Asaro P. (2007) Heinz von Foerster and the bio-computing movements of the 1960s. In: Müller A. & Müller K. H. (eds.) An unfinished revolution? Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory, BCL, 1959–1976. Edition Echoraum, Vienna: 253–275. https://cepa.info/6625
Excerpt: As I read the cybernetic literature, I became intrigued that as an approach to the mind which was often described as a predecessor to AI, cybernetics had a much more sophisticated approach to mind than its purported successor. I was soon led to Prof. Herbert Brün’s seminar in experimental composition, and to the archives of the Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) in the basement of the University of Illinois library. Since then, I have been trying to come to terms with what it was that was so special about the BCL, what allowed it to produce such interesting ideas and projects which seem alien and exotic in comparison to what mainstream AI and Cognitive Science produced in the same era. And yet, despite its appealing philosophical depth and technological novelty, it seems to have been largely ignored or forgotten by mainstream research in these areas. I believe that these are the same concerns that many of the authors of the recent issue of Cybernetics and Human Knowing (Brier & Glanville, 2003) express in regard to the legacy of von Foerster and the BCL. How could such an interesting place, full of interesting things and ideas have just disappeared and been largely forgotten, even in its own home town?
Asaro P. (2008) Computer als Modelle des Geistes. Über Simulation und das Gehirn als Modell des Designs von Computern. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften 19(4): 41–72. https://cepa.info/2310
The article considers the complexities of thinking about the computer as a model of the mind. It examines the computer as being a model of the brain in several very different senses of “model‘. On the one hand the basic architecture of the first modern stored-program computers was „modeled on“ the brain by John von Neumann. Von Neumann also sought to build a mathematical model of the biological brain as a complex system. A similar but different approach to modeling the brain was taken by Alan Turing, who on the one hand believed that the mind simply was a universal computer, and who sought to show how brain-like networks could self-organize into Universal Turing Machines. And on the other hand, Turing saw the computer as the universal machine that could simulate any other machine, and thus any particular human skill and thereby could simulate human intelligence. This leads to a discussion of the nature of “simulation” and its relation to models and modeling. The article applies this analysis to a written correspondence between Ashby and Turing in which Turing urges Ashby to simulate his cybernetic Homeostat device on the ACE computer, rather than build a special machine.
Barbieri M. (2009) A short history of biosemiotics. Biosemiotics 2(2): 221–245. https://cepa.info/4716
Biosemiotics is the synthesis of biology and semiotics, and its main purpose is to show that semiosis is a fundamental component of life, i.e., that signs and meaning exist in all living systems. This idea started circulating in the 1960s and was proposed independently from enquires taking place at both ends of the Scala Naturae. At the molecular end it was expressed by Howard Pattee’s analysis of the genetic code, whereas at the human end it took the form of Thomas Sebeok’s investigation into the biological roots of culture. Other proposals appeared in the years that followed and gave origin to different theoretical frameworks, or different schools, of biosemiotics. They are: (1) the physical biosemiotics of Howard Pattee and its extension in Darwinian biosemiotics by Howard Pattee and by Terrence Deacon, (2) the zoosemiotics proposed by Thomas Sebeok and its extension in sign biosemiotics developed by Thomas Sebeok and by Jesper Hoffmeyer, (3) the code biosemiotics of Marcello Barbieri and (4) the hermeneutic biosemiotics of Anton Markoš. The differences that exist between the schools are a consequence of their different models of semiosis, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. In reality they go much deeper and concern the very nature of the new discipline. Is biosemiotics only a new way of looking at the known facts of biology or does it predict new facts? Does biosemiotics consist of testable hypotheses? Does it add anything to the history of life and to our understanding of evolution? These are the major issues of the young discipline, and the purpose of the present paper is to illustrate them by describing the origin and the historical development of its main schools.
When confronted with issues dealing with first and second order cybernetics, it seems that the manner of defining the former has been somewhat caricatured. The second appears to sometimes give rise to conclusions which are almost opposite to those of Wiener by questioning the possibility of a control for a system. We find in Wiener’s research a prefiguration of the autonomy concept, which, in our opinion, could bring an explanation – and a solution – in cases where control elicits some perverse effect; an acceptance of positive feedback if it serves a desired purpose; the central importance held for him by ergodic theory that we use in an addendum on imbalanced strange attractors control; the idea of a knowledge which may be the fruit of the control; an interest for logical paradoxes he put in relation to communication in nervous system; and already the notion of dialogue in the core of the relation man/man or man/machine. Of course, Wiener did not accord an equal development to all his insights, but we have not yet finished scrutinizing his writings. First and second order cybernetics perhaps form an agonistic/antagonistic couple of which neither element could overshadow the other.
