American Society for Cybernetics a society for the art and science
of human understanding


2033 K Street, NW Suite #203
Washington DC 20052

Fax (202) 994 - 5225
Phone (202) 994-5203

November 10, 1999

Dear ASC community,

As we promised in our August letter, we are writing to keep you informed about happenings concerning the American Society for Cybernetics. We are pleased that so many of you have decided to renew your membership and trust that this letter will encourage more of you to do so. We want to develop the ASC as "The" organization that supports those with an interest in, or a passion for, cybernetics.

We are pleased to see that a number of European colleagues have chosen to reapply for membership and we want to encourage as much conversation as possible among the groups of people worldwide who are currently contributing to the on-going knowledge about observing systems and the implication that such an ontology has for the way in which we live and act in the world.

If you haven’t sent your membership in, an application form is attached.


Enclosed with this mailing you will find a small monograph put together by students at the School for Designing Society in Urbana, Illinois. The students prepared this prior to the syntegration held by the ASC last March to discuss the role of cybernetics in the 21’st. century. This school is engaged with the study of second order cybernetics and is committed to its practical application in designing society. As there are very few educational institutions, or university departments, dedicated to second order cybernetics in the world, this school represents an important foundation for young people wanting to pursue this view of the world.

Regional Meetings

At the ASC Syntegration in March, one of the ideas discussed was the concept of regional meetings, or a traveling conference that went to different locations in North America, and perhaps beyond. The thought was that such a meeting would help to energize local groups and maintain a continuity of ideas and conversations. Although we intend to continue in the tradition of having a major conference in which we can all participate at least once a year, the notion of these smaller regional meetings has appeal. Indeed, the idea has been floating around for years.

Recently we have been discussing the idea of using a collection of video-tapes of interviews or conversations as an organizing framework for such a series of local meetings. We have been told about a variety of video tapes that exist with interviews of Gordon Pask, Stafford Beer, Heinz von Foerster and others. We would put out a "call for videos" and establish a committee to review these with the intent of creating a well rounded program. These would then be compiled and duplicated, and distributed to the various regions. Along with the videos themselves, we would offer a sort of conference template that someone in a particular region could use to host a small regional event without great cost in terms of money or personal time commitment. Further, we would try to ensure that a Trustee and/or member of the Executive was present at each of these smaller gatherings. Both of us are willing to travel, and to offer some continuity through our "threading" among any such meetings.

To make this notion "come to life" we need people willing to organize the regional meetings. We would provide the appropriate regional mailing list, a draft invitation/program, and if desired, actually send out the notices. The organizer would have to specify a time, find a location, arrange video equipment, work out a budget, (balance costs of rentals with fees from anticipated attendance) and conduct the meeting.

ACTION: If anyone is interested in pursuing this idea, by contributing videos, acting on the review committee, or organizing the meetings, please contact Pille. Suggestions for modifying the notion are welcome!

Video Tapes

In July, three video-taped conversations between Dr. Heinz Von Foerster and Dr. Humberto Maturana were recorded. We are looking for an appropriate venue to premiere these -- they could be part of the above mentioned regional meetings. In the longer term we wish to make these, and any other videos of interest to the ASC, available to members at cost. If anyone has relevant videos, and the copyright is available for their use (through the ASC as a not for profit) we would like to hear from you. We might also want to send a copy to the ASC archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana.

ACTION: If you have relevant video tapes please contact Kathleen with details.

World Congress for the Systems Sciences
Toronto, July 16-22, 2000

As you are aware from a recent mailing from the ISSS, we are co-hosting the World Congress for the Systems Sciences organized by the International Society for Systems Science (ISSS) in Toronto, July 2000. The ASC is responsible for a plenary session on Conservation and Change to be followed by a panel discussion on Environment and Ethics: a Conversation on Conservation and Change. Further, we have invited the students from School for Designing Society to provide an evening performance on the same topic. ASC members are encouraged to participate in this conference through the many Special Integration Groups. The call for papers is currently available on the ISSS website,


Next ASC Conference

We would like to hold a conference in the fall of 2000 but do not yet have a site or a sponsor. We would like to have the site and location booked by the next member’s letter mailing.

ACTION: Anyone willing to volunteer as a local organizer, or anyone willing to assist should contact either Pille or Kathleen.


Two boxes of archival material which were temporarily stored through the courtesy of past president Rodney Donaldson have now been sent to the ASC Archives at the University of Illinois. We do not have a complete record of business meetings, and would be interested in completing this aspect of the archives.

