Form and Forms of Communication

Dirk Baecker English translation by Stan Jones and Anja Welle © 2008 German original version: Form und Formen der Kommunikation, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2005

Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany dirk.baecker@zeppelin-university.de http://www.zeppelin-university.de/kulturtheorie http://homepage.mac.com/baecker/

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Content: Preface ........................................................................................................................ 4 1. Introduction......................................................................................................... 10 1.1 Communication and Information ..................................................................... 10 1.2 Communication and Control............................................................................ 15 1.3 Communication and Action ............................................................................. 20 1.4 Communication and Perception ....................................................................... 27 2. A Model................................................................................................................ 32 2.1 Form................................................................................................................ 32 2.2 Play ................................................................................................................. 41 2.3 Space............................................................................................................... 45 3. In Society ............................................................................................................. 50 3.1 Expecting Expectations.................................................................................... 50 3.2 Number, Order, Calculus ................................................................................. 58 3.3 Forms of the Social.......................................................................................... 62 3.4 Self-description ............................................................................................... 82 4. Meaning ............................................................................................................... 88 4.1 Functions......................................................................................................... 88 4.2 Systems ........................................................................................................... 91 4.3 Persons ............................................................................................................ 97 4.4 Media I.......................................................................................................... 105 4.5 Media II......................................................................................................... 124 4.6 Networks ....................................................................................................... 135 4.7 Evolution....................................................................................................... 142 5. Design................................................................................................................. 152 5.1 Ecology ......................................................................................................... 152 5.2 Interfaces....................................................................................................... 158 5.3 Intervention ................................................................................................... 162

Index of forms..................................................................................................... 166 Bibliography ....................................................................................................... 170

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“a desire to play and a desire to win.” (Warren McCulloch)

Dirk Baecker, Form and Forms of Communication

Preface For a few years now, everybody has been talking about communication. Whether it is wars breaking out, declarations of love going unheard, politicians suffering losses of prestige, goods not capable of finding their place in the market, reform proposals running into the sand or young people not really warming to their career prospects, people are almost always inclined, as a first step, to diagnose mistakes in communication and, as a second, to start speculating about how we could have done it better. People have learned to acknowledge that communication can fail, yet they staunchly believe that people can always do something to make it succeed. The how-to literature is flourishing, the advisory business equally, and journalism programmes at the universities are transmogrifying themselves into communication studies, which do not scrimp when suggesting which are, and are not, the channels and the media suitable for what sort of message to which addressees. Communication, so runs the lesson from all that, is simply something that you do, and people can learn how it goes. Perhaps it does work a bit more subtly, because, with communication, a mutuality, a toing and froing - and with that an incommensurability - also come in play, and these are things that are all the more difficult to gauge, the more people are themselves stuck in the middle of them. Yet that goes for actions too, and, in principle, what is happening here, and when, can be here sorted out, and in this field it can be accordingly made clear which actions are correct and which incorrect. This present book maintains a certain distance from this pragmatic treatment of communication. I do not doubt that we can be more careful in our dealings with communication than is frequently the case. And I doubt even less that, in retrospect, we can often know pretty well what we did not get right, as well as, in some cases, what we did. In essence, however, I believe that communication is something different from an activity and that it does not, therefore, make much sense to ask about intentions, rules and norms, to attribute causes and effects and to work on making them correspond better. In actual fact, I have the impression that we can make more progress by setting up the concept of communication in a certain opposition to the concept of causality and by reserving it accordingly for describing circumstances where surprises are the rule. This does, however, not mean that everything in the area of communication is arbitrary. The opposite is the case. Nonetheless, whatever certainty we encounter here is not the result of cause and effect but – and this, at least, forms the thesis of this book - of introducing and installing degrees of freedom. Communication means dealing with more

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possibilities than we can manage and coming up against limitations from surprising directions. These limitations can only seldom be described through that scheme of good reasons and bad intentions, from which the European tradition of enlightenment arose. On the contrary, we run into the sort of dynamics inherent in society, which we cannot recognise on sight, but which, however, do reveal themselves to a perceptivity, which, like that of sociology, has learned to enquire into what determines social order. It is interesting that these inherent dynamics are inscrutable to participants in communication yet they do not hinder such participants from moving subtly and adeptly within prevailing circumstances. When communicating, we can do something we do not dictate consciously. In contrast to the more recent philosophy of neurophysiology, this book does not, however, opt for possibly making the brain or even, in the philosophies of other sciences, the genes responsible for something about which consciousness knows nothing. Rather, it opts to examine the conditions of our social existence more precisely to ascertain how a situation can persist in them, which merges order and disorder, determines in detail what we understand as freedom and necessity and supports us, sometimes perceptibly, sometimes imperceptibly, in every gesture and in every sentence with which we relate to others and to ourselves. It does not always happen so obviously as in Woody Allen’s film “Play it Again, Sam” (USA, 1972), in which the ghost of a sovereign Humphrey Bogart, only visible to Woody Allen, gives him tips on successfully seducing Diane Keaton. But in principle the film goes to the heart of the matter. If we want to know how communication functions, we have to learn to observe not only participants but, beyond them, a third element: how spaces for action are developed and delimited. Social theory has shown itself to be fascinated by the concept of communication since Claude E. Shannon’s mathematical theory of communication half a century ago shifted it into the centre of a sort of science which seeks new basic concepts to describe complex phenomena. Complex phenomena, so people had discovered, are ones which are neither simple enough to be described causally nor homogenous enough to be described statistically. They consist of multifarious relations between heterogenous elements, and with that they overwhelm their observers, who cannot then avoid assuming that these phenomena are capable of presenting and solving their problems themselves, even when they do not know how the phenomena do it. Self-organising was the keyword in those days, and communication was one of its most interesting cases. That was the reason why communication was, however, a concept above all capable of convincing people heuristically. Maybe it did not designate a new object, about which we

