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. Biological uses both sexual and asexual reproduction. 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 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Shared post from Larval Subjects

The following is a shared post from the Larval Subject blog. I was most interested in what Levi says here about affect and passion, as I’ve been trying to understand this problem recently, though the whole post is great.

This post is really something that needs more nuanced and careful development than I’m able to give it this evening, but I at least wanted to get the basic framework written down as inadequate as it might be. Hopefully any readers I have will keep this in mind and be charitable. Throughout chapter 3 of Difference […]

via Deleuze contra Error: Other Misadventures of Thought — Larval Subjects .

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Human rights and global law

This is related to the global brain research.

There was no functionally differentiated legal system (or political, economic, or any other autonomous function system) as such under stratification. Or if there were any such systems, they were overruled by stratification.

We can look at the usage history of terms such as human rights to see how the legal system and the global brain have evolved. One could argue that increased communication on the topic human rights indicates the growth of the global legal system as well as the evolution of the global brain.  The reasoning here is that the moment we speak of “human rights,” we step beyond the nation-state.

The Oxford English Dictionary shows that the English term human rights was first used in the 17th century:

human rights  n. rights possessed by humans; spec. the set of entitlements held to belong to every person as a condition of being human; (in sing.) an entitlement of this kind.

Earliest uses:

1629   W. Crosse tr. Sallust Warre of Iugurth ix, in tr. Sallust Wks. 315   Those former times delight you more then these, in which..all diuine and human rights [L. divina et humana omnia] were in the power of some fewe.

1690   N. Tate Pastoral Dialogue 14   Where Rome bears sway, bid Laws Divine farewell, And Human Rights t’assert, is to Rebel.

1758   Prisoner 6   Of human rights ammerc’d, and human aid.
1791   T. Paine Rights of Man 110   The representatives of the people of France..considering that ignorance, neglect, or contempt of human rights, are the sole causes of public misfortunes..have resolved to set forth..these natural, imprescriptible, and unalienable rights.

We can also search the Google Books, but this only starts in the year 1800. Here is a Google Books Ngrams for the term human rights in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. They all show a rise after 1940. The main factor is probably the establishment of The United Nations in October 1945.

human rights



French–droits de l’homme

droits de l'hommeItalian–dritti umani

diritti umani.PNG

Spanish–derechos humanos
derechos humanos

We can also look at use of the term humanitarian, which is associated with the development of the Geneva Conventions:







The German graph is vastly different than the other graph. This is odd because the trend lines for the German term for human rights is consistent with the other languages. I may be using the wrong word. But the other term I tried, menschenfreundlich, shows a similar downward trend.





History of Geneva Conventions:

The Swiss businessman Henry Dunant went to visit wounded soldiers after the Battle of Solferino in 1859. He was shocked by the lack of facilities, personnel, and medical aid available to help these soldiers. As a result, he published his book, A Memory of Solferino, in 1862, on the horrors of war.[2] His wartime experiences inspired Dunant to propose:

  • A permanent relief agency for humanitarian aid in times of war
  • A government treaty recognizing the neutrality of the agency and allowing it to provide aid in a war zone

The former proposal led to the establishment of the Red Cross in Geneva. The latter led to the 1864 Geneva Convention, the first codified international treaty that covered the sick and wounded soldiers in the battlefield. For both of these accomplishments, Henry Dunant became co-recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.[3][4]

Posted in law | 2 Comments

Notes on “Being Affected: Spinoza and The Psychology of Emotion.”

Notes on Steven D. Brown & Paul Stenner (2001). “Being Affected: Spinoza and The Psychology of Emotion.” International Journal of Group Tensions, Vol. 30, No. 1.

The apparent conviction within psychology, demonstrated by endless debates between physiological psychologists and cognitivists, naturalists and constructionists, that emotions must be either biological systems (aspects of extension) or cognitive, linguistic, and social processes (aspects of thought) bears testimony to the grip Cartesianism exerts.

for ethical reasons, Cartesianism interiorizes or individualizes the emotions, which thereby become merely symptomatic of more or less tolerated “leakages” in the rational disciplining of our individual lives.

