In the Seminar on Heraclitus, conducted by Martin Heidegger and Eugen Fink in 1966, Heidegger says:

In the experiment which we undertake, there is no question of wanting to conjure up Heraclitus himself. Rather, he speaks with us and we speak with him. At present, we reflect on the phenomenon of steering.

This phenomenon has today, in the age of cybernetics, become so fundamental that it occupies and determines the whole of natural science and the behavior of humans so that it is necessary for us to gain more clarity about it. You said first that steering means "bringing something into a desired course." Let us attempt a still more precise description of the phenomenon...

What does Heidegger mean by Cybernetics here? It isn't natural science for he says that it directs it as well as the behaviour of human beings. Is it akin to technology? However he goes on to say:

That natural science and our life today become ruled by cybernetics in increasing measure is not accidental; rather, it is foreshadowed in the historical origin of modern knowledge and technology.

Which suggests some essential differences between Cybernetics and Technology.

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    The atmosphere was "Psycho-cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz (1960). This was extremely topical in the '60s. Poor Weiner. So this was in the air.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 17:10
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    He is making something of an elaborate pun here. 'Cybernetics' is the combination of information science, computation, and control theory -- it is still the word for Computer Science in many parts of the world. But the Greek word means 'The study of steering'. Many folks would take a broader look at the notion of directing and giving direction than the field that has co-opted this name allows.
    – user9166
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 17:15
  • @jobermark: Interesting. The context that the extract is taken from is a study of a fragment of Heraclitus: Lightning steers the cosmos. It seems H is making a parallel with the contemporary human situation. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 17:19
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    I agree also with the comment above; maybe is a sort of pun. Cybernetics is the science of control. See page 43: "Scarcely a month passes but a new book appears on these so-called control mechanisms, or servomechanisms, and the present age is as truly the age of servomechanisms as the nineteenth century was the age of the steam engine or the eighteenth century the age of the clock." Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 13:47
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    Your question was very helpful to me because in my look again at Yorck, I realized the importance to me of his concept of "space". Imagine space as a room, the far end of the room is our death. Then how do we prioritize things in our "Being envelope" or Being-space so as to make best use of our Being-time? We can also project forward into this "space". I am mixing Heidegger and Yorck here.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


Cybernetics is a scientific discipline that deals with closed-loop systems and open loop systems. It's related to control theory in engineering.

Many systems on Earth, from technical or engineering systems to markets and social systems, can be "controlled" (as in made to behave in a desired way) by intervention. This intervention is either due to moving an actuator, like an electric motor to rotate a shaft, in an engineering system, or due to laws and policing in a social system. The systems are dynamical systems (differential equations), so their states change over time.

Open loop systems are steered in a desired direction by an actuation system. They are not very robust (not very good at achieving their desired goal) if there are externalities that influence and disturb the system. Such external forces can be both physical and social depending on the system.

Closed loop systems have feedback from the current state of the system to the desired state of the system. The difference between desired and actual current state is called the control error. This difference goes into a controller, which determines the required actuator position to make the actual state follow the desired state. Closed loop control systems are much more robust than open loop control systems.

The following diagram, taken from Wikipedia, shows a closed loop system.

Diagram of a closed loop system


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