I knew Pask near his height of fanatical mental energy, manic public lectures and uncompromising one-on-one sessions with students like me. I was lucky: he was first introduced to me as a man of the theater (producer of musical shows, master lyricist). Our common interests made it easy for me to enter his intricate world of ideas. But so many found his prose too dense, his personal flair too confusing, his claims for his theory too good to be true. I found in Gordon a man of style, intellect and difficulty, whose thinking about the nature of thinking vastly clarified my own. His theory made it easy to write software that nurtured individual learning styles (try that with psychology); provided a human, subjective approach to the representation of knowables inside machines (try that with artificial intelligence); nd gave me beautiful, powerful ideas that have guided me ever since. Others may have known him better or less well, but Pask, never failed to be remembered as an eccentric and a genius, both. His world-wide recognition is not inconsiderable but seems, for those close to him and even those not so, to be far short of what is appropriate. I often heard members of his audience volunteer that they figured they understood about 10% of what he said - and that if the other 90% were as good as the 10, then this guy is really important. Of course most of that 90% is as good as the 10 - Pask knew that and he wanted to get it all in, whether it was comprehensible or not. This committment to completeness, whether in his theory or his talks or his sentence structure, was a source of frustration for his audience. That made it hard to engage with the material fairly. Pask wanted to bring everyone else's theories into his theory, making it the most encompassing; but that led to competition and complication. I was often told that Pask, as the major author of Conversation Theory, did not always prove his contribution by being good at coversation. It was as if, to him, that was our problem (not his).
We can expect a rush of interest in things Paskian, now that Gordon isn't here to confuse us with the facts of his work as he preferred them. Much of the reappraisal will be possible because some of the world has moved towards his innovations. He didn't invent the World Wide Web but he specified a (still unused) logic for representing individual knowledge in a global repository. Conversation Theory, of which he was the primary driver and author, defines the conditions required for agreement and delineates an architecture in which understanding can occur. He warned about confusing mere "communication" (exchanging messages containing what is already known) with "conversation" (a generative activity that gives identity to participants and leads to what is new). Pask's was a prolific voice in the development of "second-order" cybernetics, where the subjectivity of the observer is a critical element in the describing process of science. He was serious about making "a theory of everything." Although he mirrored the structure of great scientific theories, his content was unique; for example, insisting that which is conserved in conversation is consciousness - that which is shared among the participants. To put it another way, nothing that has ever been thought is fully lost.
Whether the worlds he affects wil know the name Pask is a question similar to whether cybernetics will be recognized for the shift it brings to science: the embrace of the subjective as an explicit part of every human endeavor. At least in the world of cybernetics, we will not lose the irreplaceables that Pask has brought to us.