Heinz von Foerster on Heinz von Foerster: Experiences, Heuristics, Plans, Futures
Foerster H. von, Müller. A. & Muller K. H. (2011) Heinz von Foerster on Heinz von Foerster: Experiences, Heuristics, Plans, Futures. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 18(3–4): 73–93. Available at http://cepa.info/3409
This interview was held in April 1997 in Heinz von Foerster’s home in Pescadero. In this interview, questions by Albert and Karl H. Müller are marked in italics. The German version has been published as Foerster, H.v. (1997). Der Anfang von Himmel und Erde hat keinen Namen. Eine Selbsterschaffung in sieben Tagen (A. Müller and K.H. Müller, Eds.). Vienna: Döcker-Verlag. The English translation has been prepared by Michael Kasenbacher and Elinor Rooks. It will be published in 2012 by Fordham University Press.
As far as I can remember, we’re now dedicating ourselves to the mythologies, strategies, technologies, jokes, et cetera, et cetera, that this Foerster uses to sell his curious intellectual soap bubbles. Is that right?
In our big game box we find countless programs. We are searching for the Foerster modules.
Foerster modules, programs, programmed... I’m not happy with using the concept of programs at the moment. Naturally I do use the concept of programs whenever I hope that an important distinction, a fruitful heuristics will come out of it. People know what the word ‘program’ means. In the case of the differentiation between trivial and non-trivial machines this distinction seems to have functioned well, lots of people have taken on this distinction and have adopted it, lots of people say, “Ah, now I understand more about my environment,” et cetera.
In our conversations about the “magic of recursion,” we encountered two types of operators: operators of the first order and operators of the second order, which send the first-order operators out on journeys. Let’s try through conversation – perhaps supported by the expression “module” – to find such Foerster operators on the first and second levels.
Before you get into outlining programs I’d like to warn you of something. There’s an important reason why the idea of programs and of Foerster operators is so unappealing to me. Namely, I’ve noticed, and before now, that I seldom reflect on myself. Though I often think about the “I,” I never actually think about myself. I think psychoanalysts would have a hard time knowing what to do with me. Of someone asks me, “What do you feel about X?” or “What does Y do to you?”… no idea! I seem to be rather spontaneous. If the situation is like so, I do this, if the situation is different, I do that. Whatever I do, I don’t do it with intent or out of long preparation. It just comes, and then I act as best I can. I don’t know if we’ll get very far with “programs,” “operators” or “modules;” we might not even get off the ground.
Let’s sail a little further – at least metaphorically – under the flag of programs. Programs can contain lots of chance components, can prove flexible and reconfigurable! Let’s use the heuristics with the first and second level operators – and let’s look at operators such as modules, which will together lead us to the Foerster program, and to get into the mood, let’s begin with the first level of operators.
I repeat: I have no plan, no intentions, I don’t understand why I do this or that. And that’s probably why I stumble across inexplicability in so many areas, because I can’t explain or predict myself. If programs and modules help with this, then let’s operate with them.
Let’s try with the operator which I take to be the most important Foerster module, namely, inversion, the reversal, the turning upside down of settled, traditional relations. This operator seems a little like a conceptual Jacobin: “Down with the king, long live the revolution!”
Well, that I like better. And that reminds me straight away of an important episode from the time of my studies. One of my colleagues at the Technical University said to me, “Heinz, I’ve been to a couple of lectures at the university which you have to go to. There’s another one tomorrow, let’s go together!” We went to the university together. The lecturer was a professor Scheminzky and the title was, “Can life be artificially created?” [Note 3] I entered the auditorium and it was already jam-packed. In the front row there sat, naturally, the great professors of Biology and the rest of the great and the good. The chairman announced, “Professor Scheminzky will now speak about the problem, ‘Can life be artificially created?’” Upon which the men in the first row all stood up as one and marched out in protest. The group with the respectable beards, the great professors, were just gone. We young people said to each other, of course, that this must be the right way; this lecture series and its contents are the right thing for us. The best propaganda for any idea for me is still: The orthodoxy marches out the door. This lecture series was organized by the Vienna Circle at the time.[Note 4]
Yet another example: You’ll probably see again and again that I especially like to turn a process or a relation around if an asymmetry is indicated within it. If I find a conceptual asymmetry in any proposition, then I immediately turn it around and investigate what consequences could be associated with that. A very modern word right now is the bottom line. The American economy today consists entirely of such bottom lines. The bottom line is found at the end of a calculation, and in it is written, “Those were our profits, those our losses, that’s our income, those are the expenses for employees, that’s the cost of the chimney sweep – bottom line – negative two thousand, two hundred and seventy six point twenty three.”
Everyone stares, spellbound, at the bottom line. And in a case like this I start to invert: “Well, you’re always looking at the bottom line with such fascination, very good. Do you know what, I always look at the ‘top line.’ Maybe something is going fundamentally wrong up at the top. Why don’t we all take an intensive look at the top line for once.” – I enthusiastically perform this kind of inversion again and again. If a proposition goes ABCD, then I’m interested in DCBA. I think that theories of humor claim that such reversals – especially when they happen unexpectedly – form the foundation, the core, the point of jokes and humor. If you like you can say that my central theme is – the joke.
One very instructive experiment in inversion comes from your Viennese days – you “turned around” the propositions of Tractatus.
I did have certain difficulties in “selling” Wittgenstein to my constructivist friends, or at least bringing him a little closer. Why? There are some propositions in Tractatus which absolutely cannot be interpreted in a constructivist manner; In a way they’re a box around the ears for constructivists. Take for example Wittgenstein’s picture theorem, the famous proposition 2.12: “A picture is a model of reality.”
Ernst von Glaserfeld once said to me, “When I got to this point I put the book down – and didn’t read any further. Total nonsense to me – first the world is postulated, and then the picture comes afterwards. We’re not taking pictures!”
Good, now here comes Heinz von Foerster starting his inversion game: “Reality is a model of a picture.”
Here the picture becomes the cause and the “world,” our “reality,” the consequence, not the other way round. And naturally the constructivists are very happy with this inversion because this is how they see this connection as well.
Does this inversion bring you into contradiction with other Wittgenstein theorems, that is, do you stumble? No, I’d claim that one can – unless one forgets to invert the relevant sub-propositions – develop a totally consistent philosophical picture if you invert his “world-picture postulate” – and build it up as the “picture-world postulate.” I think that the situation here is very similar to that in geometry. I have, for example, always been very enthusiastic about the possibilities of non-Euclidean geometry. People have tried again and again to prove Euclid’s so-called parallel axiom through the remaining axioms.[Note 5] The parallel axiom says, roughly: For every plane, in which there is a line L and a point P which does not lie on L, there exists exactly one line L’ which goes through P and is parallel to L. And for a long time the exciting question for geometers and mathematicians was whether it was possible to use the other axioms to determine points, straight lines and curves such that the parallel axiom eventually comes out as a deducted theorem. As has been said, this proof was not achieved, on the contrary, Bolyai and Lobachevsky were able to prove that the parallel axiom is indeed independent of the other axioms. But if that’s so, then I can also deny it and, together with the other axioms, invent a new geometry which will have to be free of contradictions. Because if it contained contradictions, then these would have long since trodden on the toes of the other axioms, who for their part would have screamed so loud that it would have been noticed at least by an axiomist, right? As so in the 19th century the parallel axiom was denied and it was claimed, “To every line there is not just one but any number of parallels,” – the Lobachevskian geometry –, and on another occasion it was posed that, “A straight line has no single parallel” – Riemann geometry. In these ways completely new geometries developed, no one stepped on anyone’s toes, no one screamed – new consistent, non-Euclidean geometries blossomed, and people began, for example, to work on the geometry of the sphere or the geometry of multi-dimensional spaces, et cetera.