For Spinoza,

God alone is causa-sui or cause-of-itself (being infinite, there is logically nothing outside
God upon which God might depend). . . Spinoza, then, makes a distinction between the formal cause (God/Nature) and the proximal cause of a modification (an encounter with
another finite thing). The proximate cause of a finite thing is always another finite thing rather than an omnipotent intervention or a mysterious act of will. There is no room for transcendental explanations in Spinozism.

Modifications occur in encounters between the individual and other finite things (themselves manifold). As such, the precise kind of modification experienced depends upon the exact nature of relations that are possible between two individuals qua complex bodies. Spinoza describes the outcome of encounters in terms of emotion or affect:

“By EMOTION (affectus) I understand the modifications of the body by which the power of action of the body is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time the idea of these modifications.” (E.III. def. 3).

Affect, as an emergent property of the encounter, takes the form of either an increase or diminishment of the finite individual’s power to act. This is described in the basic distinction between affects of “joy” or “euphoria” (laelitiae) that increase power or those of “sorrow” or “dysphoria” (tristitiae) that decrease power. What takes place as an affect (an emotion) is an ordering of the relations between bodies and between ideas that shows forth as a decision or a determination for action.

Spinoza avoids what we moderns would understand as the opposition of emotion and cognition, by insisting that affects are emergent orderings of the relational field made up in the encounter between manifold finite beings. His project is thus perhaps closer to those contemporary explorations of the production of order from disorder in physical and social worlds.

By describing affect as all modifications of finite things, which result in increases or decreases of the potential to act, Spinoza dislodges “the emotions” from the realm of responses and situations and ties them firmly to action and encounters. Affects occur between finite things on the basis of their mutual relations, in the context of an infinitely productive Nature. Because Spinoza adheres to a strict determinism, this placing of emotions in the broadest possible context carries with it the obligation to consider the intersection of multiple chains of causation. Encounters and the modifications in which they result are complex events, complex productions of order.

This ordering of relations remind me of what Sara Ahmed say about affects being “sticky.” This is about resonance or resonance capability (Resonanzfähigkeit). Related entities, or “finite things,” resonate, thus forming order from disorder.

Affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects. . . .[If] you are given something by somebody whom you love, then the object itself acquires more affective value: just seeing it can make you think of another who gave you that something. If something is close to a happy object then it can become happy by association. (Ahmed, 2010)

Ideas and physical bodies, or “things,” are related by affect. Stenner:

The first step in analyzing encounters is to maintain the parallelism of body and mind. This involves, for Spinoza, a separate explication of how affects order relations between bodies and between ideas.

Affects are motivating. They are premises for action. They dispose a body to act in a particular way.

Images result in modifications whereby the body becomes disposed for action in a particular way. For this to occur it is not even necessary for the Other who brings about the image to be present. Images of absent persons may, for example, be at the root of affects of love or hate. Indeed, it is sufficient to merely perceive some evil occurring to the image of the absent loved one to then experience sorrow or despair.

Songs can connect affects as the recall emotions from the past. The song (or story, photo, etc.) may empower one to act (excite) or disempower (depress) to varying degrees.

What is also important in this process is the link made by Spinoza between being affected (through the image) and the capacity to affect (as the result of modifications). It is this dual aspect of affection that links ordering to power. Affects of dysphoria determine the person in such a way that they diminish their abilities. This occurs in encounters between bodies that do not agree in some way, such as when one body adversely affects, dominates or even, in extreme cases, destroys another by decomposing the relations through which it is constituted. Opposed to this are affects of euphoria which are marked by an increase in power when “agreeable” bodies unite into a new form of composition that extends the abilities to act of one or both. What matters, then, is how bodies (as manifolds) come together in the encounter to compose either harmonious or disharmonious relations.

Spinoza’s parallelism means that, in effect, bodies cannot be the cause of ideas, nor can the ideational be reduced to, made to correspond with, or be explained by the physical.

In systems-theoretical terms, we would say that nothing in the environment of the psychic system can directly cause a particular effect in the psychic system. The environment can only irritate the psychic system. Images and ideas are simply imprinted on the mind. Ideas are conceptions rather than perceptions.

