Heinz von Foerster


Heinz von Foerster
Heinz von Foerster in 1963 at the Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois

Heinz von Foerster (November 13, 1911, Vienna – October 2, 2002, Pescadero, California) was an Austrian American scientist combining physics and philosophy. Together with Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Lawrence J. Fogel, and others, Heinz von Foerster was an architect of cybernetics.[1]

Contents

Biography

Von Foerster was born in 1911 in Vienna, Austria, as Heinz von Förster. He studied physics at the Technical University of Vienna and at the University of Breslau, where in 1944 he received a Ph.D. in physics.

He moved to the USA in 1949, and worked at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a professor of electrical engineering from 1951 to 1975. From 1962 to 1975 he also was professor of biophysics and 1958–75 director of the Biological Computer Laboratory. Additionally, in 1956–57 and 1963–64 he was a Guggenheim-Fellow. From 1963 to 1965 he was president of the Wenner-Gren-Foundation for anthropological research.[1]

He knew well and was in conversation with John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Gordon Pask, Gregory Bateson, Lawrence J. Fogel and Margaret Mead, among many others. He influenced generations of students as a teacher and inclusive, enthusiastic collaborator.

Work

Von Foerster was influenced by the Vienna Circle and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He worked in the field of cybernetics and is known as the inventor of second-order cybernetics. He made important contributions to constructivism.[2] He is also known for his interest in computer music and magic.

The electron tube laboratory

In 1949 Von Foerster started work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign at the electron tube laboratory of the Electrical Engineering Department, where he succeeded Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner. With his students he developed many innovative devices, including ultra-high-frequency electronics[3]

He also worked on mathematical models of population dynamics and developed a general model now called the "von Foerster Equation" [4]

Biological Computer Laboratory

In 1958 he formed the Biological Computer Lab, studying similarities in cybernetic systems in biology and electronics.[5]

Macy conferences

He was the youngest member of the core group of the Macy conferences and editor of the five volumes of Cybernetics (1949–1953), a series of conference transcripts that represent important foundational conversations in the field. It was von Foerster who suggested that Wiener's coinage "Cybernetics" be applied to this conference series, that had previously been called "Circular Causal and Feedback Mechanisms in Biological and Social Systems".

Doomsday Equation

A 1960 issue of Science magazine included an article by von Foerster and his colleagues P.M.Mora and L.W.Amiot proposing a formula representing a best fit to available historical data on world population; the authors then predicted future population growth on the basis of this formula.[6] The formula gave 2.7 billion as the 1960 world population and predicted that population growth would become infinite by Friday, November 13, 2026 - von Foerster's 115th birthday anniversary - a prediction that earned it the name "the Doomsday Equation."

Based on population data obtained from various sources, von Foerster and his students concluded that world population growth over the centuries was faster than an exponential. In such a situation, doubling-time decreases over time. Von Foerster's tongue-in-cheek prediction of Doomsday on November 13, 2026, was based on an extrapolation into the future of doubling-time, with the finding that doubling-time would decrease to zero on that date.

Responders to his Doomsday prediction objected on the grounds of the finite human gestation time of 9 months, and the transparent fact that biological systems rarely persist in exponential growth for any substantial length of time. Those who knew von Foerster could see in his rejoinders an evident sense of humor.

Doomsday Equation: recent research

Recent research has confirmed the basic soundness of von Foerster's findings. The hyperbolic growth of the world population observed until the 1970s has recently been correlated to a non-linear second order positive feedback between demographic growth and technological development that can be spelled out as follows[7]:

  • technological growth implies an increase in carrying capacity, an increase in the number of people who can survive on any given plot of land
  • demographic growth (more people) implies more potential inventors and hence an acceleration of technological growth
  • accelerating technological growth causes accelerating growth of carrying capacity, in a positive feedback loop
  • faster population growth likewise feeds back by accelerating growth of the number of potential inventors, and then even faster technological growth
  • hence, even faster growth of the Earth's carrying capacity for people, and so on

See also

Publications

Von Foerster authored more than 100 publications.[8] Books, a selection:

  • 1949, Cybernetics: Transactions of the Sixth Conference, (editor), Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation: New York, 220 pp.
  • 2002, Understanding understanding, a volume of von Foerster's papers, published by Springer-Verlag, 2002.
  • 2010, with Monika Broecker: Part of the World. Fractals of Ethics - A Drama in Three Acts. Heinz von Foerster's most extensive biography. First published in German in 2002: with Monika Broecker. Teil der Welt. Fraktale einer Ethik - ein Drama in drei Akten.