I see the situation in the case of Wittgenstein’s book of axioms, the Tractatus, in a similar way. If one turns around the picture postulate and says, “No pictures, rather, examples” or “Pictures, pictures, nothing but pictures” – what systems build themselves up then? I even think that certain Wittgenstein propositions fit more easily into the inverted version, in which reality becomes a model of a picture.
These reversal operations have become favorite regulars of yours. For example, one of the most important reversals occurred with the role of the paradox. It went from being something which was avoided like the plague and put into neat and tidy hierarchies of type into being something that is treated like an equal and welcomed like an old friend.
Yes, we developed a constructive circle or a creative circle rather than a vicious circle. These kinds of inversions come up again and again, they are perhaps, if you wish, actually a piece of “Heinz methodology.” If you have a relation that shows asymmetries – “That is primary, the other is secondary and follows from it” – then I immediately turn the tables and look to see which new pictures emerge. As we’ve already said, this operation seems to be the foundation of humor, the point of jokes. On the one side stands a fundamental statement, for example the one from
Korzybski – “The world is not a map.”[Note 6] And then comes Heinz von Foerster: “Hotza, the world is a map.” Suddenly the fundamental statement is a joke, people laugh – and can build new insights on this basis. I think that it represents essential progress if our ‘fundamentals’ are turned around as jokes and therefore become entertaining rather than overwhelming.
And this brings us to the navel. You write that our navel is, for us, an ontological riddle, a secret or a joke, in that order.
Thank you very much for that quote. Besides that I conducted experiments with the navel which I absolutely must tell you about. I asked children who weren’t spoiled yet, that is, ones whose parents hadn’t yet explained what a bellybutton is good for. So on the beach, where children were running around naked, I’d ask them, “Tell me, what have you got there, what have you got on your stomach?” “That’s my bellybutton.” “Well, yes alright, but what is the bellybutton doing in the middle of your stomach?” And I got the greatest answer from a little girl who put her finger on it and answered, “I can say ‘I’ with it.” – Isn’t that uncanny? That really impressed me extraordinarily:
“I can say ‘I’ with it.” – An answer to a fundamentally undecidable question produces a creative response.
Let’s assume for a minute that your positions and perspectives became generally accepted, how would your Jacobin operator react? Would it start to invert again? Would “Reality is a model of a picture” and “A picture is a reality of a model” be turned into “A picture is a model of reality”? After all, a model has got to be a model of something.
No, no, because I hope that in this situation everyone would be laughing. Because I hope that people would no longer break each other’s skulls for the one and only truth: “I have the truth, and therefore you cannot have it because you say something different.” – I hope that in such a case a relaxation of the relations between people would occur because they could make jokes, because they could just turn around all statements, turn them upside-down or use asymmetries, et cetera.
Let’s leave our Jacobin and go to another important Foerster operator. The connecting pattern goes by the name Jacob – that is, Jacob Grimm. An operation of yours that we find again and again is playing with the etymological backgrounds of concepts and expressions.
Yes, definitely, you’re right. This game with the origins of words comes from the fact that I myself always feel unhappy using words whose numerous meanings and whose origins I don’t know. If I’m using a word and suddenly someone asks me, “Hey, tell me, what do you actually mean with electromagnetic field?,” then I don’t want to only be able to answer, “Electromagnetic field, it’s what I read in textbook XY on page 4.” An answer like that wouldn’t be enough for me, and I’d also like to know how one got to electromagnetic fields, where the expressions electricity or magnet come from, when and how they emerged, et cetera. If I find that out, then I feel significantly better.
Furthermore, I am often impressed by the insights that reveal themselves if ones goes back to the origins of words. For example I was deeply shocked by the expression science, not by the German Wissenschaft, that gave me less of a headache, but by the English, science, from the Latin scientia. So I looked it up in the excellent American Dictionary of English Language, the last hundred pages of which contain etymological references. I flipped through to the root word – and there I came upon the archetype, the Indo-European root ski – and that means to separate. The essential idea of ski is to separate and it crops up in every kind of word possible, like schizophrenia, schism, but also in the words Scheiße or shit, because you separate yourself from these things, whether you want to or not – and if you look it up in the German Duden dictionary, you find exactly the same state of affairs.
When I say in my lectures, “Look, science, schizophrenia, schism, shit, et cetera, they all belong to the same category of separation materials!,” I mostly get either gales of laughter or angry outbursts. Naturally I asked myself, “What expressions do we have that run counter to this separation, that mean to unify and to integrate?” In this semantic field I came across the Greek word syn, together, or even more significantly, hen, one. And with this I have the etymological roots of two opposing schematas of thought: The first, the ski form, separates, it aims for taxonomies, dichotomies, operates with “get out, get out, get out” – the other, the syn or hen form, integrates, brings together, acts with a “come in, come in, come in.” Syn, that’s what people like Gregory Bateson do, with this talk of “the pattern which connects.” That’s something which everyone should really know by heart. What brings us together, what pattern connects the orchid to the primrose, the frog to the elephant and all four of them to us? These kinds of patterns, I would claim, are also created through magic.
Going against your Grimmean operator, one could of course argue that it has too much entertainment value and too little informational value. It could actually be irrelevant where a concept that I use came from; what’s important is just that there’s a consensus as to its usages. Etymology can look after itself or be left to the linguists or historians.
Naturally, people can claim any kind of nonsense, no problem, I’ve got no objections to it. That’s someone else’s problem then, not mine; it’s as if someone said, “Good, I’ve got a bellybutton, I don’t need to worry about why it’s there, I’ve just got it.” I see the connection to a word’s history in a fundamentally different way. Within a word or concept exist some fifty, hundred or two hundred thousand years of human development, and these are also present in the conversation we’re having right at this moment about the bellybutton and the world. Naturally, one can say “So what?” to all that. That, however, is no longer my problem, that’s the problem of the person who fails to experience this joy, this pleasure of going back to the pre-pre-pre-history and looking into the etymological depths and abysses. If I see a point which represents the projection of a very long line, and someone else is so fixated on points that they aren’t interested in this long line, then there’s really nothing I can do and I’m not going to start a fight. If the other says, “Etymology is just a game for linguists,” then I’ll answer, “If you don’t want to join in with the game and have fun, then you can just keep boring yourself in peace!”
