Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster

Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster


Key Terms and People

  • Cybernetics
  • Second Order Cybernetics
  • Heinz Von Foerster
  • Reflexivity
  • Circular, Causal, Feedback mechanisms
  • Recursive processes
  • Purpose
  • Control
  • Communication
  • Stuart Umpleby
  • Bernard Scott
  • Klaus Krippendorff
  • Ranulph Glanville
  • Anthony Hodgson
  • Albert Müller
  • Francis Heylighen


Second‐order Cybernetics: An Historical Introduction

In 1974, Heinz von Foerster articulated the distinction between a first- and second-order cybernetics, as, respectively, the cybernetics of observed systems and the cybernetics of observing systems. Von Foerster’s distinction, together with his own work on the epistemology of the observer, has been enormously influential on the work of a later generation of cyberneticians. It has provided an architecture for the discipline of cybernetics, one that, in true cybernetic spirit, provides order where previously there was variety and disorder. It has provided a foundation for the research programme that is second-order cybernetics. However, as von Foerster himself makes clear, the distinction he articulated was imminent right from the outset in the thinking of the early cyberneticians, before, even, the name of their discipline had been coined. In this paper, the author gives a brief account of the developments in cybernetics that lead to von Foerster’s making his distinction. As is the way of such narratives, it is but one perspective on a complex series of events. Not only is this account a personal perspective, it also includes some recollections of events that were observed and participated in at first hand.




Key Sources of Research


Understanding Understanding

Heinz Von Foerster

Click to access Heinz_Von_Foerster-Understanding_Understanding.pdf




The Paradoxy of Observing Systems

Niklas Luhmann

Click to access 3.10%20the-paradox-of-observing-systems_luhmann.pdf




Observing Systems: a Cybernetic Perspective on System/Environment Relations


Click to access 1133.pdf




Second‐order Cybernetics: An Historical Introduction

Bernard Scott


Cybernetics’s Reflexive Turns

Klaus Krippendorff




Ranulph Glanville

Inventing Systems

Spring Quarter 2006

Jeff Glassman/Arun Chandra


Click to access readings.pdf




The New Science of Cybernetics: A Primer

Click to access iSA027MG.pdf




Boundary Disputes: Homeostasis, Reflexivity, and the Foundations of Cybernetics

N. Katherine Hayles

Click to access Hayles_Boundary_Disputes.pdf

Second-Order Science and New Cybernetics




Fundamentals and History of Cybernetics 1

Stuart A. Umpleby

The George Washington University Washington, DC


A tutorial presented at the

World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics, and Informatics

Orlando, Florida July 16, 2006


Click to access videosufh-slides.pdf




􏰷􏰾􏱁 The Evolution of Organizational Cybernetics􏱁􏱂􏰍􏱃􏰽􏰷􏰭􏰍􏱀 􏰍􏰸 􏰍􏰼􏰯􏰦􏱀􏰭􏱄􏰦􏰷􏰭􏰍􏱀􏰦􏱃 􏰔􏱅􏰹􏱁􏰼􏱀􏱁􏰷􏰭􏰔􏰀

􏰇􏰆􏰚􏰜􏰑􏰐 􏰀􏰁􏰈􏰙􏰆􏰄􏰂􏰄􏰪􏰃􏰚 􏰼􏰃􏰁􏰃􏰂􏰬􏰃􏰛 􏰦􏰋􏰚􏰂􏰎 􏰟􏰵􏰏 􏰟􏰠􏰠􏰡

Click to access 2006-78.pdf






Anthony Hodgson

Decision Integrity Limited International Futures Forum United Kingdom 

Heinz Forester and the Second Order Cybernetics

Jeffrey Goldstein

Cybernetics and the Theory of Knowledge



The Cybernetics of Design and the Design of Cybernetics

Klaus Krippendorff

Gregory Bateson Term Professor for Cybernetics, Language, and Culture The Annenberg School for Communication

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia


Click to access Krippendorf_cyber_design.pdf






Click to access dbasse_176892.pdf



A Brief History of the BCL. Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory

Albert Müller


Click to access BriefHistBCL.pdf


Resources on Cybernetics



Heinz von Foerster


Click to access glanville.pdf




Try again. Fail again. Fail better: the cybernetics in design and the design in cybernetics

Ranulph Glanville


Click to access C%20and%20D%20paper%200670360902.pdf




Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics

Francis Heylighen

Free University of Brussels

Cliff Joslyn Los Alamos National Laboratory


Click to access Cybernetics-EPST.pdf



Heinz von Foerster’s Demons
The Emergence of Second-Order Systems Theory

Bruce Clarke


Click to access Clarke-selfreference.pdf




Neocybernetic Emergence

bruce clarke and mark b. n. hansen


Click to access clarke-e-hansen-neocybernetic-emergence.pdf


Cybernetics of Cybernetics


University of Illinois, Urbana


Click to access foerster_cybernetics%20of%20cybernetics.pdf




Second-Order Science and Policy

Anthony Hodgson & Graham Leicester



Second-order Science: Logic, Strategies, Methods

Stuart Umpleby



Second Order Cybernetics: Expanding Science in Accord with the Correspondence Principle

Stuart A. Umpleby


Click to access 1_UMPLEBY.pdf



Second-Order Cybernetics as a Fundamental Revolution in Science

Stuart A. Umpleby

The George Washington University, USA • umpleby/at/


Click to access 455.umpleby.pdf




A Short History of Cybernetics in the United States

The Origin of Cybernetics

Stuart Umpleby


Click to access 4566_oezg4_08_s28_40_umpleby_1_.pdf



Second-order Science: A Vast and Largely Unexplored Science Frontier


Karl H. Müller

Alexander Riegler




“Heinz von Foerster – An Appreciation” (Revisited)

Bernard Scott


Cybernetics And Human Knowing. Vol. 10, no. 2




The purpose of second-order cybernetics

Ranulph Glanville

Author: Mayank Chaturvedi

You can contact me using this email mchatur at the rate of AOL.COM. My professional profile is on

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