RC51 Newsletter

Felix Geyer’s Passing. An article in memoriam

By Dr Philippos Nicolopoulos

Felix Geyer has passed away. We lost a distinguished international social scientist, an unforgettable colleague, a friend. It is difficult to express our sadness with words, but it is “a must” for us to pay tribute (in scientific terms) to his memory. So, we should write in memoriam for his scientific contribution, for his work in the field of sociocybernetics, for his abilities in organizing, for his human contacts, for his personality.

Felix Geyer was the inventor with J. van den Zouwen of the term “sociocybernetics” and he contributed so much to the establishment of the RC51 of International Sociological Association (ISA).  That’s why he became worthily emeritus president of this committee (c. on Sociocybernetics). The aforementioned term was successful, and its meaning exactly referred to the cybernetics of social systems with a new way which was not identified only with the 1st order cybernetics (cybernetics of observed systems). Its meaning became broader and comprised the so-called 2nd order cybernetics of the observing systems. This one was much more appropriate for the human systems. Its features fitted better mature human beings in their social dimension.

Felix in his works explained why the limited model of “input-output-feedback” (1st order cybernetics, observed systems with clear distinction between system and its environment) was not adequate for human actions, processes and formations. He was always trying to push social scientists, who were dealing with social systems, to develop their views and theories in that perspective, in which the “observer”, his/her perception abilities, motivation and value world constitute a basic and crucial role in the whole process of communication and control, beyond the characteristics of 1st order Cybernetics (Cyb).

In a very comprehensive paper presented at Bielefeld (World Congress of Socioloby, 1994), as well as in a similar paper presented in the Bucharest Congress of Cybernetics (1996), Felix, as I remember, described with a clear way the distinctions between the 1st and 2nd order Cyb. and underscored that the latter referred mainly to processes and concepts which are associated with “self” (self-organization, self-reference, self-steering, autopoietics, morphogenesis etc). Thus, the cybernetic model doesn’t remain a static one, but embraces dynamical process as positive feedback or change which many times characterize the human systems. Thus, we see beyond the limits of the homeostatic equilibrium notion, which is connected mainly with mechanical systems.

In the same paper (which many times is included in citations of books and articles of mine, which refer to sociocybernetic model), he connects his non- static perspective with chaos and complexity theory and especially with the system situation far from equilibrium, in which non-linear relationships obtain. After a bifurcation point there is always a possibility (but of course no certainty) to reach a higher organization structure.

I remember that in discussions with him, when I insisted on the social change processes (change against the established interests which maintain unfair and unequal social conditions), he accepted the change possibility and he connected it with the cross-catalysis process. For him sociocybernetics and 2nd order cybernetics were associated with complexity theory and the systems theory beyond the equilibrium conditions.

Felix was intelligent and methodical but not dogmatic, he was open minded and prompt to discuss a different opinion from his own opinion or from the “established opinion”. Thereby he liked to discuss new ideas or to push and support you in creative scientific work despite his different theoretical direction. So, he liked to share with other scientists the scientific activity in their common scientific field (international meetings, conferences, congresses etc), regardless of their theoretical or ideological differentiations or disagreements.

That’s why his contribution in organizing (conferences, symposia, scientific communication and cooperation through the internet) was great.

My memories from Felix were many. I met him for first time in Bielefeld in the World Congress of Sociology of ISA (1994), in which I became member of thematic group on systems theory and cybernetics. After the first discussions in the congress we continued our contact through emails, and we shared the common interest to improve the activities of the aforementioned thematic group. So, we cooperated as we were preparing our sessions in Bucharest Congress in 1996 on Cybernetics. After that, we had the World Congress of ISA in Montréal in 1998, in Brisbane in 2002, the 1st conference of Sociocybernetics in Colimbari, Crete and the 3rd in Corfu (for which I cooperated with him more, for I had personally more responsibility in organizing), Lisbon Conference in 2004, Maribor Conference in 2005. So, a part of my initial work in the field of sociocybernetics was connected with Felix. He encouraged me to present my ideas and my work of this field in international scientific fora and always he helped me in organizing. I use and I used some of his papers and works in my classes or in independent lectures and I mentioned him in some citations of my own works in Greek or English.

All of us, who we have worked some years ago for the establishment of RC51 of ISA, we acknowledge his crucial contribution to the upgrading of the aforementioned thematic group to the RC51. Moreover, he was warm in human contact, cosy, and he had sense of humor. He was not only an “office scientist”, but he was full of “liveliness and energy”.

Felix Geyer passed away, but his scientific contribution and his warm personality are always present and alive. He will always live in the hearts and the spirits of all sociocyberneticians and is… always ready to help us for the organization of a new conference!

Dr Philippos Nicolopoulos
Former Associate Professor of the University of Indianapolis (Athens Campus), Former Assist. Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Univ. of Crete,
Attorney at Law at the Supreme Court of Greece

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