Frank Honywill George

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Frank Honywill George (born 1921) was a British psychologist, cyberneticist and former Professor of Cybernetics and Director of the Institute of Cybernetics at the Brunel University, best known for his 1962 book The Brain as a Computer.


  • The word 'cybernetics' is still new to many people, even though it has now been an accepted word of our language for some ten or fifteen years. Speaking generally, cybernetics is the scientific study of control and communication. It is an attempt to give an integrated account of both physical and biological systems in terms of their capacity to communicate between different points of the system, and in terms of their control.
    There has been considerable research into general methods of communication in recent years, and this has been primarily the work of communication engineers, who are trying to discover in general terms what they themselves are doing.
    • George (1958) "Cybernetics and biology" in: M.L. Johnson Ed. New biology. Ns 26-31. p.106
  • Cybernetics is still headline news, and increasingly we hear about its applications to new fields of scientific and industrial endeavour. Stafford Beer's new book Cybernetics and Management is an admirable account on the relation that exist between cybernetics and the problems of management in industry [and]... covers a range of applications that have not previously been dealt with in print.
  • The main object of cybernetics is to supply adaptive, hierarchical models, involving feedback and the like, to all aspects of our environment. Often such modelling implies simulation of a system where the simulation should achieve the object of copying both the method of achievement and the end result. Synthesis, as opposed to simulation, is concerned with achieving only the end result and is less concerned (or completely unconcerned) with the method by which the end result is achieved. In the case of behaviour, psychology is concerned with simulation, while cybernetics, although also interested in simulation, is primarily concerned with synthesis.
    Most of the major developments in models and theories of artificial intelligence have taken place in the western world — mostly, indeed, in the US and Britain — and it was only relatively recently that "core developments", as opposed to more peripheral developments and applications, have spread over Europe and the Soviet Union.
    • George (1973) "Soviet Cybernetics, the militairy and Professor Lerner" in: New Scientist (March 15, 1973). Vol. 57, nr. 837. p. 613

The Brain As A Computer (1962)[edit]

George (1962) The Brain As A Computer Pergamon Press. (2e ed. 1973)
  • This book an attempt will be made to outline the principles of cybernetics and relate them to what we know of behaviour, both from the point of view of experimental psychology and also from the point of view of neurophysiology.
    • p.1
  • The title of the book, The Brain as a Computer, is intended to convey something of the methodology involved; the idea is to regard the brain itself as if it were a computer-type control system, in the belief that by so doing we are making explicit what for some time has been implicit in the biological sciences.
    • p.1 as cited in: T. Zetenyi (1988) Fuzzy Sets in Psychology. p.346
  • Cybernetics is concerned primarily with the construction of theories and models in science, without making a hard and fast distinction between the physical and the biological sciences. The theories and models occur both in symbols and in hardware, and by 'hardware* we shall mean a machine or computer built in terms of physical or chemical, or indeed any handleable parts. Most usually we shall think of hardware as meaning electronic parts such as valves and relays. Cybernetics insists, also, on a further and rather special condition that distinguishes it from ordinary scientific theorizing: it demands a certain standard of effectiveness. In this respect it has acquired some of the same motive power that has driven research on modern logic, and this is especially true in the construction and application of artificial languages and the use of operational definitions. Always the search is for precision and effectiveness, and we must now discuss the question of effectiveness in some detail. It should be noted that when we talk in these terms we are giving pride of place to the theory of automata at the expense, at least to some extent, of feedback and information theory.
    • p.2
  • The sudden recent rise to prominence of cybernetics was due, immediately, to World War II. There existed then a series of problems which had not previously been met. The main one was that of range-finding for anti-aircraft guns in high-speed aerial warfare. The older systems involved human computers and these, with manually controlled locators, were wholly inadequate for the job in hand. The essence of the process involved was to track and predict the direction, velocity, and height of enemy aircraft. The human being's part in the operation was much too slow and inaccurate, and there were people available with machines already developed to do the job adequately; these machines were, of course, computing machines.
    • p.18
  • These computing machines had already been designed, and some built, by {[w|Vannevar Bush}}, Norbert Wiener, and others, and were almost ready-made for the job. These scientists, as well as others such as von Neumann, Shannon and Bigelow, were in a position to see that machines of an electronic kind were ideally suited to carry out the whole of the operations of range-finding and location without any human intervention whatever.
    These electronic computing machines were already developed to a very high degree of efficiency for the solution of mathematical equations, and some technical difficulties had led to the suggestion that a process of scanning, similar to that used in television, might be incorporated into the computer. Another innovation was the use of binary notation rather than decimal notation as in the early Harvard Mark I computer.
    • p.18
  • In many ways it is true to say that syntax is mathematical logic, semantics is philosophy or philosophy of science, and pragmatics is psychology, but these fields are not really all distinct.
    • p.42 as cited in: Sica Pettigiani (1996) La comunicazione interumana. p.48

Quotes about Frank Honywill George[edit]

  • George has some important (if not necessarily original) things to say and he has the positivist’s ability to avoid confusing abstractions. He holds strongly that the construction of inductive process machines will produce devices that can go far beyond the abilities of their inventors (a more general statement concerning Weiner’s recent argument in Science... He sees the importance of eventually gaining physiological statements to supplement psychological process description.
    • Richard N. Adam (1959) "Automation Cybernetics and Society, F. H. George... Reviewed by Richard N. Adam". In American Anthropologist Vol 63, 2. p.459-460 (online)
  • George... equates cybernetics with behaviorism, states that cybernetics regards human beings and animals as essentially very complicated machines.
    • T. Zetenyi (1988) Fuzzy Sets in Psychology. p.346
  • Happily for physical science, cybernetics included, faulty philosophical premises do not vitiate the value of experimental findings. Thus, F. H. George is quite correct in stating that some parts of cybernetics can be accepted even by those "who are radically opposed to the Mechanistic Materialists and their modern counterparts. But they certainly cannot accept a cybernetics which is defined as "the application of an old idea, idea that human beings and animals are essentially very complicated machines."
    • Stanley L. Jaki (1989) Brain, mind and computers. p.71: Jaki is citing here F.G. George (1962) The Brain As A Computer. p.372

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