Heinz von Foerster Festschrift

A Recollection

At one of the cybernetics conferences to which I came as a silent listener, there was an awkward moment. A young man, who perhaps was giving his first paper in such an august setting, had come up on the stage and was overcome with nervousness. His stress was painfully obvious. He shuffled the sheets he had put on the table, turned to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and went back to the lectern. He looked round the audience and cleared his throat, but he was unable to speak. He was blocked, and we all began to sqirm in our seats.

Heinz, who happened to be sitting at the end of the first row, got up and went on the stage. The young man looked at him in terror. "Dont worry." said Heinz and put his arm around him. With a theatrical gesture of the other arm, he covered the conference hall and continued, "All these people are here because there are things they don't know. They want to learn ..." At that point many in the audience laughed, and the young man himself had to chuckle. "They are quite ready to learn from you and are curious to hear what you have to say - but you have to find your voice and use it. It's not really difficult." And indeed the young man found his voice and began to give his paper.

"How many professors would be able to do this?" I whispered to the man sitting beside me. "None." he said, "because they are not magicians."

Charlotte von Glasersfeld

Heinz von Foerster Festschrift