It’s the spring of 1969, and Dan Little (BS ’71), a 20-year-old sophomore majoring in physics and math, is about to meet an academic unlike any other he would encounter in a lifetime in higher education.
The now-chancellor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn picks it up from here.
“Heinz von Foerster was an Austrian physicist and engineer who had emigrated to the United States after World War II. He was a charismatic professor of electrical engineering at Illinois and one of the early innovators in cybernetics.
“This particular moment involved a conversation with two or three students and Professor von Foerster. He spoke to us about his experience of the rise of fascism, and he told us he had two items in his office that reflected the lessons he had learned from those days in Vienna and Berlin. One was a megaphone. He said he would never again be in a position where only extremists could voice their views.
“The other was a travel kit with his passport and a thousand dollars in cash. There may have been a pack of cigarettes in the bag, as well. He said he would never again face the possibility of being trapped in a place where extremists have taken power. He struck me as a deeply humane man, and a moral person, as well as a profoundly important scientist.”