Now with regard to affects, it is the series of ideas that circulate around the idea of the image of the external cause itself, which comprise what we commonly call “emotions” (e.g., love, hate, hope, jealousy). As long as the individual fails to explicate the idea of the cause, that is, fails to place this idea “clearly and distinctly” within the series of ideas currently constituting mind, he/she may be said to be passive with regard to the encounter. Passivity expresses inadequate thought and a diminishment in the power to act. By contrast, an ability to grasp the external cause is an expression of the individual “becoming active,” since what was external to the individual is now, in a sense, part of their constitution (as the idea is adequately placed within mind).

affects are for Spinoza modifications of bodies and ideas, indexed to agreeable and disagreeable encounters, which result in determinations to action and the expression of a certain power of understanding.


At the core of Spinoza’s “definitions of the emotions” (E. III. def.) are the three primary affects of desire, pleasure (joy or euphoria), and pain (sorrow or dysphoria). Desire, as “appetite with consciousness thereof” is the endeavor to persist in being (conatus) seen under the attribute of thought. It is through desire, as the essence of the individual that the terms “good” and “bad” are in any ways applicable to affects.

it is not the properties of what is encountered that are decisive in emotions, nor the qualities of the affected individual. What is at issue is the composition of an affective relationship. So euphoria and dysphoria are not the ground of any given emotion any more than musical harmony is the ground of the simultaneous tones which give rise to it. The names of the many emotions we experience are merely the names given to differently assembled euphoric or dysphoric relations, akin to chords.

For Spinoza, the word individual doesn’t just refer to people. Objects or material things in the world (paintings, books, human bodies, a kind of food, etc.) are also called individuals. These are finite beings, and all beings other than God or Nature are finite. People establish alliances, or affected relationships, with other finite beings. These relationships form an extended individual.

Once a certain affective relationship has been composed by the encounter between individuals, this may be conceived as establishing an extended individual or alliance. If a loved object is harmed or a hated object benefited, this will then be experienced as pain by the lover/hater. In contrast, they will feel euphoria if a loved object is itself affected with joy or a hated object harmed. This process extends the possibilities for alliance such that we are inclined to love whatever loves what we love and hates what we hate (this type of euphoria is called approval), and, contrariwise, we are inclined to hate whatever
hates what we love and loves what we hate (indignation).

An emotion is not just an experience or event that occurs within a person’s mind or body. Affects connect one thing to another. Affect is about resonance. These are commonly called attachments, and, according to Buddhism, liberation lies in the renouncing of all attachments. But for Christianity, selfless love, or caritas, is the highest human experience–and caritas implies that a person is affectively related to everyone else and, therefore, the person shares in the suffering and joy of others.

Affects can be called “ways of being.” They are the unfolding of personal powers to act and understand:

What is at stake in an affect is nothing less than how the person should “go on” or proceed forth on the basis of their emotion. Spinoza is moreover presenting a processual account of affects as the unfolding of personal powers to act and understand within a complex web of forces made up by a world of finite beings and things affecting one another.

Affects occur in an encounter between manifold beings, where everything depends upon what form of composition they are able to enter into. Thus the method begins from a point that exceeds individualism (as we moderns would understand it), concerning itself instead with the “necessary connections” by which relations are constituted.

Affects/emotions are established through communication. They aren’t things that already exist and then are communicated about–they aren’t mere topics of communication. Social systems constitute their own elements, and affects are one kind of communicative element, or event because elements can also be called events.  They have no temporal duration and, therefore, must be linked together as structures. Affects, then, can be called relational structures, or relational fields. They are encounters among finite beings, or objects.

We might think of affective relations as constituting a social system.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Response to Paul Stenner’s article on Emotion and Luhmann

After some discussion and further reading, I now see much of what I say here as confused, but I will leave the post here.

Paul Stenner published a very interesting, very clearly written article in 2004 titled “Is Autopoietic Systems Theory Alexithymic? Luhmann and the Socio-Psychology of Emotions” (Soziale Systeme 10 (2004), Heft 1, S. 159-185).