For the next operator we have to lengthen and stretch our connecting patterns a bit. But from Grimm we inevitably come to fairy tales – and from fairy tales to fairy tale productions and to theatre plays. Our conversations also consist, strictly speaking, of countless little “mini-dramas” in which you mostly assume the role of a questioner, opponent or listener – and on the other side you play yourself. With this, for me, we come to a further very important point: You constantly play different roles in “possible worlds” – or rather, in “possible plays.” We’ll call this point the role operator for the time being.
Again, I’m less than happy with the expression, but as for the thing itself, naturally I’ve got to admit that you’re right. Throughout my whole life I’ve slipped into the most various roles, have played them and won great successes with them, but have also caused great irritation. I enacted an especially beautiful role-play at a meeting on “human invariance” – and thereby temporarily incurred Jacques Monod’s hatred. Well, Monod has since died. Once again the “smarty pants” of the world were gathered at this meeting, Monod, Edgar Morin, Jerrold Katz, Jerry Fodor, all these unbelievable IQ high-flyers. And an anthropologist gave a completely enchanting lecture on pygmies and explained how these pygmies solve all quarrels and complications within families through funny little theatre plays. Pygmy family therapy works like this, so that some of the Pygmies dress up as clowns, as comic, funny figures, go to the family which is having the quarrel, and act out the family difficulties as clowns. In the best case, everyone starts laughing, everyone finds it comical – and the problem solves itself; the family is “transformed,” another relation has arisen between the family members.
I thought this lecture was really beautiful, particularly as the anthropologist presented it in such a nice way and brought us closer to the game of the Pygmies in a very human way. Another episode from the lecture has also stayed with me: The Pygmies try not to see slain animals as enemies or opponents, and so the elephant is not hunted and killed, no, “the elephant puts itself at their disposal,” so as to be eaten by the Pygmies. They don’t say, “We’ve got to kill it!”; rather this animal puts itself at their disposal as a fabulous elephant steak – all in all a marvellous lecture which I very much enjoyed.
Hardly had the anthropologist finished his talk when Monod, who doesn’t exactly suffer from an arrogance deficiency, stood up and tore the speaker to shreds in a most unpleasant manner. When Monod had finished with his punishing monologue, I recalled an example from the lecture in which the behavior of an “über father” was represented in a funny way. Then I stood up, “You see, ladies and gentlemen, we have just experienced one of those cases which the anthropologist told us about; one of the clowns has taken on the role of the übermensch and has shown us how you bawl someone out” – and so on and so on. Everyone was doubled up with laughter, as you can imagine. Monod saw me later in the aisles and hissed, “You did not understand me.” That was my first contribution to the discussion on the theme of role playing.
This delight in various roles also shows itself in that you, I think, have deliberately sought and created closeness and contact with very different people and points of view. Your fellow players, especially at BCL, were grouped around you in great diversity; which, incidentally, is an important advantage for a research organization.
I think so, too, yes. Let me put it this way: I’m just happy if someone develops a clever idea, builds an interesting model, writes an astonishing program, et cetera. I have no interest at all in getting a patent claim or the exclusive rights to some idea – I couldn’t care less. If someone comes up with an funny, amusing idea, I’m enthusiastic – and I publish it and spread it: “Have you heard, Fritz here has developed this wonderful idea! Look at what Fritz has hit on!” I can imagine that with this attitude I’ve got a lot of people to come to new ideas with a sense of fun and pleasure, or just to discuss new ideas: “Come in, Heinz, could we discuss this, I don’t understand this point!”
The fun and the pleasure of developing something new totally independent of the problem of who said what for the first time and who drew which conclusions probably very much stimulated my many colleagues. They’d say to themselves, “It makes sense to be active here since my work is acknowledged, valued; it’s connected to other works,” et cetera, et cetera. This probably reveals one of my intellectual foundations,
not to envy anyone who comes up with something new, rather to be glad that there is something new. Envy and jealousy are just words to me. So that’s my second excursion into the matter of roles and community games.
If we turn from the roles to the plays then our attention is almost inevitably drawn to the great diversity of what you’ve developed in various types of roles. This diversity of plays and fields – from physics to the social sciences – is something that you’ve kept up for decades.
If I manage to make a thought bridge, if I can draw a thread from A to B so that I can say, “Ah, from here I can see what’s presumably happening in this area,” then a conceptual enrichment, created through language, starts to set in. I’ve got to use an already existing language to create an uncommon connection in myself or in my listener. And this process of connecting is totally independent of whether we’re talking about cells, chromosomes, atomic nuclei, molecules, individual persons, populations or other elements. It’s all exactly the same; you have a thought method which tries to create links. That we’re placed in the area of physics, demographics, chemistry, cognitive sciences or physiology has to do with which chance elements we happen to be looking at. Because one happens to be talking about cells, the field is called biology. If you’re talking about populations and inhabitants, however, then the area is demographics. What interests me in all this is primarily the connections that one can set up there.[Note 7]
The elements don’t matter to me; the only thing that matters to me is the connections; they’ve got me under their spell. The problems are the same everywhere; it’s just the elements that move around. Usually you can’t find these kinds of connections on the same levels, if I may say it like that; as a rule you have to go down a floor – “Ah, the same thing is going on here; let’s move down again!” Working in this way, it might be that to make the connections I need elements which I first have to invent – and so the different floors and stages come about. Thus if you ask me why I “slip into” these different levels, I’d answer that there are no surfaces, everything is equally deep. You just have to know how deep the connections are that explain or describe these phenomena.
That’s a witty variation on an important proposition from the manifesto of the Vienna Circle – “In science there are no ‘depths’; there is surface everywhere.”[Note 8]
Good, yes, splendid! Then we’ve just invented the Foersterian complementary proposition to the Vienna Circle manifesto.
In science as in scientific research the expression interdisciplinary has come to the fore and stands for a new, up-to-date form of knowledge production. But this label, namely Mode 2, [Note 9] represents an approach which seems to have been self-evident for you for years, decades even.
Yes, because I’m simply not disciplinary. A history guy, a scientific researcher, would certainly claim, “Disciplines emerged because people busied themselves with certain problems.” My point is, someone is interested in stars, builds themselves a telescope, looks through it and finds all sorts of new objects, makes astonishing observations and the public shouts enthusiastically, “Bravo, fantastic!” or, horrified, “What a charlatan!” And to the question of what this man is doing, you answer, “astronomy.” Other people support or oppose our astronomer, and after a certain length of time an Astronomical Institute will come out of it. In the beginning, however, there was just this chance idea of looking at the stars and constructing arguments or relations on this basis. Out of this medium, out of this structure of relations, astronomy just developed. Physics only gets its own place outside of the natural sciences very late … And why? – Because at the time groups were interested in the areas which today we call physics – and suddenly one has to take a test, an exam in physics. All at once the interests and activities of specific groups and persons were compressed and refined into their own discipline. My opinion is that here it’s down to pure chance. If you have fun with an activity that produces knowledge, it’s entirely irrelevant where this activity lies….
