Conference Programme
Day 2 – Saturday, August 10
Registration & Coffee
08:30 – 09:00
Welcome Day 2
09:00 – 09:15
Vanilla Beer
Laws of Form Engendered by a Cybernetic Process

Presentation Slides

Spencer-Brown was employed by my father Stafford Beer in order that he could write Laws of Form. Recollections of that time; plus my subsequent friendship with Spencer-Brown who refused to acknowledge he was anything other than a magician.

Artist in many genres... exhibited internationally

09:15 – 09:45
Andrew Crompton
University of Liverpool
A Lion's Teeth

What are we to make of GSB's story telling and poetry? An appreciation of his non-mathematical writing is offered chiefly based on a study of two versions of his late work 'A Lion's Teeth', ('Löwenzähne'). The two copies are physically different: the first is unmarked and as published; the second was marked by the author himself to strike out many passages. The differences suggest that even when writing fairy stories he was engaged in speculative philosophy, in this case I speculate, to do with the limits of what is expressible. His method of re-entering and defacing his own work to create uncertainty is a device used by several modern artists. It confronts Wittgenstein's idea that, in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable: in other words he attempts to think the unthinkable by crossing out what he describes as 'offensive to Western readers, and at best embarrassing-', and in so doing he indicates a limit to our world.

Reader at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture
09:45 – 10:15
Leon Conrad
The Academy of Oratory
The Unknown Storyteller

Presentation Slides

This paper introduces an innovative application of the Calculus of Indications in George Spencer-Brown's 'Laws of Form' to the analysis of story structure.

It is in four sections:

I – Introduction, methodology, and approach;
II - Demonstration of methodology in practice;
III - Expansion, contraction, and classification of story structures;
IV - Implications.

It provides:

1. a simple, intuitive visual interpretation of story structure;
2. transparency and ease in analysing story structures across different genres;
3. greater insight into how story structures interrelate;
4. greater understanding of the inherent 'laws of story';
5. potential for significant insights in narratology.

The paper presents a potential solution to a problem raised by H A Porter Abbott (The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2010/2016, p. 21): 'What is necessary for the story of Cinderella to be the story of Cinderella? … is a question that can never be answered with precision.' The paper potentially shows not just what's necessary for the story of Cinderella to be the story of Cinderella, but what's necessary for any story to be identified as a particular kind of story.

A book-length treatment of the application of Spencer-Brown's work to the analysis of story structure will be forthcoming.

Leon Conrad has run training courses in voice-centred communication skills for business for over 20 years. He is a writer, poet, storyteller and educator. He is passionate about reviving the integrated approach to teaching the liberal arts, in particular the Trivium of logic, grammar and rhetoric. He has an undergraduate degree in Music, an MA in the History of Design and Material Culture of the Renaissance.

In 2013, George Spencer-Brown began mentoring Leon through the process of engaging with 'Laws of Form' on a weekly basis, following which the engagement continued through the last 3 years of Spencer-Brown's life, and resulted in a meaningful friendship. Leon has gone on to successfully apply Spencer-Brown's methodology to the practice of logic, and – most recently – to the analysis of story structures, looking at the close link between story structures and different types of problems.

As founder of The Traditional Tutor (traditionaltutor.co.uk), Leon works with gifted and talented youngsters, and with professionals as a communication consultant through The Academy of Oratory (academyoforatory.co.uk).

10:15 – 10:45
Coffee Break
10:45 – 11:30
Excursion: Stafford Beer Archive
11:30 – 13:30
Lunch
13:30 – 15:30
Philippe Michelin
Aebis Inc.
Panel Discussion II
Impulse Topic: Conservative Extensions of Laws of Form to Deal with Engineering of Languages Semantics

George Spencer-Brown created Laws of Form (LoF), to give arithmetic to Boole algebra and binary logic; Francisco Varela extended LoF into a 3-valued logic for dealing with biological autonomy and self-referential situations. We propose two new conservative extensions of LoF to integrate:
1. Bunch Theory (developed by Eric C.R. Hehner): LoF can be extended by introducing words and integer numbers as elementary bunch or elements for constructing Objects by their content;
2. Category theory (introduced by Eilenberg and Mac Lane): LoF can be extended by introducing 7 new symbols for expressing Categories as Bunches of Arrows between Objects and defining transformations of the categorical structure itself, at the metalevel of all Categories and Functors.
These extensions allow a dual formulation of duality that is self-referential, which brings a new approach of languages semantics for engineering a unique meaning of words in specialized natural language.
By encompassing both natural and formal languages, LoF extended brings an incredible tool for knowledge modeling and transferring inside a business domain or field.

