Heinz von Foerster Festschrift

Heinz—My Loving Teacher

As I reflect on my twenty plus years of knowing and loving Heinz and Mai, I have no one particular memory to recount. I do have a glowing, continuum of moments, encounters, electric connections and our sweet, peaceful times together that are with me always.

In 1980 I was an unsuspecting student, innocent of axons, not aware of either trivial or non-trivial "machines," and unaware of the nets of neurons of which I was composed. Asked by Werner Erhard to host Heinz Von Foerster's lecture series for colleagues and friends, my innocence ended and my "understanding of understanding" began.

As the success of the lecture series for the public, as well as for this particular student, grew, I was drawn closer to Heinz and Mai as we planned each session. During the breaks in each lecture, when the other students went for coffee, Mai retrieved from her special carrier bag delicious, home made, Viennese pastry that she had brought for Heinz, to build his energy and motivate him to complete that evening's talk. Much to my pleasure, as the series grew into the later sessions, I was included in the pastry offerings. This was the beginning of delicious traditions of Valentines Day, heart shaped Linzer Torts shipped to me from Mai wherever I lived and delightful moments of indulgence with Heinz when we share rich chocolates.

In my memories, I immediately see Heinz, when I arrived at the retreat of Rattlesnake Hill, coming down the short path from the house to the car park with arms in the air, calling JOAN!. I picture Heinz and Mai and I at the table, eating her delicious lunch or dinner or breakfast (for the mornings when I spent the night in "my room" on the second floor.)

I see Heinz and I sitting on the deck overlooking 5th Avenue and admiring Mai's succulent plants growing so healthy and thriving in her care. After a walk to survey the latest wild flowers, deer droppings, recalcitrant poison oak plants, we would settle in to spend hours discussing life, organizations, world events, Heinz's latest theories, speeches, questions. Tears over Kosovo, reflections on U.S. politics, stories of the past, of escaping with the boys out of Germany as the war intensified, Heinz on a bicycle and Mai on a train in Dresden as the fire bombing descended.

There were moments when I was fortunate to come to Rattlesnake Hill when Andy brought Madalyn and Lillith and they were drawing pictures and telling stories. And there was the special moment for me when I could proudly bring Ken, my then lover and now husband, to make the match between him and Heinz and Mai so they could share my joy and Ken could love them also.

I do remember one event, very clearly. I had come to visit for two days and Heinz was not yet home when I arrived. He was lecturing in Santa Cruz and I arrived early. Mai and I sat and talked. We had a secret we shared. We liked to puff on one cigarette together without Heinz knowing. So as naughty girls we were enjoying our moment when a call came that Heinz had been in a car accident. We did not know if he was hurt. They would not say. They just asked us to come for him. I immediately drove Mai to the small hospital near-by to find Heinz. And there he was, bandage on his head, sitting up and ready to go home. Fortunately, he was not badly hurt, in large part because he had been quick at the wheel and avoided an oncoming car speeding out of a beach parking lot near the Pescadaro turnoff. Heinz's first response on seeing Mai was to reassure her by saying, "Don't worry, I was lucky. I've only hit my head which is the hardest part of me and impossible to damage!" Our laugh broke the tension and his love of life pulled him through.

As a teacher, colleague and friend, Heinz has been a bridge for some many of us linking mathematics, neurology, cybernetics, philosophy, humanism, social values, organizational development, leadership, and humanities in his thinking, his writing, his teaching and his very being. His vibrancy, his vitality, his brilliance and his friendship are with me every moment. I am grateful that I will always continue to learn the lessons he teaches. How lucky I have been to have shared these moments of life with Heinz and Mai!

Joan Goldsmith

Heinz von Foerster Festschrift