Sunday, June 26, 2011

Let not your consciousness control you (over its capacity)

One of the surest ways to make people dislike or disrespect you, at least among an intellectual circle, is to say that you believe in God. Yet, the dialectic between theism and atheism happens to be one of my great interests.

I became a Christian several years ago in the middle of my post-divorce mental depression. Without any depression now, I still keep going to church. I love the community and friends there, but thinking about God and meditate every week is a very interesting intellectual challenge in the age when atheism has become the orthodoxy. I'm liberal enough to accept the progress of science, but I'm a conservative liberal, in the sense F.A. Hayek was, to respect the traditional wisdom that cannot be easily rendered into scientific terms. The faith in God is one of such traditional items.

Today, in our international group meeting in my church, we read Chapter 1 of God's Power to Change Your Life. If you're not yet repelled by the sound of the title, please read the following quotation:

When the Holy Spirit controls your life, he will produce in you nine positive characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (p. 21: emphasis added by me)

Before I'm accused of being too indecent to use such a word like the "Holy Spirit", let me give you my modern translation of the quotation.

Let your unconscious/non-conscious mind control you. Let not your consciousness control you over its capacity. Then you'll gain love, joy, ... and self-control.

Recent progress of neuroscience is in line with what Julian Jaynes said in 1976 about the limited capacity of consciousness. (Please see my old article on Julian Jayes if you're interested.). Quite recently, the Atlantic carried an essay "The Brain on Trial" by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. It contained a series of reasonable questions concerning the notion of free will and our legal system based upon it.

In a nutshell, our consciousness is not the master of our thoughts and behaviors. Consciousness is not us, or rather we're not consciousness alone, as Descartes led us to believe, or as Freud surprised the modern Europeans. Yet, since Descartes, our consciousness has become the basis of our existence, the foundation of science, the only arena where our rationality is allowed to work.

However, you only have to remind yourself of your ordinary episodes: when you come up with a solution to a difficult problem of science, business or whatever, it usually comes from somewhere beyond your consciousness. When you act perfectly well in a sport or a martial art, you often realize what you've done after you did it; you haven't planned or thought about your action before. Or simply, you can't.

Our consciousness has only a limited capacity. Even when you extend its capacity by the use of computer or other devices, the body (YOU)-in-the-World is too complex to be controlled by your (extended) consciousness.

Let the Self control you. The Self, which contains your consciousness, but is much larger and deeper than that, according to Jung, should be the center of you, not the superficial, limited, biased and yet explicit consciousness.

The modern notion of "self-control" is a control of your life by your conscious thoughts and plans. However, the traditional and religious notion (revived by Jung as a modern psychiatric one) of "self-control" is a control of your life by your unconscious/non-conscious mind, or if you dare, by the Holy Spirit.

Of course, our contemporary life is much more complicated than the life in the pre-conscious era as Jaynes surmised, or the spiritual life as Jung focused on. Our life is now messed by the miscellaneous bits and pieces and we need occasional help from our consciousness to let our unconscious/non-conscious mind adapt to this contemporary hustle and bustle.

But let not your consciousness override your true mind (that is unconscious and non-conscious). Let your Self be the master of you. And if you dare again, let the Holy Spirit be the master of you. Let your conscious mind be a humble servant of the Master.

This is not an awakening philosophy. As I said, you only have to remind yourself of your life (i.e. do philosophy as Wittgenstein defined it.) Or you may want to practice Budo, the Japanese martial arts, and learn from the traditional words of wisdom which try to explain the conflict between your conscious thoughts and your unconscious/non-conscious movements.

Yes, I admit I've mixed up different ideas and thoughts: Christianity, Julian Janes, F.A. Hayek, neuroscience, C.G. Jung, Budo, all in the same bag. You may dislike or disrespect me for this apparent lack of rigor, but this is what I expected from the first sentence of this essay.

Thank you for reading so far (if you ever did). It was at least a nice way of spending a Sunday afternoon, something I wanted to do despite the advice from my consciousness to do the business work that is overdue. I just tried to let my Self control my life. If I cannot do this on weekdays, I should be allowed to do this on weekends.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Reading Luhmann to understand Twitter and this changing world

Twitter, an important "actor" in the social system today, led me to a very interesting paper:

Structural Coupling and Translation - Twitter observed as
Communication Medium and Non-human Actor

By Jesper Takke
Associate Professor, PhD
Information and Media Studies
Aarhus University

Available at:

This makes a very good reading for those who are interested in Luhmann's theory (like me), but the following passage may convince the general reader with no such interest of the relevance of this paper to understanding of this changing world. (The original paragraph is divided into blocks for more comfortable reading.)