Philippe Michelin is the founder and CEO of Aebis Inc. He has authored numerous articles on enterprise software architecture, data modeling, requirement engineering and holds several patents related to computer-aided human-reasoning

15:30 – 16:30
Joao Leao
Panel Discussion II
Impulse Topic: Nothing is Remarkable: The Laws of Form and the Form of Physical Laws

Presentation Slides

Introducing his elegant Calculus of Indications, anchored on a single symbol and by means of a compelling analogy, George Spencer-Brown claimed variously that (1) it introduced a third value into a binary scoped Primary Arithmetic, that (2) this was an imaginary value, that (3) it represented self-reference and that (4) it somehow further encoded a time dimension. Unpacking these promises was a task taken up by Francisco Varela and Louis Kauffman who only partially succeeded in making them explicit. Inspired by the many attempts to formulate symbolic syntheses of Quantum Mechanical laws, I return to their pursuit engendering a more complete outcome which explicates those four claims while, nevertheless, preserving the anchor of the singular symbol and accommodating the Laws of Form to the emergent Laws of Quantum Morphology. The ingredients of this new approach are discernible in GSB minimalist statement of LoF when illuminated by the subtleties of Quantum (In)-distinction and the creative proclivity of the Quantum Vacuum (Nature's very own Unmarked State!). Thanks to the latter three unsuspected novel horizons of application for LoF will also be disclosed propelling its next 50 years.

Joao Leao is a free-lance researcher interested mostly in matters of Quantum Physics, its foundations and implications. He retired this year from the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, where he collaborated in ground based and orbital Engineering instrumentation projects and is now hoping to lend his skills to more earthly pursuits such as finishing a book he has been writing about the scientific musings of the 20th century danish artist Asger Jorn. He resides in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.
15:30 – 16:30
Fred Cummins
University College Dublin
Panel Discussion II
Impulse Topic: Abandoning the Conceit of Individual Minds: The P-H Framework

Presentation Slides

To a cognitive scientist, Spencer-Brown's depiction of a universe that must split itself first into one state that sees (the knower) and one that is seen (the known) gets straight to the heart of the matter, without the usual conceit of individual minds. Indeed, the posit of individual minds, while ubiquitous and almost unquestioned in contemporary society, can be seen as a desperate carpet under which all problems of intentionality, reference, and meaning are swept. I have been working towards an alternative framework for consensual discourse that might be broadly described as a Dialogical Realism, in which dualisms necessary for, and specific to, individual conversations are introduced carefully, as discussants work towards Joint Actionable Consensus. This is one form of dual aspect monism, in which we distinguish carefully between matters of reality (pertaining to our joint embodied co-present being, ineffable, apophatic) and matters of existence (referred to individual domains of discourse, merrily representational, kataphatic). I would welcome the chance to outline this odd project, which seems to be foreshadowed at every turn by the Laws of Form and its ramifications.

PhD (1997) Cog Sci & Linguistics. Since 1999, lecturer at UCD. Work on rhythm and speech (esp. chant), extending now to embodied and enactive accounts of being. Exploring the "ground from which we speak".

15:30 – 16:30
Coffee Break
16:30 – 17:15
Florian Grote
CODE University of Applied Sciences
Forms of Uncertainty

Presentation Slides

Managing uncertainty is establishing itself as one of the main disciplines of the 21st century. In a world where institutions and carefully crafted contracts lose their normative strength, only those organizations, economies, businesses, and individual observers that prove their ability to function well under conditions of uncertainty can really thrive. The reductors George Spencer-Brown created can be observed as forms dealing with uncertainty by creating states that read as concepts. They manage to compute with ambiguity, allowing for definitive answers even while operating with uncertainty itself - e.g. whether a train has passed through a tunnel without losing a wagon. Within society, similar forms can be made out, forms that operate on and with uncertainty, but lead to successful constructions of observers and their worlds. These social forms operate on the abstraction level of symbols and languages, using re-entries, and they take the shape of all kinds of observers, from individuals to global organizations. How do these forms operate? What makes some more successful than others in dealing with uncertainty? The paper analyzes examples of social forms operating with uncertainty specifically in the field of economics and product creation, and explores strategies for their optimization.