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did not know anything before, but rather a new problematic, about which it was still not clear to what object we could fruitfully apply it. Far-reaching hopes of a new fundamental science calling itself informatics and cybernetics, were just as typical of what then came along, as was the caution on the part of social theory over taking on a basic concept, and yet still did not knowing what its aim was. Neither Michael Serres nor Jürgen Habermas nor Niklas Luhmann wrote what we might expect as the theory of communication, when we look at how they stated the fundamentals of the concept of communication in their theories. Serres works instead on deconstructing the messenger, Habermas on a theory of action, which aspired to improve circumstances, and Luhmann stayed with a theory of systems, which advocated not letting a complex society spoil our fun when describing it. If, with all due respect for social theory’s reticence to date, this book does, all the same, present a sociological theory of communications, then the reason why rests with one more surprise. It is not the extraordinarily sceptical discussion in humanities and social sciences over Shannon’s mathematical theory of communication, but a subsequent mathematical idea that allows us to free Shannon’s original insight from its limitation to the field of technical transmission of signals and to use it for formulating a general theory of communication. This idea consists of looking at a differentiation with regard to its form, and of understanding by a form not just both sides of the differentiation, but also the space reaching it makes accessible. From the perspective of the mathematical idea of the differentiation’s form, as set out by George Spencer Brown, Shannon’s original insight does not aim at presenting a concept of communication as transmission, but at a concept of selectivity in information. On the part of the “sender” as much as, however divergently, on that of the “receiver”, information can be understood if it is viewed as selecting from a range of choice among possible messages. It is Spencer Brown’s concept of form that first allows us to emphasise unmistakably how, if we want to talk about information and then about communicating this information, that means reading a message in the context of reading its range of choice as well. Going on from reformulating Shannon’s concept of information via Spencer Brown’s concept of form, we only need then to correct Shannon’s assumption that the range of choice is defined – meaning it consists of a finite quantity of possible messages – in favour of assuming an indefinite but quantifiable range of choice. We can then extend the way the mathematical theory of communication applies to questions of technical

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communication in the interests of applying it to questions of social communication. This, no more and no less, is what the present book attempts to do. Therefore, I am reaching back once more to George Spencer Brown’s calculation of form, which has been fascinating me increasingly over the years since my reflections on the form of the firm (Baecker 1993). However, reaching back to this calculation is, as ever, not a matter of course. Although Spencer Brown’s book Laws of Form already appeared in London in 1969, scepticism and rejection, as ever, dominate scholars’ responses. Explicit references to his calculations are rare. The organisational researcher Philip G. Herbst had recourse to his calculations, in order to make his Alternatives to Hierarchy (Herbst 1976) at all conceivable. The mathematician Louis H. Kauffman is working on a theory of knots and other mathematical twists based on Spencer Brown’s idea of differentiation. For the neurobiologist Francisco J. Varela, the calculation of form was an important source of inspiration in his search for a model of autonomous biological forms. Niklas Luhmann turned the idea of the binary form – where it becomes possible to conceive how what is excluded can be included – into a cornerstone in the final version of his theory of society (Luhmann 1997). Mathias Varga von Kibéd is working with a circle of philosophers on a new way of describing philosophy and logic following the thread of Spencer Brown’s concept of differentiation. Yet these are exceptions, which are, furthermore, far removed from finding scholarly recognition for precisely that aspect of their work which deals with the calculation of form. It is difficult to say what justifies scepticism and rejection. Of course, the mathematics itself frightens people off, although we are here, in my opinion, talking about a high calibre “qualitative” mathematics, which does not make any particular demands on calculating skills, but does nevertheless work with all the advantages of simultaneously displaying in one equation the differentiation and the context of variables. By comparison, presenting complicated matters in language always, of course, depends on a sequential form, however much this is also then capable of working with all kinds of recursive references paratactically. Behind the refusals of Spencer Brown’s calculation of form are probably a range of reasons. I tend to look for them where I myself see the reasons for the calculation’s fascination, namely in its claim to account for the indeterminate-yet-determinable. Old European ways of thinking are more inclined either to account for the indeterminate-yet-determining and to attach theological (and more recently: media-theoretical) expectations to it, or else to base themselves exclusively on what can be positively determined and to consider that to be the explicatory duty of scholarship. By comparison, accounting for the indeterminate-yet-determinable brings an

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observer into the game, and people either cannot imagine or do not want to imagine an observer, because they would have to allot it a freedom to test conceptualisations and would not know how they can regain control of it. Accounting for the indeterminate-yetdeterminable, however, suits a sociological theory, which wants to be in a position of not having to posit order in social life but rather of being allowed to consider it a product constantly negotiated anew, contested, and defined as deriving from this order. A social order so acutely embodies demarcations, where what is outside the limits co-determines what happens inside of them, that we can almost assume that the calculation of form was invented to provide an appropriate concept of them. But thinking like that assumes being able to think while simultaneously keeping our flanks open. And that does not seem to be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, something else again is playing a role, and that something resonates in the present book rather more subliminally. If we observe how radically the great strivings after theory in informatics and cybernetics, in systems theory and semiotics, with predecessors a long way back into the 19th century, have differed for a good half century now from what people knew previously under the name of “theory”, and if we note that these strivings are contemporary with the appearance of computers, supported by the neurophysiology of the 19th century and by the appearance of moving pictures on the cusp of the 20th century, then the inclination to talk about a change of epochs may not be exactly obvious, but it is not so very remote either. The modern, print-based society is yielding to a modern, computer-based society, which needs theory no longer limited to an ability to formulate practically motivated problem positions. How society organises time and its own institutions is becoming at least as prominent as how it organises itself practically, without it being possible to reduce one thing to a case of the other. The concept of form is one situated in an abstraction possibly suited to answering the mutually intersecting problem positions, which are occupying society from the perspectives of ecological dangers (the practical horizon), cultural diversity (the social horizon), and an unknown future (the time horizon). As set out here, a social theory of communication claims to create at least a sensitivity to the way problems depend on each other. Whether that is enough to find, as well, a different sort of access to dealing with these problems is something we will have to see. The following introduction begins downright abruptly by trying to distil a sociological theory of communication out of Shannon’s mathematical one. If that is going too fast for anyone, then, provided they read German, they are referred to the book Kommunikation published in parallel to this one by the Reclam Verlag in Leipzig (Baecker 2005a). It

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covers the history of the concept more thoroughly than this book and, from an aesthetic perspective (Schlegel’s 1800 “How is a communication possible?”), looks into the question of why an eloquent person is, despite all the admiration, always a little suspect too.