First on the interaction level Twitter opens for a network like form of near synchronous communication without the heavy framework of other social media like Facebook.

This medium is also freed from forced reciprocal relations. You only have 140 characters in a tweet, but it is possible to send links to other places on the Internet, like to a weblog, pictures on Flickr or other sources.

If we say that this is the possibility space of the medium the interesting thing is how it is actualized.

First of all it looks like Twitter is used by people who publishes or produces materials which can be linked to, for instance, a newspaper article written by you, about you, or just about a topic or a person you think is important.

Also we see many questions and answers, invitations, proclamations, and information, for instance, about new software or election results.

Persons can contribute to the communication on Twitter using a computer, a smart phone and even a cell phone via SMS. This means that you can stay in contact with the Twitter community wherever you are whenever you want.

Also Twitter has a special cyberspaceical configuration because you through the hashtag ‘#’ can participate in the communication of a topic with everybody else on Twitter following the same hashtag. Together with the possibility for retweeting (sending another person’s tweet to them who follows you) this makes the communication space of this medium, on the one hand one big arena, on the other, a very complex arena to navigate in.

Another interesting thing on the interaction level is that Twitter’s possibility space is actualized to form a parallel interaction system on conferences, for instance, making it possible for the public attending a lecture or a keynote, to communicate about the topic and it’s points, finding sources about it on the Internet, sharing it with the others in real time. This also opens for the possibility for the audience to confront the speaker with general questions, which are already consolidated through negotiations on Twitter.

This is a new coupling between the psychic and social systems. It allows people not physical present to participate in the discussion and demands that psychic systems present can oscillate their concentration between the spoken and written discourse. This means that Twitter communication, between people who at same time are also in physical based social contexts, selects persons who can and are willing to extent their psychic level of complexity (oscillating their concentration between the two co‐existing interaction systems). As long this is possible the social level of systems formation can extent its complexity because not only one contributes to the social at a time. The social system can use (select) every body’s contributions, everybody’s links to sources, the notes from everybody even input from participants who are not physical present, but who participate via the chosen hashtag and the live reporting from them who are present (or from a streaming)
(pp. 11-12)

Below are excerpts from the paper. They highlight some of the essence of Luhmann's theory (and also Latour's, of which I knew nothing). I thank the author of this paper, Professor Takke (sorry, I can't put the right alphabet) and Evgeny Morozov whose tweet let me know of this paper.

In systems theory media can be seen as the mechanisms of structural couplings between psychic and social system (p. 1)

Translation is “displacement, drift, invention, mediation, the creation of a link that did not exist before and that to some degree modifies two elements or agents” (p. 1)

the element is constituted as a unity only by the system that enlists it as an element to use it in relations” (Luhmann 1995, 22). (p. 3)

"communication only works through consciousness, using consciousness, but never operationally as consciousness" (Luhmann 2002, 274). (p. 4)

Communication and consciousness systems evolve in a co‐evolution, since the language makes it possible for them to differentiated themselves out (Luhmann 2002, 278) (p. 5)

Language is the structural coupling, that is its task, its function” (Luhmann 2002, 279) (p. 5)

Luhmann (1990, 26) defines meaning as a distinction between actuality and potentiality. (p. 6)

Selection of information, for instance, in communication is an announcement of what is not selected, but which could have been selected. (p. 6)

“Only when a system, in its autopoietic reproduction, adapts itself to the field in which it operates can it determine itself through its own structures” (Luhmann 2002b, 172). (p. 6)

The autopoiesis of social systems is nothing more than this constant process of reduction and creation of opportunities for linking. (p. 7)

Language and writing, as well as later developed media, thus guaranteeing that communication retains the ability to reorganize itself through its constant accommodation to the mind. (p. 7)

Consciousness can work without communication, but only if it has experienced communication and has socialized itself. (p. 7)

the actor concept includes everything that can be ascribed an action no matter if it is human, artifact, institution or for instance a god (p. 8)

Latour (2008, 133) defines translation as a connection that transports transformations and makes two mediators coexist. (p. 9)

Luhmann (1999, 358, 1990, 91) sees writing, printing and symbolically generalised communication media as generating the functional differentiation of society. (p. 11)

Language opened for the separating out of the psychic and social systems from the total biological control by enabling the structural coupling between them. (p. 17)

The structural coupling enabled the translation, or is the process of translation. (p. 17)