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Homeostatic Systems

Entry updated 19 January 2017. Tagged: Theme.

An item of sf Terminology borrowed from the pre-digital-Computer era of Cybernetics. A homeostatic system is a device which automatically maintains itself in a state of equilibrium, with input and output exactly balanced, using negative feedback devices to do so. The term originally came from physiology, for the human body itself has many homeostatic systems – perhaps more simply thought of, to use less scientific terminology, as self-regulating systems. For example, through a variety of feedback devices ultimately controlled by the brain, the body regulates its temperature, constantly adjusting it against changes of outside temperature, and internal changes such as the heat produced by eating food. The less mystical version of the Gaia (which see) hypothesis treats Earth's Ecology, weather, tectonic activity etc as components of such a system.

A homeostatic system, or series of them, is a necessary if primitive first step in the production of artificial intelligence (see AI) and finally self-consciousness. Thus the sf writers who tended to use the term often, such as Philip K Dick, were generally interested in the various transitional stages between Machine and man. Dick also coined further neologisms based on the term, such as the "homeopape" – a newspaper automatically compiled and published by a Wordmill-like homeostatic system – in "If There Were No Benny Cemoli" (December 1963 Galaxy). [PN/DRL]

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