Mary Catherine Bateson’s note of thanks (and warning) to the ASC

To my colleagues at the American Society for Cybernetics.

I write to express my regret at not being present to receive the Norbert Wiener medal with which you are honoring me, to express my gratitude, and to convey briefly what I would be saying if I were present, emphasizing the contribution that I believe the ASC can and should make.

Many of you will have read the essay by my father, Gregory Bateson, called “From Versailles to Cybernetics,”*in which he traces much of the madness of the 20th century, still ongoing, to violations of communication. He ends by declaring that there is “…latent within cybernetics the means of achieving a new and perhaps more human outlook, a means of changing our philosophy of control and a means of seeing our own follies in wider perspective.” This hope rests on the potential offered by cybernetics for thinking in terms of whole systems rather than in terms of separate and competing interests and specializations, a potential that must be explored and expressed.

We are at a time of great danger, when the planetary cycles on which life depends and the long term patterns of climate are being severely disrupted. Meeting this danger and the humanitarian disasters that lie ahead requires a whole new order of cooperation. Yet researchers in the earth systems sciences have limited understanding of social systems, while some politicians deny what is happening, and non-specialists around the world simply do not recognize the larger picture. One day of cool weather leads to comments like, “See, the climate isn’t changing after all.” At the same time, the danger is amplified by an ideology that idealizes competition and accepts deception as a means to winning. Human beings do not always behave well when they believe that their “share of the pie” may be reduced, and modern weapons can turn the habit of zero-sum thinking into a lose-lose outcome for the entire planet.

Most of us understand this, but we need to remember how rare it is to participate in an intellectual community like this one, in which, for example, the acidity of the oceans, the instability of financial institutions, the rise of fundamentalism, and the increase in diabetes can be seen as examples of similar processes — and as possibly coupled. Most of us work within the framework of academic conventions that constrain scientists and scholars to keep such questions separate. Do we understand that in achieving new kinds of control we must bring all of our knowledge about communication and decision making to bear? Who else is going to do it?

I applaud your experiments with new formats for integrative discussion at this conference. It may be that the intellectual structure of cybernetics requires a new kind of communication that will make a new kind of listening possible, listening that carries the awareness of being part of a larger whole. If so, it must go beyond this small community. My hope is that all of us will resolve to carry our study of systems and cybernetics into our engagement with society, speaking out and strengthening exchanges with other fields and with the public, learning to think and then act to achieve the shared understanding and shared willingness to change so urgently needed. We need to be vocal and political. Somehow we must transform our shared understandings into a new kind of common sense.

Mary Catherine Bateson

*written in 1966 and published in Steps to an Ecology of Mind.

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From Rosenblueth to Richmond: A Historical Review of Cybernetics

From Rosenblueth to Richmond is a one-hour historical review of cybernetics that was delivered by Randall Whitaker on August 10th 2011 in the context of the American Society for Cybernetics’ Conference on Listening.

Synopsis: Ask someone on the street what ‘cybernetics’ is, and they’re likely to say it’s got something to do with robots, computers, and / or the Internet. Ask someone in academia, and they’re likely to say it’s an antiquated atomic era meme or a transdisciplinary experiment that spawned (e.g.) robotics, AI, control theory, and a variety of organizational management theories before fading away. Ask anyone why a cybernetics society would hold a conference on ‘listening’, and the likely response would be ‘huh?!?’. This tutorial will provide a historical review of selected themes and developments explaining how ‘cybernetics’ isn’t what most people think it is, and why in its current second-order form cybernetics indeed has a proper interest in interpersonal communication (e.g., ‘listening’).

In this tutorial Randall Whitaker makes important contributions to the field of cybernetics, including the recognition of the pivotal role played by Arturo Rosenblueth in the development of cybernetics, as well as a sketch for a new definition of cybernetics as “not so much control or communication per se, but the notion that the trajectory of a behaviour is mediated by reference to something else”.

Recording and editing: Thomas Fischer

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Michael Hohl’s Conference Notes

Michael Hohl has typed up his conference notes and put them online here. Enjoy!

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Questions Arising from the Conference

Pre-questions: What is the self – Where is the self – Ifthere is no self – What is there – If there is no there…. WHAT IS (a civil society)

Johann van der Merve

Question to myself: did I understand the conference? was there a fit between the conference and me?

Philip Baron

If we are natural speakers – how can we become natural listeners?

