human organization. ("But make no mistake, this new information must be considered in relation to all previous clues that have been either discovered by you or provided by me." -PE) Any closed system will tend toward greater levels of entropy and disorder, according to the second law of thermodynamics. This is true of closed systems but not of particular systems within closed systems which interact with the other systems, or parts of the system. Some people believe that humans can only attain greater levels of organization, as living organisms or as larger social units such as civilizations, by hastening the forces of entropy at work outside of the pockets of increasing organization. Wherever there is interaction, interdependence, self-regulation, self-organization, evolution, there is feedback. Watch the Pulse video and notice the feedback and progress-entropy imagery/symbolism during High Hopes. (the balls represent messages, the wheels could represent a many-to-many communication system) The concert itself is a cybernetic system.

"As we have said, nature's statistical tendency to disorder, the tendency for entropy to increase in isolated systems, is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics. We as human beings, are not isolated systems."

"Organism is opposed to chaos, to disintegration, to death, as message is to noise."

"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."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

Dragged by the force of some inner tide

["Time (entropy) took our dreams away"]

In the eyes of the ancient Greeks history was seen as a repeating cycle moving from order to chaos. Even though they didn't know it, the Greeks were very much in tune to the second law of thermodynamics, which on the most general level is often said to imply that the universe is dying down. It might seem that one implication of the second law of thermodynamics is that there is no such thing as real progress in the long run, or in the grand scheme of things. This view is captured by such phenomena as the death of living things. Resistance, in the long run, is futile. Ultimately our fate is a tragic one. Eventually the greater cause of entropy will overtake our lives and our civilizations. Like castles made of sand, such is our fate. But, we can make the best of it...

"To sum up, the human interest in language seems to be an innate interest in coding and decoding, and this seems to be as nearly specifically human as any interest can be. Speech is the greatest interest and most distinctive achievement of man."

"The fact that speech belongs in general to man as man, but that a particular form of speech belongs to man as a member of a particular social community, is most remarkable"

"I wish to point out... that language is not exclusively an attribute of living beings but one which they may share to certain extent with the machines man has constructed. I wish to show further that man's preoccupation with language most certainly represents a possibility which is not built into his nearest relatives, the great apes. Nevertheless, I shall show that it is a possibility which must be made good by learning."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals
Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination
We learned to talk..." -Stephen Hawking, sampled in Keep Talking

The human capacity and interest in encoding and decoding (including organized sounds such as music), that is, using language, satisfies not only our intrinsic need to communicate but presents human beings and the human race with a unique capacity to learn and progress. By bettering our means of exchanging information regarding our own performance and our environments, by bettering our capacity to engage in feedback, we can make the best of our tenure as pockets of increasing organization--as human beings, as communities, as civilizations--within an increasingly entropic universe. In other words, we need to make sure we Keep Talking.

"To live effectively is to live with adequate information. Thus, communication and control belong to the essence of man's inner life, even as they belong to his life in society."

"I repeat, to live effectively is to participate in a continuous stream of influences from the outer world and acts on the outer world, in which we are merely the transitional stage. In the figurative sense, to be alive to what is happening in the world, means to participate in a continual development of knowledge and its unhampered exchange."

"This book argues that the integrity of the channels of internal communication is essential to the welfare of society."

"Indeed we can show by general observations that phonetic language reaches the receiving apparatus with less information than was originally sent, or at any rate with not more than the transmission system leading to the ear can convey;... This fact again is the corollary of the second law of thermodynamics,..."

"But as efficient as communications' mechanisms become, they are still, as they always have been, subject to the overwhelming tendency of entropy to increase, for information to leak in transit, unless certain external agents are introduced to control it."

"I have said that any transmission of, or tampering with, messages decreases the amount of information they contain, unless new information is fed in, either from new sensations or from memories which have been previously excluded from the information system. This statement, we have seen, is another version of the second law of thermodynamics."

"In control and communication we are always fighting nature's tendency to degrade the organized and to destroy the meaningful; the tendency,... for entropy to increase."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"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

"As long as we are able to formulate the parameters or variables with respect to which information we want to be fed back, there is no limit to the extent to which our society can improve its functioning by learning from the consequences of its previous performance."
-Walter A. Rosenblith, Afterword to the 1967 edition of Cybernetics and Society

"Feedback loops will be the foundation of an entirely new form of electronic democracy."
-Douglas Adams, The Internet: the last battleground of the twentieth century

"One of the most powerful forces in nature is about to come into view in the online medium: the feedback loop - where the input stage of one iteration is the output stage of another iteration,... Feedback loops are what drive evolution..."
-Douglas Adams, Fast Company

At a higher altitude with flag unfurled

"It is difficult for the average person to achieve an historical perspective in which progress shall have been reduced to its proper dimensions."

"In short, the period during which the main conditions of life for the vast majority of men have been subject to repeated and revolutionary changes had not even begun until the Renaissance and the great voyages."

"What many of us fail to realize is that the last four hundred years are a highly specialized period in the history of the world. The pace at which changes during these years have taken place is unexampled in earlier history, as is the very nature of these changes. This is partly the result of increased communication, but also of an increased mastery over nature which, on a limited planet like the earth, may prove in the long run to be an increasing slavery to nature."

"Of course, in the long run, the great trivial purpose of maximum entropy will appear to be the most enduring of all"

"In a very real sense we are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them."

"Yet this pessimistic sentiment is only conditional upon our blindness and inactivity, for I am convinced that once we become aware of the new needs that a new environment has imposed upon us, as well as the new means of meeting these needs that are at our disposal, it may be a long time yet before our civilization and our human race perish, though perish they will even as all of us are born to die. However, the prospect of a final death is far from a complete frustration of life and this is equally true for civilization and for the human race as it is any of its component individuals. May we have the courage to face the eventual doom of our civilization as we have the courage to face the certainty of our personal doom."
-Cybernetics and Society

"In Wiener's cybernetic story all these machines face a common enemy - entropy, chaotic disorganization, or noise - the villain of 'the second law of thermodynamics.' Against this enemy Wiener pits the informational effectivity of commanding communicative feedback. This facilitates the erection of a temporarily 'closed system,' a 'local enclave' against chaos, 'whose direction seems opposed to that of the universe at large and in which there is a limited and temporary tendency for organization to increase'... But having stated this, Wiener then makes a delirious leap from physics to a death-defying onto-theology, connecting the counter-entropic vocation of cybernetics to the writings of St. Augustine... In this philosophical aspect of Wiener's work, cybernetics becomes a moral science fitted to do battle against its evil arch enemy - disorganization... Here it is important to recall, even though Wiener makes no mention of this, that one of the most arresting aspects of Augustine's theology is its fierce and vehement expression of hatred for the flesh of women. And for pagans. But Wiener mentions only Augustine's hatred of chaos, which he transcodes as a life-preserving pursuit of clearly bounded flows of communicative feedback. In Augustine's writings, chaos is figured in seductive and pagan-feminine forms. Evil forms. Pagan-woman as chaos. Pagan-woman as evil. Pagan-woman as 'gateway to the devil.' This is a figure to be combated by closing the finite eye of the (masculine) flesh; all the while, opening inwardly into an infinite mirror play of perfect Trinitarian 'three-in-One' identity. Perfectly the same and yet simultaneously different. A perfectly informed communicative erasure of difference, this is also a fantasy of timeless self-perpetuation. Pure autopoiesis. Pure simultaneity. Pure information. It is infinitely easier to imagine, as is the case with both Augustine and Wiener, when no mother is involved. Or, when the only mother involved is a fleshless, holy ghostly info-mother. 'Ma Bell' or whoever. No noise. No sin."
-CTHEORY: The Cybernetic Delirium of Norbert Wiener

More recent cyberneticists and scientists, perhaps inspired by contemporary developments in science, such as the theory of dissipative structures and chaos and complexity theory, have extrapolated on the Wienerian view. The idea that the earth itself is a complex self-regulating cybernetic system, a sort of vast-active-living-information-system, has been extended by people such as Dr James Lovelock and Dr Lynn Margulis who coined the name Gaia. (She - the ancient Greek goddess of the earth)

"She will take it back, she will take it back some day..."

