Heinz von Foerster | Where Is Reality? Can You Show It To Me?

"In the course of my life, the more I concerned myself with physics, I realized that I was actually a meta-physicist. And then I increasingly played with that idea. And if you asked me, my dear Heinz von Foerster, what is a meta-physicist? I would say the following: There are questions among those we ask about the world that it is possible to answer. How old are you? Well, you can look that up in a catalog. Born in 1911. That means he is 90. Or you can ask questions which cannot be answered, like for example, tell me what was the origin of the universe? Well, then I could give you one of the 35 different theories. Ask an astronomer and he says there was this Big Bang about 20 million years ago. Or ask a good Catholic and he says everyone knows that God created the world and after 7 days he was weary and took a break, and that was Sunday. So there are different, very interesting hypotheses about the origins of the universe. That is, there are so many different hypotheses because the question cannot be answered. So all that is relevant is how interesting the story is that someone invents to explain it." Dammbeck replies: "Of course, we are very close to art there. If it's a matter of inventing a good story, a poetic story..." Foerster agrees: "Exactly, exactly. That's what it is. There is a struggle between two or three or even ten different poets. Who can invent a funny, amusing or interesting story so that everyone immediately thinks that's what must have happened!" Dammbeck: "But science, and your own research, those are not just inventions or good stories? Surely they're based on mathematics, on numbers, on provability, on indisputable scientific data?" Foerster: "Well, yes, but these days there is already so much data that it is no longer possible to include all the different data in your story. And then artificial data is invented, for example, particles... Then particles are invented that do whatever it is we don't understand. So in my opinion, particles are always the solutions to problems that we can't solve any other way. That is, they are inventions that help to explain certain problems. Those are particles. ... I maintain that each particle we read about in today's physics is the answer to a question that we can't answer." Dammbeck: "But that's terrible! How can we let a worldwide networked system of machines grow more or less into infinity if it is based on theories that apparently have holes or are only good stories, I mean on such shaky foundations? Isn't that dangerous?" Foerster: "Well, in this worldwide functioning system of machines, all theories are correct. And of course that's what people want. And why are they correct? Because they can all be deduced from other theories and stories. ... It goes on deducing indefinitely. ... That's the good thing about it. You can go on forever." Dammbeck asks: "In logic?" Foerster answers: "Yes, precisely." Dammbeck probes further: "But in reality?" To which Foerster replies: "Where is reality? Can you show it to me?"


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