Dirk Baecker, Form and Forms of Communication

1. Introduction 1.1 Communication and Information Since Claude E. Shannon published his mathematical theory of communication in 1948 (Shannon/Weaver 1963), what challenges the theory of communication and imposes the most on it lies in finding out what this mathematics consists of. Finding out that Shannon reaches back to mathematical processes customary in statistical mechanics since Josiah Willard Gibbs does not help much, if we cannot envisage what problem position Shannon placed at the centre of his theory. That we can see how Shannon established the bases of a theory still standard today for describing electrical networks does not enlighten us any more than the information that espionage technology would not be what it is today, if Shannon had not made his theory conducive to encoding and decoding so-called secrecy systems (Shannon 1949). Up to now, novels like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and Neal Stephenson’s Cryptomicon (1999) have succeeded better than most scholarship at discerning information and disinformation. As much as the theory of text still today shows itself fascinated with having a new basis now enabling it to go about its business of decoding messages incomprehensible at first sight (Bense 1969; Kittler 1990, 1993), the entire social sciences equally maintain a rather more sceptical distance (Hayles 1999: 50ff.). As before, people cannot imagine that a form of mathematics exists, which can cope with hermeneutic problem positions. This scepticism corresponded to Shannon’s own assessment of his theory. According to his way of thinking, it would only be suited to dealing with the technical, not the semantic aspects of communication (Shannon/Weaver 1963: 31). Phenomena relating to purpose and meaning, as he assumed certainly just as much as others did, lie deeper down than a mathematical function can imagine. Hermeneutic concerns, making a purpose comprehensible, aim at a discussion among rational beings and containing a possibly envisaged agreement (Gadamer 1989), about which neither mathematics nor technology have any idea (even if economics certainly has, see Becker 1976). If we also take into consideration that the theory of communication as signal, what Shannon’s mathematical theory in the last analysis claims to boil down to, is primarily suited to describing the transmission of signals between machines, then that also simply seems to rule out any understanding of phenomena typical of human communication. However, if we look a little more closely at the mathematics Shannon uses, we can doubt whether thus separating the aspects of technology and semantics or those of

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transmitting signals and understanding purposes is justified. In any case, the counter thesis did not just turn up today. It maintains that precisely observing communication as mechanism is appropriate for also describing human and, beyond that, social phenomena of communication (MacKay 1969). Since Shannon’s theory became current, what has irritated people is that, with its help, we have come across phenomena previously inaccessible to scholarship. That goes for phenomena of mutual perception, which are distributed over several entities – each complex and, therefore, inscrutable – like, for instance, communication in organisms, in consciousness, in social interaction and in societies (Ruesch/Bateson 1987). It also goes, however, for phenomena, which up to now have counted rather more as paranormal and in which, at best, magic and mysticism could legitimately be interested. These phenomena are namely qualified uncertainties, tunnel effects, none-localities and even so-called teleportation of states, albeit not of objects, all of which transgress the classical conditions for objectivity, causality and individuality, yet they have gained a certain scholarly reputation again thanks to quantum mechanics (Bohm 1951; Mittelstaedt 2002). How can we explain the mathematical theory of communication gaining an intuitively convincing access into problem positions not yet accounted for, given that this theory uses a certain type of mathematics at its core? And what sort of mathematics is that? Shannon’s decisive insight culminates in his concept of information, which means more exactly: in his ordering concept of information. Information is defined mathematically as the gauge of order. An order describes how elements correlate. These elements can be letters just as well as sentences, gestures, pictures or signs and signals of a different kind. The concept of information defines how the conclusion can be drawn from a piece of message (a newly appearing element) as to which order of elements we are dealing with. If the message defines a level of the first order, and the way it is ordered a level of the second order, then the concept of information as the gauge of order lies on a level of the third order. That is precisely where, so it seems to me, the problems in its reception lie. So let us have a closer look at what is understood as an order here. In the sense of statistical mechanics, an order is defined by the probability that we can conclude from the presence of certain elements the presence of other elements. The gadgets, the supplies and the cutlery in a kitchen are in a state of order, when we can conclude from the situation of a pan, a packet of sugar or a cup, where the other pans are, the other provisions and the other cutlery. The kitchen is in relative disorder, if I then, having

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finally found out where the forks are, have to search the whole kitchen again to find the spoons too. This problem is anything but trivial. The mathematical core of Shannon’s theory lies in working out and describing a probability calculation, which enables us to deal with information, while itself being simultaneously carried by that process, and from each single piece of message points to the state of the world, in which we respectively find ourselves, and then from the state of the world back again to the message we can expect. This concept’s achievement already lies, as Norbert Wiener has underlined in his cybernetic resolution of the theory of communications, in Gibbs’ basic notions of statistical mechanics, which consists in breaking a complex contingency down into an endless sequence of single contingencies and so making them workable (Wiener 1961: 46f.). Perhaps Woody Allen (1997: 15) understood best how we should understand that: “There is no question that there is an unseen world (a complex contingency, db). The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open? (…) And after death is it still possible to take showers (a sequence of single contingencies, db)?” The thrust of this concept of information lies in a twist, which turns common sense on its head. A piece of information is not measured by what we know as soon as we get some message, but by what we discover in addition, as soon as we get it. The information is not all used up in the piece of message itself and certainly not by us knowing, thanks to the message, what we should go by. That is because a piece of information does not apply to particular objects and circumstances, but to the ordering of these objects and circumstances in relation to other objects and circumstances. For this reason, it has become common parlance to say that we recognise a piece of information by its surprise – or, respectively, its aha-effect. When someone tells me about where to find the spoons in a kitchen, the information value of that does not lie in my finally knowing where the spoons are to be found, but in how far this information allows me to judge what other pieces of information I need on the way the objects in this kitchen are arranged. If it is really untidy, it does not surprise me to find the spoons just where they are. If it is not very untidy, I note with surprise and the concomitant aha-effect that the cutlery is clearly to be found in this drawer and something else in the others. This is difficult to understand not only for the reason that information is a third rank concept here, but also because the world, in which we move with the help of such an understanding of information, is a world of chance events, where only chance itself is not surprising. Everything else is surprising, because it allows contexts to be deduced. That common sense, in contrast, proceeds from connections and allows itself to be surprised