From the types of roles there’s a direct path leading to the surroundings and contexts of such games. And for me there is an important Foerster heuristic connected to these surroundings. Its point of departure is the fundamental proposition which Maturana and Varela put at the beginning of their book, The Tree of Knowledge: [Note 10]
“Everything that is said is said by someone.” And your complement to it – the Foersterian Corollary No. 1 – goes, “Everything said is said to someone.”[Note 11] That means that the observer and the reader, the writer and the reader, the speaker and the listener, they form a dynamic unit – for all of them, it’s an invitation to dance, to play.
Exactly, that is the idea, that was my supplement to the deep meaning of “Anything said is said by an observer” – “to an observer.” Otherwise the reference to observers and speakers loses its meaning, because for me the decisive point is always the being together, the dynamics.
With the structure of your article, it tries in various ways to get a dynamic going with the reader.
Right, yes. With some articles I only manage to do it for a little while, and simply – a lovely beginning, a lovely ending, a direct connection between beginning and end, et cetera. But in one article[Note 12] I made a special effort to make the last sentence identical to the first – and so I stressed in the preface to this work that a reader might begin where they liked; they just had to read to whichever paragraph they started with. I recommended, just out of habit, that they begin with one and finish with twelve.
I’m seeing here, incidentally, an interesting long-term pattern. Those who read your early work from the ‘40s will find solutions and proposed solutions – and the problem is sketched briefly at the beginning. You have a scientific problem, work through it and look for a solution – and the reader “gets something from it” in a very traditional sense. In your later works the solutions that you offer your readers pale in importance to the problem descriptions and the game with the reader themselves. Am I seeing this turning towards the reader, this mutual searching of audience and author, correctly?
You see it very correctly, yes, that became my intention more and more. A problem, if it is a paraphrase of the problem, can already be a solution – and solutions are paraphrases in their turn. If I say “two times two,” then “four” is the paraphrase of two times two. Sometimes I manage it, and sometimes I don’t manage it, but it gives me joy to put a spin on the presentation of a problem itself and to pull the reader in: “Let’s look at it together; we’re still moving in the same area, and yet it’s all completely different.”
Slowly we seem to be striking it rich together, despite your initial scepticism. With our connecting pattern we’ve reached from the various role subjects and audience dynamics to activities almost without trying. And a further important element in the Foersterian operator park seems to consist of, if you’ll excuse the nominalization, a “tracing-back action,” which you carry out in the most diverse turns and variations: You incessantly trace nouns back to verbs – things and objects become activities and processes. Because so far we haven’t found a more or less suitable label, we’d like – because it has to do with activities – to speak abstractly of a “verb operator” for which various activity words can be inserted – produce, understand, create, build, generate, be able to, do …
Verb operator, well, this expression isn’t especially clear but maybe it does get us further! For example, I’ve noticed the embarrassing consequences and associations result from talking about knowledge – I much prefer to use the expression to understand. If you talk about knowledge, then it’s not far to the box in which something must be hidden – something green, blue, earthworms, taxonomies, whatever. Knowledge tempts us, almost of its own accord, towards the kind of “unspeak” that I recently heard from a university president at a graduation ceremony. Universities, he explained, are depositories or warehouses of knowledge which is passed on and handed down from generation to generation. In such statements almost everything that could go wrong with the imagery is going wrong, from “knowledge” that’s “handed down” (“Did you hand down your knowledge yesterday?” – “No.” – “Look out, you’d better do it today!”) to “knowledge” which is “stored” like fodder – all these mistakes and wrongs are why students revolted in the 60s and built the barricades, because they wanted nothing to do with either “hand-me-downs” or “warehouses.” The idea of the Nuremberg funnel is still haunting us: You pour something into it, shake it all up – and then “knowledge” is ready. And therefore you’ll see again and again how I joke to try to open up these caskets and boxes or to overstep “no-go zones.” If someone talks about science (Wissenschaft), then I answer, “Ah, you mean the activity which creates knowledge (Wissen schafft).” So I’m trying to get this block of ice, science, moving again.
Usually when I bring something like this up with a straight face, people laugh. Why do they laugh? – Because I suddenly change an area, like in a joke. Of course these people already knew what science was, but all at once they see science in a different light; all at once the “iceberg” science (Wissenschaft) melts down into an activity which creates knowledge (Wissen schafft) – and this creation represents a constant activity and does not tempt us to fill up these boxes called “knowledge” with sand, beer and other stuff. Instead of lecture titles like “Science and Explanation” or “Objective Knowledge,” I’d rather have a dialog on the theme “Understanding Understanding.” I’m drawn to thinking about understanding as an independent dynamic. I would actually like to be constantly active, and therefore at the center I see activities, producing the new, the new, the new.
We’ve gotten the next operator going so often in the past six days that it’s already got to be showing signs of exhaustion; we mean, of course, the recursion operator...
You’re right, we should let it sleep a bit for the moment – maybe we’ll need it later on...
We’d like to introduce our visit to the next Foerster operator in a little more detail, however, with a Zen Koan[Note 13] : Someone goes shopping in the market and says he would like to buy good meat and only good meat. The butcher’s answer was, “There is only good meat here.” Applied to the area of posing problems this leads to your operative ability to have only ever offered good and useful problem solutions. The expression pattern solution[Note 14] seems to me to be the most suitable since it indicates an interesting double meaning: on the pattern, which creates a connection between fundamental questions and applications, and on the solution, which reflects this pattern; embodies would probably be a misleading metaphor.
Most of all I’d like to go into the part of your Koan which deals with the market and selling. I don’t know whether all of the problem solutions in my intellectual butchers’ stall were always of the best quality; I can’t judge that. Of quite practical importance, however, was, “Can we sell these problem solutions and results or not?” Problems and their solutions first start to get interesting when you know or find people to whom you can bring these problem solutions closer and to whom you can explain them and who spontaneously react to these with, “Great, we need that, we have to get these results in the fastest way possible.”
If you begin to sell problem solutions, then to begin with you are in a really bad position. And I’ve got to say that I’m still surprised today at how many of my ideas I managed to sell from my market stall over the course of the decades. The persons with whom one collaborates with regards to research funds have, as a rule, very little idea as to your research activities, as to the possibilities and potentials of a field of research or of the perspectives and connections to other problems. But with some ideas I had good luck on the market, for example with the idea of self-organization. – Ha, a fantastic idea! – And so the first of a total of three important early conferences on the theme of self-organization came about, supported and financed by the Office for Naval Research.[Note 15] You see, your question of good or bad solutions and problems isn’t so easily answered. For some of my friends and me, certain holes in our understanding were essential; through these we ventured into some very significant and very decisive problems and resolved, “We want to fill these holes in our understanding.” Take for example the terminology of cognition and cognitive processes – I believe we were more or less the very first to pose the question of cognition to the world as a research question; since then it haunts every part of the globe. And under the cloak of cognition we began to make language analyses, to examine processes of perception, et cetera ….