Michael Hohl

What is the act of listening to listening?

Leslie Burm

How can we turn “what?” to “how?” (move from aims to acting)?

Ranulph Glanville

What is systemic listening?
Why? Empty? Open? Desire?

Peter Bednar

What can I do to raise the likelyhood of the conversations I have after this conference being like the conversations I have had within this conference?

Tim Jachna

An example of my question
How do I “why”?

Lisa Fay

From Attractors
How can we provide the environment to be able to transmit while being receptive?

Delfina Fantini

How do people from different professions listen and create the value they deliver cybernetically (e.g. the musicians)?

Supriya K.

What were my greatest moments of clarity and confusion?

Bob Helland

I want to put order into the world to make it better. I want to listen to the world’s disorder to keep myself entertained. Am I hopeless?

Thomas Fischer

What else do (composition, presentation, everything) have to be so that everyone is a composer and every composition is responded to with more composition?

Jacob B.

What can we do, not just talk about?
Where/Ho/When/Why must listening move to action?

Paul Pangaro

What methods, methodology and ontology do we need?

Mark Johnson

Choose one:
1) How is it possible to overcome the metaphor gap?
2) What possible world has the topology necessary to kick start a phase state transition to a Larry Richards-like society without purposively doing this?


Last year: How can I continue to resist becoming a cynic?
This year: How can I continue to resist becoming complicit?

Larry Richards

What is more, whatever, useful than a question?


How do you characterize the empty or open space?


What does the ASC offer that he people in it don’t?
What questions would I hear if people weren’t self-conscious of reading their questions aloud?


In what dimensions can I/we propose and accept constraints in order to provoke open, surprising and desirable outcomes in what other dimensions (A conversation of course, as to “what” in terms of dimension; and directionality?)


What are the meanings of listening in all of their dimensions and how can we discover and explore all of these meanings and dimensions?

Pauline Oliveros

When is listening civil disobedience and how to open a space for such listening?

Mark Enslin

How can I inite others to want what I want?

Judith Lombardi

What question is being asked in the world for which our way of thinking (called cybernetics) can provide an answer?

Allenna Leonard

How can I learn from the success and limitations of this conference to dream BIG about the next one. No, BIGGER than that.

Phillip Guddemi (and, this is for real)

“The personal is not the political” In what ways is this true? Please give cybernetic reasons for you answers.

Dai Griffith

How can we apply cybernetics to education? How can we apply cybernetics to be more empathic?

Elizaneth McGregor

What risks can I take in the coming year so that I move more rapidly out of my comfort zone? I trust that taking such risks will lead to desirable and helpful action in various domains – and make the world more fun even in the presence of power.

Robert Martin

Next question – “You must change your life.” – Rilke

Philip Lewin

Question: The universe generated with this small society: Is it different from its social structure? What nest of concepts gather together in the backyard of ethics? Desire, action, choice, responsibility, etc. Will we be going further in forming thinking at this location? What dimension or language needs to be invented in order to do this? As we tour over the coming years, might we present performances and workshop-events that make the connection between our work and other work from the range of cybernetics manifest? A tour of cybernetics informed art?

Jeff Glassman

How can the ASC engage parallels with other theories outside of hidden contributions of cybernetics in other research agendas? Can we trace them? Can we invite them? Do projects with them? Can we at least talk about them? Examples: George Stiny, Bruno Latour, Robert Wilson

Daniel Rosenberg

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Pauline Oliveros’ Dinner Speech

During the conference banquet on Saturday evening, Pauline Oliveros delivered a dinner speech and performed with conference participants, following an introduction by Robert Martin.

Pauline Oliveros delivering the dinner speech

Pauline Oliveros delivering the dinner speech


Pauline Oliveros performing during her dinner speech

Pauline Oliveros performing during her dinner speech

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Poolside singing with Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros directed poolside singing on Friday and Saturday morning.

Morning singing by the hotel swimming pool.

Morning singing by the hotel swimming pool.


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Wednesday evening performances

On Wednesday evening a series of performances were given by the Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo, by Mark Enslin and Susan Parenti as well as by ElizaBeth Simpson. Below is a video by Judy Lombardy and some pictures taken by Thomas Fischer.

