Purpose: Commenting on the transcript of a lecture. Findings: The document reconstructs the development of the original 1973 lecture by Heinz von Foerster into his best-known paper, On Constructing a Reality. Many aspects of that paper can be identified as being shaped through interaction with the audience. Implications: The lecture documented here was a forerunner of a central paper in constructivism.
Context: In this empirical and conceptual paper on the historical, philosophical, and epistemological backgrounds of second-order cybernetics, the emergence of a significant pedagogical component to Heinz von Foerster’s work during the last years of the Biological Computer Laboratory is placed against the backdrop of social and intellectual movements on the American landscape. Problem: Previous discussion in this regard has focused largely on the student radicalism of the later 1960s. A wider-angled view of the American intellectual counterculture is needed. However, (...) this historical nexus is complicated and more often dismissed than brought into clear focus. Method: This essay assembles a historical sequence of archival materials for critical analysis, linked to a conceptual argument eliciting from those materials the second-order cybernetic concepts of observation, recursion, and paradox. Results: In this period, von Foerster found the “positive of the negative” in the social and intellectual unrest of that moment and cultivated those insights for the broader constitution of a new cognitive orientation. Implications: As a successful student of his own continuing course on heuristics, von Foerster left the academic mainstream to ally his constructivist epistemology with the systems counterculture. (shrink)
Excerpt: In 1995, the Leo Apostel Centre in Brussels, Belgium, organised an international conference called ``Einstein meets Magritte''. Nobel prize winner Ilya Prigogine held the opening lecture at the conference, and Heinz von Foerster's lecture was scheduled last... Heinz von Foerster was enchanted by the conference theme and -- in the spirit of surrealist Belgian painter René Magritte -- had chosen an appropriate title for his talk: ``Ceci n'est pas Albert Einstein''. ... [H]e was delighted to grant the (...) organisers the following interview, in which he tells us about an even longer journey -- that of his remarkable life and scientific career. (shrink)
Summary: The aim of this collection is to provide a two-fold access to von Foerster's legacy and his work at the Biological Computer Laboratory, the institution he founded and directed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1958 to 1976. It represents a precious contribution for the understanding of BCL, a crucial but still not properly understood chapter in the history of cybernetics and, more generally, of cognitive science. It is greatly recommended.
Summary: Because this book has something of the storytelling of cheerful meetings, von Foerster is made more accessible to the novice; however, it does not lose any of its intellectual sharpness. Henri Atlan and Edgar Morin, in particular, greatly influenced by von Foerster and quite famous in French-speaking countries, give a helping hand to those who wish to explore their work further from the perspective of von Foerster's vision and thoughts. And Atlan and Morin take also the credit for the (...) fact that von Foerster has become better known in the French-speaking community. Let us a hope the book will contribute to the further spread of von Foerster's ideas. (shrink)