©2005 Dennis Leri
Speaking of his friend Warren McCulloch, one of the founders of the Science of Information, Heinz von Foerster said, "He was a creative receptacle for every fascinating idea, whether it was logic, mathematics, physiology, neurophysiology, philosophy or poetry."  Heinz could have been speaking about himself. He was one of the original founders of cybernetics. He could have added to the list his own mastery of downhill skiing and mountain climbing. He had a avid interest in family therapy and Feldenkrais work, both fields to which he made contributions. But when we, who had come into his sphere, spoke of Heinz, we thought of more than a list of his domains of expertise or a set of attributes: charismatic, honorable, inspirational. We would recall more than his distinctive and cheerful Austrian accent or the kinetic ease and grace of virtually his every gesture and movement. A meeting with Heinz was a special kind of occasion. In speaking about Heinz one could use ‘Heinz’ as a noun or a verb. As a prelude to a meeting with Heinz, one could say “Let’s Heinz.” While his friend Bucky Fuller might say, “I seem to be a verb,” with Heinz everything and everyone seemed to be in a becoming. To break the hold of Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" Heinz might say, "In becoming 'we' each of us realizes 'I'." Whether listening to a thoroughly entrancing lecture or having tea and torte with him and his wife Mai at the home he built on Rattlesnake Hill in Pescadero, California, you just felt present at something unique. It was a kind of homecoming that would inevitably become a departure, a journey of discovery and invention.
Heinz became part of our Feldenkrais world, and the Feldenkrais method part of the von Foerster universe in 1977. Either Thom Sturm (SF '77) or Patrick Douce (SF '77) brought Heinz von Foerster, Patrick's former mentor from the Biological Computer Lab at the Champagne Urbana campus of the University of Chicago, to the San Francisco Feldenkrais Training in 1977. Whether it was Thom or Patrick, it was rightly divined to be a fruitful encounter. Heinz entered the training room just about at the start of an ATM lesson. He got on the floor and did the lesson. After, he talked with Moshe and our training group and told stories and anecdotes, mostly familiar to Moshe, from science and cybernetics. He was quite engaging and seemed to have a good grasp of what we were there to learn. His stories, when linked together, present a worldview inclusive of science but evocative of a grander scope, what Heinz called Systemics (the content of his keynote speech at a Feldenkrais conference in 1989). Some of those stories were retold by Moshe in his later books lending another level of accessibility and clarity to Moshe's own ideas of learning and the role played by one's nervous system.
The "nervous system," reified in the Feldenkrais community as an almost alien entity controlling our every behavior, is according to von Foerster but one autonomous system linked inextricably with all the other systems comprising the unity that is the individual, organismically and socially. We should realize that, for us, when we invoke the nervous system we are saying nothing significant about the discipline of anatomy. We are really indicating a set of practices congruent with the notion of "organic learning", that is, Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement. Our use of the term nervous system, in other words, means something unique to us. As we shall see, Heinz and his colleagues not only re-visioned notions of the dynamics deterministic of the biological individuality of the organism, but they also rethought how the organism’s component systems serve that individuality.
I first met Heinz at a seminar in Big Sur in 1976. I forget what the seminar was about. Heinz’s co-leaders were Chilean neurophenomenolgist Francisco Varela and exponent of consciousness expansion, John Lily. Varela, fellow Chilean Humberto Maturana and Heinz von Foerster were the main proponents of what came to be called the Santiago School of Neuroepistemology. The Santiago School asked and answered the question, what is a living entity? They coined the word autopoiesis (auto – self, poiesis – making, hence self-making) to denote a truly novel way to distinguish the organization of a living entity from the non-living. Out of their radical yet pragmatic position towards the question of ‘what is a living entity’ -- what is living? what is an entity in its unity? -- there necessarily followed the need to re-cast notions of self, language, and learning. That is, to see things anew required a dis-stance from the orthodox stance. For Heinz et al this new stance emerges from a collapsing of the space between the observer and the observed. That is, the observer is in relation to, is “coupled” with, the observed and observing yielding Heinz’s Systemics. In Heinz's words:
As you may remember, (in Science) objectivity requires that the properties of the observer shall not enter the description of his observations. With the essence of observing, namely the processes of cognition, being removed, the observer is reduced to a copying machine, and the notion of responsibility has been successfully juggled away. ....hierarchies, objectivity, and other devices, are all derivations of a decision that has been made on a pair of, in principle, undecidable questions. Here is the decisive pair:
Am I apart from the universe?