What’s comical about this “market game” is that one side has money but doesn’t know where it should spend it – and the other side has ideas and problem solutions, but as a rule has a low opinion of the way a market works. Because I knew, however, that the customers like to spend their money where success is guaranteed, I used a special strategy of self-strengthening. I had worked out a complete problem solution; the results lay on the table. Only at this moment did I submit the relevant proposal; described in detail what I wanted to do; and gave very plausible hints as to what results could be expected – they were already lying on the table. They gave me approval for this project – and they received all promised solutions on time, which built my reputation as a successful researcher. As soon as you have a name as a successful researcher you just have to keep submitting what you’ve just found out – and that is my self-strengthening trick, a.k.a. my “magic of time shifting,” through which I kept the BCL alive for ten, fifteen years. In later years we became more ambitious and undertook things which we weren’t sure would work out – and the problem of marketing became almost insoluble. I even think that it was so easy for me to leave the university at the age of 65 because I saw that my planned researches were becoming ever less marketable – I had hit on the limits of resonance.
But I constantly see this phenomenon in scientific work – just take Roger Sperry[Note 16] with the split-brain research, which for me represents a very important analytical approach to the workings of the brain. For medical reasons, such as life-
threatening epileptic seizures, some patients have the connection between the hemispheres of the brain, the so called corpus callosum, is severed so that the two hemispheres work totally independent of each other. Out of this emerges very important possibilities for analysis and tests, which we referred to yesterday. But Sperry had the greatest difficulties in getting support from the National Institute of Health which was financing his research. They introduced ethical arguments, one would not be allowed to conduct such tests, et cetera. And Sperry tried, “These are people who are suffering greatly; I won’t cut through Karl Müller’s corpus callosum, they are people who are afflicted with dangerous epileptic seizures, et cetera.” It proved very tiresome to get funding for this very important branch of brain research.
Apropos pattern solutions. Have you ever worked in a self-organizing manner with an organization, a firm, a university?
With two organizations, one was the BCL. The BCL wasn’t so small, there were thirty people working there, and it was part of a big university. It was a system with incomes and expenses, that’s one example. The second experiment in self- organization was my first professional activity after the war with the Swedish- Austrian firm Schrack-Ericsson, which had around three hundred or four hundred employees; after the war it was totally destroyed and had to be built up again in order to be able to produce their main products, namely telephones and telephone systems.
The people who worked there, workers, secretaries, mechanics, precision mechanics, engineers, thought highly of me: “This Heinz knows all about the lab, knows how to talk with the director – and talks to us as if he was one of us.” When the first unions formed, they immediately elected me to the board of their local union – thus as a socialist Viennese union worker I represented the work force of the firm Schrack-Ericsson. There for the first time I introduced the principle that every participant in a “managed company” must themselves be managers. This principle was enthusiastically implemented – and everyone made unbelievably constructive contributions to its success. If larger machines were to be purchased, I went to the line managers – because they knew all about this area – and asked what would be required. And then I marched over to Schrack. “For these machines we need this, this and this.” – Schrack’s answer would be “No” – that was clear, he was the boss, and he only had to say no once. But even a boss is capable of learning; he introduced the desired changes in his name. There I learned in an actual company how such a self- organization experiment can make progress.
Such ideas cropped up in the 80s in the form of quality circles and autonomous working groups. If you were to appear today as a consultant for business or large companies, what would your pattern solution be?
Great question. Yes, I’d have to think about that – so I don’t have an immediate answer. I could well imagine, however, that for a single company I would get the ideas of feedback and recursive coupling anchored within the organization. Dupont is one of the gigantic corporate machines – and two leading managers of Dupont came here and sat right where we’re sitting and talking now. The two of them picked my brains pretty thoroughly, and one piece of advice which I gave at the time proved to be constructive and useful. I said to them something like, “Listen, you’re constantly stewing in your own juices there; no one knows whether they should believe this one or that one, what someone does or doesn’t want to hear, who commands whom in the factory, et cetera. Attach a separate division with about twenty people to this big system; you could call it the Industrial Research Division if you like. This division should sit ‘outside, ‘ so to say, should investigate you and observe what you’re doing. And if you listen to the suggestions and ideas this new division develops then an interesting interplay could develop out of that.” – The reaction of the two Dupont managers was sceptical at first:
“We couldn’t get a division like that through in the company!” A year later the two managers got in touch again: “We’ve actually built this new division – and the idea has worked unbelievably well. At first there were some personnel problems, then we searched specifically for some suitable colleagues – and since then the interplay between the outside observation division and the inner life of the large corporation proved to be perfect.”
Did you know by any chance what concrete tasks this observation division had to perform?
I think, to a large degree, the taxonomy of system divisions and how one gets away from old routines – here the office employees, there the mechanics, over there the foreman in the engine room, the coach builders et cetera. And slowly they seemed to overcome that so that each competence glided into every other competence, allowing a super-additive composition to emerge, as Gordon Pask would put it, in which work could flow in a creative and mutually supportive way.
That implicitly enables an interesting change of subject. And since we’ve achieved an initial overview of the first-level operators, we should turn to the probably more difficult question of their parents, the second-level operators. An important operator of this kind which has come up day after day in our conversations, or rather in your answers, could be called a Foersterian form operator, which in its turn sets in motion first-level operators – inversions, etymologies, et cetera.
It’s true that I always get up on my form hobby horse with every problem. “What is a question’s form?”; “What form of answer do you want?”; “What is the form of this and that?”; the formal aspect of watching and observing. That probably comes from my youthful enthusiasm for geometry. Conception of forms is just very easy for me. As a child I was always irritating my Math teachers “formally.” If I was set an arithmetic problem, I would solve it geometrically. I’d draw, look for an intersection, find the solution. “But no, you’re not allowed to solve it like that!” – “But why, you wanted the solution; I’ve drawn it here.” This feeling for geometrical forms seems to be an ability to which my parents contributed throughout my life. I’d like to tell a little anecdote about this. As I’ve said, geometry was always a lot of fun for me. I liked playing with forms and projections and developed a much better understanding for these than for arithmetic. For my teachers at school my geometric talents were very unwelcome since they wanted to teach me algebra and not algebra translated into geometry or universal geometry.
One time a math teacher came to us and did the Pythagorean theorem, a2 + b2 = c2. “Here we have a square with sides the length 1; I draw a diagonal; how long is the diagonal?” I raise my hand and say, “Two!” “No, no, my dear Heinz, the Pythagorean theorem teaches us that a2 and b2 is the square root of the diagonal, and so the diagonal is not 2 but the square root of 2.” “No, no,” I answered, “the diagonal is 2, I’ll prove it to you! If you take one side, it’s 1, and the other side, that’s also 1, then we can make some little stairs, yes, half over, half up, half over, half up. How long are these stairs?” To which the teacher said, astounded, “Two.” – “And now I’ll make these stairs smaller, I’ll take a fourth, a fourth, a fourth, ... – two again. Now and eighth, a sixteenth, a thirty-second – and the answer always comes out 2 – and the lines get so fine, much finer and thinner than the chalk line we’re drawing on the board.” – “But no, it doesn’t work like that.” – “I’ve just proved to you that it works like that!” – “No, because the Pythagorean theorem...” – “Please prove the Pythagorean theorem to me!” My math teacher wasn’t prepared for that – and so for a short time I was able to keep the diagonal at two. In short, I was a cheeky kid.