Stenner begins by summarizing Luhmann’s very  limited (one and a half pages) discussion of emotion in Social Systems:

The emotions, Luhmann states, represent a »sphere of problems that until now have proved quite difficult for sociology« (1995, 274). For this reason, he suggests, they have typically either been omitted from research, treated using unconventional methods, or studied indirectly in terms of their social stimulation, communication, cooling out, and so on. In Social Systems he dedicates a few paragraphs to the problem of emotions as such in the chapter on the individuality of psychic systems. This chapter is itself peripheral to the main project of a theory of social systems, since its focus is primarily on consciousness rather than communication. Hence it should be recognised that for Luhmann the emotions represent a peripheral aspect of a peripheral theme since, as a sociologist, he is happy to articulate an account according to which the true nature of emotion is psychic.

In this context, emotion is first introduced as »the process of adaptation to fulfilment or disappointment« of claims. The concept of claim is elucidated as a sub-category of expectation, the latter being the form in which a system exposes itself to its indeterminable environment. By way of expectations, psychic systems and also, as I will discuss later, social systems bring the environment into a form that can be used operatively on a psychic level. That is to say, possibilities are projected which can be confirmed or disconfirmed, fulfilled or disappointed. For psychic systems,  expectations thus organise the autopoiesis of consciousness by ›probabilising‹ the improbabilility of environmental complexity through the pre-structuring of connections between conscious contents. Expectations act as grids that pre-structure given unmanageable complexity into an autopoietically operable form. That is to say, a given expectation yields a simple bifurcation in the face of the world: it is disappointed or it is fulfilled. (161)

So the psychic system establishes structures of expectation to turn improbability into probability. The psychic system has expectations for what is likely to occur, and these expectations can be confirmed or disconfirmed. Claims, as a subcategory of emotion, have enhanced salience. The disappointment of claims registers emotionally as some variety of surprise. Stenner argues that claims have a sense of rights, as if a person feels s/he has right to confirmation of claims.

If a claim is an expectation we feel a right to, then it must be recognised that we are dealing with a primal notion of right (‹‹ a proto-right ‹‹) prior to its division into moral, legal and epistemic orders. . . . [For] Luhmann, the shift from expectation to claim increases the probability of the experience of emotion, just as a retreat from claim to mere expectation reduces it. (162)

Stenner goes further into this argument about rights in another 2004 article, “Psychology and the Political: On the psychology of natural right and the political origins of modern psychology.”

Stenner proceeds to demonstrate the limitations of Luhmann’s conceptualization of emotion. He argues that Luhmann’s theory is overly cognitive–that is, it doesn’t take into account the irritations between body (the organic, biological system), psychic system, and social systems. Luhmann, in this view, focuses only on the psychic or consciousness aspect of emotion. Stenner argues that emotions are neither completely inside nor completely outside of these systems.

Emotions, I argue, represent a threshold zone or domain in which the norms of social systems are bundled together with states of consciousness and bodily processes (166). . . . . As phenomena of the threshold, they [emotions] exist neither completely outside nor completely inside social, psychic or organic systems (169).

This is where I see a possible hole in Stenner’s argument. While Stenner present persuasive evidence on the limitations of Luhmann’s view of emotion, showing for instance that research Luhmann cites in Social Systems is outdated, his application of systems theory seems flawed. That is to say, from a systems-theoretical perspective, I don’t see how something can exist neither completely inside nor completely outside these systems. For one thing, it’s more consistent with Luhmannian theory to speak of observations rather than what exists or doesn’t exist. Whatever exists, or rather whatever is observed, is observed by a system. Emotions only come into being as observations. Yes, there is structural coupling or interpenetration or irritation between systems, but any observation happens within a system. A system cannot observe its environment; it can only have vague expectations for what is “out there.” Any irritation is processed as information within a system. Neither can the operations of different systems overlap. There are no third options or liminal zones where system operations (or observations) are concerned.

On the other hand . . . this might be about second-order observation–that is, observation of observation. There is a re-entry, in other words. A social system, such as an interaction system, can observe (discuss) one participant’s emotion. The interaction system could be a casual conversion or a psychotherapy session.