That is, whenever I look I am looking as through a peephole upon an unfolding universe.
Am I part of the universe?
That is, whenever I act, I am changing myself and the universe as well.
Whenever I reflect upon these two alternatives, I am surprised again and again by the depth of the abyss that separates the two fundamentally different worlds that can be created by such choices. 
It necessarily follows that the orthodox stance carries with it an ethics, an ethics at odds with that of the Santiago School. How is it that an observer arises to observe? What happens when we shift from observers and things observed to include ourselves in the question? That is, what are the implications of the shift from observed systems to the observing system entangling itself with the observed, the observer and observing. For Heinz it is, "Either to see myself as a citizen of an independent universe, whose regularities, rules and customs I may eventually discover, or to see myself as the participant of a conspiracy, whose customs, rules, and regulations we are now inventing."
As with any really novel approach the Santiago School at first met with opposition, misunderstanding, jealousy, some enthusiasm and mostly neglect. Currently their worldview is gaining some acceptance even if it’s through a lot of unacknowledged appropriation of their ideas.
From the beginning I felt an immediate kinship with the ideas of the Santiago School. I gave Moshe my copy of Varela's book The Principles of Biological Autonomy while I was in Israel in 1979. In Boulder in the summer of 1980 Moshe told Varela at their first meeting that Varela’s book was one of the two or three most important books Moshe had ever read. The ideas in that book, while uniquely crafted by Varela, are part of a larger set of concerns also held by Maturana, von Foerster, et al. Varela says of von Foerster:
As the dust settles with time, the role of Heinz von Foerster in contemporary science becomes sharper and more vivid…
I cannot write about Heinz without saying that I owe him a lot not only intellectually but also personally. …In 1962 he met Humberto Maturana, a Chilean neurophysiologist who was to be my undergraduate mentor in 1965-68. Thanks to that (for me) lucky encounter, I found laying on table counters articles by Heinz with such titles as "A Circuitry of Clues for Platonic Ideation" when I arrived at Humberto's lab in Santiago. …It sent my imagination flying into a hyperspace of ideas and style of work from which I have never recovered. Besides, Heinz's style is one of posing questions and main principles in a concise form, which made his writings intellectual zettels I had in my pockets by the time I arrived as a graduate student at Harvard in 1968. By then, the wind had begun to blow in the opposite direction: I found virtually nobody to talk to about these issues. McCulloch had already retired from MIT, and the AI Lab was under the dominance of Marvin Minsky, who excelled at exorcising what he saw as "unproductive stuff" (from today's perspective, that is quite ironic). Heinz kindly invited me to come to Illinois a few times during the time I was in Cambridge, and each time I was touched by the humor and openness of this Viennese.
After returning to Chile in 1970, we developed with Maturana the notion of autopoiesis, and the first paper published on it owes a tremendous amount to Heinz's comments and corrections during a long stay in Chile during June-August 1973, when the rumblings of civil war were only too evident. Heinz was perhaps the first who recognized immediately the interest of this idea at a time when almost everyone else wanted us to drop such idle speculations. A similar experience was to be repeated in 1974 when Heinz was again instrumental in making my calculus of self-reference quickly accepted and disseminated, when I was stranded in Costa Rica after escaping Pinochet's Chile.
Since then and until today Heinz has been an untiring ear and friendly advisor. His ethical and human qualities are impeccable, and they have been a source of much needed inspiration. Thus, this is the right place for me to restate all my enormous debt towards him. Without his influence and his presence for the last 30 years, my life would have lacked a deep, joyous, and nourishing dimension. I call him Heinz the Great. 