Articles, a selection:

  • 1958, "Basic Concepts of Homeostasis." In: Homeostatic Mechanisms, Upton, New York, pp. 216–242, 1958.
  • 1960, "Doomsday: Friday, November 13, AD 2026," with P. M. Mora und L. W. Amiot, Science 132, pp. 1291–1295, 1960.
  • 1961, "A Predictive Model for Self-Organizing Systems," Part I: Cybernetica 3, pp. 258–300; Part II: Cybernetica 4, pp. 20–55, with Gordon Pask, 1961.
  • 1964, "Biological Computers," with W. Ross Ashby, In: Bioastronautics, K. E. Schaefer, Macmillan Co., New York, pp. 333– 360, 1964.
  • 1969, "What is Memory that it may have Hindsight and Foresight"
  • 1971, "Computing in the Semantic Domain"
  • 1971, "Technology. What Will It Mean to Librarians?"

References

  1. ^ a b The Heinz von Foerster Page
  2. ^ Segal, L. The Dream of Reality: Heinz Von Foerster's Constructivism, Springer, 2001. ISBN 0-387-95130-X
  3. ^ See for example, in Review of Scientific Instruments 25: 640–653, 1954.
  4. ^ "Some Remarks on Changing Populations" in The Kinetics of Cellular Proliferation, F. Stohlman, Jr., ed., Grune & Stratton, New York, pp. 382-407 (1959); E. Trucco, Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 27: 285-304 and 449-471, 1965
  5. ^ Biological Computer Laboratory
  6. ^ Heinz von Foerster, P. M. Mora and L. W. Amiot (November 1960). "Doomsday: Friday, 13 November, A.D. 2026. At this date human population will approach infinity if it grows as it has grown in the last two millenia". Science 132 (3436): 1291–1295. Bibcode 1960Sci...132.1291V. doi:10.1126/science.132.3436.1291. PMID 13782058. 
  7. ^ see, e.g., Introduction to Social Macrodynamics by Andrey Korotayev et al.
  8. ^ The Bibliography of Heinz von Foerster 1943–2003, from Alexander Riegler, dec 2003 gives an overview of all his publications.

External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Heinz von Foerster — Heinz von Foerster, Foto von 1963 aus dem Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois Heinz von Foerster (* 13. November 1911 als Heinz von Förster in Wien; † 2. Oktober 2002 in Pescadero, Kalifornien) war ein österreichischer Physiker …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Heinz von Foerster — in 1963, Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois Heinz von Foerster (Vienne, le 13 novembre 1911 Pescadero, Californie, le 2 octobre 2002) est un scientifique situé à la croisée de la physique et de la philosophie. Il fut l un des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Heinz Von Foerster — (Vienne, le 13 novembre 1911 Pescadero, Californie, le 2 octobre 2002) est un scientifique situé à la croisée de la physique et de la philosophie. Il fut l un des fondateurs de la cybernétique de deuxième ordre et un contributeur important du… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Heinz von foerster — (Vienne, le 13 novembre 1911 Pescadero, Californie, le 2 octobre 2002) est un scientifique situé à la croisée de la physique et de la philosophie. Il fut l un des fondateurs de la cybernétique de deuxième ordre et un contributeur important du… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Heinz von Foerster — in 1963, Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois. Heinz von Foerster (1911 – 2002) científico y cibernetista. Trabajó en el campo de la cibernética y fue esencial para el desarrollo de la teoría del constructivismo radical y la… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Heinz von Förster — Heinz von Foerster (* 13. November 1911 als Heinz von Förster in Wien; † 2. Oktober 2002 in Pescadero, Kalifornien) war ein österreichischer Physiker, Professor für Biophysik und langjähriger Direktor des Biological Computer Laboratory in… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Von Foerster — Heinz von Foerster Heinz von Foerster (Vienne, le 13 novembre 1911 Pescadero, Californie, le 2 octobre 2002) est un scientifique situé à la croisée de la physique et de la philosophie. Il fut l un des fondateurs de la cybernétique de deuxième… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Max von Foerster — Karl Hermann Waldemar Max von Foerster (* 14. Juli 1845 in Lübben (Spreewald); † 1. Februar 1905 in Charlottenburg bei Berlin) war ein deutscher Ingenieuroffizier und Unternehmer. Leben und Wirken Seine Laufbahn begann er als Ingenieuroffizier… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Foerster — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Anton Foerster (1837–1926), slowenischer Komponist Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster (1869–1966), deutscher Philosoph Fritz Foerster (1866–1931), deutscher Chemiker Heinz von Foerster (1911–2002),… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Foerster — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Patronymie Foerster est un nom de famille d origine germanique notamment porté par : Emmanuel Alois Förster (1748 1823), compositeur… …   Wikipédia en Français


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.