Variations on the Theme:



In the above discussion I haven't yet explicitly stated the relationship of the ideas to the discussion of the enigma, and/or the concept of the enigma intended by Pink Floyd, though you might already begin to see the obvious. The cybernetic paradigm begs analogical thinking based on an understanding of the previously discussed principles. Thinking about phenomena, incuding human beings, communities, parliaments, earth, mind, as (feedback) systems, is a fundamental contribution of cybernetics. Not only are phenomena seen as feedback systems, but things are seen in terms of feedback systems--complex hierarchies of feedback and control. System boundaries are legitimately confused within the paradigm. You are not only a cybernetic system, as a human being, but contain various smaller systems, and are part of many larger systems, all of which are analogous according to the model of the feedback system. Furthermore, music (organized communication) can be seen as a life-like phenomenon. Everything can be conceived in terms of messages (units of information) and the transmission thereof, implying control through feedback. Life, the universe, and everything, can be seen as a struggle between the forces of organization and entropy, message and noise, life and death, control - chaos, certainty - uncertainty.

Feedback and Reflexivity (the obvious explained)

"All of you must open your minds and communicate with each other..." -Publius

"Reflexivity is the movement whereby that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates."
-Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

Directly related to, and a product of, the centrality of feedback in cybernetics, as it was first conceived, is the idea of reflexivity. (see Hayles 1999) An important problem dealt with by contemporary cyberneticists involves the description of a system by an observer who is part of the system observed. An immediately striking characteristic of the enigma, implied throughout this analysis and made evident by the material in the book, is that the whole thing is in so many ways totally self-referential, and reflexive. "The message itself is what's important..." (the message says, etc.) Without the activity of participants, including observers, who discuss the enigma and proliferate messages, who engage in feedback, there would be no enigma! Arriving at an understanding of the enigma, involves a paradigm shift, or at least a "changed perspective" (see Hayles 1999 again), in thinking about yourself with respect to that which you are contemplating and engaging, which is precisely the point. The messages are completely literal and should look entirely different now. It should become obvious that 'the messages' are in fact referring to themselves and the associated communication - duh! It works to say that you have to experience the enigma for yourself to truly appreciate it. You should realize that, even here and now, you've been drawn into an apparatus, the form and pattern of which becomes more clear and self-evident as understanding sets in. (this page is here, and you are reading this now, because Publius sent those silly messages) It's quite hilarious, really.

"I mention this hardly innocent of the machines through which I myself am sending messages to you. Both the real ones and the imaginary."
-Stephen Pfohl, The Cybernetic Delirium of Norbert Wiener

If you haven't yet started to see the enigma in a new light, listen to 'Welcome to the Machine' and think of yourself as the communicatee, (pay particular attention to the stereo and speakers) then listen to TDB and understand that you are being communicated to. Similarly, as a participant in the enigma, even as an observer here, you become part of the thing. The validity of thinking about TDB reflexively is supported by the first set of lyrics on the album, which are clearly being addressed to whomever is listening to the music. The other songs on the album are generally interpreted as being addressed to former band or family members. That is, where You means you as the listener in 'What do You Want From Me', You in the rest of the songs is generally understood to mean someone else. By thinking reflexively about the music, and thinking in cybernetic terms, in terms of the communication system itself and the communication processes taking place, in which the listener is a part, in which You means you as the listener in all of the songs, there is an entirely different level of understanding and meaning to be found in the music. Think of the music as communication analogous to a recorded telephone message to millions of people. Think of the music as being addressed from communicator to audience in the same way as the messages. (Cyberspace is by definition the place where a telephone conversation takes place - "Hello Charlie" - Where is the feedback?) The music, to a certain extent, reflects the nature of the music itself as electronic communication between a communicator detached and alienated from an audience with little real relation to the sender. (where is the feedback?) Like 'The Wall' it's also about the nature of the performance/communication itself and the feelings of the performer as performer. (notice Hey You in 'Poles Apart') It should become abundantly clear that the music is strikingly relevant with respect to some of the most fundamental processes shaping the world today, including communication via the internet, such as that occurring on usenet newsgroups like As David Gilmour comments: "You have to put a bit of work in to get out of it the riches that are there."