Florian coaches the next generation of product managers at CODE University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. He has filled various roles in the music technology industry, working on innovative instruments for electronic music production. His research focuses on cognitive and systemic perspectives on learning organizations. https://fgrote.com

17:15 – 17:45
Jan Hendrik Ritter
University of Fribourg
Normativity Reconsidered: From Laws of Form to the Form of Law

Presentation Slides

The Laws of Form have held many insights for social theory amongst whom the introduction of time into the operation of social systems is particularly fascinating. In a recently published paper, Die Kontrolle von Intransparenz, Niklas Luhmann claims that the introduction of time confronts a system with its inability to control itself and forces it to operate in a mode of indeterminacy.

In this contribution, I wish to explore the implications of this revelation in the field of law where the importance of the Laws of Form has not yet been fully acknowledged. My hypothesis is that the introduction of the Laws of Form to legal research could open a new perspective on normativity (i.e. the relationship between law and society). I will retrace Luhmann's interpretation of the Laws of Form in the context of social systems (esp. its adaptation of the memory and oscillator function). I will then reflect on the implications of Luhmann's findings for normativity and legal methodology. My conclusion is that normativity needs to be reformulated and is best understood by embracing Jacques Derrida's concept of a ghost: "One cannot control its comings and goings because it begins by coming back." In other words: Through the Laws of Form we see that law cannot shape society but only haunts it.

Jan Ritter is research and teaching assistant at the chair of private and commercial law as well as legal theory at the University of Fribourg's Law Faculty.
He holds a law degree from the University of Fribourg as well as Panthéon-Assas (Paris II) and is preparing his PhD-thesis about the incorporation of human rights into commercial law and its methodological challenges. He is editor and co-founder of the journal cognitio – Studentisches Forum für Recht und Gesellschaft.

17:45 – 18:15
Randolph Dible
The New School for Social Research
An Ontological Interpretation of Laws of Form

The publication of Laws of Form 50 years ago, in 1969, marks a turning point in the history of ideas. Interpretations and applications of its central concepts range from those published in the book itself, the author's explanations in the notes and appendices over many editions and in other books, and the interpretations, applications, and adaptations of numerous other philosophical scientists. In this presentation, I would like to focus on Spencer-Brown's own philosophical interpretations of his work, and draw out the intended ontology by reflecting on its traditional antecedents. I will illustrate this reflection by tying the first principles of Laws of Form to the central concepts and metaphysical structures of ancient Greek philosophy and mathematics. Behind all these illustrations, I will show the presence of a common fundamental ontology relevant to at least as many domains as the formalistic interpretation has found itself associated with. My hope is to show that the objects and powers of Laws of Form's economy of explanation are not limited to applications of the theory, but raise the level of philosophical discourse to a framework of boader categories.

Randy Dible is a doctoral student in philosophy at The New School for Social Research. His work is in phenomenology and Ancient Greek philosophy, and George Spencer-Brown was his friend and mentor.

18:15 – 18:45
Luke Robinson (with participants)
Post Urban Ventures
Panel Discussion III

How can the Laws of Form help us to better understand the impact and rapid advances of black box artificial intelligent continuous learning systems, AI agents and their future with humans.

Questions for this panel will be collected during the conference, and panelists will be recruited among the participants.

PhD in Quantum Computing from Cambridge. Research Fellow at Oxford and Cambridge. Founder and CEO of Sunfish Energy. Chief Scientist at Hazy and LGN. Co-founder of Scalefree and CS Photonics.
18:45 – 19:45
Graham Ellsbury
Closing the Conference
19:45 – 20:00
Made on
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