Society-Mind-Body

Some tentative, half-formed thoughts . . .

As Hans-Georg Moeller writes in The Radical Luhmann, Luhmann addressed the ancient mind/body problem by posing a triad–social system-psychic system-biological system (or society-mind-body). These are different kinds of autopoietic systems, and each is the environment of the other. A fourth system might be the climate, but Luhmann didn’t explore this. He did suggest that if artificial intelligence ever become self-steering or autonomous, it could emerge as an system.

As for the triad of society-mind-body (or body-mind-society), none holds a privileged or fundamental position. All three exist together, and none can be said to have come first. The media of the biology, mind, and society are cellular life, thoughts/emotions/affects (e.g., desires, fears), and communication, respectively.

Each type of system has emerged to solve a particular problem. Biology, we might say, evolved to solve the problem of death. By learning to reproduce itself, cellular life solved the problem of death. DNA carries the instructions for new life. The psychic system emerged to solve the problem of the operational closure of biology, and society emerged to solve the problem of the psychic system’s operational closure.

Organisms that move around, unlike plants, fungi, etc, under their own power need some kind of perceptual system to orient in space. Such perceptual systems can be called a psychic system or mind. Society emerges because of the limitations associated with the operational closure of the psychic systems. That is to say, one psychic system cannot know the contents of another psychic system; so evolution hit on communication as the solution. Communication allows animal species (including humans) to coordinate social life.

These three kinds of systems co-evolve because they irritate one another. We should not think of them developing first, second, and third. A biological system that is irritated by (or structurally coupled with) a mind is different than a biological system that is not irritated by a mind, and a mind that is irritated by society/communication is different than a mind that is not irritated by society. In other words, biological systems that existed before the existence of minds were different than biological systems that must deal with minds. And minds that existed before the existence of society/communication were different than minds that must deal with society.

The psychic system emerges as a reentry of a biological system into itself. Biology distinguishes between itself and its nonbiological environment, and the reentry into the biological system into itself establishes the psychic system. The psychic system allows biology to observe itself through the medium of affects/feelings.

Society emerges as a reentry of the psychic system into itself. The psychic system can then observes itself through the medium of language. The mind can then use thoughts are well as feelings. Unconscious affect, conscious feeling, and thought probably exist on a continuum anyway; it’s hard to separate them. Thought emerges as the reentry of society (communication) into the psychic system–that is to say, the language spoken by people is copied back into the mind as thoughts. Until that happens, an infant’s mind only has only affects or emotions.

Andre Reichel wrote,

The crucial term in Stenner’s argument appears to be ‘completely’. This would imply that he does not see emotions as neither/nor in one system or the other but as-well-as: emotions can be observed on both sides of the distinction. This works if we understand the relation of e.g. the mind and emotions as one of re-entry: emotions are observed from the perspective of the mind as a re-entry of the distinction between mind and body within the mind. Emotions are then the re-entry operation itself i.e. emotions relate mind and body to each other. As such they are neither exclusively here nor there but constitute the binding together of here and there.

The social system can observe the psychic system via the re-entry of language. And in this relation, the re-entry of emotion between mind and body can indirectly be observed, but only according to the three selections: first, the selection of the mind what to regard as emotions; second, the selection of the mind what to utter in language; third, the selection of the social system what of these utterances to process as communication.

Given the idea of cybersemiotics and that the body gives signs, there is an interpenetration of the body with the social system that can be understood as a re-entry from body to social system i.e. an observation of the social system of the difference between itself and (a) body. This re-entry could then be a sign, some form of body language or facial movements. The body would select what signs to evoke and the social system would select what of these evocations to process as communication. With the form of re-entry, both sides of the distinction are not only tied together but the difference shows up on both sides.

Here’s a drawing you might enjoy. It makes clear that the problem of psychic systems is to somehow balance what they feel with what they say… knowing that social systems observe what they say and relate that with the signs biological systems are giving them. (c) AR 2017

Reichel Drawing

(Andre Reichel, 2017)

To summarize the drawing,

Psychic system reenters biological system as emotion.
Psychic system reenters social system as language.

Social system reenters biological system as signs.
Social system reenters psychic system as language.

Biological system reenters psychic system as emotion.
Biological system reenters social system as signs.

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2 Responses to Society-Mind-Body

  1. Pingback: Luhmann and the Body | Autopoiesis: Producing and Reproducing Systems Theory

  2. Pingback: Structural Coupling | Autopoiesis: Producing and Reproducing Systems Theory

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