ACTION: If you have any documents that should be archived, please let us know.

ASC Pages

In the Journal of Cybernetics and Human Knowing, Soren Brier has kindly provided the ASC with a guest column. The first issue with an introduction to the ASC Pages is in press. As mentioned in our Activity Plan, the Trustees of the ASC are being asked to contribute to these pages, and several have already agreed to provide material for a forthcoming issue. An interview with Dr. Heinz von Foerster has just been completed and will be included in the next issue of the Journal.

ASC Web site

The web site committee currently consists of Lee Scott, Pille Bunnell and Kathleen Forsythe and has met twice to plan a development path for the ASC website. Actions to date include securing a domain name, namely "", obtaining a service provider, and designing the website structure and layout and graphics for the web pages, preparing protocols for submission and stylesheets. We are currently in the process of porting material from the two previously extant websites to the new ASC website and hope to have a launch date early in 2000.

We will be asking for contributions from ASC members. Currently a Ph.D. student is preparing a submission of a review of Ross Ashby’s work and we plan to encourage other students to submit web-designed "electronic papers" as we are able to set up to handle this.

ACTION: Anyone interested in participating on the Website committee or able to volunteer any time, services or expertise please contact Pille.

Current On Line Discussions

As far as we know, the cybcom listserv is the only current on-line discussion on cybernetics directly involving the ASC.


Earlier this year an e-mail discussion was held arising from the ASC conference in March. The discussions on Evil and Ethics and the Lie of Race continued from April until August and will be compiled into a monograph for inclusion in a later ASC mailing. However, the experiences of on-line discussion within both these forums and the desire to capture a trace of a multi-branched discussion, has lead us to explore different means of establishing such conversational spaces.

We are researching the new crop of "community building " software that offers the ability to form groups across the web in real-time. Some of this software provides the ability to generate threaded discussions which is of interest to us as we want to open a space for conversation on the website , mindful of the notion that the manner in which the virtual space is used does impact the discussion.

Letterhead and Identity

Our last letter featured the black and white version of a new letterhead designed by Pille Bunnell. We will eventually make a color print, one that is open to address changes, but are holding back until we have community consensus on the design. For example, under the name of the organization we printed the phrase: "a society for the art and science of human understanding". Some explanation is in order, given that there has been concerns expressed about this usage.

According to the minutes of the ASC meetings in Santa Cruz in March, 1998 there was discussion about adding a subtitle to the formal name American Society for Cybernetics. The subtitle: "a society for the art and science of human understanding." was suggested by Humberto Maturana in 1997 as a way of evoking both the breadth and the particular nature of the activities of the ASC. According to the minutes opinions on this proposal were solicited, but it is not clear that the call for opinions was widely heard.

ACTION: We would like to know whether you would like this phrase to appear on the letterhead as shown above, and whether you would like it to appear on the homepage of the website.

Whatever the answer to that question, it brings to focus again the fundamental question about the identity of the ASC. We will promote a forum for a conversation about this focused, at least initially, on what we intend in various circumstances when we use the term "cybernetics", or "second order cybernetics", and what does this contribute to human living at this time. We would like to pursue this conversation through our monograph series, as well as through a threaded discussion on our web page. For the time being we intend to initiate an electronic forum which those of you with email addresses will be invited to subscribe to.

Our aim is to make the ASC the place for exploring the nature of cybernetics, and, in particular, the home of second order cybernetics. We wish to provide activities and conferences that attract a wide range of people interested in cybernetics and its on-going development

We ourselves believe that second order cybernetics heralds a way to address the problems we humans face in a manner that is responsible, ethical, creative and intelligent and that we have a responsibility to provide a forum for the on-going quest to more fully understand and discern the implications of this manner of thinking.


Taking on the task of administering the ASC has added greatly to our daily e-mail load. Recently we have been asking for advice on how others deal most effectively with their "coupling addiction"! Needless to say, some of the answers have been both humorous and provocative. Given that cybernetics began as a science of communication and control in humans and animals, it is indeed curious that we are becoming so embedded in these communication systems of our own making. Temporality is indeed a compelling factor in our current dilemma. In the past, people wrote letters to each other and were happy to live with months separating replies. Now, we expect same hour or at least same day responses.

We hope that you will enjoy receiving these old fashioned letters and that they will give you pause from your computer screen to reflect and appreciate what it is we most enjoy about being part of a such a society, what it means to feel we belong and can speak openly without fear that what we say will be considered nonsensical or heretical.




Pille Bunnell, President Kathleen Forsythe, Vice President