(Sadly, the mentor was to outlive the apprentice as Varela passed away from liver cancer in 2001. The liver cancer was a consequence of his having contracted hepatitis while in exile in Costa Rica from the repressive Pinochet regime in Chile.)
Feldenkrais lessons evidence genius on virtually every level upon which they are examined. While very practical in application the lessons are rife with theoretical implications that need pairing with a complementary theoretical biology. Feldenkrais's approach challenges most theories of how we learn and how we define optimal living. Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration lessons prove their practicality and effectiveness over and over again every day on virtually every continent. Moshe explicitly situated his method as a phase in the space between the current scientific zeitgeist and some future orthodoxy. And, von Foerster, Varela and Maturana have gone a long way in developing a theoretical approach consonant with Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement. In the history of science sometimes theory precedes practical demonstration and sometimes an experiment or phenomenon needs a new theory to explain it. By way of example: For the layman, Einstein was the exemplar of a genius. In the popular mind, the proof of the power of Einstein's ideas came not in understanding the beauty and elegance of his Special and General Theories of Relativity but rather in their seeing the power and destructiveness of the Atomic bombs dropped on Japan during WWII. Einstein himself developed his theories in response to experiments which were inexplicable in the classical mechanics of Newton. And so it goes, sometimes theory precedes practice and sometimes practice precedes theory. Feldenkrais's method is his own unique creation and while he could cobble together ideas to support his insights and practical implementations he knew that there was not, and to this day still is not, a General or Special theory of Human development.
At the Big Sur seminar Heinz read a sonnet by Shakespeare and asked us, "What does it mean?" Can we say what the meaning of a particular set of words in a particular order is by using another set of words, in another order? It’s such a subtle yet subversive question. The poet Louis Zukofsky  wrote that the test of a critical system is how well it matches the word with its subject/object. Can the integrity of a poem, he asked, remain intact when translated into or read through the lens of a critical meta-theory? Zukofsky shows that the trueness of words in poems to the poem is not captured in words about poems. Therefore, critical systems fail the test of poetry. Through a playful discussion Heinz demonstrated that not only is it not possible to say the meaning of a poem (definition not being the name of the game) but that some unexpected things happen to such attempts. The philosophy of Heinz's famous uncle Ludwig Wittgenstein influenced Heinz's ability to parse statements and frame questions in a unique way. Wittgenstein made his mark on 20th century philosophy by, among other things, developing the notion of language games.
For Wittgenstein, language games are a kind of technique for examining uses of words and sentences in ordinary language. They were employed to, “…battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language."  We're not talking ‘word games’ here. Rather, Wittgenstein sought to determine the meaning of a word by considering its use in language as an activity, a form of life. It is a rule-governed practice, like a game. Language-games show the use of words in a context of human behaviors. Wittgenstein calls the context and activities ‘forms of life.’ All human activities, simple or complex, are forms of life, part of human culture. Speaking a language or, as in signing for the deaf enacting a gestural language, is part of a form of life. Philosophy should be understood as an activity, not as a theorizing, but rather something more like "learning." Language-games are a way of getting at and situating the meanings of words in any given language. Wittgenstein states, "to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life."  The total environment in which the language is used is part of the language game. "If, in any given language, one cannot ask questions, give orders, describe things, or make requests, then these activities do not exist there. That is what seems to be meant by saying that language-games are expressions of a form of life."  In a phrase that echoes Feldenkrais's insight that we are being held hostage by our incomplete, unquestioned and even fraudulent self-image, Wittgenstein says,
115. A 'picture' held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.
Uncle Ludwig's purpose, not unlike Moshe Feldenkrais', is simply to help us see past these muddles. Wittgenstein says:
