The late Heinz von
Forster was a founder of Cybernetics along with
McCulloch, Wiener and von Neumann. As Director of
the Biological Computer Laboratory from 1958-1975
at University of Illinois he was a leading
supporter of the pioneer English Cyberneticians
working with Alex Andrew, Gordon Pask and Ross
Ashby. There is a great deal of material about
Heinz on the web. A taste of
his writing can be found courtesy of the
International Society for the System Sciences (ISSS)
In 1995 the American Society for Cybernetics
Annual Conference in Chicago took as its theme
"Circularity". Von Foerster produced a six page A5
booklet of his aphorisms and principles which is a
gem. Varioulsy quirky and profound there are
propositions that immediately can be applied and
others requiring further thought. There is some
ambiguity in the orginal and where possible this
has been retained.
Please do get in touch
if you find corrections that can be made.
Pouloide's "Kinematic of Conical Sections"
(Aphorism 28) appears in the original to be series
of tangents and normals to a parabola with a
decreasing focus. Can anyone clarify this?
ANTHOLOGY of PRINCIPLES
PROPOSITIONS THEOREMS ROADSIGNS DEFINITIONS
POSTULATES APHORISMS etc.
May 17-21 1995
CYBERNETICS AND CIRCULARITY
Socratic Ignorance: "I know that I don't
know; but many don't even know that."
Fundamental Ignorance! " "
The Ethical Imperative! "Act always so as to
increase the number of choices.". A preferred form is "I always act so as to increase the number of choices."†
The Hermeneutic Principle: "The hearer, not
the speaker determines the meaning of an
The Principle of the Double Blind: "The blind
spot: One does not see what one does not
Hold paper with right hand, Close left eye.
Fixate star. Move paper slowly to and fro along
the line of vision, and watch black spot
disappear (at eye-paper distance between 12 and
14 inches). Keep asterisk fixated, maintain
eye-paper distance, and move paper slowly in
circles: black spot remains invisible.
Metaphysics Fundamental Theorem: "Only
those questions which are in principle
undecidable, we can decide".
Jean Piaget's Epistemological Postulate: "He
who organises his experience organises the
The Constructivist Postulate: "Experience is
the cause, the world is the consequence."
The Realist Postulate: "The World is the
cause, experience is the consequence."
The Principle of Relativity: "If a Hypothesis
holds separately for A, and it holds separately
for B, the hypothesis is rejected, if it does not
hold for A & B together."
"THIS SENTENCE HAS .........LETTERS";
E1=31; E2=?; etc.
Humberto Maturana's and Francisco Varela's
Principle of Natural Drift! "Every operationally
closed system changes by natural drift."
The nervous system is organized (or it
organizes itself) so as to compute a stable
The Logic of the World Principle: "The logic
of the world is the logic of descriptions (of the
Necessity arises from the ability‡ to make
Chance arises from the inability to make
The orthodox paradoxically is
ontological: when P is true it is false, and
Ontogenetically, however, by
Truth: "The invention of a liar."
Pouloide: "The Kinematic of Conical
Undecidables (in principle):
"The Entscheidungsproblem", Formal systems
"The Analytic Problem" for the Universal
Turing Machine. [See discussion in H.v.F.'s "Metaphysics
of an Experimental Epistemologist". Pask often asserted the concurrent
was not the serial. A later formulation was the impossibility of mapping the kinetic
into the kinematic without difference. R.N.G]
"The Halting Problem" for the Universal
"How did the Universe come into being?"
"Am I a part of, or apart from, the
Fishlike creature (in Cybernetics of
Epistemology): "What moves?"
Feedback: "Where does it go?"
†Our thanks to Dipl.-Ing. Horst Lehrheuer who points out: Heinz von Foerster (HvF) changed the earlier wording of his ethical imperative "Act always so as to increase the number of choices" in a conversation with Bernhard Poerksen (book “The Certainty of Uncertainty,” I think) to:
“I always try to act so as to increase the number of choices.”
This change is significant since the new wording is now fully synergistic with HvF’s idea of separating ethics (which is only about the “I”) from morality/morals (about the “Thou/You”); a distinction that was very important to Heinz von Foerster as he stressed at several occasions in his later published conversations.
‡ Thanks to Stefan Garthe-Draht, M.A. for correcting "inability" to "ability" (15/12/2016). A serious error.