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by chance events is something that can be explained by the way we, when we form judgements and expectations in this sense, have already worked through innumerable pieces of information and have moved among the contexts we have already deduced from them. In actual fact, common sense also knows that it is the context that is improbable, otherwise it would not be so astonished by Karl Valentin’s astonishment in his piece “The Orchestra Rehearsal” that, at the very moment he was talking to Anderl about a cyclist, nothing less than a cyclist “by chance” went past – the twist here being that there is scarcely anything more difficult than producing a chance event in a world already existing as context (Spencer Brown 1957: 83-99). Mathematically, information is a measure of the unpredictability of the incidence of events, and that measure takes on values between 0 and 1, which become all the greater, the greater the order that can be respectively deduced from an event. Two concepts allow us to comprehend what more this concept of information brings to the understanding of communication: the concept of selection and the concept of redundancy. Selection means that a message only has any substance as information, when it is considered as a selection from a possible range of other messages. “The significant aspect,” of his theory, as Shannon says (Shannon/Weaver 1963: 31), is the semantic aspect of the information, but what he considered the technical aspect, “that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages.” The substance of the information does not lie in the message itself, but in the relationship of this message to other possible messages, which, for their part, possess a certain probability. That means, however, that the range of possible messages available for selection must be able to be read concurrently, if there is to be any information obtained. And redundancy is intended to mean that, for every piece of information, we are dealing with a relational concept, which points to the order established as fundamental or else declared to be the range of possible messages for selection. The greater the probability that, from one message, we can deduce other objects and states for selection in the range, the higher is the redundancy of the respective order. The counter concept to redundancy is that of entropy. An order displays all the more entropy, the more equal are its events and states in their probability. Without us having to involve ourselves with Shannon’s mathematical formulae, the above should make clear what makes up the core of his mathematical argument. It consists of a concept of information as order, informing us which messages (events, states and objects) are to be expected with what certainty or uncertainty, as soon as we are confronted with a particular message (event, state or object). Communication, as we

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may thus go on to formulate it, is a process, which, in as far as it has anything to do with managing information, permits us to find our way in a world, whose order does not need either assuming or bringing into question, but can be deduced within a sequence of finite contingencies. That this elucidates dealings with the semantic aspects of communication just as much as its dealings with technical aspects, should be obvious. Shannon had disputed this possibility because his concept of a signal theory of communication works with the premise of a determined selective range. He is concerned with also being able to read individual messages when they are transmitted through a disturbed channel, that is: are distorted by “noise”. To be able to read a distorted message, he relates its probability to the probability of all other messages, which, however, can only work statistically in a strict sense, if the quantity of possible messages is known. A simple example is the transmission of the message “A”. We can decipher this message as a distorted transmission of the letter “A”, as soon as we can assume that it concerns a letter of the Latin alphabet. If we discount this premise of a predetermined selective range, we lose the statistical but not the mathematical certainty of Shannon’s concept of information. Then we only need to persevere with this mathematics in order to work on a theory of communication, where the decisive insight consists, as before, in communication’s processing of information and relating of particular messages to a ponderable but uncertain selective range of possible other messages. This would then mean that communication works on determining something indeterminate, but determinable, in order to be able to understand something determinate. We will demonstrate, that this generalization of the mathematical theory of communication exceeds its technical application and comes about thanks to a further mathematical idea, which George Spencer Brown presented in his book from1969, Laws of Form, namely the idea of a binary form of differentiation (Spencer Brown 1972). This idea allows us to look more closely at what it means to observe something determinate in the context of something determinable. The differentiation Spencer Brown is talking about means selecting in the sense of Shannon’s mathematical point of departure. And the form this differentiation indicates as a binary form defines the redundancy, which all communication is working to increase, as Gregory Bateson’s apt words have it (Bateson 1972: 406f.). We shall see that working with this figure of the indeterminate but determinable is sufficient for dealing with all conceivable problematics in addressing sense and meaning, as long as we only take particular care to preface our dealings by

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making differentiations in the context of the binary form of these differentiations. And in the conversations that Gadamer has described, there is nothing different going on either. An advantage of shifting from Shannon’s mathematics of probability theory to Spencer Brown’s calculation of form consists besides in being able, in contrast to the categorical aspect of every selection, which determines its statistical applicability, to emphasise its operative aspect, to which it owes its genesis. Selections do not order the world’s events, objects and states, but create this world in the first place. We, therefore, need a possibility which enables us to ask in response who or what is undertaking the selection, in what states (selection of particular messages) they result and to what space of redundant possibilities (range of selection of possible messages) they can be related, in order to be processed. Every selection is, therefore, understood as a differentiation, which has to be completed on the spot and can be scrutinized for its binary form. On this basis we can then set down Shannon’s concept of communication as follows:

Later (section 2.1), we will introduce more extensively the characteristics of noting down the calculation of form. Let it here suffice to point to what defines a form, the context of operation (a selection taking place) and differentiation (interpreting of the selection in the context of positing a space of possibilities as a redundancy). And whoever is by now already missing variety, which is known as the counter concept to the notion of redundancy and sought in the tone of the well-known question “And how do new things get into the world?”, let them consider the fact that every selection can be understood as a variation, if enough good reason exists to interpret it in the context of redundancy other than the usual one.

1.2 Communication and Control The cybernetic concept of communication supplements the mathematical concept of communication with one further basic notion, namely the notion of recursivity. Communication, as the notion has it, only comes about, when it can fall back on itself. It can, therefore, only begin, as we can repeatedly confirm in train compartments, at parties

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or in seminars, when it has gained sufficient ground to assume that it has already begun. The reason for this construction in turn lies in the insight from statistical mathematics, to the effect that we can only deal with the world’s complex contingency by dividing it up into an endless sequence of individual contingencies. For, as Norbert Wiener has declared (Wiener 1961: 10), “if only one contingency is to be transmitted, then it may be sent most efficiently and with the least trouble by sending no message at all.” Norbert Wiener published his cybernetics in the same year as Claude E. Shannon’s signal-theory of communication. We know that for both of them John von Neumann’s games theory and his cybernetic theory played a big role. The games theory was developed together with Oskar Morgenstern as a further attempt to get a grip on social interdependency, and the cybernetic theory as a stringent attempt to describe mechanisms of reproduction, initially of artificial and then also of organic, psychic and social systems (machines, organism, brains, consciousness, society) (see historical accounts in Heims 1982, 1991; Edwards 1996). That needs stressing, because, between the three mathematicians Shannon, Wiener, and von Neumann, intuitions played a role other than those later to underpin the success of informatics, cybernetics and artificial intelligence. Among other things, Wiener and von Neumann knew all about the situation of central problems of their mathematical investigation of artificial and other systems being as yet unresolved, as in the question as to what type of statistical data could be appropriate for investigating the processing of information in an organism, a brain, in consciousness and in society, and in addition the question as to how, if non-linear oscillators play a crucial role in the reproduction of a system, we can couple several of these oscillators together, and not least the question as to what sort of basis makes it possible for systems to predict their own operation, if this prediction has to be both continual and non-linear (McCulloch 2004: 359). I do not want to claim that extending the mathematical theory of communication using that of form can answer all these questions. I do not even want to claim that the theory of form is motivated by these unsolved problems. However, what I do want to claim is that we must acquire a distance from the signal theory of information and from the transmission model of communication, in order to be able to see once again that these unsolved problems do exist and that, for the further development of the theory of communication, they continue to represent important intuitions derived from mathematical problematics. In the years since then, a large part of the development of the general and also of the sociological systems theory in particular can only be understood, in my opinion, if we bear in mind that informatics and cybernetics are incomplete