"After the War was over, Wiener began a set of seminars near MIT modeled on his earlier experience in the seminars with Dr. Rosenblueth. The post war seminars that Wiener convened were to have an important influence on the work of several of the pioneers of the upcoming computer networking revolution."
-Ronda Hauben, Cybernetics, Time-sharing, Human-Computer Symbiosis and On-line Communities Creating a Supercommunity of On-Line Communitie

In Cybernetics and Society, Wiener argues that the use of language is a faculty not instrinsically limited to human beings, but one that can be engineered into machines as well. "It is the thesis" of the book that communication between machines and machines, machines and humans, and humans and humans, will become ever more important in the future, and that the study of messages is necessary to understand society. Quite prophetically, Wiener argues for the importance of open communication channels for the life of society, and predicts the increasing relative importance of the transportation of information and ideas as opposed to physical transportation. The essense of the Internet, through which we speek of 'surfing' (travelling and moving about), is machines talking to machines, and people communicating with each other via those machines. It seems like more than coincidence that the domain of the Enigma is cyberspace! With respect to the enigma, it's more than incidental that you're sitting there at a computer reading this. The Division Bell too, is to a certain extent about where we are, both as individuals here and as a species, and where we are going.

"In science, the object is no longer nature in itself, but rather nature exposed to man's questioning, and to this extent, man also meets himself."
-Werner Heisenberg

"Turn and face the light..."

Hey you... did you ever realise what you'd become

"The cybernetic automaton's mirroring of the human body was not established on the basis of conventional mimicry, as in the case of androids and their internal parts, so much as on a common understanding of the similarities that existed between the control mechanisms and communicational organizations of machine systems and living organisms. As a result, the principle of cybernetic embodiment extended well beyond prime movers and factories to infiltrate into the sinews of the most humble piece of technology which could accommodate a servomechanism."
-David Thomas, "Feedback and Cybernetics: Reimaging the Body in the Age of the Cyborg"

"It is easy to make a simple machine which will run toward the light or run away from it, and if such machines also contain lights of their own, a number of them together will show complicated forms of social behavior..."

"This machine has two principal modes of action, in one of which it is positively photo-tropic and searches for light, and in the other of which it is negatively photo-tropic and runs away from the light."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

In Cybernetics and Society, Norbert Wiener expresses the shocking observation above, and discusses his interest in the development of a simple tropism machine, "the moth or bedbug". Such a photo-tropism machine is designed to either run away from the light or to run towards it. It's a very simple type of life imitating machine that illustrates the importance of feedback in life-like systems. Programmed with a goal and purpose, it's a far cry from the ideal autonomous self-directing individual. The behavior of such a machine might be thought of as analogous not only the functioning of this digital computing machine here, but to the behavior of a member in a legislature where the only choice is between two alternatives, yeah or nay. In terms of the enigma too, you're either a "nay-sayer", in the words of Publius, or an enigma follower and believer, a yeah-sayer. You're actions are determined by the structure (the rules and instructions defined by Publius) of the apparatus. You might think of it as an "interactive shell game [that] cons us into believing that we are participating when we are really simply performing as the responding 'end' of a prefabricated system of external stimuli..." (Jean Betheke Elshtain on the television-voting model) The yes-no response is a one bit response--without ambiguity, equiprobable, minimum uncertainty. Within the enigma, or in the post-war cybernetic age maybe, we are the programmed. As units in the "collective body" of faithful Floyd-bots, or otherwise perhaps, our behavior is analogous to that of a simple tropism machine, very certain, either running towards the light, or running away from it. Did you know?

"On the day the wall came down
The Ship of Fools had finally run aground"

On the most country simple level it all means that you are being controlled to a certain extent. It means that you are a part of a larger system/mechanism that advances against entropy, progresses,.. learns. Publius, through feedback, monitors and steers the functioning of the system, which in turn organizes itself through feedback, in a way analogous, perhaps, to an advanced fighter aircraft. In fact, if it isn't already obvious, based on Publius' verbiage, the actions of people, the hard facts, when viewed from a completely literal point of view, the enigma phenomenon might even be seen as a completely real and operative control apparatus, a machine.

