Shit is something one wants to separate oneself from

28Mar07

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Heinz von Foerster in The Net

Heinz von Foerster was a scientist combining physics and philosophy. He worked in the field of cybernetics and was essential for the development of the radical constructivism theory and second-order cybernetics, for which he was an eloquent advocate. He is also known for his interest in (computer) music and magic. more…

I have been really impressed by Foerster’s assertion that systemics are going to replace (or at least complement) science. Now, what does he mean? He explains it in this interview which is unfortunately in German but Monica Bröcker even goes into more detail than von Foerster himself in her article The Part-of-the-World Position of Heinz von Foerster

He considered himself as a systemicist rather than as a scientist, and thus drew a distinction between systemics and science.
The word “science” comes from the Latin word “scientia”, which is derived from the Indo-European root “skei”, and refers to activities such as “separating”, “distinguishing”, “taking apart”.
Among the words that are derived from “skei” are for example “schism” or “schizophrenia”, and, as Heinz liked to point out, also “shit”, for it is something one wants to separate oneself from. And, as I already mentioned, the word “science” is derived from this root too, because in science one draws distinctions between things.
Traditionally, in sciences one focuses on details and then studies the details of the details. This is called reductionism. One reduces a complicated problem by taking it apart, and then taking apart the parts of the parts. The nice thing about reductionism is that it always has a solution. One can continue to take things apart until one finally understands the whole thing. Unfortenately, however, one actually doesn’t understand the whole thing. In reductionism, the connection, the interrelations between the parts are separated again and again and thus they get lost.
Now, how does “systemics” come in? As complementary terms to “separating”, “distinguishing”, “taking apart”, Heinz von Foerster proposed to look at terms such as “putting together”, “unifying”, “identifying”. For these terms of “togetherness” comes from the Greek root “hen”, which means “one” the word “syn” or “sym”, which we use when we talk about sympathy, symphony, synthesis, etc. From “syn” also comes the word “system”. A system is something, which we put together. So, as a structure of thinking, which is complementary to scientific thinking, Heinz proposed “systemics”, which through putting together, through synchronizing, through creating a symphony from different insights leads to a viewpoint, which couldn’t be reached by reductionism, the systemic perspective.

The Foerster footage is from The Net by Lutz Dammbeck, an interesting documentary that I saw recently. It explores the motives of Unabomber Ted Kaczinsky and hints at a conspiracy which is based on theories evolved by Theodor W. Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality.

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