Seeing the ecology of the whole Earth—you see, the atmosphere, the animals, the plants, the whole ecosphere—as a living organism. And of course, if you do that, you have to somehow make a decision in saying: what do we mean? What is a living organism?
from Interview on Cybernetics (1989)
Heinz von Förster was an Austrian American scientist combining physics and philosophy, and widely attributed as the originator of Second-order cybernetics. He was twice a Guggenheim fellow (1956–57 and 1963–64) and also was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1980. He is well known for his 1960 Doomsday equation formula published in Science predicting future population growth.
As a polymath, he wrote nearly two hundred professional papers, gaining renown in fields from computer science and artificial intelligence to epistemology, and researched high-speed electronics and electro-optics switching devices as a physicist, and in biophysics, the study of memory and knowledge. He worked on cognition based on neurophysiology, mathematics, and philosophy and was called "one of the most consequential thinkers in the history of cybernetics". He came to the United States, and stayed after meeting with Warren Sturgis McCulloch, where he received funding from the Pentagon to establish the Biological Computer Laboratory, which built the first parallel computer, the Numa-Rete. Working with William Ross Ashby, one of the original Ratio Club members, and together with Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann and Lawrence J. Fogel, Heinz von Foerster was an architect of cybernetics and one of the members of the Macy conferences, eventually becoming editor of its early proceedings alongside Hans-Lukas Teuber and Margaret Mead.
August 22, 1989
May 5, 1959
≈ 36 minutes
An adaptation of an address given at The Interdisciplinary Symposium on Self-Organizing Systems in Chicago, Illinois, originally published in Self-Organizing Systems. M.C. Yovits and S. Cameron (eds.), Pergamon Press, London, pp. 31–50 (1960).
A collection of essays by Heinz von Förster discussing some of the fundamental principles that govern how we know the world and how we process the information from which we derive that knowledge. Included are path-breaking articles concerning the principles of computation in neural nets, the definition of self-organizing systems, and the nature of cognition.