The Macy Conferences were a set of meetings of scholars from various disciplines held in New York by the initiative of Warren McCulloch and the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation from 1946 to 1953. The principal purpose of these series of conferences was to set the foundations for a general science of the workings of the human mind.
The Macy Conferences were organised by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, motivated by Lawrence K. Frank and Frank Fremont-Smith of the Macy Foundation. The participants were leading scientists from a wide range of fields. Casual recollections of several participants stress the communicative difficulties in the beginning, giving way to the gradual establishment of a common language powerful enough to communicate the intricacies of the various fields of expertise present.
The scientists participating in all or most of the conferences are known as the "core group." They include:
- William Ross Ashby; psychiatrist and a pioneer in cybernetics
- Gregory Bateson; anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist
- Julian Bigelow; pioneering computer engineer
- Heinz von Foerster; biophysicist, scientist combining physics and philosophy and architect of cybernetics
- Lawrence K. Frank; social scientist
- Ralph W. Gerard; neurophysiologist and behavioral scientist known for his work on the nervous system, nerve metabolism, psychopharmacology, and biological basis of schizophrenia
- Molly Harrower; pioneering clinical psychologist
- Heinrich Klüver; Psychologist
- Lawrence Kubie; psychiatrist
- Paul Lazarsfeld; sociologist and founder of Columbia University's Bureau for Applied Social Research
- Kurt Lewin; psychologist, often regarded as the founder of social psychology
- Warren McCulloch (chair); psychiatrist, neurophysiologist and cybernetician
- Margaret Mead; cultural anthropologist
- John von Neumann; one of the foremost mathematicians of the 20th century
- Walter Pitts; logician and co-author of the paper that founded neural networks
- Arturo Rosenblueth; researcher, physician, physiologist and a pioneer of cybernetics
- Leonard J. Savage; mathematician and statistician
- Norbert Wiener; mathematician and founder of cybernetics
In addition to the core group several invited guests participated in the conferences. Amongst many others:
- Max Delbrück; geneticist and biophysicist
- Erik Erikson; developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory of social development
- Talcott Parsons; sociologist.
- Claude Shannon; electronic engineer and mathematician, "the father of information theory"
Some of the researchers present at the conferences later went on to do extensive government funded research on the psychological effects of LSD, and its potential as a tool for interrogation and psychological manipulation in such projects as the CIA's MKULTRA program.
Before the more well known 10 Macy Conferences were organised, Frank Fremont-Smith organised the Cerebral Inhibition Meeting in May 1942. This was an invitation only meeting attended by:
- Lawrence Frank
- Margaret Mead
- Gregory Bateson
- Warren McCulloch
- Arturo Rosenblueth
- Lawrence Kubie
There were two topics:
This is a sampling of the topics discussed each year.
- 1946, March (NYC)
- Self-regulating and teleological mechanisms
- Simulated neural networks emulating the calculus of propositional logic
- Anthropology and how computers might learn how to learn
- Object perception's feedback mechanisms
- Perceptual differences due to brain damage
- Deriving ethics from science
- Compulsive repetitive behavior
- 1946, October (NYC)
- 1947, March (NYC)
- 1947, October (NYC)
- The field perspective on psychology
- Analog vs. digital approaches to psychological models
- 1948, Spring (NYC)
- Formation of "I" in language
- Formal modeling applied to chicken pecking order formation
- 1949, March (NYC)
- 1950, March (NYC)
- 1951, March (NYC)
- Information as semantic
- Can automatons engage in deductive logic?
- Decision theory
- Small group dynamics and group communications
- The applicability of game theory to psychic motivations
- The type of language needed to analyze language
- Mere behavior vs. true communication
- Is psychiatry scientific?
- Can a mental event that creates a memory ever be unconscious?
- 1952, March (NYC)
- The relation of neurophysiological details to broad issues in philosophy and epistemology
- The relation of cybernetics at the microlevel to biochemical and cellular processes
- The complexity of organisms as a function of information
- Humor, communication, and paradox
- Do chess playing automatons need randomness to defeat humans?
- Homeostasis and learning
- 1953, April (Princeton)
- How neural mechanisms can recognize shapes and musical chords
- What consensus, if any, the Macy Conferences have arrived at
- First Neuropharmacological Conference, 26–28 May 1954
The conferences were generally held at 3:26PM, owing to the significance which that time represents for all #macy group members.
- "Summary: The Macy Conferences at asc-cybernetics.org. Accessed Dec 21, 2012". Asc-cybernetics.org. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- HISTORY OF CYBERNETICS by the American Society for Cybernetics, retrieved 15 April 2008
- "The Macy Conference Attendees". Asc-cybernetics.org. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- Unsworth, John M., "LSD, Mind Control, and the Internet: A Chronology", handout with "Information Theory, Postmodernism, and Mind Control (or, What LSD, Mass Media, and the Internet Have in Common)," presented at the 1994 Conference of the Society for Literature and Science, New Orleans, LA, November, 1994.
- "http://www.asc-cybernetics.org/foundations/history2.htm". American Society for Cybernetics. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
- Glaser, Gilbert (September 1955). "Neuropharmacology - Transactions of the first conference". The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 28 (1): 78–79. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
- 1949. Cybernetics: Transactions of the Sixth Conference. New York : Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
- 1950. Cybernetics: Transactions of the Seventh Conference. Edited by Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead and Hans Lukas Teuber. New York : Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
- 1952. Cybernetics: Transactions of the Eighth Conference. Edited by Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead and Hans Lukas Teuber. New York : Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
- 1953. Cybernetics: Transactions of the Ninth Conference. Edited by Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead and Hans Lukas Teuber. New York : Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
- 1955. Cybernetics: Transactions of the Tenth Conference. Edited by Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead and Hans Lukas Teuber. New York : Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.
- 2003. Cybernetics – Kybernetik. The Macy-Conferences 1946-1953. Edited by Claus Pias. Zürich/Berlin : diaphanes.