At technical college, however, I slid into a deep crisis when I saw that I had only had a very poor grip on algebra. For example, I enrolled in a course on topology with great joy at first because topology deals exclusively with spatial relations. Topological questions have to do with intersections, projections, neighborhood relations, et cetera. So I went to the topology lecture, and there were no drawings to be seen on the board, just one equation after another – “Here is one point, deduced from theorem XY...” I was totally desperate: “That’s not topology. They’re only talking about spheres, discs or other bodies, you don’t get to see them.” – I tried to take an exam, but I bombed it. It was clear to me: “I have to learn algebra, algebraic methods!” And so I withdrew into seclusion for the summer, worked really hard on algebra and on myself – and really drummed algebraic thinking, algebraic thought patterns into myself.
I finally stumbled upon algorithms after I had fallen in love with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which contains truth functions. In these a logical proposition exists as a chain of symbols which can be tested for their truth values, et cetera. One might say I had annexed algebra over the summer months – I passed the test in autumn with a respectable grade. Since then I additionally try to project formal thinking into algebraic structures. And even today you can see it over and over, that I see the form of a problem and that I like to represent it in either algebraic or logical form. I thus imagine that I’m able to ride on two different bicycles – one is the formal and the other the algebraic. And then I further imagine that I’m able to concatenate the two bicycles, to chain them together. And if I think back on our trialog then I notice with astonishment your astonishment that I keep coming back to the form problem.
The concept of form is a very ambiguous one, one can read it many ways: For example, in everyday language there is the dichotomy of form and contents. In Bauhaus design there was the slogan “Form follows function.” In the work of Roger Sperry we find a peculiar inversion, “Function follows form.” The concept of form has yet another completely different meaning in the work of Spencer Brown; he doesn’t recognize contents, only an inside and outside. How do you yourself cope with the ambiguities of the form concept?
I am always seeing form as a structure of relations which can also have different structures of relations than their elements. If someone asks me, “What is knowledge?” then I ask back, “In which form would you like to see an answer? I can give you a dictionary answer. Let’s look it up together in the dictionary and see what progressive things it has to say about knowledge. Ah, here it is: knowledge – blah blah blah. Is this answer satisfactory?” – “No,” replies the other, “absolutely not; this dictionary answer seems to me to be totally inappropriate to the question of knowledge.” – “Well, what may I offer you as an alternative? Would you like to have an etymological answer to what knowledge is? The German for knowledge or insight, Erkenntnis comes from Er- and Kenntnis from Kennen, to know. And Er- is a prefix which works very like the other German prefix Be-. Be- and Er- possess great similarities, so one could translate Er-Kenntnis into Be-Kenntnis, meaning confession or declaration, or one could replace Kennen with another word for to know, Wissen, giving us Er-Wissen, to make sure. So Erkenntnis, knowledge, goes through a slow process of Er-wissen, of making sure, which brings me to seeing something new, understanding something new. With this, we’d have knowledge (Erkenntnis), making sure (Er-wissen), confession (Bekennen), and consciousness (Be-wissen) all brought together into a nice configuration.” And with that we’ve got an initial form which shows how the concepts around Kennen are arranged, which symmetries exist, which semantic triangles and rectangles are opened up, at which points it would be possible to cut through, et cetera. I mean all of that with a problem of form.
Now we come to another second-level operator which switched itself on right at the beginning of our conversations, probably not by chance. I would like to call this operator “here and now,” ambiguously speaking. This operator transforms the apparently distant past or far future within a conversation – here and now.
I’d like to tell a personal story about that. In my childhood, from when I was three till I was seven or eight, I grew up in my mother’s family, with my maternal grandmother. Why? My father was drafted in the first weeks of World War I and was quickly captured by the Serbians, where he was held for three years – till he was exchanged in 1917. And so for a long time I grew up in my grandmother’s house and with my mother’s family. My grandmother was an extraordinary woman, one of the first advocates of women’s rights, an early feminist if you like. She published along with others the Dokumente der Frau and led a salon in which like-minded people met.
My grandmother had a great influence on me through her sayings. As a child one must constantly overcome terrible disappointments – you lose something, you break a little toy, you cry, you’re sad. “Now why are you crying?” – “I just broke this little knight. The horse’s feet broke off...” – “Listen to me,” my grandmother would console me, “everything is here and now. You think there used to be a horse. But the horse is here and now, it is here now – there is nothing which has been.” This “Everything is here and now” became a mantra for me.
Interestingly your reaction to the here and now came from the there and then. Your anecdote – and with it many other stories that we carry around with us, our own and others’ – stands in prima facie opposition to an operator which transfers everything to the here and now.
We have only just come into being, here and now, with all the traditions, whether they’ve come about genetically, personally, historically or any other way. They likewise belong to our here and nowness; you can listen to them if you like. You can listen to them, and of course you can also refuse to listen to them – then you exist in a kind of vacuum, which does, by the way, happen to many people, unfortunately.
For me, another operative area which is very closely coupled with the here and now is that you generally try to choose your pattern solutions and pattern examples so that on the one side the individual as agent moves in the center, but that on the side the responsibility of the individual for themselves but also for the condition of their environment is strongly emphasized.
I think I picked up this attitude early on from my grandmother’s circle. At the time one was very conscious of a responsibility with respect to society and developed a fine feeling for questions such as, “What is necessary right now? What is urgently needed right now? What is a strong, unfulfilled desire?” If you yourself felt, “It would be nice if people had this or that at their disposal,” then from this wish emerged an action, an explicit or implicit program which created knowledge towards this aim. I’d like to tell about an experience from which I learned very early on to take responsibility for finding the solutions to problems myself. When I was a little boy we would often spend the summers in Salzkammergut. One afternoon a thunderstorm was on its way; the swallows were flying very low, and my parents called to me, “Look, bad weather’s coming, the swallows are flying so low.” I asked back, “Yeah, why do the swallows fly so low when bad weather’s coming?” And my parents said, “Because the mosquitoes, the flies, the insects and the gnats, they all fly very low when bad weather’s coming.” Then I cheekily asked, “But why do the mosquitoes and the insects fly so low when bad weather’s coming?” – Bam, and I got a box round the ears. Well, then I knew, that seems to be a very fundamental question which one can’t answer. And so at the time I drew from this the following conclusion: If you want to have the fundamental questions answered, you’ve got to look after it yourself.