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sciences and not in some way a methodological toolkit, about which we know what it can and cannot do (Pias 2003; von Foerster 1995; Baecker 2007). What is Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics all about? It is about control, namely about the question how, within an endless sequence of individual contingencies, it is possible that every individual event arises as a reaching back to previous events and forward to future ones. Here, control is, as emphasised by W. Ross Ashby (1958: 97f., 1956), to be understood as a concurrent remembering, which does without an understanding of this world when faced with its complex contingency and orients itself instead according to expectations and continually corrects them in view of the actual events. Along with Wiener, we can talk about how communication is only possible, when the allocation of probability of possible events, states and objects is constantly constructed and corrected through watching events, states and objects actually emerging (Wiener 1961: 60ff. and 95ff.). The concept of feedback has been introduced in order to bring this process of correcting expectations into focus through watching it. We differentiate positive feedback, which amplifies deviation, from negative feedback, which reduces it (Maruyama 1963). The central issue is, however, is the recursivity in linking every individual contingency, as a contingency, with other, selected contingencies in the context of constructing allocations of probability or, respectively, redundancies. That is because this recursivity - we are coming back once again to a mathematical intuition – should be deemed responsible for the fact that, in the midst of contingencies adopted, processed and reproduced by every individual communication, there do nevertheless and in consequence emerge stable values, according to which we orient ourselves and which we can, in the last analysis, consider to be the world we have to deal with. That is the idea lying at the heart of Heinz von Foerster’s concept of cybernetics in general and of his epistemology of communication in particular (von Foerster 2003: 261ff., 247ff., and 1980). In this constant reaching forward and backward what perseveres is what can only persevere for that reason. Edmund Husserl had already wondered at that in the context of his theory of consciousness just as much as Jean François Lyotard in the context of his theory of language (Husserl 2001; Lyotard 1988), to say nothing of Jacques Lacan, who could conceive of a calculus of “places as empty” (Lacan 1991: 299f.) which depicts how language and consciousness (and the unconscious as “language”) create their own reality, where none exists in the first instance, yet it does arise from linking one contingency with another.

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We can establish two things as regards this cybernetic concern with the phenomenon of communication. One of them, as emphasised by Heinz von Foerster in particular, is the fact that a theory of communications is only to be taken seriously against the background of these mathematical ideas. That is: when it manages not to start out with communicable things, with what, therefore, matters above all then (signs, symbols, words, gestures, messages, communications of all sorts), but with the recursive process from which these communicable things, as so-called inherent values of a recursive function, derive in the first place. We do not come upon something, which then motivates communication. By contrast, we are already communicating and in and because of that find reasons allowing us to go on with it or to cease communicating. Initially, it is a question of describing how communication functions and then finding out why it contrives agreement and disagreement, consensus and dissent, which then encourage or discourage communication. (Where it is not necessarily the case, that a consensus is encouraging and dissent discouraging. And, of course, the opposite does not absolutely have to apply too.) The second thing is - and with it we come back to Shannon and Wiener as well as to Spencer Brown – that the concept of communication we are working on here can only be envisaged as founded on basal oscillations, which have, as soon as we envisage communication as system, to be additionally thought of as non-linear oscillations. What is meant by that is that every individual piece of information, which is generated and reproduced by communication, is information born of the oscillation, the toing and froing of an alternation between observing a single message and observing its range of possible messages for selection. Spencer Brown’s concept of form allows us to say that one observation (the message) is, for its part, perhaps not in a contingent but in a necessary relationship to other observations (of the range of selection), if it is to be a matter of interpreting the message as information. For that reason, and following Spencer Brown, we can offer the formula, that the selection of a message and the redundancy of the range of selection are the two variables of an equation in communication, where the two constants are the differentiation between message and range of selection and the differentiation and reintroduction of the range of selection. The oscillation is non-linear, because, in accord with the basic theorem of system theory, it has to be in a position to exchange the opposing poles in the oscillation, in order to be able to switch from reproduction to disruption and also to be able to gain elements of reproduction from the disruption. That is because the basic theorem of system theory runs: S ≠ S, if S = S (S,U).

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The system, S, is not identical with itself, if it is the function, S, of itself and of its environment, U (Baecker 2002: 83ff., 2001a). We will come back to the system function subsequently, in section 4.2. Of course, a third point should be attended to, which we have brought upon ourselves by talking about observations. Putting communication into the context of control means envisaging them fundamentally from the perspective of a monitoring observer, in the sense already described, who can be a participant in the communication but also an external observer. The more socially matters proceed – to formulate it here, somewhat confusingly, as gradual, in that matters can only proceed either socially or non-socially – the more participants in communication are simultaneously observers of communication as well. In social contexts - just what the concept of communication does emphasise - we can envisage these very contexts only on the condition that all participants are monitoring what they are dealing with and what they are involving themselves in. Heinz von Foerster, therefore, frames the recursive function of communication in a formal statement, which he proffers along with, as already said, its provision, which consists in replacing communicable things with the recursivity of communication. The pertinent background is a concept of communication understood as “the interpretation of the interaction of two organisms Ω1 and Ω2 by an observer” (von Foerster 2003: 256; see also Watzlawick/Beavin/Jackson 1967: 39f., asking for a “calculus” of communication). How have we to envisage this observer and their role? Certainly, this observer is in the first place to be understood as a mathematician, an information scientist, a cyberneticist, a theoretician of automata and a games theoretician and then, however, a biologist, a sociologist or an anthropologist as well, yet also, last but not least, everyone and everything, who or which are in a position to take part in communication. That is actually cybernetic’s key discovery, which then calls itself a cybernetics of the second order, when it emphasises this discovery: investigating communication and control in the sense already specified leads not only to describing ourselves as observers, who are overtaxed by the complexity of what we are trying to observe, but also to allotting its own capacity for observation to the object, assuming that it is complex and capable of reproduction. The second-order cybernetics developed by Heinz von Foerster is a cybernetics of systems no longer just observed but themselves observing (von Foerster 2003). There is, therefore, little sense in only thinking of humans under the heading “observer”, because we can surely envisage a fleeting interaction, a family, an organisation, a nation, a culture or a society as an observer, to say nothing of our consciousness, our brains and our organisms, which observe themselves and us, nothing of ghosts, angels and mice, which

