Conference Programme
Day 1 – Thursday, August 4
Registration & Coffee
09:00 - 09:30
Graham Ellsbury
Introduction & Welcome
09:30 - 09:45
Andrew Crompton
On Being Nondescript


Abstract to follow.
09:45 - 10:15
Lars Clausen
Next Society Institute
A Prequel to Laws of Form

Abstract to follow.

Lars Clausen is a public speaker, working in management and educational consultancy. He is affiliated with the Next Society Institute, KSU.LT and UCL University College, Denmark, UCL.DK. He has published on Spencer-Brown and Laws of Form on multiple occasions, mostly from a sociological perspective.

More info:
10:15 - 10:45
Akiem Helmling
West Den Haag / Underware
Writing the Mark


In a 30-minute lecture, Akiem Helmling will present a web app that provides naturally nested writing based on the Mark of Distinction. This app is developed on top of open standards like HTML and OpenType technology. The talk will also show how nested writing can offer a new perspective for computer programming, namely that of Notation Oriented Programming. And finally, how Laws of Form can help us understand how Variable Fonts can lead to a form of writing which is fundamentally different than writing by hand or typography. A form of writing based on variable symbols, and therefore called Grammatography.

Akiem Helmling (1971) is partner and co-founder of the type-collective Underware and co-founder of the contemporary art centre West Den Haag. He studied graphic design at the FH Mannheim and type design at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. He was a regular teacher at the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague, the Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam and the Masters of Photography, at Leiden University. With Underware he was awarded numerous international prizes for their work, including TDC New York, TDC Tokyo, the Dutch Design Awards and the German Design Award.

More info:
10:45 - 11:15
Coffee Break
11:15 - 11:45
Philip Franses
Form of Destiny


Is the generating principle that makes the world simply understandable something concealed within an abstract formalism of science; or is it a unity that is illuminated directly to our experience?
In this talk I will suggest that the logic of Spencer Brown helps us to bridge these two positions. The symbolism of an empty space and distinction is applied to "nothing" and "unity" as these are seen as irreducible elements of experience. The stages of the plant, say, are then understood as developing the relation of "nothing" to "unity" as a form at the threshold of matter and meaning. Logic becomes a puzzle that nature solves in its own forms of characteristic expression.
We are then required to enter into the being of the plant to appreciate the balance of "nothing" and "unity" that expresses itself in the organic nature of form. The "nothing" and "unity" are joined in the forms of death and life that relate them meaningfully. As the East sought understanding of the zero to found its mathematics, and the Greeks relied on appreciation of the one for their mathematics, Spencer-Brown's logic of distinction opens life to be seen in the formative relationship of the two.

Graduated in Mathematics at Oxford University, Philip seeks the sweet spot between science and spirit, teaching Holistic Science as a senior lecturer and applying these lessons as director of strategy at The Flow Partnership. He has taught at the Holistic Science Masters at Schumacher College (England) for a decade. Philip is also co-editor of the Holistic Science Journal and author of Time, Light and the Dice of Creation published by Floris Books.

More info:
11:45 - 12:15
Mike Zundel and Robin Holt
University of Liverpool Management School
The Right to Have Rights: Spencer-Brown and the Political


In A Lion's Teeth, George Spencer-Brown (1995: 64–65) tells the story of The Garden and the Cliff, and in the paper, we will attempt to span a bridge from the rules and processes that govern the little garden community to questions of freedom and democracy, drawing largely on the works of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, and on the Antigone as a quasi-empirical example. Our aim is to push ourselves towards considering the relevance of these ideas for modern forms of organizing and in particular the role of media/mediation and how Spencer-Brown can help us think limits and possibilities of these conditions.

I am a Professor in Organization Studies at the University of Liverpool Management School. My research focuses on intersections of organization, technology and media.

More info:
12:15 - 12:45
Mark Johnson and John Torday
Sound Distinctions: Flicking the Diachronic Switch in Laws of Form

12:45 - 13:15
Lunch Break
13:15 - 14:45
Michael Mühlthaler

My presentation offers a perspective on cybernetic systems which puts You, Me, and Computing Machines on the same level as we all depend on the same reality of form. The main problem arising is the concept of "void" (the unmarked state/"ock"/ unwritten cross of Laws of Form), a state which cannot exist in our "one reality" by definition. To resolve this paradox which requires talking about something that cannot be talked about, we develop "duality" from "the first distinction", then "mark the unmarked state" to reintegrate the observations to a picture of TWO intersecting, though formally equal, distinctions. We then encounter trinities of marked states, which appear as oriented 4-folds (3 marked + 1 unmarked states) no longer containing (the) "void" as "nothing at all", but as "something meaningful".

