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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 (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.