Back to responsibility. I’ve noticed in many cases that my diverse research programs spring from an implicit wish to reduce a general flaw, most often a social flaw, in one form or another. Therefore I draft the question so that in a certain sense the attempt to eliminate or relieve this flaw is contained within it, so that this social responsibility is addressed. If I take this idea seriously, that one fits oneself into this cycle of seeing and being seen in a responsible way, then it becomes more and more clear that I cannot delegate decisions about myself and responsibility for myself. My actions force me to take the full responsibility for them as well. It is seeing, not portraying; creating, not obeying; freedom, not force. And this point – if you like, this responsibility operation – showed me that an ethics must be implicit, it must show itself. I first mentioned this in my Paris article on “Ethics and Second-order Cybernetics.”[Note 17]
For the work on this article I naturally referred to Wittgenstein, especially to the passage in Tractatus – “It is clear that ethics cannot be voiced.” Well, that gives everyone a fright: This Wittgenstein, he doesn’t want to talk about ethics at all because ethics cannot be voiced. I’ve seen lots of people who have been frightened when I’ve quoted this proposition. Some see it as virtually laying a foundation for something wicked. But for me it’s not wicked at all because Wittgenstein is warning that if I begin to put ethics into words, I will be moralizing, well, and then ethics becomes a moral sermon, and I have to avoid that above all else. If I’m preaching morals, I’m always saying to others: You must do this, or you may do that, or you may not do that, et cetera. Ethics on the other hand doesn’t refer to the other but to one’s self. I must do this, I should do that, et cetera, and so, I would like to conclude with a historical comparison.
The great sky magicians, Albertus Magus for example, made it clear again and again that the astrological idea – that the stars influence people – is a completely false interpretation. And Albertus Magus invited a different perspective: The world is like this, and from out of this world there arises another – and we are all sitting in on this development together. So I am just as responsible for what Jupiter does – as Jupiter is, on its part, for how I act. Nothing is influenced from only one direction. We are all in a room, in space, in this world-space, in a thought-space where one thing is connected to the other over and over again.
A very important point, which is also already our fourth second-level operator, is represented by second-order operations. You very much like to build the form of your problems into a second-order problem – and you form them so that what you’re talking about becomes part of the processing and, so to say, contains itself.
You’ve picked up on that well. I can still remember it so well, when the Macy Foundation invited me to write a preface for a cybernetics conference. With great delight I wrote a preface in which I raved on about this unbelievable new geometry, about the new form of circular arguments. I referred to the transition of linearity to two-dimensionality and worked myself up to a salto mortale, to a formal leap of death. And it actually was a salto mortale because they explained to me shortly and succinctly that they didn’t need that kind of thing. They wanted a nice story about the Maxwell regulator, the water closet and the thermostat, which didn’t interest me in any form whatsoever. What thrilled and fascinated me, contents-wise, were the questions about the new logical relations which arise from circular causality. Perhaps I should emphasize why I hold these second-order concepts to be so important: As soon as you withdraw to the area of the second-order – the understanding of understanding, the knowledge of knowledge – the first-order problems are suddenly illuminated in ways which you can’t perceive on the first level.
I could give many examples now, but I’ll limit myself to one which gave me many surprises. In cybernetics the word purpose comes up very often – and on the first level, one will slave away at describing the purpose of X, Y or Z. On the second level, however, the question is, “What is the purpose of purpose?” As soon as I had this question before me, I was led to the following considerations. If I postulate a purpose which I’m aiming towards – Aristotelian causa finalis – then I don’t have to postulate step-by-step the transitions from the condition in which I now find myself to a condition that I’m aiming at, instead I can already determine the final aim, the causa finalis, in advance. The purpose of purpose is the determination of goals without having to consider the ways, routes and trajectories right away. And that also hits on the point that Norbert Wiener and the early cyberneticians recognized very decisively: What does the navigator who wants to get into the harbor do? In a purely physical way I can never determine which course the ship will take to get into the harbor. The wind is roaring from the left or right, obstacles suddenly tower before you, other ships are crossing. Laying it out like this just isn’t possible. But as a rule the navigator manages to get the ship safely to harbor because he constantly sees the divergences from the course and can correct the steering – and in this way finally lands in the harbor. And that’s why the introduction of purpose makes cybernetic and physical sense, it’s purposeful. It relieves me of the burden of having to constantly deal with the next step.
We’ve now marched many Foerster operators backwards and forwards in review. Have we neglected a particular point in our conversations which seems particularly important to you and which we absolutely must mention in our circle of Foerster modules?
That would be all my love affairs with my environment. It’s probably always the case that I enter into loving relationships with others and therefore try to dance with others. And because I probably wouldn’t want to dance with a stranger, with someone I didn’t like, I always immediately see my partners as loveable and dance-loving people. That astonishes a lot of people. I go into a store and see someone who’s crying. I ask, “Ah, what’s the matter?” – “My grandmother has died.” – I would try to comfort them.
If you walk through Pescadero, it’s a succession of social dances.
Well, it’s very funny isn’t it? I address the inhabitants of this little village as mensches, and therefore I’m a mensch, them as well, not just a customer or someone who is buying gas or looking for stamps. I think that’s what it’s all about.
Towards the end of our conversation, let’s start a counter-factual game. Imagine that you were twenty-five years younger and still had a laboratory with highly motivated people to play with you. What problems would you want to work on today with the new technological possibilities and with the current state of knowledge?
Great question, but you’ll be disappointed that my answer is rather dull. If someone offered me $500, 000 now, if someone said to me, “Heinz, you can invite six people of your choosing, you’ve got the laboratory of your dreams” – what would I do?
... you would also be twenty-five years younger...
Well, that helps even less, I’m actually very glad that I’m twenty-five years older. But above all I’d like to undertake something that seems fruitful to me, and that is to take recursivity seriously. Unfortunately or perhaps ironically all of the recursion topics have slid down into what today is called chaos theory, fractals, into all the wonderful magic shows which one can sell graphically, numerically and verbally to The New York Times with lots of incredible catchwords and phrases. I would take this area more seriously, take it up a level or even whole storeys; that would be my great research aim. Unfortunately the analysis would stay exclusively on the level of numbers for the time being, either on linear level or on the level of complex numbers. My feeling is that one could take these recursion mathematics into totally different areas, maybe in linguistics, semantics, fields of action, et cetera. and could examine under which conditions viable stabilities develop – non-stabilities remain invisible, they disappear. My central question could be: “What are the visible forms into which dynamic systems can slip or drift?” The first signs, which we know from the field of numbers and also complex numbers already indicate how such systems operate in other fields. That would be my research program today, and for it I would group linguists, biologists, and of course mathematicians around me. My feelings tell me that one could bring to light many many more, infinitely more important insights, especially for our social problems...
If one now – we’re moving towards the end of the sixth day – looks at the development of these Foerster operators over time, if one tries to find an arrangement for these first and second-level operators, then a peculiar phenomenon emerges: Around the time of your retirement, in the second half of the 70s, then your approaches, your heuristics, these Heinz modules seem to reach such a pitch that they enter into a special set of eigenvalues. My impression is that over the decades you’ve worked on a series of paradigmatic cases which you have condensed and compressed – until finally an area was reached in which operatively these heuristics created a special set of eigen-results.