Jeff Glassman performing "'Napse"

Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo performing "Time and time again"

Lisa Fay performing "Homeland"

Mark Enslin introducing his piece "Unentitled"

Susan Parenti performing "Unentitled"

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Remembering Ernst von Glasersfeld and Gary Boyd

Following the General Business Meeting, members of the ASC remembered two fellow cyberneticians who passed away during the past year: Ernst von Glasersfeld and Gary Boyd. Judith Lombardi gave a eulogy to Ernst von Glasersfeld and Faisal Kadri gave a eulogy to Gary Boyd.

Judy Lombardi remembering Ernst von Glasersfeld

Judith Lombardi remembering Ernst von Glasersfeld


A more detailed outline of Judith Lombardi and Ernst von Glasersfeld’s collaboration can be found here.

Faisal Kadri remembering Gary Boyd

Faisal Kadri remembering Gary Boyd


The text of Faisal Kadri’s eulogy to Gary Boyd:

Gary MacIntyre Boyd was born in Toronto during the depression in 1934, educated at a school where his father was an assistant head master and grew up mainly in Ottawa. He finished his PhD in GeoPhysics from the University of BC then he worked at a large military radar establishment. Gary had two uncles who influenced his career moves; one who was an Avionics Engineer, obviously influenced him in his Radar interest, and another who was a Professor of Education at Wisconsin University. When the funding for the Radar project was lost Gary took an interest in Education like his second uncle and found the bridge that connected technology to education: Cybernetics. He took a position in teaching and research at Sir George Williams University in Montreal in order to move into Educational Technology. Concordia University was formed in 1974 through the merger of Loyola College and Sir George Williams University. Gary continued to serve at Concordia in Educational Technology programs for over 40 years until his passing on April 2, 2011. He was Emeritus Professor of Education.

He was a life-member of IEEE and a member of the American Society for Cybernetics, the ISSS, the ACM, and the American Educational Research Association and various educational technology and Distance Education Associations and the administrative committee of SAVIE Societe pour l’Apprentisage A Vie (e-learning).

Gary was an important figure in learning technology and someone who warned against the hubris of ambitious endeavours in e-learning and its limitations. His main research question was how can higher level learning be better supported by technology? Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory and Stafford Beer’s Viable System Methodology have been the two main sources of inspiration. His ultimate hope was for educational technology to be used in order to change human nature enough so that our grandchildren’s prospects will be better than those of the one-third of today’s’ children who are existing in abject misery. His recurring theme was people helping people via social change, discourse, art and all other forms of good human expression. His ideas show through his use of complex words which he often invented, perhapse the most descriptive of his research interest is Symviability or the ecological & co-cultural long-term symbiosis, cybersystemic (the Science/Technology of complex co-stearing systems) and advertainments.

He published numerous papers in the British Journal of Educational Technology, the Association for Educational and Training Technology Journal, The Canadian Journal for Educational Communications, Systems Research, and many more.

One of his last great ideas was explained in his paper proposal during ASC’s meeting last year in Troy, NY. Gary said:
Jane Jacobs discusses balancing between two societal moieties ‘traders’ vs. Guardians’.. In my view it should be at least a three way counterbalancing system with the‘creatives’ – artists and scientists who are neither traders nor guardians, but are driven by curiosity and wonder, (rather than greed or fear) constituting the third class of mutually steering actors.
And he goes on to highlight the necessity of some means or (institution) which can put forward “better safer more aesthetically and morally attractive financially acceptable alternatives” to artists and scientists in order to benefit society in a non-exploitive way. If ever such a means or an institution is created then Gary Boyd deserves credit and honor for its implementation.

On the personal level Gary was a warm and approachable person who was liked by many students and colleagues, judjing by the number of students and staff who came to his funeral. As a serious photographer and poet he was concerned with the aesthetic and ethical-moral dimensions of co-control of human learning.

Gary Boyd was a cyberneticist to the core with the theme of this conference, conversational theory, at his focus. Our society lost a valuable asset in his passing, he will be deeply missed.

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The ASC’s 2011 General Business Meeting

On Wednesday morning ASC members assembled to conduct the ASC’s 2011 General Business Meeting, chaired by ASC Vice President Timothy Jachna. ASC President Ranulph Glanville presented the President’s Report.

The ASC's 2011 General Business Meeting

The ASC's 2011 General Business Meeting

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Conference Booklets

The ASC2011 conference booklets were prepared by Christiane M. Herr, produced with generous support by Indiana University East and handed out at the conference registration desk. A PDF version (4MB) can be downloaded here.

ASC2011 Conference Booklets

ASC2011 Conference Booklets

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