Huh!?# "Yeah!" Why not?

"A system is anything that talks to itself." -Kevin Kelly

input -> process -> output ->
<-- feedback <--


  -> Did you know ->

  |                  | 

  <-- <-- <-- <-- <-

"For us, a machine is a devise for converting
incoming messages into outgoing messages."

"The machine, like the living organism, is, as I have said, a device which locally and temporarily seems to resist the general tendency for the increase of entropy."

"I have spoken of machines, but not only of machines having brains of brass and thews of iron. When human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood. What is used as an element in the machine, is in fact an element in the machine...
-Norbert Wiener

"Persistance is the most rudimentary property of a machine,
distinguishing it from the merely evanescent...
To be a machine, and entity must atleast persist."
-Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics

"Your persistence and thoughtful analysis is
leading you down the road to a solution."

"Your newfound persistence has paid off..."

"Let me once again applaud your persistence."

"I was only dispatched to begin guiding you in the right direction. Clearly, many of you have followed my lead..." -Publius

"Many of those who are most attached to this orderly state of permanently allotted functions would be confounded if they were forced to admit this publicly. They are only in a position to display their clear preferences through their actions. Yet these actions stand out distinctly enough... The regularly ordered state of pre-assigned functions toward which they gravitate is suggestive of the Leibnitzian automata and does not suggest the irreversible movement into a contingent future which is the true condition of human life."
-Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics and Society

"And even though you needed me
It was clear that I could not do a thing for you..."

The fact that the enigma is a cybernetic control system is irrefutable. The only question is whether or not that's what its creators intended it to be, and it clearly seems to be, because everything can be interpreted to suggest this. Think of yourself as a machine, as well as a part (cog) of the machine. I'm sorry if this offends some of you, but it's a truth of the enigma. This is a part of what Pink Floyd is trying to tell you, or show you rather. In TDB credits it's written: "David Gilmour: guitars, vocals, bass, keyboards and programming" Hah! Programming -The electronics and what not of course. We might think of the machine algorithmically as a program. Do while, for (end if), etc. : the tangible prize is not found...(OOPS!) An infinite loop, or infinite recursion, or a virus for that matter, ad infinitum, absurdissimum. There is no limit. "Words proliferating virus-wise", in the words of William Burroughs. Alternatively, we might see it as a "functional" organism. Can you hear your P.u.l.s.e.? How much do you need to reverse engineer it to see it for what it is? When is an enigma solved? It's completely self-contained and absurd. There is no prize of the kind that you imagine when you see the word 'prize'. The riches are in the music. Pink Floyd doesn't "know something you don't know". The Enigma is in fact anything but an enigma. The Enigma is the system, you are a part of it. That's it. That's all. This level of specificity is completely satisfactory for our purposes here:) You're either a "nay-sayer" or "non-believer", in the words of Publius,(designated as a 0) or an enigma believer - a yeah-sayer (we'll call it a 1) Poor soul, poor dunce.

So there you have it
- it is what it is.
The enigma is exactly what it is.
Isn't that a remarkable coincidence?

"The time is gone the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say"

"Welcome my son, welcome to the machine
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream"

"Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man"

"All in all it was all just bricks in the wall
All in all you were all just bricks in the wall"

"Make them mad, make them sad, make them add two and two
Make them me, make them you, make them do what you want them to"

"Welcome to the world of random noise
Where you simply haven't got a choice"

"While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words.
Dying to believe in what you heard
I was staring straight into the shining sun"

"And when you see what's been acheived
Is there a feeling that you've been deceived?"

"Hello, is there anybody in there?"

Ahhh, yeah... whatever.

Don't get it? That's OK, you're not alone. 'The Onion' reports that 79 percent of Americans are missing the point entirely.

"We apologize for the inconvenience"

Publius Enigma: The Final Message