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observe us, without us noticing it, and nothing of machines, particularly computers and robots, which we increasingly learn to include as possible observers in our social reckonings (Latour 2004). Observing is a highly distributed process, which, however, can always be allotted to something or someone, no matter how much we can also go astray in our allotment. Observing, as another notion from Heinz von Foerster can be understood, actually only presumes that two demons from the house of Maxwell never flag in their enigmatic work of increasing redundancy: a demon inherent to systems, which constantly sees to it that the states our communication takes on resemble the circumstances we already know, and an external demon, who sees to it that this world is as it is and remains as we construct it in the circumstances of our communication (von Foerster 2003: 1ff.; see Dotzler 1996; Pask 1996). We need a theory of communication, proceeding from the two concepts of information and control, above all because do not really want to be able to trust the work of these two demons any more, or at least to lend them a hand. So we start observing our own observations. We want to monitor what our surveillance manoeuvres have landed us with so far. At the centre of our communications theory there stands, therefore, a concept of communication, which understands communication as constructed by an observer, who is trying to get a line on itself and is not unconditionally identical with us.

1.3 Communication and Action A sociological theory of communications does not differentiate itself from a mathematical theory of communications by doing without mathematical formulae, but by possessing its own way of posing problems, which differs from the mathematical one depending on circumstances. How the mathematical theory of communication poses problems consists in ascertaining of technical signal transmission under noisy channel conditions; how the sociological theory of communications poses problems consists in questioning the way communications are possible between independent living beings. The mathematical theory of communications works on the possibility of calculating causality under conditions of incontrovertibly calculable interruptions of this causality; the sociological theory of communications works on the description of recursive orders of dependence between independent living beings, which are equipped with their own consciousness, their own memory and divergent observing perspectives. Both theories converge at a point located in the question of dealing with uncertainty, as developed into the question of how to deal recursively with an infinite sequence of single contingencies.
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In what follows, what is developed as the sociological theory of communication stays with this sociological way of posing problems, yet it deviates from other sociological theories of communication in as far as it follows this way of posing problems down the path of a sociological interpretation of the mathematical theory of communications. In this way, we take advantage of a quality in mathematical procedure, which rests with mathematics developing formulae based on its way of posing problems, which subsequently can be variously interpreted. And so we retain the central point about dealing with uncertainty (see also Leydesdorff 2001: 38ff., 1991, 2000; Rasch 1992), we are, however, speculating that this uncertainty in social circumstances is not processed on the level of statistical causalities, but on the level of setting, testing and correcting the conditions for communication to be carried further. We speak, therefore, of the necessity of constructing communication by communication and do not assume for it much more than the possibility of translating weak conditions of communication into strong restrictions, as one would say in quantum theory (Mittelstaedt 2000). And here we align ourselves with that tradition of sociological theories of communication, which does not anchor the possibility of communication either in the intentions of the individuals involved or in regulatory structures otherwise established, but which makes the recursivity of communication itself exclusively responsible for it and understands both intentions and rules as structures of this recursivity (Schützeichel 2004: 353f.). Our interpretation of the mathematical theory of communication works with two basic notions. The first notion consists in our allotting the fact of selecting a message within a recursive process of communication to an activity, which is, on its part, constructed by communication. And the second basic notion consists in our equipping the redundancy of communication with an index of uncertainty, which cannot be clearly resolved and points selectively to perceptions of the participating systems of consciousness and to communication itself. In the following section we deal with this second basic notion. Sociology has been dealing with the question of what we understand as an activity ever since it saw itself motivated perforce to differentiate itself from biologists’ and psychologists’ research into behaviour. We recognise an activity through a “subjective meaning” connected with it, as Max Weber (1978: 4) defined it. This meaning is, however, understood by the agent differently from the observer, as Alfred Schütz adds (1967: 7f.), so that sociology is concerned with a concept of difference, which forces us to think about social order as a unity of the divergency within variously professed meanings. Talcott Parsons develops his theory of activity from this notion, as he understands each individual activity as a system, where various functions (conformity,

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achieving goals, integration and maintaining latent patterns) have to be simultaneously fulfilled under the condition of solving environmental problems and this fulfilment of functions has to maintain itself in time, that is: in the form preserving the system (see, for “action frame of reference”, Parsons 1949: 731ff., 1951; Parsons and Shils 1967). Niklas Luhmann has pointed out that it would have to be interesting to observe this systems theory of action from the perspective of Spencer Brown’s calculation of form, because the two variables preservation in time and of the system/environment difference in Parson’s theory display links to Spencer Brown’s concepts of the repetition and oscillation of a differentiation (Luhmann 1980a: 14). Beyond this, it has, however, proved difficult to differentiate the concept of action from the concept of communication sharply enough. Actions display a “communicative nature”, as Edward Sapir formulates it (Sapir 1980), as they make a connection between individuals, which values them differentiating between each other. Actions are selected in such a way that they can maintain themselves communicatively in describing and confirming the role of the respective interlocutor, as George Herbert Mead writes to validate his theorem of communication “taking the role of the other” (Mead 1962: 73f.), in order to engage with the difficulty of not being able to decide whether this communication orientates itself according to the self of individuals or according to the self of the social meaning they lay claim to. He has to posit an ideal human society, in which this difficulty no longer carries any weight, because the two forms of the self – and this is what the ideal consists of – do not really diverge (Mead 1962: 327). We are taking a somewhat different option in what follows. We are picking up Niklas Luhmann’s notion, that actions are assignment points for attributions, which are undertaken by communication (Luhmann 1995a: chap. 4), and supplement this notion with Jürgen Habermas’s reflection that claims to recognition can attach themselves to this assignment of actions, and these claims help individuals to observe not only each other (including themselves) but also their communication (Habermas 1984). It is true that Luhmann does much rather emphasise how unlikely communication is, and Habermas tends to presume the capacity for reason (Luhmann 1981a, 2002a; Habermas 2003), but the understanding of both converges where they imagine the possibility of an action or else of the possibility at least of observing an action from the viewpoint they choose. That is the decisive point. Actions puncture and punctuate communication in such a way that communication gains indicators for where it stands and how it can progress (Watzlawick/Beavin/Jackson 1967: 54ff.; Wilden 1972: 111ff.). They are the product of attributing arbitrariness in the philosophical sense, that is, in the eminent sense of

