Tara H. AbrahamMay 11, 2017
Warren S. McCulloch's Transdisciplinary Life in Science
MIT Press 2016
Fueling his bohemian lifestyle and anti-authoritarian attitude with a steady diet of ice cream and whiskey, along with a healthy dose of insomnia, Warren Sturgis McCulloch is best known for his foundational contributions to cybernetics but led a career that spanned psychiatry, philosophy, neurophysiology, and engineering. Tara H. Abraham's new book Rebel Genius: Warren S. McCulloch's Transdisciplinary Life in Science (MIT Press, 2016) is the first scholarly biography of this towering figure of twentieth century American science. Abrahams careful tracing of McCulloch's broad disciplinary traverses is grounded in explication of heady theories and mathematical models of the brain. The growing historical scholarship on cybernetics rests on a curious threshold: its subject matter, rife with outsized personalities and uncannily forward-looking ideas, is ever poised to remain more ineluctably fascinating than scholarly analysis can render. Rather than attempting to beat the cyberneticians at their own game--self-consciously or not becoming participant observers in the reflexive system described by "second-order" cybernetics--this rich portrait offers pointed and entertaining insight into the role of style, sociability, and mentorship in twentieth century scientific life.