Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Luhmann's "System as difference"

“Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” Gilbert K. Chesterton

I just read Luhmann's lecture "System as difference." I was hoping to find more support on the elements of individual endo-structures but did not. He did though discuss communication as the foundation of social systems, that it is an internal relation distinguished from an external relation (aka endo- and exo-relations). He mentioned Husserl's transcendental phenomenology, transcendental in that self-reflexivity is inherent to any consciousness that draws a distinction with its environment, yet it is also tied to the phenomenon in that environment and thus not an a priori essence.* This differential theoretical approach was an improvement over one that emphasized essences. This principle could equally apply to ontology and theology, but he doesn't elaborate.

I appreciated the discussion of Spencer Brown's calculus (actual math), which was not about logic but about time and transformation, aka thermodynamics.** This applies to what he calls re-entry, the systemic feedback loops. It sounds a lot like Derrida's iteration. E.g. he calls re-entry of the distinction a paradox because it “means that the distinction that re-enters itself is the same and, at the same time, is not the same” (54). Same difference! Interestingly, on 54-5 he talks about how one can resolve the paradox by acknowledging variable perspectives and creating meta-levels. Although he does call this method logically “questionable and disreputable,” though the logicians keep using it so it must then be ok. But only in the context of the difference between self-reference and other-reference, which seems sort of like first and third person perspectives. Unfortunately he doesn't really clarify this to my mind.

* This relates to the meditative claims of Causal consciousness, or consciousness without an object, which suppose that because it is not focused on an external object and it feels like nothingness that therefore it is contacting some metaphysical ground. I've argued elsewhere that even this form of awareness is indeed tied to the phenomenon of its interior brain states from far earlier in its evolution, i.e, it is an embodied phenomenon.

Luhmann point to this self reflection of earlier internal states on p. 54. He doesn't make the connection with image schema (but I do), those more direct and pre-rational mediators and differentiators with our environment, both internal and external. Just because it feels like there is no object of consciousness due to going below the egoic-rational (dualistic) level does not make it so.

** I've discussed elsewhere how thermodynamics transformed the sciences, even quantum theory, in the move from essences to differences. And something not yet picked up on in formal operational systems like capitalism, the model of hierarchical of complexity's classical set theory, and kennilingus generally.

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