These people who expand the notion of autopoiesis to a larger system than just you and me, they said Gaia is an autopoietic system. Because it fulfills all the conditions: it fulfills the condition that all the components of that Gaia system are productively interactive with each other—and what do they produce? The very components with which they start out. So Gaia is a perpetually reconstructing, regenerating system which maintains the system as it is at the moment; the Gaia system. How can it do that? Because the sun is pumping in enough energy that this circularity of the processes which maintain the living organization of Gaia is maintained. Otherwise, it collapses and the whole thing goes.

Heinz von Förster

Born: November 13, 1911

Died: October 2, 2002 (Age 90)

Heinz von Förster was an Austrian American scientist combining physics and philosophy, and widely attributed as the originator of Second-order cybernetics. He was twice a Guggenheim fellow (1956–57 and 1963–64) and also was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1980. He is well known for his 1960 Doomsday equation formula published in Science predicting future population growth.

As a polymath, he wrote nearly two hundred professional papers, gaining renown in fields from computer science and artificial intelligence to epistemology, and researched high-speed electronics and electro-optics switching devices as a physicist, and in biophysics, the study of memory and knowledge. He worked on cognition based on neurophysiology, mathematics, and philosophy and was called "one of the most consequential thinkers in the history of cybernetics". He came to the United States, and stayed after meeting with Warren Sturgis McCulloch, where he received funding from the Pentagon to establish the Biological Computer Laboratory, which built the first parallel computer, the Numa-Rete. Working with William Ross Ashby, one of the original Ratio Club members, and together with Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann and Lawrence J. Fogel, Heinz von Foerster was an architect of cybernetics and one of the members of the Macy conferences, eventually becoming editor of its early proceedings alongside Hans-Lukas Teuber and Margaret Mead.

Available Documents: 3

Interview on Cybernetics
August 22, 1989
On Self-Organizing Systems and Their Environments
May 5, 1959
An adaptation of an address given at The Interdisciplinary Symposium on Self-Organizing Systems in Chicago, Illinois, originally published in Self-Organizing Systems. M.C. Yovits and S. Cameron (eds.), Pergamon Press, London, pp. 31–50 (1960).
Understanding Understanding
A collection of essays by Heinz von Förster discussing some of the fundamental principles that govern how we know the world and how we process the information from which we derive that knowledge. Included are path-breaking articles concerning the principles of computation in neural nets, the definition of self-organizing systems, and the nature of cognition.

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