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    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.

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