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16 May 2008

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University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
MAY 11 - 15, 2008

Held in conjunction with:
The 8th Understanding Complex Systems (UCS) Symposium
"Informatics, Energy and Others"


NOTE: Additional links and materials will be accreting to this legacy page as they become available ...

Original (Pre-Event) Conference Webpage


CONTEXT for the 2008 ASC Conference

May 11, 2008, will mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Biological Computer Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

To commemorate this occasion, the American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) and the sponsors and organizers of the Understanding Complex Systems (UCS) symposium series will be holding a pair of parallel events during the period 11 - 15 May:

Our organizations have established a reciprocal arrangement for attending both these conference events.

Registration for one organization's event will entitle you to attend the other event's sessions and vice versa.

THEME for the Conference


  My Cybernetics / Our Cybernetics

This conference is devoted to cybernetics in its full variety.

For each person who names themselves a cybernetician, an attendant "my cybernetics" is created, informed by her or his study, practice, and experience. Through conversation, "my cybernetics" joins the larger domain of cybernetics as it is studied, practiced, and experienced by other people who name themselves cyberneticians and thus create their own "my cybernetics". These interactions form "Our Cybernetics". During this conference we anticipate hearing many voices and ways of being, and the opportunity to observe the observing system we constitute.

In creating papers and presentations for the conference, we ask participants to tip their hat to our theme of "my cybernetics". Certainly whatever you do will be your cybernetics, but please include an extra loop of observation that examines your own work in the context of cybernetics in the large. And when you participate in the conference, keep examining the nature of cybernetics in relation to your own activity and the activity of others inside and outside cybernetics.

In the view of the organizers, cybernetics is like a Klein Bottle. Its inside is its outside. The process of traveling that strange topology/geography is the process of cybernetics herself.


A Sampling of Cybernetics (to stimulate thoughts toward the 2008 Conference theme ...)

In the public eye cybernetics is often linked with origins in the the design of automated systems and the consequences of interactions of women/men and machines. Contemporary cybernetics began as an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mathematical logic, stability in biological and engineering systems and neuroscience in the 1940's. Cybernetics expanded through the Macy conferences and other outlets to embrace social systems, Anthropology, general systems theory, psychology, architecture and design. Under the influence of Margaret Mead and Heinz von Foerster, cybernetics turned its light upon itself and became the cybernetics of cybernetics, the cybernetics of observing systems.

As we move back to specific cybernetic societies we find different lines of thought and exploration:

  • The American Society for Cybernetics, closely allied with Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory has been concerned with the role of the observer in systems and the understanding of observing systems.

  • Complex Systems Theory groups have emphasized the roles of mathematical modeling and the notion of emergent properties of systems in the presence of process, recursion, and feedback. There are many other viewpoints in this complex adventure in science and epistemology.

  • Many other groups study cybernetics in their own way around the world.

For more background on cybernetics, see:

FORMAT for the Conference Activities


The 2008 ASC Conference invites a variety of contributions including and not limited to:

  • papers
  • performances
  • displays
  • symposia
  • workshops
  • panels
  • hosted conversations

... relating to the conference as described or to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Biological Computer Laboratory.


May 11

  • 1:00-5:00 Preconference: Our Cybernetics
    (facilitated by Larry Richards)
    Loomis Laboratory
    1110 W. Green Street (Green Street & Goodwin Ave)
    Room 139

    This tutorial/workshop structures an opportunity to develop a personal context for cybernetic concepts by asking: how might these concepts inform my desires and my approach to pursuing them?

    The variety of connections and their intersections, as shared by the participants, facilitates a conversation with the potential for moving toward a collective "our cybernetics". This dialogic process circles back to further inform "my cybernetics", offering an individualized platform from which to continue the conversation at other times and places.

  • 7:30-9:30 Our Stories: Cybernetics Now and Then (dedicated to Steve Sloan)

May 12

  • (Morning Options ... )

    7:30-8:15 Larry Wexler: Torsotonic Movement

    8:30-8:45 The Creative from the Receptive, the Receptive from the Creative: Bagua

    8:30-9:00 Continental breakfast

  • (Morning Sessions ... )

    9:00-11:00 Glanville / Whitaker: My Cybernetics / Our Cybernetics: A Participatory Exploration (Session 1 of 2) (See Note Below ...)