Systems make distinctions, creating a boundary, and then indicate an inside that is not an outside. As George Spencer-Brown argued,

a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart. The skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside. So does the circumference of a circle in a plane. By tracing the way we represent such a severance, we can begin to reconstruct, with an accuracy and coverage that appear almost uncanny, the basic forms underlying linguistic, mathematical, physical, and biological science, and can begin to see how the familiar laws of our own experience follow inexorably from the original act of severance.

A psychic system can observe emotion by thinking about it (if thought is the medium of the psychic system) and if these thoughts are placed into communication, social systems observe them; they are observed by or through the medium of language. But affects, at least according to Massumi (and this is questionable), are different from emotions. In this view, affects are organic phenomena and, as such, are not temporalized–Note: Connect to Brier article on cybersemiotics.

Stenner is right that emotions are tied to organic and social systems. In a laboratory, if a particular region of a brain is stimulated the person can feel an emotion. Or on an everyday basis, what we eat and drink and do with our body (e.g., run a marathon) stimulates emotion. Of in terms of social systems, if I live in a puritanical culture, the sex drive will have particular emotional associations. Nonetheless, these emotions are observed by psychic or social systems. They are not, at least from my perspective, phenomena of a threshold zone.

Update: In response to an earlier draft of this post, André 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.

Carlton Clark What about relating psyche and society to each other? I am also hung up on the observation question.

André Reichel If we stick to Luhmann: language. This then implies that language is both medium and re-entry (in this special case).

Carlton Clark My other question is about selection. The word selection (or select) doesn’t appear in Stenner’s article. As I understand it, if the organic, psychic, and social systems irritate one other, a system must make a contingent selection from from a horizon of possibilities. For instance, the psychic system selects from among a horizon possibilities. Thus, an emotion is a selection, or a reduction of affective (organic) complexity. Something happens physiologically, outside of consciousness (but which might be detectable by a technology like skin conductance detector), and the psychic system selects from that complexity. I see selection as happening inside a system, as a system operation/observation. Two systems cannot make the same selection. The same emotion cannot be selected by the psychic and the social system. I don’t see any of this happening in a threshold zone, which seems to be an ill-defined concept. This is Stenner’s “domain in which the norms of social systems are bundled together with states of consciousness and bodily processes.” If “emotions are observed from the perspective of the mind as a re-entry of the distinction between mind and body within the mind,” as you say, how is that operation observed by social system (as communication) as well? I don’t get Stenner’s bundling together process.

André Reichel 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 side

Posted in Affect Theory, Forms | 3 Comments

In press | Management and functional differentiation

Source: In press | Management and functional differentiation

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More thoughts on complexity

I found this comment posted on the Niklas Luhmann Group to be very helpful:

A system can only be less complex than the environment otherwise it couldn’t make a difference between itself and the environment. But by reducing complexity the system can also increase complexity (like the alphabet reduces our vocal complexity to some letters but it offers also nearly unlimited options to combine those letters to build new words)–Bjarne Schreiber

One of the frustrations of reading Luhmann is the paucity of these kinds of examples.  I’ve seen a great deal discussion of the principle that systems increase their own complexity by reducing environmental complexity, but it’s not easy to find good examples.

The complexity issue is about media and form. The letters in the alphabet are medial substratum and words are forms. Letters are used to create one word, then decomposed (unlinked, uncoupled) and reused in different sequences to create other words. The media must be reusable; letters can’t just be used to make one word and trapped there forever. In spoken language, we have phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, and other elements that are combined into meaningful language.

Morpheme: any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited.

Phoneme: any of a small set of units, usually about 20 to 60 in number, and different for each language, considered to be the basic distinctive units of speech sound by which morphemes, words, and sentences are represented. They are arrived at for any given language by determining which differences in sound function to indicate a difference in meaning, so that in English the difference in sound and meaning between pit and bit is taken to indicate the existence of different labial phonemes, while the difference in sound between the unaspirated p of spun and the aspirated p of pun, since it is never the only distinguishing feature between two different words, is not taken as ground for setting up two different p phonemes in English.

Lexeme: a minimal meaningful unit of language, the meaning of which cannot be understood from the meaning of its component morphemes.Take off (in the senses to mimic, to become airborne, etc) is a lexeme, as well as the independent morphemes take and off.

