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Heinz von Foerster (1911 – 2002)


Austrian-American scientist known for his pioneering research in the field of cybernetics.
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Heinz von Foerster
What we need now is the description of the “describer” or, in other words, we need a theory of the observer.
Foerster quotes
Either Stone Age man was a technological wizard, who carefully removed his technological achievements so as not to upset his inferior progeny, or our population dwindled from a once astronomical size to the mere three billions of today.
Foerster
While in the ?rst quarter of this century physicists and cosmologists were forced to revise the basic notions that govern the natural sciences, in the last quarter of this century biologists will force a revision of the basic notions that govern science itself. After that “?rst revolution” it was clear that the classical concept of an “ultimate science”, that is an objective description of the world in which there are no subjects (a “subjectless universe”), contains contradictions.




Foerster Heinz von quotes
The "second order cyberneticians" claimed that knowledge is a biological phenomenon (Maturana, 1970), that each individual constructs his or her own "reality" (Foerster, 1973) and that knowledge "fits" but does not "match" the world of experience (Glasersfeld, 1987).
Foerster Heinz von
To remove these one had to account for an “observer” (that is at least for one subject):
(i) Observations are not absolute but relative to an observer’s point of view (i.e., his coordinate system: Einstein);
(ii) Observations affect the observed so as to obliterate the observer’s hope for prediction (i.e., his uncertainty is absolute: Heisenberg).
After this, we are now in the possession of the truism that a description (of the universe) implies one who describes it (observes it).
Heinz von Foerster quotes
The world, as we perceive it, is our own invention.
Heinz von Foerster
Objectivity is a subject's delusion that observing can be done without him. Involving objectivity is abrogating responsibility – hence its popularity.
Foerster Heinz von quotes
Mein background bestand ja darin, daß ich ein Labor gegründet hatte, das Biological Computer Lab an der University of Illinois – da sind sehr viele freaks gewesen, also Leute, die nicht so denken wie alle anderen.
Foerster
I don't know where my expertise is; my expertise is no disciplines. I would recommend to drop disciplinarity wherever one can. Disciplines are an outgrowth of academia. In academia you appoint somebody and then in order to give him a name he must be a historian, a physicist, a chemist, a biologist, a biophysicist; he has to have a name. Here is a human being: Joe Smith -- he suddenly has a label around the neck: biophysicist. Now he has to live up to that label and push away everything that is not biophysics; otherwise people will doubt that he is a biophysicist. If he's talking to somebody about astronomy, they will say "I don't know, you are not talking about your area of competence, you're talking about astronomy, and there is the department of astronomy, those are the people over there," and things of that sort. Disciplines are an aftereffect of the institutional situation.
Foerster Heinz von
Heinz von Foerster was a physicist and philosopher, who worked extensively in cybernetics, biology and family therapy, although he hated being categorised as belonging to a particular academic discipline. Indeed he once remarked that “I am. Viennese. That is the only label that I have to accept. I come from Vienna; I was born there, that's an established fact” (von Foerster and Poerksen 2002, p. 43)
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