We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Beginning of Heaven and Earth Has No Name

Seven Days with Second-Order Cybernetics

Heinz von Foerster is one of the most consequential thinkers in the history of cybernetics. Von Foerster wrote nearly two hundred professional papers, gaining renown in fields from computer science and artificial intelligence to epistemology and family th

Publication Year: 2013

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 élan 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.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (4.6 MB)
pp. 1-6


pdf iconDownload PDF (71.0 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more

A Foreword by the Series Editor

pdf iconDownload PDF (113.9 KB)
pp. ix-x

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 ...

read more

An Author’s Forewords

pdf iconDownload PDF (113.3 KB)
pp. xi-xii

When it came to writing a book, I was corrupted very early on by two doctrines from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. These are the first and the last sentences of his Tractatus. The first is a quotation from Ferdinand Kürnberger, which Wittgenstein put in as a motto for the whole work: ...

read more

Forewords with Two Editors

pdf iconDownload PDF (131.9 KB)
pp. xiii-xviii

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. ...

read more

Foretaste of an Author with Two Editors

pdf iconDownload PDF (119.2 KB)
pp. xix-xxii

We would like to approach your ideas and opinions step by step, moving from the fundamental questions of physics on the first day to the specific heuristics that characterise your style of thinking on the sixth and final day of conversation. On the seventh day, we will all have earned an unqualified rest. ...

read more

Notes on the Translation

pdf iconDownload PDF (110.6 KB)
pp. xxiii-xxiv

What, then, do translators do? For readers in English, this trialog now has two additional participants, although these two are trying their best to be discrete, almost transparent. Try though we might, however, this is an impossible task: ...

read more

Preface to the American Edition

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.4 KB)
pp. xxv-xxvi

Heinz von Foerster invoked the metaphor of a fairy who through her magic powers accomplished a series of nearly impossible results, all of them contributing to the German edition of this book in the year 1997. Nevertheless, the most remarkable product of our faithful book fairy was the English translation of the German original. ...

List of Abbreviations

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.2 KB)
pp. xxvii-xxviii

read more

First Day: Building Blocks, Observers, Emergence, Trivial Machines

pdf iconDownload PDF (295.4 KB)
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. ...

read more

Second Day: Innovation, Life, Order, Thermodynamics

pdf iconDownload PDF (303.0 KB)
pp. 29-61

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. ...

read more

Third Day: Movement, Species, Recursion, Selectivity

pdf iconDownload PDF (293.3 KB)
pp. 62-88

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. ...

read more

Fourth Day: Cognition, Perception, Memory, Symbols

pdf iconDownload PDF (287.7 KB)
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. ...

read more

Fifth Day: Communicating, Talking, Thinking, Falling

pdf iconDownload PDF (293.8 KB)
pp. 115-145

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.” ...

read more

Sixth Day: Experiences, Heuristics, Plans, Futures

pdf iconDownload PDF (326.5 KB)
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? ...

Seventh Day: Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest

pdf iconDownload PDF (191.5 KB)
pp. 179-180

read more

Epilogue in Heaven

pdf iconDownload PDF (144.1 KB)
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 of Hissing, Grunting, and Rattling Sounds From Rattlesnake Hill, ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (196.9 KB)
pp. 187-198


pdf iconDownload PDF (130.1 KB)
pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780823255641
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823255603

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth