Von Foerster had a great admiration (as who had not) for Ross Ashby. He conveyed to me his hope that he could persuade Ashby to accept appointment in the University of Illinois, and asked my opinion of his chances. Having known Ashby for years,and being well versed in his current activities in the Burden Neurological Institute in England where he was the director, I did not think he would be attracted by an academic appointment. The text reports the meeting in Heinz's house, 'in company with Ashby, Pask, Hayek (*) and von Bertalanffy'. This was the setting in which Heinz and I carefully elaborated what he has often since called out 'plot'.
It began with Heinz acquainting the others with the Californian proposal that I had received and my reluctance to accept it. He set out to 'persuade' me, and to drag the others into the discussion. All except Ashby did, extolling the virtues of the proposal, and the freedom which America offered its thinkers in replacement of the British straight-jacket. It did not surprise me that Ashby was silent: I truly thought that academic matters bored him stiff. In the end, however, von Foerster turned to him: 'Ross, you haven't said a single word. Help us persuade Stafford to come to the United States.' Ashby looked up and said: 'Why should I? No one has ever offered me a chair anywhere.'
The silence was deafening. Heinz: 'Well, everybody has assumed that you have been offered chairs all over the place and have refused them.'
Heinz von Foerster cleared his throat and said, in a very official tone: 'Dr. Ashby, I hearby offer you appointment as Professor of Cybernetics in my department of the University of Illinois.'
'Thank you', said Ashby, 'I accept'.
The silence this time was broken by Ross Ashby himself, who said, 'Heinz, would you mind if I went to telephone my wife?' And he left the room. Thus began the extremely fruitful decade of the 1960s that Ashby was to spend in Illinois. Rosebud, his wife, subsequently told me that the famous phone call amounted to little more than: 'We are emigrating. Sell the house and join me.'
(*) yes, THAT Hayek