Aha, it’s very interesting that you’ve observed that. If it happened that way, then I didn’t do it on purpose – that’s the way the ball bounces, isn’t it? My retirement freed me all at once from a pressure, the pressure to keep a biology lab going, to work with people constantly, et cetera. And if the pressure from within is relieved, then there’s the pull from without – people in Paris wanted a lecture from me, invited me, people in Hamburg wanted to hear me “live.” In most cases people gave me a free choice of topics – and so to the people of Hamburg I suggested that the understanding of language is of importance to psychiatry – language is the only medicine in their possession, all they can do is talk with people. Therein lies the magic of family therapy, that it doesn’t prescribe medication, rather they talk with people – that’s why language becomes the therapeutic medium. At the world congress of social psychiatry I absolutely wanted to talk about language – thus the strange title “Language of Magic.” Sometimes however someone would stipulate a title, but that is often very agreeable for me, too. If people dictate a title to me, then when I talk about it I know that I’m complying with their wishes. Whether I satisfy them in the sense that they’ve anticipated, that, obviously, I can’t judge. All I can say is, “If a theme was put before me, how would I deal with it?” – That way I’ve always got the excuse that for the organizers the most important thing was that Heinz make an appearance, otherwise they would have probably booked Fritz or Max or Emil.
In Wittgenstein’s “Culture and Value,” we find the sentence: “Thoughts at peace. That is the goal someone who philosophizes longs for.”[Note 18] Could one say, in a variation, Those who strive recursively cannot provide, but may lead to thoughts at peace?
If I want to achieve thoughts at peace, then I’ll run through recursive operators towards a stability – peace runs through the recursivity, it runs back through, back through, till it finally stabilizes itself. But this kind of peace can only ever be short- lived and can stretch itself over some thoughts, but not all of them.
Heinz, we’re drawing slowly to the end of our trialogs. Actually, it would be an interesting idea to compose a book on your heuristics and points of view in the style of a conversation.
That would be an interesting book, yes, I would buy it at once.
We’d have an especially marketable idea. Over six long days, we – together with you – invent and program a Foersterian “thought machine.” The question then is just: “How would one do such a thing?”
My point is this – it is fundamentally impossible.
Carnap R. (1966) Philosophical foundation of physics: An introduction to the philosophy of science. New York: Basic Books.
Foerster H. von, Brecher G. & Cronkite E. (1959) Produktion, Ausreifung und Lebensdauer der Leukozyten. In: H. Braunsteiner (ed.) Physiologie und Physiopathologie der weißen Blutzellen (pp. 188–214) Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag.
Foerster H. von, Brecher G. & Cronkite E. (1962) Differentiation and lifespan of leucocytes. In: H. Braunsteiner (ed.) The physiology and pathology of leucocytes (pp. 170–195) New York: Grune & Stratton.
Foerster H. von, Mora P. M. & Amiot L. W. (1961a) Doomsday. Science 133: 936–946. http://cepa.info/1601
Foerster H. von, Mora P. M. & Amiot L. W. (1961b) Population density and growth. Science 133: 1931–1937. http://cepa.info/1603
Foerster H. von. (2003a) Notes on an epistemology for living things. In: Understanding understanding: Essays on cybernetics and cognition (pp. 247–259) New York: Springer. http://cepa.info/1655
Foerster H. von. (2003b) Cybernetics of cybernetics. In: Understanding understanding: Essays on cybernetics and cognition (pp. 283–286) New York: Springer. http://cepa.info/1707
Foerster H. von. (2003c) Ethics and second-order cybernetics. In: Understanding understanding: Essays on cybernetics and cognition (pp. 287–304) New York: Springer. http://cepa.info/1742
Foerster H. von. & Zopf G. W., Jr. (1962) Principles of self-organization: The Illinois symposium on theory and technology of self-organizing systems. London: Pergamon. http://cepa.info/1605
Gibbons M., Limoges C., Nowotny H. et al. (1994) The new production of knowledge. The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.
Korzybski A. (1994) A non-Aristotelian system and its necessity rigour in mathematics and physics. In: Science and sanity. An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics (5th ed.: 747–761) Brooklyn: Institute of General Semantics.
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge. Boston: Shambhala. http://cepa.info/591
Neurath O. (1973) Empiricism and sociology (M. Neurath & R. S. Cohen, Eds.) Dordrecht: Reidel.
Reichenbach H. (1958) The philosophy of space and time. New York: Dover Publications.
Reps P. (ed.) (1982) Zen flesh, Zen bones. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Scheminzky F. (1934) Kann Leben künstlich erzeugt werden. In: Alte Probleme – Neue Lösungen in den exakten Wissenschaften (pp. 67–92) Leipzig: Deuticke.
Sperry R. W. (1958)The corpus callosum and interhemispheric transfer in the monkey. Anatomical Record 131: 297.
Sperry R. W. (1959) The growth of nerve circuits. Scientific American 201: 68–75.
Sperry R. W. (1961) Cerebral organization and behavior. Science 133: 1449–1457.
Stadler F. (2001) The Vienna Circle. Studies in the origin, development, and influence of logical empiricism. Vienna: Springer.
Umpleby S. A. (1990) The scientific revolution in demography. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 11: 159–174. http://cepa.info/1880
Wittgenstein L. (1984) Culture and value. Chicago: University of Chigago Press.
Yovits M. C. & Cameron S. (eds.) (1960) Self-Organizing Systems. New York: Pergamon Press.
Yovits M. C., Jacobi G. T. & Goldstein G. D. (eds.) (1962) Self-Organizing Systems. Washington D. C.: Spartan Books.
See Scheminzky (1934).
See Stadler (2001).
Presentations on the significance of Euclid’s (fifth) parallel postulate and on establishing a non-Euclidian geometry are found in Carnap (1966, p. 125) or Reichenbach (1958).
The original claim is “The map is not the territory.” See Korzybski (1994, p. 750).
See the older research by Foerster, Brecher and Cronkite (1959, 1962) and Foerster, Mora and Amiot (1961a, 1961b). On this very interesting demographic work see also Umpleby (1990).
See Neurath (1973).
On the terms Mode 1 and Mode 2 see especially Gibbons et al. (1994).
See Maturana and Varela (1987).
See Foerster (2003b, p. 283).
See Foerster (2003a).
“When Banzan was walking through a market, he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his costumer. ‘Give me the best piece of meat you have, ‘ said the customer. ‘Everything in my shop is the best, ‘ replied the butcher. ‘You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.’ At these words Banzan became enlightened.” (Reps, 1982, p. 50)
While literally meaning pattern solution, Musterlösung would normally be translated as model solution.
The Naval Research Office sponsored and supported several meetings and conferences documented in the following books: (Yovits & Cameron, 1960; Yovits, Jacobi, & Goldstein, 1962; Foerster & Zopf, 1962).
In the 1960s Roger W. Sperry was Hixon Professor of Psychobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). See Sperry (1958, 1959, 1961).
See Foerster (2003c).
See Wittgenstein (1984, p. 50).
Found a mistake? Contact corrections/at/cepa.infoDownloaded from http://cepa.info/3409 on 2016-10-09 · Publication curated by Alexander Riegler