A survey of the history of science shows that very similar conceptions have been developed independently in various branches of science. At present, for example, holistic interpretations are prevalent in all fields whereas in the past atomistic explanations were common. Such considerations lead to the postulation of General System Theory which is a logico-mathematical discipline applicable to all sciences concerned with systems. The fact that certain principles have general applicability to systems explains the occurrence of isomorphic laws in different scientific fields. Just as Aristotelian logic was a fundamental organon for the classificatory sciences of antiquity, so may General System Theory define the general principles of dynamic interaction which appears as the central problem of modern science.
Bertalanffy L. (1972) The history and status of general systems theory. The Academy of Management Journal 15(4): 407–426. https://cepa.info/2701
The article presents a history of general systems theory and discusses several of its various aspects. According to the author, the notion of general systems theory first stemmed from the pre-Socratic philosophers, and evolved throughout the ages through different philosophic entities until it was eventually formally structured in the early 1900s. The theory has three main aspects. The first is called “systems science,” or the scientific exploration and theory of systems in various sciences. The second is called “systems technology,” or the problems arising in modern technology and society. The third aspect is called “systems philosophy” and refers to the reorientation of thought and world view.
Bettoni M. C. (2007) The Yerkish Language: From Operational Methodology to Chimpanzee Communication. Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 32–38. https://cepa.info/26
Purpose: Yerkish is an artificial language created in 1971 for the specific purpose of exploring the linguistic potential of nonhuman primates. The aim of this paper is to remind the research community of some important issues and concepts related to Yerkish that seem to have been forgotten or appear to be distorted. These are, particularly, its success, its promising aspects for future research and last but not least that it was Ernst von Glasersfeld who invented Yerkish: he coined the term “lexigrams,” created the first 120 of them and designed the grammar that regulated their combination. Design: The first part of this paper begins with a short outline of the context in which the Yerkish language originated: the original LANA project. It continues by presenting the language itself in more detail: first, its design, focusing on its “lexigrams” and its “correlational” grammar (the connective functions or “correlators” and the combinations of lexigrams, or “correlations”), and then its use by the chimpanzee Lana in formulating sentences. The second part gives a brief introduction to the foundation of Yerkish in Silvio Ceccato’s Operational Methodology, particularly his idea of the correlational structure of thought and concludes with the main insights that can be derived from the Yerkish experiment seen in the light of Operational Methodology. Findings: Lana’s success in language learning and the success of Yerkish during the past decades are probably due to the characteristics of Yerkish, particularly its foundation in operational methodology. The operation of correlation could be what constitutes thinking in a chimpanzee and an attentional system could be what delivers the mental content that correlation assembles into triads and networks. Research implications: Since no other assessment or explanation of Lana’s performances has considered these foundational issues (findings), a new research project or program should validate the above-mentioned hypotheses, particularly the correlational structure of chimpanzee thinking.
Context: Meeting Ernst von Glasersfeld for the first time in 1985, when about 70% of his work had still to be conceived, written and published, was a great stroke of fortune for me; it was based on my collaboration with Silvio Ceccato that had started in 1981 and it profoundly influenced my contributions to radical constructivism in the following 25 years of our friendship. Problem: Presenting the details of how it all began can shed a light on the development of constructivist ideas. Method: Anecdotes from 1979 to 1985 about how I came to meet Silvio Ceccato in Milan in 1981 and the influence of these events on preparing the 1985 meeting with Ernst von Glasersfeld, also in Milan. Results: The article describes the timeline of 50 years of publications by von Glasersfeld, an anecdote about a connection between Ceccato and the University of Zurich in the 60s, the attempt to present Ceccato’s ideas as compatible and complementary with the neuroscience discourse in 1985, von Glasersfeld’s opinion about this attempt, and this attempt’s potential influence on the emergence of a new concept in neuroscience, “EEG microstates.” Implications: The events and facts reported in the article help us to understand some aspects of an early phase in the development of radical constructivism, especially the relationship between Ceccato, von Glasersfeld and other members of the Italian Operational School such as Bruna Zonta, Felice Accame, and the author himself.
Context: In his work on neurophenomenology, the late Francisco Varela overtly tackled the well-known “hard problem” of the (physical) origin of phenomenal consciousness. Problem: Did he have a theory for solving this problem? No, he declared, only a “remedy.” Yet this declaration has been overlooked: Varela has been considered (successively or simultaneously) as an idealist, a dualist, or an identity theorist. Results: These primarily theoretical characterizations of Varela’s position are first shown to be incorrect. Then it is argued that there exists a stance (let’s call it the Varelian stance) in which the problem of the physical origin of primary consciousness, or pure experience, does not even arise. Implications: The nature of the “hard problem” of consciousness is changed from an intellectual puzzle to an existential option. Constructivist content: The role of ontological prejudice about what the world is made of (a prejudice that determines the very form of the “hard problem” as the issue of the origin of consciousness out of a pre-existing material organization) is downplayed, and methodologies and attitudes are put to the fore.