Andrew Gordon Speedie-Pask, M.A. D.Sc., Sc.D., lived many lives
in the span of one. Over the course of his nearly-68 years, he stayed up
for 36-hour days, published 6 books and 270 papers, soldered machines into
behaving like learning organisms , and developed
a comprehensive theory of human cognition . If the
worlds of psychology, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science knew
his work better, they would never be the same: for then they could hold
the human and the rational, subjective and objective, in the same frame .
I knew Pask near his height of fanatical mental energy, manic public lectures
and uncompromising one-on-one sessions with students like me. I was lucky:
he was first introduced to me as a man of the theatre (producer of musical
shows, master lyricist). Our common interests made it easy for me to enter
his intricate world of ideas. But so many found his prose too dense, his
personal flair too confusing, his claims for his theory too good to be true.
I found in Gordon a man of style, intellect and difficulty, whose thinking
about the nature of thinking vastly clarified my own. His theory made it
easy to write software that nurtured individual learning styles (try that
with psychology) [4a, 4b]; provided
a human, subjective approach to the representation of knowables inside machines
(try that with artificial intelligence) ; and gave
me beautiful, powerful ideas that have guided me ever since.
Others may have known him better or less well, but Pask never failed to
be remembered as an eccentric and a genius, both. His world-wide recognition
is not inconsiderable but seems, for those close to him and even those not
so, to be far short of what is appropriate. I often heard members of his
audience volunteer that they figured they understood about 10% of what he
said - and that if the other 90% were as good as the 10, then this guy is
really important. Of course most of that 90% is as good as the 10
- Pask knew that and wanted to get it all in, whether it was comprehensible
or not. This commitment to completeness, whether in his theory or his talks
or his sentence structure, was a source of frustration for his audience.
That made it hard to engage with the material fairly. Pask wanted to bring
everyone else's theories into his theory, making it the most encompassing;
but that led to competition and complication. I was often told that Pask,
as the major author of Conversation Theory, did not always prove his contribution
by being good at conversation. It was as if, to him, that was our problem
We can expect a rush of interest in things Paskian, now that Gordon isn't
here to confuse us with the facts of his work as he preferred them. Much
of the reappraisal will be possible because some of the world has moved
toward his innovations. He didn't invent the World Wide Web but he specified
a (still unused) logic for representing individual knowledge in a global
repository . Conversation Theory, of which he was
primary driver and author, defines the conditions required for agreement  and delineates an architecture in which understanding
can occur . He warned about confusing mere "communication"
(exchanging messages containing what is already known) with "conversation"
(a generative activity that gives identity to participants and leads to
what is new) . Pask's was a prolific voice in the
development of "second-order" cybernetics, where the subjectivity
of the observer is a critical element in the describing processes of science
[10a, 10b]. He was serious about
making "a theory of everything." Although he mirrored the structure
of great scientific theories, his content was unique; for example, insisting
that what is conserved in conversation is consciousness - that which is
shared among the participants [11a, 11b].
To put it another way, nothing that has ever been thought is fully lost.
Whether the worlds he affects will know the name Pask is a question similar
to whether cybernetics will be recognized for the shift it brings to science:
the embrace of the subjective as an explicit part of every human endeavor.
At least in the world of cybernetics, we will not lose the irreplaceables
that Pask has brought to us.
The author is Pask unless otherwise noted.
 "The theory and practice of adaptive teaching
systems". In Teaching Machines and Programmed Learning, Vol.
11, "Data and Directions", ed., R. Glaser. Washington: Nat. Educ.
Assoc., 1965, 213-266. (Lewis, B. N. and Pask, G.)
 "Developments in Conversation Theory - Part
1". In International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 13, 1980,
 Pangaro, P: "Pask
as Dramaturg". In Systems
Research, Vol 10 No 3, 1993, 135-142.
[4a] "Conversational Techniques in the Study and
Practice of Education". In Brit. Jrl. Educational Psychology,
Vol. 46, I, 1976, 12-25.
[4b] "Styles and Strategies of Learning".
In Brit. Jrl. Educational Psychology, Vol. 46, II, 1976, 128-148.
 "The Representation of Knowables". Intl.
Jrl. for Man-Machine Studies, Vol. 17, 1975, 15-134. (with Kallikourdis,
D. and Scott, B. C. E.)
 "An essay on the Kinetics of Language as illustrated
by a Protologic Lp". Proceedings, 2nd Congress of the International
Association for Semiotic Studies, Vienna, 2-6 1979, workshop on "Fuzzy
Formal Semiotcs and Cognitive Processes". Reprinted in <<Ars
Semiotica>>, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1980, 93-127.
 "A Theory of Conversations and Individuals (Exemplified
by the Learning Process on CASTE)". Intl. Jrl. Man-Machine Studies,
Vol. 5, 1973, 443-566. (Pask, G., Scott, B. C. E. and Kallilourdis, D.)
 "Artificial Intelligence - a Preface and a Theory".
Preface to chapter on Machine Intelligence, in Soft Architecture Machines,
ed., N. Negroponte. MIT Press, 1975.
 "The Limits of Togetherness". Proceedings,
Invited Keynote address to IFIP, World Congress in Tokyo and Melbourne,
ed., S. Lavington. Amsterdam, New York, Oxford: North holland Pub. Co.,
[10a] "A Converstion Theoretic Approach to Social
Systems". In Sociocybernetics: An actor oriented social systems
theory, eds., F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen. Martinus Nijhoff, Social
Systems Section, Amsterdam, 1979, 15-26.
[10b] "Against Conferences" or "The
Poverty of Reduction in Sop-Science and Pop-Systems", Proceedings,
Silver Anniversary International Meeting of Society for General Systems
Research, London, August 1979, Washington: SGSR, xii-xxv.
[11a] "Organisational Closure of Potentially Conscious
Systems and Notes". Proceedings, NATO Congress on Applied General
Systems Research, Recent Developments and Trends, Binghamton, New York 1977
and Realities Conference, EST Foundation, San Fransisco 1977. Reprinted
in Autopoiesis, ed., M. Zelany. New York: North Holland Elsevier.
[11b] "Consciousness". Proceedings, 4th European Meeting on Cybernetics and System research, Linz, Austria,
March 1978, in Journal of Cybernetics, Washington: Hemisphere, 1980,