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What I learned from Heinz von Foerster about the construction of science

Stuart A. Umpleby (Department of Management Science, The George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 January 2005



To report on an empirical study in psycholinguistics that revealed a difference between European and American patterns of thinking and to provide a brief history of a 30‐year effort to modify the philosophy of science in order to make it more suitable as a guide to doing research in the social sciences.


Assesses the approach of Heinz von Foerster, who used a deductive approach to science rather than an American empirical approach. Furthermore, von Foerster was willing to modify not only science but also the philosophy of science. By proposing that scientists pay attention to the observer as well as the observed, he added a dimension to the philosophy of science, which affects all disciplines.


Proposes an additional dimension that might be added to the philosophy of science. Paying attention to both the observer and the receiving society suggests a communication metaphor rather than the photograph metaphor, which has prevailed in the philosophy of science. Examining the philosophical underpinnings of science rather than just testing or extending an existing theory is a type of inquiry that springs from von Foerster's enthusiasm for tackling interesting problems unimpeded by disciplinary boundaries.


An assessment of the contribution to the multidisciplinary approach to science of von Foerster.



Umpleby, S.A. (2005), "What I learned from Heinz von Foerster about the construction of science", Kybernetes, Vol. 34 No. 1/2, pp. 278-294.



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