Article ID: CBB001252305

“The Materials of Science, the Ideas of Science, and the Poetry of Science”: Warren McCulloch and Jerry Lettvin (2012)


Abraham, Tara H. (Author)

Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
Volume: 37, no. 3
Issue: 3
Pages: 269-286

Publication Date: 2012
Edition Details: Part of special issue, “Warren S. McCulloch and his Circle”
Language: English

This essay explores the relationship between neurophysiologist and cybernetician Warren S. McCulloch (1898-1969) and one of his most important collaborators, neurophysiologist Jerome Y. Lettvin (1920-2011). Lettvin met McCulloch in 1941 as a medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where McCulloch was associate professor of psychiatry. Lettvin recalled that it was McCulloch's influence that led him to study the nervous system; however, theirs was a distinct sort of relationship between mentor and student. According to Lettvin, McCulloch treated young scientists not as children but as if they were experts in any field they happened to be discussing. Both shared an irreverent spirit and ultimately, McCulloch instilled in Lettvin a penchant for theoretical investigations of the nervous system and a humanistic approach to the sciences. By tracing McCulloch's and Lettvin's relationship from their initial meeting in 1941 through to their famous collaborations at MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics in the 1950s and 1960s, this article highlights the complexities of mentor-student relationships in twentieth-century American science, the personal and intellectual alliances that defined work in cybernetics, and the `transdisciplinary' sorts of practices that characterized cybernetic studies of the brain.


Description On the study of cybernetic research on the brain and the interaction between the neurophysiologists McCulloch and Lettvin.

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Authors & Contributors
Kline, Ronald R.
Halpern, Orit
Abraham, Tara H.
Popkewitz, Thomas S.
Marshall, Owen
Ivens, John P.
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
History of the Human Sciences
Technology and Culture
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Journal of Medical Biography
University of Wisconsin at Madison
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Notre Dame Press
University of Chicago Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Johns Hopkins University
Technology and culture
Technology and society
McCulloch, Warren
Wiener, Norbert
Pitts, Walter
Stroud, John
Von Foerster, Heinz
Miller, George Armitage
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
20th century, late
19th century
United States
Great Britain
Soviet Union
University of California, Berkeley
Rockefeller Foundation

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