Media are also called elements, and the possible combinations of elements (or horizon of possibilities) is described as complexity. Elements may combine for a moment, then break their bonds, and then combine with other elements. Also, elements must combine with the same kind of elements. A phoneme can only combine with another phoneme. A phoneme cannot combine with a morpheme or a cash payment or anything else to create anything meaningful.

In meaning-based systems (psychic and social systems) the element is a communication event. It consists of three selections–information, utterance, and understanding. Ego selects the information and utterance, and the alter selects the understanding. The synthesis of these three selections produces meaning; it is a non-decomposable unit of meaning, and it vanishes in the same moment that is emerges. As an element, it has no temporal duration. The meaning event (element) must be replaced by a subsequent meaning event in order for the system to reproduce itself.

For psychic systems, the element is a thought. Thought are only meaningful when there are preceding thoughts to link to and the expectation of subsequent thoughts. But the thought itself has no duration. It’s an event. Structure is the linking of the event to a before and after. The meaning event must refer to previous and expected meanings; this is self-referentiality. The systems refers to it’s own elements, and it makes new elements out of “old” elements. This also described in terms of redundancy. As King and Thornhill write,

The redundant aspect of communication becomes structure, providing the means for a communication to be recognized as belonging to the system. The event relies on this recognition for its inclusion as communication belonging to the system.

Temporality allows the formation of structure. The temporal dimension allows for before and after. A unit of meaning is only meaningful within this temporal dimension. The element only exists because there was a preceding meaning unit and there is an expectation of subsequent meaning units.

Expectation and memory are structures. Memory is not a storehouse of images or facts; it is a structure that allows meaning to happen–it is the before of the before/after distinction. The after is the expectation.

Structure is established through a re-entry into the system of of the system/environment distinction. That is to say, the distinction of before/after re-enters the system, which allows meaning to be assigned to either before or after–these are the only two options. Since a meaning unit, or elements of communication, vanishes in the same moment that it appears, the system can only observe before and after. As Luhmann writes,

[The] concept of of autopoietic closure makes it possible to understand the function of enforced binary choices. The system can continue its autopoiesis or it can stop it. It can can continue to live, to produce conscious states, to communicate with the alternative to come to an end. There are, with respect to autopoiesis, no third states. (Autopoiesis of Social Systems,” in Essays on Self-Reflection, p. 13)

For a system to increase its complexity it must specialize, or develop an inclusion/exclusion scheme. “The system invents a choice, which did not exist without it.”

For example, though the invention of property, the economic system created a forced choice between ownership and non-ownership. The economy is about having and not-having. There is no third option. Even if you are renting, you have the thing as long as you pay the rent. The having/not-having form can only be crossed by a payment, which is an event. This event, like a meaning unit, has no duration. The economy reproduces itself by linking one payment-event to another payment-event. A payment is the non-decomposable unit of the economic system. Is is also called the symbolically generalized communication medium of the economy.

The economy specializes in monetary payments. If the economy observes something as a monetary payment, the system includes it, or treats it as meaningful (the economy, being a social system, is meaning-based). For the economy, complexity is the linkage or payments in all sorts of ways. There are nearly unlimited possibilities for linking payment to payment. So by excluding everything else, such a morality, religion, politics, and love, the economy has been able to establish great complexity. The economy reduces the complexity of its environment by observing everything as either a payment or not-a-payment. If it’s not a payment, it must remain in the economy’s environment. It’s a strict either/or without a third possibility. This simplicity then allows the economy to create its own complexity. The advantage of money over a barter economy is that monetary payments may be very quickly circulated. The money can be immediately reused. But if you give me a chicken in payment for eight hours of work, I cannot easily trade that chicken for fuel to heat my house. The economy cannot make complex connections between bartered commodities. Another advantage is that monetary payments have no memory. This means that the economy doesn’t know how I obtain the money for my rent. Only the law takes notice of that. By excluding moral considerations, the economy enhances its efficient circulation of payments.

However, there are limits to a system’s complexity, as described in the complexity-sustainability trade-off.

Posted in Complexity, law, Uncategorized | 2 Comments