Heinz von Foerster Festschrift

A Personal Story of My Encounter With Heinz von Foerster

What my grand parents brought from the "old country" when they immigrated to the United States, and what they held most precious in their lives, was the value of education. As a child, I resonated with this concept, and was taught to do the best I could in school so that I could learn to "reason" and thereby make the best of my life and contribute back to society, so that people would then have better lives.

So after years at the University of Illinois in classical courses of mathematical theory and Quantum Mechanics little did I realize that the man whom I would eventually hold as my greatest mentor would be so "unreasonable". What could be more unreasonable than a man who was invited to be the featured speaker at a world conference on "Alternative Futures", speak on "alternative pasts". The very concept made me dizzy because I knew for sure that there was only "one" past. What could be more obvious? But in the moments as the story unfolded and Heinz spoke of "perception" and alternative ways of seeing and "creating" our reality, a great melting happened within me and continues to this day. I learned the great lesson that reality is not "fixed" and the importance of staying mentally flexible and to search for solutions in unexpected places.

In the years of classes with Heinz that followed, I saw him as the ultimate scientist, enthusiastically popping into and out of equations of entropy and information theory, always pointing to the larger, or "meta" picture of the whole system. While components had to interface properly to make the whole system achieve it's "teleological goal", Heinz always made sure that we remembered that we as the investigators were an integral part of the investigation itself. The classes were always a dynamic interaction of the participants and their cooperation was the acknowledged key Cybernetic ingredient of the learning and creation process. And we were playing with big systems - how to enhance and facilitate world communications given different languages, geographical proximity, and the powers of the emerging computer hardware and software.

Heinz showed us how, when we looked at the whole system, often the problems we studied were really solutions, and that the apparent solutions were often the problem. But most of all, what I learned, is how the important solutions that could benefit the world rested on simple and obvious observations, and these were often the most elusive. We saw in class how people can work together in cooperation and that when each individual is respected and cared for, that the whole system will work with maximum efficiency - demonstrated "synergy". What a contrast to the "entropy" of the world.

Heinz stretched my mind beyond thinking, into the realm of encompassing the totality of the system, and looking into the center to see what really makes it tick.

I will always feel my deepest gratitude for what I have experienced through Heinz and the insight into Wisdom I have gained.

Bob Zielinski

Heinz von Foerster Festschrift