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improbability, of artificiality and of the extraordinariness of a free will in the context of a communication, which always produces more entanglement than any freedom can produce benefit. But, it is for precisely that reason that we need actions, arbitrariness and even the idea of freedom. They are late products of communication observing itself, creating leeway and attributions, on condition of them being available for choice, where the uncertainty of communication cannot be processed in any other way. The self-understanding of a communication orientates itself according to actions in the double sense of setting and varying its own conditions for continuing. That is because each action has happened, precisely because it is defined after the event, when observed from the perspective of communication, and so it offers clues towards dissolving the definition through a new and a different action. And the self-understanding of the participating individuals orientates itself according to actions, because it can interpret each action as its own action, but does this with reference to other people’s actions. Both together provide communication with identities of that type, which is to be traced back to differences, namely the divergence of communicative perspectives and other people’s share of setting our own self. It is, therefore, decisive that actions are selections, which, as themselves, point to the space of redundancy, in which they are undertaken. From that a characteristic of social action results, which is common in every social practice, but which causes sociology considerable difficulties, if it does not follow the outlined tradition of the concept of action, from Weber via Schütz and Parsons up to Luhmann and Habermas, and engage in proposing the communicative proportion in the constitution and construction of action. This characteristic is the almost compulsory ambivalence of social action. Each action is the product of an assignment, an attribution, which has to carry with it the possibility of other assignments to the networking of action in the space of communicative possibilities and always has at least the possibility of attributing the selection of an action either to a person or to the situation, in which this person exists (Heider 1944, 1958). In the conceptual system formulated by Parsons, it can turn out at any time, that environmental aspects different from the ones stipulated have to be worked through and a future different from the one expected has to be proposed. For that reason, precisely the attribution to a point of intended meaning capable of just that, and destined for retention, has also to be, in the instant of the attribution, up to indicating a certain element of quantum-mechanical uncertainty, which is only resolved when the observers converge in their attribution of the intended meaning of the action. However, selectivity and with it

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the possibility of other attributions – that is why we have memory – both have to be able to be reinvested again in the process of attribution at any time. Harvey Sacks’s analysis of conversation has emphasised this point in an inimitable manner (Sacks 1992). As Sacks asks, on the basis of a mass of telling examples, how people can communicate in such a way, that “accounts”, attributions of an ostensible meaning, are consistently suggested and invited without, as long as the conversation remains open, the possibility of also correcting again each depiction of a possible intention and thus giving away the concomitantly claimed personal identity? Eric M. Leifer has advanced the thesis that we can well understand what is happening here, if we look at the behaviour of skilled chess players (Leifer 1991: 66). That is because we do not maybe recognise chess masters by them trying to calculate in advance as many of their opponents’ moves as possible, but, quite the contrary, by them trying to sustain a situation which is balanced and hence uncertain in its development, so that a chance remains to recognise and correct initial mistakes. It, therefore, concerns moves or, respectively, actions, which use their potential for being defined as an interpretation of the situation and its development not to reduce the uncertainty perhaps, but to cultivate it, if not to increase it as necessary. With reference to Leifer’s later works, we can talk about two “Leifer skills”, which describe how, on condition that communicative attributions are kept open, people can act in such a way that attributions can be proposed but do not have to be determined. These capacities consist in maintaining “target ambiguity” and “content ambiguity” (Leifer/Rajah 2000; Leifer 2002, referring, however, not to Sacks but to Thomas 1993). “Target ambiguity” consists in keeping open who is actually intended, and “content ambiguity” in keeping open what the question is. And both fulfil the purpose of setting out a social situation sufficiently precisely, in order to be able to decide which decisions about content are attractive in their self-definition and promising as regards contacting an interlocutor. It should nonetheless be admitted, that we are here engaging in the description of a communicative activity, which has been, at least since Plato’s Sophist (Plato 1993), liable to the suspicion of inauthentic and dishonest speech, aiming only at effects or, respectively, at correcting them. A more precise reading of the conversation between Theaitetos and a “stranger” shows, however, that sophistic speech is made responsible not only for the dubious art of persuasion, but also for the eminently philosophical art of establishing a context under the conditions governing the institution of useful differentiations. Sophistry is, then, not the marginal case for describing communication

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under the conditions of its capacity for attribution to actions, but the general case, by which the case of authentic and indubitably honest speech can be differentiated as a special one, only coming about under strong and hence improbable restrictions. What is more, the accusation of sophism only applies to communication because people observe that they can vary the conditions giving rise to the selecting of actions. What then calls itself rhetoric, that aims at underlining the insufficient grounds for taking action, so that the agent either refrains from action or, certainly encouraged by the speaker, sets up the sufficient grounds themselves (Blumenberg 1981: 124f.). The young man’s art of loving, the merchant’s art of selling or the teacher’s art of words are esteemed equally by Plato as arts, which seduce the lover, the buyer and the learner into committing themselves. In opposition to that are then ranged attempts by ontology to determine what really exists, and by orthodoxy, duly regarding proper grounds, not to let the dilemma of insufficient grounds arise in the first place. It is always the case that orthodoxy views insufficient grounds as problematical, as they allow the agent to discover they can set up the sufficient grounds themselves – or indeed have to. Since then the art of communication has revolved around the attempt to make committing to an action seem every time like the person doing the action committing their own self to it. And vice-versa, the art of action has revolved around the attempt to anticipate this allotting meaning to the self, in order to restrict what is still subsequently possible as communication (Kierkegaard 1997; Baudrillard 1990; Schelling 1960). However, it is always a question of a balancing act between grounds sufficient and insufficient, strong and weak, which sometimes suggest actions, other times delay them and thereby ensure that restriction favouring certain selections remains always visible as restrictions, with, on their outside edges, other conceivable possibilities. People have repeatedly tried to tame this suspicion vis-à-vis a sophistic and rhetorical attempt on communication in such a way, that they fundamentally differentiated suspect from actually not suspect motives for communication, for example, the art of love and the art of selling as suspect from the art of teachers, priests and medics as not suspect. In this sense, Habermas still differentiates between suspect “systems” and a “life world” which is not suspect (Habermas 1984). But this attempt could not be maintained, or only in the institutional form of the “to be silent instructions” (Schweigebefehle), as Carl Schmitt described them applying to modern European history, as the lawyers’ to be silent order on theologians after the denominational civil wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and the engineers’ to be silent order on the lawyers in the course of industrialisation’s success in the 19th century (Schmitt 1950: 69ff.). Institutions and the discourses belonging to them