    11:00-11:15 Break

    11:15-12:00 Paul Weston: To Discover, To Deduce, To Conclude

  • 12:00-1:00 Lunch

  • (Afternoon Sessions ... )

    1:00-2:30 'Our' Cybernetics: Documentation and Archives: Formal, informal, traditional, digital, material

    2:30-3:15 Lucas Pawlik: Systemic Thinking (Bedtime Story of the Second Order)

    3:15-3:30 Coffee and Ice Cream Break with UCS

    3:30-4:15 John Zelinski:The Department of Peace in Cyberspace, A Societal Application of Cybernetics

    4:15-4:30 Break

  • (BCL 50th Anniversary Celebration)

    4:30-5:50 BCL Plenary Sessions:

    Ricardo Uribe: Paradoxes and Nontrivial Machines

    Karl Mueller: Second-Order Cybernetics as Reverse Demolition

  • 5:50-6:20 Pizza Break

  • 6:20-7:30 BCL Panel

  • 7:30-8:00 Break

  • 8:00-10:00 Showing of Monte Grande: What is Life?

    "How is it possible for body and mind to exist as an integrated whole? The Chilean neurobiologist Francisco Varela devoted his entire life - from childhood to death to answering this question.

    Monte Grande's structure is based on Varela's non-linear thinking and focuses on autopoiesis, ethics, consciousness, meditation and dying. The film also includes narrative accounts and reflections from Varela himself, his family (former partners and children), leading scientists, friends and thinkers ..."

May 13

  • (Morning Options ... )

    7:30-8:00 Continental breakfast
    7:30-8:30 Larry Wexler: Torsotonic Movement
    8:30-9:00 The Creative from the Receptive, the Receptive from the Creative: Qi Gong

  • (Morning Sessions ... )

    9:00-9:45 Pille Bunnell. Distinctions of Domains and Domains of Distinctions

    9:45-11:15 Ranulph Glanville: The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

    11:15-12:00 Reflection

  • 12:00-1:00 Lunch

  • (Afternoon Sessions ... )

    1:00-1:45 Andrei Cretu: On Functionality in Linguistic Communication

    1:45-2:30 Philip Guddemi: The cybernetics of (manufactured?) ignorance

    2:30-3:15 Rob Scott: Traces left by the School for Designing a Society

    3:15-4:00 Reflections (Coffee and Ice Cream)

    4:00-5:00 ASC Awards and Business Meeting

    5:00-6:00 Fay / Glassman: Depth of a Moment: Scoring the Dynamics of "3-Dimensional Time and 1-Dimensional Space" for Movement-Based Theatre

  • 6:00-7:30 Dinner

  • 8:00-10:00 Performance: The Inside of My Head and Yours

May 14

  • (Morning Options ... )

    7:30-8:00 Continental breakfast
    7:30-8:30 Larry Wexler: Torsotonic Movement
    8:30-9:00 The Creative from the Receptive, the Receptive from the Creative: Tai Chi

  • (Morning Sessions ... )

    9:00-9:45 Allena Leonard: VSM Model of Sustainability Coordination

    9:45-10:30 Robert Martin: Critturs: A Fable About Circularity

    10:30-11:15 Philip Lewin: Nature Loves to Hide

  • 11:15-12:00 Reflection

  • 12:00-1:00 Lunch

  • (Afternoon Sessions ... )

    1:00-1:45 Lee Worden: New Theoretical Support for the Gaia Hypothesis

    1:45-2:30 Larry Richards: Some Ideas Worth Considering

    2:30-3:30 Andy Hilgartner: Replacing Our Systemic Madness / David Apgar: Relevance Finding the Handful of Performance Metrics That Matter

    3:30-4:00 Reflections (Coffee and Ice Cream)

    4:00-6:00 Whitaker / Glanville: My Cybernetics / Our Cybernetics: A Participatory Exploration (Session 2 of 2) (See Note Below ...)

  • 6:00-10:00 Dinner and Reception with Alfred Hubler

  • 8:00-10:00 ASC Board Meeting

May 15

  • (Morning Options ... )

    7:30-8:00 Continental breakfast
    8:30-9:00 The Creative from the Receptive, the Receptive from the Creative

  • (Morning Sessions ... )

    9:00-9:45 Susan Parenti

    9:45-10:30 Thomas Fischer

  • 10:30-12:00 Reflections and Closing

  • 12:00-1:00 Lunch



This section provides descriptions of (and / or links to ...) further information on the contributions made to the 2008 ASC Conference.