464. My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense. 
While Moshe was developing his method he read Wittgenstein with an eager thoroughness, the effect of which was reflected in his own careful use of language. The language game called the Feldenkrais Method is an assemblage of practices -- descriptive, mechanical, aesthetical, ethical -- that stands or falls on its own logicality or self coherence. The 'form of life' that is the Feldenkrais method today is best understood from the inside out. In the course of his presentation Heinz was able to show, echoing his famous uncle, that any particular ideological stance, be it Freudian, Jungian, Marxist, deconstructionist, etc., used to interpret a poem may occasionally elicit some new understanding of the poem. More often, however, what is revealed is something more about the interpreter and his or her ideological stance and less about the interpreted. Ultimately the poem absorbs the interpretation, metabolizes it and develops 'antibodies' to that interpretive mode. Again, the test of a critical reading is in its ability to match words with the work it critiques and pretends to explain. Heinz maintained that while an interpretation may carry the day or win the battle, in the end, the poem outflanks said interpretation to win the war. A more fruitful approach would be to look at "how" a poem means. At another time we'll fully explore the analogy between understanding a sonnet and understanding an Awareness Through Movement or Functional Integration lesson. Just as a poem generates new meaning with every reading so we can see the same inexplicable robustness in Feldenkrais lessons. Is that due to the power of the process or to the weakness of our descriptive apparatus? Both? Neither? Lessons and poems seem to perpetually yield new interpretations.
For Heinz, the question was not only ‘what defines life?’ but also how it is defined and by whom. Is life so generic that a list of attributes can be made that exhaustively contain it? Wouldn't one need a kind of definition that includes the person(s) doing the defining? To displace the model of physics and its necessarily materialistic basis as the theoretical underpinnings for a theory the living, Heinz first revisited Aristotle's four fold notion of causality: 1) material cause - the matter from which a thing is formed; 2) efficient cause - that which actually causes the event; 3) formal cause - the form to be realized, and; 4) final cause - the purpose to be realized. Aristotle used the example of a statue to illustrate his point: the block of marble from which it is to be hewn is the material cause; the sculptor himself, through the intermediary of his tools, in his chipping away at the stone is the efficient cause; the form which is present in the sculptor's mind during the work is the formal cause; the destination or purpose of the completed statue is the final cause.
The first three causes refer to the thing itself. The fourth cause, final cause, evidences the very existence of a thing as the realization of a purpose. For Aristotle every living and every inanimate thing has purpose. Explanations which traffic in a thing’s purpose are called teleological (telos – ends; logos – saying, speaking; hence a speaking or saying of ends). Efficient cause is solely the one modern science employs. Science as we know it purposely excludes final cause, or purpose, in its definitions. For Heinz's Uncle Ludwig Wittgenstein causality (in its guise as efficient causality) is a superstition, the superstition of modernity. But here are Wittgenstein's own words:
5.135 There is no possible way of making an inference from the existence of one situation to the existence of another entirely different situation.
5.136 There is no causal nexus to justify such an inference.
5.1361 We cannot infer the events of the future from those of the present. Belief in the causal nexus is superstition.  (emphasis Wittgenstein's)
And in the words of Heinz's friend Warren McCulloch: "...let us be perfectly frank to admit that causality is a superstition." We are all, of course, familiar with Feldenkrais's railing against 'cause-effect' thinking.
For Heinz, purpose and non-purpose are linked in very complex ways and are both required in any description of a living system. To the traditional disallowance of purpose in scientific explanations, Heinz would ask. "Ah, but what is the purpose of no purpose?" For the Santiago School, any observer of any phenomenon must have some sort of training, must, in other words be trained by someone and therefore be a member of some tradition. And a tradition such as science has a rationale, a purpose, for its being thought of as unique. In the scientific tradition the observer remains outside the observed event or process. In the Santiago School the observer, whoever she or he may be, cannot stand outside of time and place. And so, any description that includes its describer cannot be reduced totally to a list of non-temporal attributes. There is a history of actions, rules and principles and that history is peopled and those people constitute a tradition. On that Maturana, Varela and von Foerster all agree. However, von Foerster and Varela braid together purpose and non-purpose so as to give a place for the givenness of meaning toward or intention in everyday life. How we link science and it's products with science as a human activity is crucial for Heinz. He is an emphatic proponent of not trivializing human beings via scientific reductionism.
