The Conversation of Theories & A Theory of Conversations:
von Foerster, Maturana, Pask
Tuesday 26 January 1993
Antioch University Seattle
7 - 9 PM Room T203
Paul Pangaro, Speaker
Like any coherent field of inquiry, cybernetics can be viewed
as interactions across contributions of eras and individuals.
Being relatively new but also somewhat neglected, the field has
seldom been viewed in terms of such a "history".
This presentation/discussion begins with a very general outline
of the origins of cybernetics. The field's transition from control
theory and electronic servomechanisms to the epistemology of
constructivism is seen as a natural and inevitable development.
This "second order" phase of cybernetics has had fantastic
ramifications for the role, as well as the content, of science
in the second half of this century. Such a claim is supported
most forcefully in the work of von Foerster, of Maturana, and
of Pask. The elegant correspondences across the work of these
individuals provide vivid insights into the relevance of cybernetics
for the first half of the century that is to come. These correspondences
also provide a clear demonstration of the scope of their vision
for those not yet familiar with the work.
Building from a few key aspects of the work of von Foerster and
Maturana, details of the work of Pask and "Conversation
Theory" become the emphasis of this presentation. Pask has
constructed a thorough and consistent scientific theory that
purports to subsume all other theories of the mental, physical
and social world. The audacity of this claim is exceeded only
by the relative obscurity of his writings --- despite the aesthetic
simplicity, explanatory power and prescriptive advice of his
work. The ability of Conversation Theory to contrast objective
and subjective interactions in the same hard-valued, formal framework
makes it the only candidate for a human-centered, unifying science.
Conversation Theory consists of many parts, including an architectural
model of languaging, a detailed semantic logic, a formulaic representation
of agreement, and vast data on the nature of individualized learning
in many modes. Existing areas of application of Pask's work will
be discussed, including knowledge modeling; software for learning
and for mediating agreement; study of health and pathologies
in social organizations.
Paul Pangaro received a BSci in Humanities from MIT, where he
also worked in the research laboratories of Jerry Lettvin and
Nicholas Negroponte. He traveled to England to earn his PhD from Brunel University in Cybernetics under Gordon Pask. In 1981
he started a private company for the sole purpose of applying
second-order cybernetics to real-world problems, and has been
engaged in contracts with the British Admiralty, Niagara Mohawk
Power Corporation, NYNEX and Du Pont. Projects have included
large-scale training environments for submarine commanders and
nuclear power plant operators; anthropological studies of future
applications of communications technology; and the epistemological,
sociological and technological problems of the modern corporation.
He is currently developing independent projects in the relationship
of technology to cost containment and individualized health care,
and personalized environmental sensing.