Over the last 20 years, motivated first by Spencer-Brown's famous counting circuit, I developed a base-software package ('CERIOUS39') along these lines. The software is full of aspects, which allow the "void" to be rediscovered. It speaks for itself!

Applications include a deep analysis-tool for networks (especially neuronal networks). Numerical simulations of these arose almost as by-products and refinements of this developing process. The software-package now has reached some level of closure. Making it was less an implementation with a purpose than an unfolding process, allowing a (computing) language to express what it needed to in its own words. The software is intended to offer a general reliable cooperative base fpr complex IT-systems' purposes to be rebuilt. The IDEA BEHIND the software remains unlimited …

I condensed essential ideas from physics/math/Laws of Form into a software by "evolutionary" development over the past 20 years, (not really) surprisingly having come up with a full, high-performance and platform-independent C++-library for about anything a classical computer can be made capable of.

14:45 - 15:15
Divyamaan Sahoo
Art Institute of Chicago
Laws of Form Modulators/Reductors on Raspberry Pi


This workshop uses the open source programming language Pure Data on a Raspberry Pi computer to study "modulators" or reductors from Chapter 11 of Laws of Form. Attributed to brothers D. J. Spencer-Brown and G. Spencer-Brown, the modulator or reductor is a NOR circuit that re-enters itself such that an oscillating input can be reduced in frequency.

Divyamaan Sahoo from Kolkata, India, is a mathematician, puppeteer, and sound artist, deeply influenced by anima, the soul or essence of living things, in the alchemy of puppets and instruments.
15:15 - 15:45
Michael John Caola

Content is number theory. Both Spencer-Brown and I, Michael Caola, use the Legendre 1808 formula as start point for analysis of the Riemann Hypothesis.

M.A. Cantab 1958, PhD (Grenoble), Pilkington (photochromic glass), STC (semiconductor lasers), BAE Sysyems (pattern recognition, radiative transfer)

15:45 - 16:15
Bruce Clarke
Texas Tech University
Reentry and the Laws of Narrative Form in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


I will bring Laws of Form together with Niklas Luhmann's social systems theory to develop a neocybernetic approach to distinct modes of narrative observation. The film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind exploits narrative devices of anachrony—movements back and forth in story time—and metalepsis—the transgressive looping together of narrative levels. By marking both formal reentry—the reentry of form back into the form—and systemic reentry—the reentry of the system-environment distinction back into the system—we can perform narrative observations in sufficient detail to allow a precise account of this wildly complex cinematic structure.

Bruce Clarke is Paul Whitfield Horn Distinguished Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English at Texas Tech University, and a Baruch S. Blumberg/NASA Chair in Astrobiology at the US Library of Congress. His research focuses on systems theory, narrative theory, and Gaia theory. His latest book is Gaian Systems: Lynn Margulis, Neocybernetics, and the End of the Anthropocene (Minnesota 2020); other books include Neocybernetics and Narrative (Minnesota 2014), Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems (Fordham 2008), and, co-edited with Manuela Rossini, The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman (Cambridge 2017). His edition of Writing Gaia: The Scientific Correspondence of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, co-edited with Sébastien Dutreuil, will be released by Cambridge University Press in Fall 2022.

More info:
16:15 - 16:45
Coffee Break
16:45 - 17:15
Claire Ortiz Hill
Laws of Form in Husserl's 'Strange World of the Purely Logical'


I suggest some connections between Laws of Form and what Husserl called the "strange world of the purely logical". Specifically, I talk about: Husserl's background, especially as a mathematician, and his use of symbolic notation. Then, I compare his and Spencer-Brown's views on: the relationship between mathematics and logic, mentioning Boole; the fundamental particles from which numbers can be made; the structure of knowledge of the universe, especially Husserl's theory of manifolds; imaginary entities; Russell's theory of types. For lack of time, I only mention Spencer-Brown's and Russell's exchange on propositional functions and Husserl's theories about them.

Claire Ortiz Hill is an independent scholar, religious hermit and author of books and articles on the Austro-German roots of twentieth century philosophy, specializing in the works of Edmund Husserl, the foundations of analytic philosophy, the philosophy of logic, and the philosophy of mathematics. She earned a bachelor's degree in Philosophy and a master's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Riverside and a second master's degree and a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Paris-Sorbonne.