The import of Heinz’s impact rests upon recognizing the difference between trivial thought and non-trivial understanding. For Heinz the abstract notion of a "machine" denotes any conceptual device used to contemplate something. Machines are mechanisms that link a system's external variables to the system's internal states (if there are any) and its operations. Machines describe the form of such linkages and can be realized in flesh and blood or on a silicon chip. They are not to be thought of as what people or beings are but rather machines are the generalized patterns of thought which connect. Heinz describes two types of machines: trivial and non-trivial. Heinz depicts the implications of trivial machines to be like the schemas of a light switch or a soda machine, in that they characterize modes of thinking in different domains that employ cause-effect thinking and the desire for predictability. Given the same input you get the same output. You have, for example, a cause (the input), the law of nature (the transfer function) and then you get the effect (output). With a trivial machine, say a soda machine, you put in your money, push the soda choice (coke, orange, 7-Up) and get your soda. The trivial machine is designed to give a specific output to every specific input. Imagine that the soda machine had "internal states" that biased or even determined what soda would come out despite your selection. That is, pretend that the machine had developed internal dynamics that made its output unpredictable. What if you are in the mood for a coke and you punch the coke button but the machine is in a "7-up mood" and so gives you 7-Up? That kind of unpredictability would render the machine non-trivial.
Heinz von Foerster: "the trivial machine is the mainstay, the paradigm, underlying our 'logical' working conditions in almost all fields of study." Some examples from Heinz's biography The Dream of Reality by Lynn Segal:
Input Transfer Function Output
1. Cause Law of nature Effect
2. Stimulus Central nervous system Response
3. Motivation Character Deeds
4. Goal System Action
5. Minor premise Major premise Conclusion
6. Dependent argument Independent Argument Function
"These machines have the following properties:
1) They are predictable.
2) They are history independent. Whatever took place in the past will not influence the present.
3) They are synthetically deterministic. You can plug them together. You can synthesize them.
4) They are analytically deterministic. If you want to find out how they work, you can give them inputs, observe the outputs, and figure out the transfer function.”
"By contrast, the nontrivial machine is:
1) Synthetically deterministic, i.e., you can glue a nontrivial machine together, just as you can do with a trivial machine. For example, you can write down a transfer table.
2) Unlike the trivial machine, however, it is historically dependent. What it does, its output, is determined by its experience, its history.
3) It is analytically indeterminable; you can't figure out what the machine is doing by operating it because it is too complex.
4) It is therefore analytically unpredictable.” 
Heinz, "If one wants to use the word 'reality,' the nontrivial machine models the reality with which we are working. The trivial machine is just a hope, a predicted wish for the way we would like things to be, we trivialize them. We trivialize complex systems so we can predict and explain them."  The trivial machine epitomizes our quest for certainty.
A story. So, in one of his annual talks at the Somathematics Feldenkrais Training in 1988 Heinz was distinguishing between trivial and non-trivial machines and fleshing out the consequences in various domains of science and thought. At a certain point, a student asked the question, "Heinz are you saying blah-blah blah or blah-blah?" Heinz graciously responded and did not point out to the student that the very form of the question revealed the entrenchment of a default trivialization in our thinking, the logicality of either/or. To say what Feldenkrais is one must be vigilant to distinguish the trivial from the non-trivial. There is a tendency amongst students and practitioners alike to want to trivialize the Feldenkrais method by forcing it through the very kinds of default thinking that Moshe worked so hard to free himself from. More than his colleagues Maturana or Varela, Heinz was sensitive to the need to build a bridge from a cause-effect thinking to a thinking oriented towards understanding understanding. He wanted to keep what was radical and useful in the old and by revealing its inherent limitations use that revelation as a ground to embrace the non-trivial.
The poet Michael Palmer: "Once I couldn't see for awhile, so I listened." From the sequence of poems dedicated to Robert Duncan come these lines:
You can bring down a house with sound.
Not to understand this.
But we builded it.
Not with periods (the
sentence) or any sense of design--
sight or sound.
Builded it while blind.
Rain came in.
Noises not ours. 
