The Beginning of Heaven and Earth Has No Name: Seven Days with Second-Order Cybernetics

The Beginning of Heaven and Earth Has No Name: Seven Days with Second-Order Cybernetics

HEINZ VON FOERSTER
ALBERT MÜLLER
KARL H. MÜLLER
ELINOR ROOKS
MICHAEL KASENBACHER
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 236
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13wzw8d
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  • Book Info
    The Beginning of Heaven and Earth Has No Name: Seven Days with Second-Order Cybernetics
    Book Description:

    Heinz von Foerster was the inventor of second-order cybernetics, which recognizes the investigator as part of the system he is investigating. The Beginning of Heaven and Earth Has No Name provides an accessible, nonmathematical, and comprehensive overview of von Foerster's cybernetic ideas and of the philosophy latent within them. It distills concepts scattered across the lifework of this scientific polymath and influential interdisciplinarian. At the same time, as a book-length interview, it does justice to von Foerster's elan as a speaker and improviser, his skill as a raconteur. Developed from a week-long conversation between the editors and von Foerster near the end of his life, this work playfully engages von Foerster in developing the difference his notion of second-order cybernetics makes for topics ranging from emergence, life, order, and thermodynamics to observation, recursion, cognition, perception, memory, and communication. The book gives an English-speaking audience a new ease of access to the rich thought and generous spirit of this remarkable and protean thinker.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5564-1
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A FOREWORD BY THE SERIES EDITOR
    (pp. ix-x)
    BRUCE CLARKE

    Heinz von Foerster is one of the most consequential cybernetic thinkers in the history of the field. He was born in 1911 in Vienna, Austria, into a progressive bourgeois family of architects, designers, artists, and activists. Hailing from a partially Jewish background, he weathered the Nazi era by moving with his wife from recognition in Vienna to obscurity in Berlin. His university studies in physics enabled him to secure employment in corporate research laboratories. After repatriation at the end of World War II, Foerster worked at a telephone company and as a commentator for a radio station operated by the...

  4. AN AUTHOR’S FOREWORDS
    (pp. xi-xii)
    HEINZ VON FOERSTER and HEINZ VON FOERSTER

    When it came to writing a book, I was corrupted very early on by two doctrines from Ludwig Wittgenstein’sTractatus Logico-Philosophicus. These are the first and the last sentences of hisTractatus. The first is a quotation from Ferdinand Kürnberger, which Wittgenstein put in as a motto for the whole work:and what ever a man knows, what ever is not mere rumbling and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words. The second doctrine is the famous Proposition 7, the final sentence of hisTractatus: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

    The effect...

  5. FOREWORDS WITH TWO EDITORS
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    ALBERT MÜLLER and KARL H. MÜLLER

    Finding suitable introductions proves to be quite difficult, if only because incomparably more first sentences present themselves than can possibly be set down. As a rule, books only have the option of one first sentence, one single first paragraph. Composing this introduction proved especially time-consuming because many equally attractive variations were conceivable. The most immediate and direct form of introduction would refer to the book’s intent, aims and contents. This seemed imperative in our case because there needs to be a careful explanation of what plan, if any, guides this book. The basic idea for the book can be plainly...

  6. FORETASTE OF AN AUTHOR WITH TWO EDITORS
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. NOTES ON THE TRANSLATION
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
    MICHAEL KASENBACHER and ELINOR ROOKS
  8. PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
    ALBERT MÜLLER and KARL H. MÜLLER
  9. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  10. FIRST DAY: Building Blocks, Observers, Emergence, Trivial Machines
    (pp. 1-28)

    In various places in your works, we find principles or aphorisms concerning beginnings. The following, for example, is an important proposition: The world or the environment contains no information. The world is as it is.¹ That means that observation or the observer is inseparably part of every beginning.

    Where beginnings are concerned, we should see that we are sitting here, and every moment is always, always a beginning. “Everything is here and now,” that’s a magic saying for me, which I learned from my grandmother, Marie Lang.² “Everything is here and now.” And so, for me, all the problems of...

  11. SECOND DAY: Innovation, Life, Order, Thermodynamics
    (pp. 29-61)

    What will be created on our second day of creation?

    Water: it was created quite literally before everything else. More generally, however, following the beginning of heaven and earth, today will revolve around their continuation. Yesterday we finished with images of an invitingly recursive universe—with the metaphor of the casino. Again and again we returned to variations on the idea that certain pieces—systems—can be peeled out of this universe—and must be. Now, if we examine these pieces or systems, a very important restriction arises. They all operate according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: In closed...

  12. THIRD DAY: Movement, Species, Recursion, Selectivity
    (pp. 62-88)

    In the sense of a game with the living world in its simpler forms, we would like to turn first to the concept of recursion, then later to problems like movement, energy, growth, simpler forms of orientation.

    I’ve already pointed this out several times: The whole problematic lies in the language. If we understood the problematic of language, then we would have the possibility of dealing with the problem, “There is a living being,” “There is a galaxy,” and so forth, in a manner that projects this problem onto language, the sayable.

    Not long ago I reread an old paper...

  13. FOURTH DAY: Cognition, Perception, Memory, Symbols
    (pp. 89-114)

    In our fourth conversation, new possibilities should arise for us, of distinctions, possibilities of orientation, of remembering—and of forgetting. So far we have been operating with something that we could call an “MS system.” In our game box we found recursively coupled motor-sensory systems, MS systems. A further type in the box is the MBS system—a brain interpolates itself between the motorium and the sensorium …

    Now I see where the B comes in.

    The first type has a single recursion. The second is repeatedly closed recursively. Can we pass review on the important differences in the architecture...

  14. FIFTH DAY: Communicating, Talking, Thinking, Falling
    (pp. 115-145)

    On the program for today, we have the creation of the great sea creatures and all living beings, which, according to your congenial British colleague Gregory Bateson, can also be characterized by their ability to speak and communicate.¹

    For me, the first thing is that language distinguishes itself from a general idea of communication. Communication happens as soon as any creature waves some body part about so that another creature interprets this waving about, puts it into a definite relation with something and acts accordingly—for example, by getting “hopping mad.” One can see this in mating rituals, combat rituals,...

  15. SIXTH DAY: Experiences, Heuristics, Plans, Futures
    (pp. 146-178)

    As far as I can remember, we’re now dedicating ourselves to the mythologies, strategies, technologies, jokes, and so forth, that this Foerster uses to sell his curious intellectual soap bubbles. Is that right?

    In our big game box we find countless programs. We are searching for the Foerster modules.

    Foerster modules, programs, programmed … I’m not happy with using the concept of programs at the moment. Naturally, I do use the concept of programs whenever I hope that an important distinction, a fruitful heuristics will come out of it. People know what the word “program” means. In the case of...

  16. SEVENTH DAY: Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest
    (pp. 179-180)
  17. EPILOGUE IN HEAVEN
    (pp. 181-186)

    On the way back from San Francisco to New York we’re sitting—“tired and happy” would be a fitting phrase—in a flying and, for the next hours, hopefully, totally trivial machine. In our hand luggage we are carrying, in the form of sixteen cassette tapes, the extracts from one week ofHissing, Grunting, and Rattling Sounds From Rattlesnake Hill,also known asDialog from This Side of Eden(since the Foersters’ estate is on West Eden Road). Heinz von Foerster made a special point when—in a coda to the sixth day—he added regarding our great design plan...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 187-198)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 199-206)