Accretion of documentation to this webpage (and the ASC website in general) will be an ongoing process.

ASC WIENER MEDALS Awarded at the 2008 Conference

The following 2008 Wiener Medal awards were announced / presented at the 2008 ASC Conference in Urbana ...

  Humberto Maturana
Award Certificate (PDF)

Maturana's Comments (PDF)

  Francisco Varela
Award Certificate (PDF)
  Ricardo Uribe
Award Certificate (PDF)
  Richard Jung
Award Certificate (PDF)
  Lars Löfgren
Award Certificate (PDF)
Reconciling Radical Constructivism with Social Organizations ... (Klaus Krippendorff)

Reconciling Radical Constructivism with Social Organizations as Networks of Conversations and of Stakeholders

Klaus Krippendorff

Owing to an injury (broken foot), Klaus was not be able to join us at the 2008 ASC Conference.

The paper he'd prepared for presentation is available at:

Cybernetics Tutorial (Stuart Umpleby)

During the 2008 Conference Stuart Umpleby conducted three tutorial sessions on cybernetics (key concepts, etc.). These tutorials were structured similarly to a multi-part 2006 tutorial program Stuart had developed. The 3 sessions he conducted at Urbana (and direct links to associated Powerpoint files) are as follows:

'Our' Cybernetics: Documentation and Archives (Panel)

On Monday, 12 May, a panel was conducted on the general theme of documentation and archives. The panelists were Paul Schroeder, Randy Whitaker, Jan Müggenberg, and Stuart Umpleby. The subject matter presented by these panelists included (e.g.):

  • An overview of the archives (e.g., ASC Archive; BCL Archive) associated with the ASC as an organization

  • The archives dedicated to cybernetics thinkers (e.g., von Foerster, Pask) associated with the ASC

  • The general theme of cybernetics' recorded 'corpus' (in various media)

  • The status of BCL-produced artifacts (e.g., illustrative prototypes) as 'documentation' of cybernetics research

  • Email and other communicative artifacts generated by ASC and the cybernetics community in general

The summary overview of the panelists' statements is available at:

My Cybernetics / Our Cybernetics ... (Ranulph Glanville / Randall Whitaker)

My Cybernetics / Our Cybernetics
A Participatory Exploration

During a 2-week period prior to the conference an online discussion exercise was held on the CYB-COALITION forum (Yahoo Groups). This online exercise was intended to set the stage for further discussions at the 2008 Conference. Results from the online exercise were made available to on-site attendees, who had the opportunity to make their own contributions during the course of the conference.

Each participant in the online discussion was asked to post responses to 3 focal points or issues. The collated contributions (subdivided with respect to the 3 focal points) are now available for review on the ASC website.

The focal topics (and links to the collated pre-conference results) are as follows:

  1. How I Found Cybernetics (i.e., how I became acquainted and engaged with the field or its subject matter)

  2. What Cybernetics Means to Me (i.e., what value or utility I ascribe to cybernetics in my personal and / or professional life)

  3. Description of My Cybernetics (a statement describing cybernetics as you see it)

The collated contributions (subdivided with respect to the 3 focal points) are now available for review on the ASC website. You can access them by clicking on the hot-linked titles above.

Each participant in the on-site exercise (1 of 2) was asked to post responses to these 3 topics. The population of participants was then subdivided into 3 working groups, each of which took their individual statements, reviewed them, and collated them as they saw fit.

In the final on-site exercise (2 of 2), each participant was asked to post a new statement of 'my cybernetics' (cf. topic 3 of 3 above). This was intended to allow participants to make a new expression of 'my cybernetics' in light of their experiences and reflections at the conference.

Once these 'final' statements were posted, participants were asked to reivew the entire set. Each participant was asked to identify and describe 3 relationships discerned between his / her own 'my cybernetics' statement and the statement or statements of others in this session. For each such relationship, the attributor was asked to specify (in writing) both:

  • The name(s) of the other participant(s) to whom he / she was attributing the relationship, and ...

  • A characterization of the relationship itself (e.g., the theme or point upon which the cited contributions corresponded).

This generated a set of records comprised of:

  • Each participant's 'closing' statement of 'my cybernetics'

  • Named relationships between each participant's statement and up to 3 other statements.

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