More info:
17:15 - 17:45
Randolph Dible
The New School for Social Research
Universal Ontology and the First Distinction: Spencer-Brown, Husserl, and Conrad-Martius


In a chapter of Laws of Form—A Fiftieth Anniversary (August, 2022), "First Philosophy and the First Distinction: Ontology and Phenomenology of Laws of Form," I contributed some ways of generally tying the paradigm of Spencer-Brown from its first principle, the first distinction, to first philosophy, as broadly understood from Ancient Greek philosophy to contemporary phenomenology and cybernetic philosophy. In this next development, I aim to connect this work on first philosophy to a work of ultimate philosophy. This will take the form of articulating a new universal ontology of reality and ultimate reality, based on the formal-ontological paradigm of Laws of Form.
Universal ontology is the ultimate intention of first philosophy. It brings in its wake the speculative metaphysical project of grounding all things in a common foundation, in common terms, somewhat paradoxically including the kinds of things that are not things at all. Such universality stands on a hypothesis of true reality that entails a true metaphysical system and its connection to a hypostatic series of realities: antepenultimate reality, penultimate reality, and finally, the ultimate reality from which it originates. Such a project should be understood in conventional as well as novel terms, as it seeks to approximate the cognition of a vision, method, and doctrine appropriate to the ultimate truth of being: it should present a theory of being including along with all beings beings that are beyond being. The theory itself should be a theory of forms that is also a theory of possible theory-forms. The universal ontologies of the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Hedwig Conrad-Martius are here synthesized with George Spencer-Brown's paradigm to contribute such a system.

Randolph Dible is a lecturer in philosophy at St. Joseph's University, New York, and a philosophy doctoral student at The New School for Social Research. He has recently published the chapter "First Philosophy and the First Distinction: Ontology and Phenomenology of Laws of Form," in Laws of Form—A Fiftieth Anniversary (2022), and he has forthcoming publications in Analecta Husserliana, including "Ontopoiesis, Autopoiesis, and a Calculus Intended for Self-Reference." Recent publications can also be found in Natur und Kosmos (2020) and The Further Shores of Knowing (2021). He has published on mysticism in the Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research (2010), and his Masters thesis is entitled Phenomenology of the Spheres: from the Ancient Spherics to Philosophical Cosmology (2018). Randolph Dible's current research focuses on the historical hypothesis of an infinite sphere and its relevance to the interpretation of formation in the cosmologies of George Spencer-Brown and Hedwig Conrad-Martius. Associated with this thesis is a general theory of extension and dimensionality. Randolph Dible is the Secretary and the Director of the Webinar for the Society for the Phenomenology of Religious Experience (SOPHERE), the Communications Director for the North American Society for Early Phenomenology (NASEP), and Assistant to the Editor for the journal Phenomenological Investigations.

More info:
17:45 - 18:15
Coffee Break
18:15 - 18:45
Barry Smith
State University of New York at Buffalo
Laws of Form (LoF) and Basic Formal Ontology (BFO)


As pointed out in George Spencer-Brown's "Design with the NOR": with Related Essays (2021), a central feature of Laws of Form is its "commingling of the laws of formal language and the laws of ordinary or non-formal language". Another example of such commingling is Basic Formal Ontology (BFO). Like Laws, BFO formalizes a certain part of phenomenology—the phrase 'formal ontology' is itself drawn from Husserl's Logical Investigations. I shall describe how BFO arose in around 2005 and show how it is today being used as formal architecture in some 100s of ontology initiatives in areas ranging from immunology to industrial engineering. BFO is, technically speaking, a top-level ontology. It consists of a small collection of terms (such as 'object' and 'process') representing highly general universals together with relational expressions such as ('is a' and 'part of') representing relations between such universals. Terms in domain ontologies at lower levels are then defined via subsumption to terms from BFO. In this way, BFO promotes interoperability between the domain ontologies created by different groups, and this in turn advances the degree to which their information systems can work together in a consistent way. The new standard ISO/IEC 21838 defines the requirements for being a top-level ontology in this sense, and shows that BFO satisfies these requirements. I close with a consideration of the question whether Laws of Form can be regarded as a top-level ontology in the sense of ISO/ IEC 21838

Professor Barry Smith, director of the National Center for Ontological Research (NCOR), in the State University of New York at Buffalo, is one of the most widely cited contemporary philosophers. His applied ontology extends across many fields, including the biomedical sciences, geospatial informatics, military and intelligence analysis, and industrial engineering. His work draws on Edmund Husserl and his early realist followers, especially Adolf Reinach and Roman Ingarden. Professor Smith is Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Computer Science, Engineering, and Neurology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is also Visiting Professor at the University of Italian Switzerland.
18:45 - 19:25
(Advance booking required)
The Pen Factory

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