Open peer commentary on the article “Consciousness as Self-Description in Differences” by Diana Gasparyan. Upshot: Gasparyan’s article ignores the inherent tension of being a human who is both a subject and an object at the same time. Any theory of consciousness must include both of these dimensions.
Minimalism is a useful element in the constructivist arsenal against objectivism. By reducing actions and sensory feedback to a bare minimum, it becomes possible to obtain a complete description of the sensory-motor dynamics; and this in turn reveals that the object of perception does not pre-exist in itself, but is actually constituted during the process of observation. In this paper, this minimalist approach is deployed for the case of the recognition of “the Other.” It is shown that the perception of another intentional subject is based on properties that are intrinsic to the joint perceptual activity itself.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: The question I am most interested in is the question raised by von Glasersfeld as to whether Luhmann’s talk of “eigen-values” of society actually is, or is not, just a loose metaphor as von Glaserfeld maintains by emphasizing that in the society of human beings “the recursion of operations of observation or description is not governed by fixed rules, unlike the recursion of functions that produce mathematical eigenwerte” (§44, Fn. 4). Indeed, how are we to conceive of the possible eigen-values of society? And who are we to possibly be able to conceive of possible eigen-values?
The book uses the method and categories of systems theory (inspired by Niklas Luhmann) in a scrutiny of the evolution of the main semantic trends of modern society and its influence in the formation of the systemic boundaries of the social systems of society. The book is an investigation of the meaning of the functional differentiation according to its semantic symptoms and evolution. In order to reconstruct the semantic evolution of basic modern socio-economic categories the book is divided according to the three classic branches of the political philosophy of the classic tradition, the Aristotelian division also conserved in Hegel’s own distribution of the themes of his “Sittlichkeit” – family, civil society and the state. Thus, in “The Individuation of Modern Society” the author explores the classic notion of oikós and its opposition to the pólis, the evolution of the concept of utility in modern times and its importance to the formation of the modern political economy and the economic system as an autonomous functional system, the idea of “civil society,” its meaning in the Hegelian description of the social modernity, the fragmentation of XVIIIth century civil society according to the use of the term “Entzweiung” in the Hegelian philosophical vocabulary, and the formation of the concept of the nation as a self-referential condition of the political system. The book finishes with a discussion of Niklas Luhmann’s theory of functional differentiation and his concept of the political system. Relevance: The book applies second-order cybernetics to the analysis of the evolution of modern social systems, especially in the case of the formation of self-referential conditions for the observation and reproduction of the systems.
This paper is a discussion of the sustainability of a concept of “world” compatible with the “operative constructivism” and the operative conception of observation of systems theory of according to Niklas Luhmann. The paper scrutinizes the concepts of observation of H. von Foerster, H. Maturana, G. Günther and N. Luhmann, providing the general framework of “operative constructivism.” Particularly, the paper will focus on N. Luhmann’s understanding of the role of observation in the constitution of the self-reference of the social systems of the modern society. The case of the “systems of art” will be briefly inspected. What place shall we concede to the idea of an “objective” world, according to the systems theory? Are systems “objective”? According to N. Luhmann, for the description of systems only operations are “objective.” However, an operation is not an entity, which means that we need to depict a new kind of “objects,” very different from the ’thing-objectivity” of the ancient metaphysics and different from the Cartesian concept of “res.” What does objectivity mean according to systems theory? This question was at stake in the formulation of N. Luhmann’s Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft: Society is “weder Subjekt noch Objekt.” This paper attempts to address this formula. Relevance: The paper deals with the epistemological explanation of second-order observations in social systems according to Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory. It clarifies the world vision of the constructivism movement.
The course on nature coincides with the re-working of Merleau-Ponty’s breakthrough towards an ontology and therefore plays a primordial role. The appearance of an interrogation of nature is inscribed in the movement of thought that comes after the Phenomenology of Perception. What is at issue is to show that the ontological mode of the perceived object – not the unity of a positive sense but the unity of a style that shows through in filigree in the sensible aspects has a universal meaning, that the description of the perceived world can give way to a philosophy of perception and therefore to a theory of truth. The analysis of linguistic expression to which the philosophy of perception leads opens out onto a definition of meaning as institution, understood as what inaugurates an open series of expressive appropriations. It is this theory of institution that turns the analysis of the perceived in the direction of a reflection on nature: the perceived is no longer the originary in its difference from the derived but the natural in its difference from the instituted. Nature is the “non-constructed, non-instituted,” and thereby, the source of expression: “nature is what has a sense without this sense having been posited by thought.”\\The first part of the course, which consists in a historical overview, must not be considered as a mere introduction. In fact, the problem of nature is brought out into the open by means of the history of Western metaphysics, in which Descartes is the emblematic figure. The problem consists in the duality at once unsatisfactory and unsurpassable – between two approaches to nature: the one which accentuates its determinability and therefore its transparency to the understanding; the other which emphasizes the irreducible facticity of nature and tends therefore to valorize the viewpoint of the senses. To conceive nature is to constitute a concept of it that allows us to “take possession” of this duality, that is, to found the duality. The second part of the course attempts to develop this concept of nature by drawing upon the results of contemporary science. Thus a philosophy of nature is sketched that can be summarized in four propositions: 1) the totality is no less real than the parts; 2) there is a reality of the negative and therefore no alternative between being and nothingmess; 3) a natural event is not assigned to a unique spatio-temporal localization; and 4) there is generality only as generativity.
