Heinz von Foerster Festschrift


What we refer to in English as knowledge is signified by two words in Greek: gnosis and episteme.
Gnosis refers to sense knowledge. It derives from gignoskein: to know, think, judge, and from gnõmõn: a judge or interpreter. A gnostic is concerned with such questions as what is that which remains constant?, what is its essence?, what is its form?.
Episteme refers to the aquisition of a skill. It derives from epi (above) plus histamein (to stand). While we understand in English we overstand in Greek. An epistemic is concerned with such questions as how does it work?, how is the structure?, how is the process?.
Perhaps a feeling for these two types of knowledge can be generated by looking at some of the derivations of the key words associated with these concepts, form and structure:
The dichotomy in early Greek philosophy precipitated from schools defending either gnosis or episteme as true knowledge, leaving it to Plato to synthesize these two forms and reveal their relationship as it appears in his famous parable of the cave. Men are chained in the cave such that they see only their shadows. Reality for these men constitutes a description of the behavior of the shadows, and only when one of these fellows breaks free from his chains and discovers that the shadows are formed by the obstruction of the sun's rays does he understand the relationship between the men and the shadows.
With Platonic spirit, this class endeavored not only to concentrate on what was said but also on the observable processes by which the content was generated. Scribes took notes on the content and metascribes took notes on the accompanying interpersonal interactions. Portions of the descriptions and metadescriptions can be examined on this page.
The idea of generating a series of games arose from the desire to produce something that was both interesting and enjoyable which embedded the notions we had been discovering throughout the semester, that is, to reflect upon what had been said and reveal processes of human interaction.

We wish to extend our deep appreciation to Gordon Pask and Humberto R. Maturana for their invaluable criticisms and advice, and of course, our mentor, Heinz Von Foerster, who serves to show us the possibilities of being human.


After a few remarks by the chairman, Sandy proposed the creation of a ‘game box’ as the class project, since most of the groups seemed to have an interest in this general area.
HVF then announced his coming trip to Europe, and explained the timetable that was passed out to the class. He stated the possibIlity of a game box being produced by the American Container Corporation, and suggested that the games deal with problems — be teaching games using second order concepts, if possible. He felt Gordon Pask might be able to suggest some structures for the teaching games when he came to class.
Steve demonstrated the game he had talked about last week, explaining its possibilities in generating language between people.
Back to HVF who referred to the two kinds of questions we could ask Gordon Pask: a) notational; b) epistemological.

He himself would deal with the first type and Pask would discuss the latter. He went on to speak about what was going on in the class — whether he should start off with the reality question of last week or return to the epistemological concepts he discussed two weeks ago. He wanted us to be constantly alert to what he was saying and to question him.......... then, a digression about the problems the meta-scribes were having....a reference to communication as a Two-Brain problem. In reply to a statement by Charlie that ‘Communication never breaks down, you only say it does when you don't get the response you expect,’ Judy responded with a dictionary definition of the word, and after a brief comment on its inadequacy, HVF started to distinguish between form and structure. He carried this into Pask's models as different ways of knowing: 'How, why and what refer to three different ways of relating things.’ From this statement HVF led into a discussion of the cause and effect relationship between two things, and the problem of which comes first.


Almost forgot to start writing. Chairman mumbled a few notes about the directories he handed out, then led into Sandy Baron's presentation on creating a 'box of goodies' at the end of the semester. Many possiblities.
New room. Very old-fashioned and comfortable, in 218 Ceramics Engineering Building. The class is quiet and relaxed. Sandy turns the class over to Heinz.
Heinz once again has some suggestions about projects. Takes center of floor and explains timetable handout. He mentions his forthcoming trip to Europe and I begin daydreaming. When I returned, he was still talking about the schedule of projects for the class.
I can't figure out why we all sit in a circle and pay attention to whatever happens in the middle. Is this biological?
Heinz is talking about games which would be designed and possibly produced by the American Container Corp.. He addresses us to 2nd order games — learning of learning, etc.. Suggested that Gordon Pask may help. I now know that I would like to contribute something to the box. I think Heinz is getting disappointed with the nonaction of the class. I'm getting nervous. Are we able to deal with the subject of dealing with things? I feel a bit disoriented.
Heinz is up again with some questions about Pask's paper, especially notational questions. More object matter. Why don't we cut off all discussion in the

object language? This is the fourth meeting and we are still a class and still talking about knowledgeable topics.
Heinz is talking about vague things. I think he is giving the nonsense lecture we suggested at the last meeting, No, I take that back. He is.....People are dropping their jaws. One girl is asleep. People are getting jittery. Cigarettes are being lit. People are receptive. I am not sure anything is being perceived or communicated. Al Oberrotman is trying to pick up on something. Heinz is saying nothing to the topic he is supposedly talking about. Charles DeCoster threw a thought on communication. Judy Suess picks it up with him. Heinz shuts up for awhile.
It would be interesting to know if all the meta-scribes who were at yesterday's meeting where it was proposed that Heinz give a non-lecture as an experiment to see how long the class would sit and take it, realize themselves that this is now being done or are the meta-scribes themselves wrapped up in the object language..... If this is after all, the nonsense lecture and I am not the mistaken meta-scribe. People are waking up and going to sleep on different levels. This is now a straight lecture on cause and effect.
Heinz is acting strangely. He is not talking with this usual vigor and clarity. He is hesitant and unsure. Al Oberrotman questions something he says. A simple reply. Another question from someone else. Questions on the object matter are popping up.
A lecture followed on cause and effect.
We took a break.
I am tired.

Steven Sloan

Copyright © 1972 by Steve Sloan

Electrical Engineering 272, 490; Biophysics 491

The departments of Electrical Engineering and of Physiology and Biophysics offer each semester general topic courses (EE 272, EE 490, and Biophysics 491). Since electrical engineering owes its existence to a large extent to discoveries in physiology (Luigi Galvani 1737-1798; Allessandro Volta 1745-1827; etc.), I proposed to the students of my section of these courses to coagulate into one class in which we would discuss recent discoveries in neuro-physiology, particularly those in the Central Nervous System which may be associated with the general concept of computation. A holistic point of view was taken, and the discussion moved from sensation to perception to cognition, and finally to problems of language and communication. The interaction of the situation of a "game"was recognized as a useful paradigm for understanding human cooperation.
In order to explore their grasp of the conditions that constitute a "game", the students decided to try their hand at creating themselves various solutions to this problem. The result of these experiments is this volume.
While the students worked independently, in singles or in groups, the responsiblity for letting those results be seen by a larger audience rests, of course, solely with me.

Heinz Von Foerster

Professor of Electrical Engineering and of Biophysics
Director, Biological Computer Laboratory
216 Electrical Engineering Research Laboratory
University of Illinois, Urbana Illinois 61801
(217) 333-2654

Steve Sloan