We want to understand how a species of organisms might evolve: (1) organic means of storing formal structures capable of bearing information about an organism’s state in the world, and (2) faculties for developing artificial extensions of those means. Keeping that goal in mind, let’s follow Ashby’s thesis about the mark of a good regulator as he applies it to higher forms of regulation.
Regulation In Biological Systems
10/6.[concl.] The same argument will apply, with obvious modifications, to the automatic pilot. If it is a good regulator the passengers will have a smooth flight whatever the gustiness outside. They will, in short, be prevented from knowing whether or not it is gusty outside. Thus a good pilot acts as a barrier against the transmission of that information.
The same argument applies to an air-conditioner. If I live in an air-conditioned room, and can tell, by the hotness of the room, that it is getting hot outside, then that conditioner is failing as a regulator. If it is really good, and the blinds are drawn, I shall be unable to form any idea of what the outside weather is like. The good conditioner blocks the flow inwards of information about the weather.
The same thesis applies to the higher regulations achieved by such activities as hunting for food, and earning one’s daily bread. Thus while the unskilled hunter or earner, in difficult times, will starve and will force his liver and tissues (the essential variables) to extreme and perhaps unphysiological states, the skilled hunter or earner will go through the same difficult times with his liver and tissues never taken to extremes. In other words, his skill as a regulator is shown by the fact, among others, that it prevents information about the times reaching the essential variables. In the same way, the skilled provider for a family may go through difficult times without his family realising that anything unusual has happened. The family of an unskilled provider would have discovered it.
In general, then, an essential feature of the good regulator is that it blocks the flow of variety from disturbances to essential variables.
- Ashby, W.R. (1956), An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman and Hall, London, UK. Republished by Methuen and Company, London, UK, 1964. Online.