An approach which has the purpose to catch what characterizes the specificity of a living system, pointing out what makes it different with respect to physical and artificial systems, needs to find a new point of view – new descriptive modalities. In particular it needs to be able to describe not only the single processes which can be observed in an organism, but what integrates them in a unitary system. In order to do so, it is necessary to consider a higher level of description which takes into consideration the relations between these processes, that is the organization rather than the structure of the system. Once on this level of analysis we can focus on an abstract relational order that does not belong to the individual components and does not show itself as a pattern, but is realized and maintained in the continuous flux of processes of transformation of the constituents. Using Tibor Ganti’s words we call it “Order in the Nothing”. In order to explain this approach we analyse the historical path that generated the distinction between organization and structure and produced its most mature theoretical expression in the autopoietic biology of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. We then briefly analyse Robert Rosen’s (M, R)-Systems, a formal model conceptually built with the aim to catch the organization of living beings, and which can be considered coherent with the autopoietic theory. In conclusion we will propose some remarks on these relational descriptions, pointing out their limits and their possible developments with respect to the structural thermodynamical description.
This paper introduces the idea of, and necessity for, a 'third-order cybernetics'. It does this through the critique and problematisation of the ontology of the observer as elaborated within a second-order cybernetics. The necessity for this third-order is directly generated from our work as strategy consultants and our needs to evolve an effective, coherent and ethical consultancy practice. The paper draws primarily on the writings of Lacan and Maturana to provide the epistemological presumptions upon which we generate a new characterisation of, and approach to, the business organisation. This new approach for the understanding of the business organisation is presented as an 'Economy of Discourses'. This Economy is a description of the effects of a third-order in the second-order observer's invention of himself as subject. We have formulated this approach as an aid for diagnosis, intervention and prognosis in our work with business organisations. We include two case studies, one of a chemicals-based manufacturer, the other of a large accountancy practice. In these two cases we seek to unpack and illustrate the way in which it is possible to use the new approach, and to highlight the principles which allow the consultant maximal movement and effectiveness in relation to his client system. We end by outlining the implications of our approach for an ethics of consultancy.
From the perspective of second order cybernetics this paper examines in which respects psychology can claim to be a science. It focuses on the limits of mechanistic description in the behavioral sciences. Through the Danish psychologist Iven Reventlow’s works, the article analyzes the use of the Galilean concepts of law in psychology. Reventlow attempts to create basic methods and concepts for a Galilean (law determined) psychology in the tradition of Kurt Lewin through work with animal models in the tradition of ethology. His standard experimental model is the male Stickleback guarding its nest – a small fish in its partly self-created world. Reventlow’s aim is to describe the “behavioral personality” of the organism keeping description and causal analysis and explanation on the behavioural level. To this end he works with a statistical model which do not hide the individuals characteristics by rolling them into an average. In this process, however, he finds that he cannot make a final separation of the organism and the environment. It is not possible to carry through either the mechanistic or the dualistic point of view. This finding is discussed in the light of von Foerster’s and Maturana’s second order cybernetic positions on the observer, observation, autopoiesis and the multiverse. The limitations of these theories carries the analysis further. A realistic, non-reductionistic and constructivistic viewpoint is developed from some of N. Luhmann’s formulations.
This paper discusses various suggestions for a philosophical framework for a trans-disciplinary information science or a semiotic doctrine. These are: the mechanical materialistic, the pan-informational, the Luhmanian second order cybernetic approach, Peircian biosemiotics and finally the pan-semiotic approach. The limitations of each are analysed. The conclusion is that we will not have to choose between either a cybernetic-informational or a semiotic approach. A combination of a Peircian-based biosemiotics with autopoiesis theory, second order cybernetics and information science is suggested in a five-levelled cybersemiotic framework. The five levels are 1) a level of Firstness, 2) a level of mechanical matter, energy and force as Secondness, 3) a cybernetic and thermodynamic level of information, 4) a level of sign games and 5) a level of conscious language games. These levels are then used to differentiate levels of information systems, sign and language games in human communication. In our model Maturana and Varela’s description of the logic of the living as autopoietic is accepted and expanded with Luhmann’s generalization of the concept of autopoiesis, to cover also to psychological and socio-communicative systems. Adding a Peircian concept of semiosis to Luhmann’s theory in the framework of biosemiotics enables us to view the interplay of mind and body as a sign play. I have in a previous publication (see list of references) suggested the term “sign play” pertaining to exosemiotics processes between animals in the same species by stretching Wittgenstein’s language concept into the animal world of signs. The new concept of intrasemiotics designates the semiosis of the interpenetration between biological and psychological autopoietic systems as Luhmann defines them in his theory. One could therefore view intrasemiotics as the interplay between Lorenz’ biological defined motivations and Freud’s Id, understood as the psychological aspect of many of the natural drives. In the last years of the development of his theory, Lorenz worked with the idea of how emotional feedback introduced just a little learning through pleasurable feelings into instinctive systems because, as he reasoned, there must be some kind of reward of going through instinctive movements, thus making possible the appetitive searching behaviour for sign stimuli. But he never found an acceptable way of modelling motivation in biological science. I am suggesting a cybersemiotic model to combine these approaches, defining various concepts like thought-semiotics, phenosemiotic and intrasemiotics, combining them with the already known concepts of exosemiotics, ecosemiotics, and endosemiotics into a new view of self-organizing semiotic processes in living systems. Thus a new semiotic level of description is generated, where mind-body interactions can be understood on the same description level.