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Heinz von Foerster 100
Organizing Institutions:
Heinz von Foerster Gesellschaft / Wien
ASC – American Society for Cybernetics
WISDOM – Wiener Institut für
  sozialwissenschaftliche Dokumentation und Methodik

Institut für Zeitgeschichte | Universität Wien
AINS – Austrian Institute for Nonlinear Studies
Dirk Baecker

Complexity and Recursivity in Brain, Mind, and Culture

Between Niklas Luhmann and Heinz von Foerster there has been a certain dispute about whether it would be better to start theoretical work based on the notion of complexity or on the notion of recursivity. An interest in complexity, for Heinz von Foerster, means that books get longer and longer, whereas an interest in recursivity could mean to help sociology to help people get out of perhaps pathological eigen-values of their behavior. That would open venues for a different kind of social therapy in conflicts, for instance. Luhmann answered that an understanding of social systems evidently consisting of recursive processes cannot do without the question of what distinctions enable those systems to reduce and enhance the complexity of their environment in the first place. The presentation proposes to switch to a mathematical understanding of complexity as the pairing of variables, which are as related as irreducible to each other (Diophantus). We are looking for a kind of a calculus that describes the co-evolution of complexity in brain, mind, and culture as the result and precondition of their recursive reproduction. And we propose to add the systems references of the mental and the social to the current interest in cognitive sciences in the systems references of the brain and the machine in order to be able to understand the recursive complexity of the cognitive phenomena we are currently dealing with.


Dirk Baecker (Friedrichshafen), Wolfgang Coy (Berlin), Jan Müggenburg (Lüneburg),
Claus Pias

Self-Reference and (Non-)Trivialization. The Social Impact of Cybernetic Concepts

Cybernetic Research in the 1960s faced a dilemma: On the one hand there was a growing awareness that the human being shares specific organizational principles with other biological and even technological systems and that the boundaries between them had started to blur. On the other hand cyberneticians such as Heinz von Foerster and the members of his Biological Computer Laboratory worried about a future society in which automated technologies could threaten individual liberty and constrain human creativity. As von Foerster famously put it: »If we don‘t act ourselves, we shall be acted upon«. Cybernetic Concepts of ›self-organziation‹ and ›non-trivial machines‹ can thus be read as a strategy to retain the humanistic idea of an autonomous subject within cybernetic research and theory. The Panel wants to discuss the original cybernetic concepts of ›self-organization‹ and ›non-trivialization‹ and examine their impact on other theories and debates outside the cybernetic core group during the 1960s and beyond.