We build, construct, make, not by design, but by listening for something that is not us, not yet, maybe never. Heinz promoted poiesis, the making of a world through its givens and through a mutual grasping and ordering of objects where they can be ordered and a letting go of all that can't be ordered. The stance is neither to follow orders, nor to give orders but to act in order to... understand. The richness, complexity and clarity reached in an understanding goes beyond mere problem solving, solution generation or conflict resolution. When one understands, one lives. For Heinz there were human becomings in lieu of human beings. One of Heinz's students Bob Zielinski says this in a short piece entitled A Personal Story of My Encounter With Heinz von Foerster:
Heinz showed us how, when we looked at the whole system, often the problems we studied were really solutions, and that the apparent solutions were often the problem. But most of all, what I learned, is how the important solutions that could benefit the world rested on simple and obvious observations, and these were often the most elusive. We saw in class how people can work together in cooperation and that when each individual is respected and cared for, that the whole system will work with maximum efficiency - demonstrated "synergy". What a contrast to the "entropy" of the world. 
Heinz "showed us how..." and when one gives of one's self the way he did what can be said? In the words of Charles Sanders Peirce by consensus of European philosophers, possibly America's greatest philosopher:
But just the revelation of the possibility of this complete self-sacrifice in man, and the belief in its saving power, will serve to redeem the logicality of all men. For he who recognizes the logical necessity of complete self-identification of one's own interests with those of the community, and its potential existence in man, even if he has it not himself, will perceive that only the inferences of that man who has it are logical, and so views his own inferences as being valid only so far as they would be accepted by that man. And that ideal perfection of knowledge by which we have seen that reality is constituted must thus belong to a community in which this identification is complete. 
Finally, Heinz spins yarns that make the fabric of his argument. In his telling stories, stories life itself might tell if it used Heinz to tell them, Heinz places human beings, all living beings, in a developing context that gives place for order out of noise, human community out of so many atrocities.
He and his wife were living incognito in Berlin during WW II as Austrians of Jewish ancestry. Somehow, Heinz said, he could recognize those like him and they him. Whether they acknowledged it or let it pass, survival depended on them not getting it wrong. And amazingly it never was. Once though Heinz said he recognized a woman who was Jewish but who didn't recognize him. He said, "She didn't know that she didn't know (that she knew)." Knowing and ‘knowing not’ are not on the same level. How can one know not? How can one know that one knows not? Such stories and questions were part of Heinz’s Socratic path to understanding understanding. He also tells the story of a case handled by his famous friend and Concentration Camp survivor, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. A man and his wife who had also survived the Camps were living happily in Vienna shortly after the war. After 6 months being back in Vienna the woman contracted a disease and died. The husband became a broken, despondent man unable and unwilling to talk to anyone. After repeatedly rejecting advice he consented to see Frankl. At the end of their session together Frankl made the following suggestion. "Say," Frankl said, "I have the power from God to create a woman who is the exact replica of your wife with her way of speaking, who knows all the little jokes that couples have. She would have all the little experiences you had together so she would be identical to your wife. If I had that power granted me would you want me to make that replica?" The man sat there awhile and then said, "No." He shook hands with Frankl and left. The man, of course was functioning again. Hearing the story Heinz went to Frankl and asked, "What was going on?" Frankl said. "Everyone sees themselves through the eyes of the other. But when she was dead he was blind. But, when he could see that he was blind, he could see." I could conclude with my understanding, my interpretation of those two incidents. But, if Frankl asked you if he could construct a replica of Heinz, Moshe or someone lost to you, what would you say?
A life passes. Loss. Life passes one by. Loss. The wasting of a life, an odd glimpse, the entirety of its unadorned futileness, in an instant: a neighbor, friend, relative or stranger, one's self seen in a moment emblematic of a life of naked desolation. Know that loss. A recognition, the seeing of that futility, a seeing that is not futile, a seeing that is a renunciation of all that is futile. Maybe by accident, maybe by design a moment does not pass us by. We are engaged. We participate and it leaves a mark. Alienation derailed, (the train wreck of a life) each moment newly re-marks, traces that heightened, deepened engagement. A remarkable life. So said. A person remarking, remaking a life for themselves with and for others. Such was Heinz von Foerster. Not what passes for life, no, rather a passion for living it. Heinz recognized his passion through his seeing yours, in you, even if you didn’t see it yet in yourself.