Kybernetes. The international journal of systems and cybernetics: Heinz von Foerster – In Memoriam Part II Volume 34 Number 3/4 2005


Kybernetes. The international journal of systems and cybernetics: Heinz von Foerster – In Memoriam Part II Volume 34 Number 3/4 2005
Authors: Broecker
Year: 2005
Publisher: emerald
Language: English
ISBN 13: 9781845440978
ISBN 10: 1845440978
Categories: Computers, Cybernetics
Pages: 320 / 319

Availability: 5000 in stock

SKU: 9781845440978 Categories: ,

Kybernetes. The international journal of systems & cybernetics : Heinz von Foerster – In Memoriam Part II (Volume 34 Number 3/4 2005) Broecker, Monika, Heinz von Foerster never paid heed to the boundaries of academic disciplines. Havingworked for a decade in research on short- and microwave technology, he published amolecular theory of memory. It was adopted by a prominent neurophysiologist becauseit seemed to overcome the problem of storage space in the head. HvF, however, quicklydiscarded the theory as he concluded that it was preferable to view memory as amechanism of reconstruction rather than storage. He played an important role in the Josiah Macy Conferences in the late 1940s and1950s and thus, with Warren McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and a fewothers, became a founder of the discipline based on Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics.Margaret Mead had asked HvF to edit the proceedings of the conferences because, asshe said, this was a good way for him to learn English. Although Wiener, McCulloch,and Bateson had a profound interest in philosophy, the main activity within the newdiscipline was focused on the development of technological advances exploiting theideas of feedback and circular causality. Then, in the mid-1960s, after HvF had founded and firmly established the BiologicalComputer Laboratory at the University of Illinois, he turned his attention to the agentthat was able to observe, understand, and describe the things cyberneticians had beendealing with. The first evidence of this shift was his book Observing Systems (vonFoerster, 1970). It was the beginning of what was to become known as “Second OrderCybernetics”. It seemed an innocent shift of focus and it has taken a long time for thefindings it yielded to be recognised as powerful arguments for a world-shaking changeof epistemological perspective. What triggered the new view was HvF’s rediscovery of an observation JohannesMu¨ ller had made around 1850, namely that the electro-chemical signals sent by thesense organs to the cortex differ only quantitatively but not qualitatively. The findingwas called “undifferentiated coding” and HvF characterized it by saying “the sensestell us how much but not what”. In other words, the phenomenological characteristicsof our experiential world – color, texture, sounds, tastes and smells – are the result of our own computations based on co-occurrence patterns of signals that differ only withregard to their point of origin in the living system’s nervous network.This new perspective led to a first formulation of a constructivist epistemologygrounded in empirical findings (von Foerster, 1973). In the following year, came thestartling statement that objectivity is the delusion that observations could be madewithout an observer (von Foerster, 1974). This statement did not immediately havegreat impact, because for scientists its full significance emerges only when it is taken inconjunction with the notion of undifferentiated coding. Given that in the mainstream ofphilosophical thinking it has always been taken for granted that observation doesprovide information about the structure and qualities of an external reality, HvF’sstatement could be taken as a harmless reference to an observer’s minor subjectivedistortions of otherwise reliable observations. HvF’s postulate, “The environment, as we perceive it, is our invention”(von Foerster, 1985), is unlikely ever to become very popular. It tells us that,although there are obviously many constraints to our inventing, we are responsible foranything we think or do in the space left between them. For those who accept thisresponsibility, HvF proposed a revolutionary view of ethics. Ethical precepts must notbegin with “Thou shalt . . . ” but with “I will . . . ”. And as to the contents of theprecepts, HvF followed Wittgenstein in saying that ethics belongs to the domain ofwhich we cannot speak, i.e. it belongs to the domain of the mystic.During the two decades of his retirement in his house on Rattlesnake Hill inPescadero (California), he spent a great deal of his time and energy on enacting one ofhis ethical precepts: Act always so as to open new possibilities. Those who had thepleasure of visiting him during those years invariably left enriched by the excitingview of new goals to pursue. Previously published in: Reference Services Review, Volume: 34, Number 34, 2005 Categories:
Computers – Cybernetics
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Kybernetes. The international journal of systems and cybernetics: Heinz von Foerster – In Memoriam Part II Volume 34 Number 3/4 2005

Availability: 5000 in stock