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can neutralise suspicion, because they make palpable what reactivating it would cost. Communication on its own cannot do that, however. The very strongest reason, as soon as communication relies on it and repeats it in further discussion and recounting, becomes for it “mere talk” in Martin Heidegger’s sense, lacking in any “grounding” or any discrimination as well, which distinguishes the good reason, the one remaining in touch with the insufficient, from the strong reason (Heidegger 1967: §35; see also Calvino 1988: 31ff., on “vagueness”; Stygermeer 2005 on “means”). As regards the difference between communication and action, it should also be at least recalled that dramatizing this difference right up to differentiation, respectively taking one or the other sociological theory as point of departure, criminally obscures how a third factor plays a role both for communication and for action, namely experience (Luhmann 1995a: 84f., 113f.). It goes both for action and for communication that they cannot be organised without the possibility of attributing their respective selection to an agent experiencing a situation. What would an action be, precisely as the artefact of an attribution through communication, which is only described as the product of an aim, an intention, an impulse and not also as the result and the expression of experiencing a situation by the person who acts? What would communication be, were its selecting a message only to be understood as informing and not as also indicating the area of redundancy canvassed along with this message? They would be nothing more than chance events, where no other restriction on their origin would come into question than an agent’s will and the intention. Not even the sociological theory of agency, however, goes that far, although it does occasionally read just like that. Even the concept of “situation”, which plays a large role in this theory, cannot correct this impression, as it serves to define restrictions on the person acting (Esser 1991: 23ff.), but not for describing, with their own degrees of freedom, areas for the play of perception on a situation as experienced as a person takes action (Parsons/Shils 1951: 76ff. on “pattern variables”). The decisive point is, however, that we cannot sociologically explain either an action or a communication, if we do not take into account that, with every selection, what must also be encouraging and discouraging respectively is the sort of experiencing of social situations, be it required of an individual or be it conceded to them. Experience encompasses the possibility of happiness as much as that of suffering. And both are, and precisely in their unprecedented individuality, also moderated socially, because with happiness and with suffering the question is also always how communication can go on subsequently. For that reason, a sociological theory of communications would be

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incomplete, where it only recognizes being “active”, but not “passive” experience, as addresses for attributing communication and in addition is not likely to know that action can be wrapped up in a situation just as passively as experience always has to be undertaken actively as well.

1.4 Communication and Perception Possibly the greatest difficulty for the concept of communication, with which the sociological theory of communication presented here is working, consists in differentiating communication from perception. Since 18th century aesthetics and 19th century neuropsychology discovered that perception as the operation of an individual consciousness is not only individually constituted, but is, in addition, not accessible communicatively, the question, as already formulated by John Locke earlier and then spotlighted by Friedrich Schlegel, of how a message is possible at all, if the ideas it refers to are locked in people’s hearts and heads (Locke 1959, vol. 2: 8; Schlegel 1967). That is why humans invented language, but then had to realise that this is something that delivers external signs for internal states, without being able to ascertain, that the signs and the states have anything else beyond a loose connection. Whoever wants to know why language nevertheless functions has to stay with the articulation of words and sentences among themselves, according to Wilhelm von Humboldt (1999), or respectively with the differences that make differences, according to Friedrich de Saussure (1972). He then finds out that language does function not in despite of its loose connection with the things of the world, but because it establishes a difference vis-à-vis the things of the world (Wittgenstein 1953; Derrida 1990b; see Krämer 2001). For this reason, Friedrich Schlegel relies, in doubt, on incomprehensibility, in order to gain pointers as to a merely contingent, but hence dependable processing of the difference between communication and perception, from the question of how communicating ideas might be possible (Schlegel 1967, “On Incomprehensibility”). And confronting the problem of judgements of taste as only individually specified, Immanuel Kant goes on from Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten and invents the category of the beautiful, in order to be able to provide the individual with indexes as to which of their judgements of taste, and in what form, can claim “communality” (“sensus communis”) and which cannot (Kant 2000: B17ff.; Baumgarten 1983; see Graubner 1977). Neurophysiology has supplemented the difference between communication and consciousness with the difference between brain and consciousness since Johannes
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Müller formulated the principle of undifferentiated coding in the mid 19th century: the nerve cells of our brain do not code (that is: differentiate) the physical nature of what is stimulating them, but only how much they are stimulated. The brain does the rest itself. It constructs the noises, the colours, the touch sensations, the smells, the pleasure and the pain, which make an outside world perceptible for us, whilst we do not perceive the process of perception itself, that means the construction of perception in progress (von Foerster 2003: 211ff.). Friedrich Nietzsche must have known about this neurophysiology, when he describes the formulation of a thought as follows (Nietzsche 2006): “A nerve stimulus, first transposed into an image – first metaphor. The image, in turn, imitated by a sound – second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one.” He also drew the only appropriate conclusion, namely that no causal, but only an “aesthetic attitude” is possible between the various spheres: “For between two absolutely different spheres, as between subject and object, there is no causality, no correctness, and no expression; there is, at most, an aesthetic relation: I mean, a suggestive transference, a stammering translation into a completely foreign tongue – for which I there is required, in any case, a freely inventive intermediate sphere and mediating force.” Since then, every communication has been equipped with an index of uncertainty. No sentence, no gesture, no sign, no notification and no message can be unequivocally attributed either to a perception or to a communicative cause. A role is always played by both the report about something at hand, as Jürgen Ruesch and Gregory Bateson formulate this (Ruesch/Bateson 1987: 179f.), and the command, namely the imperative to listen, to experience accordingly and to act, to cooperate and above all: to take the speaker seriously. And we always have to be afraid all that only plays a role, because something else is to be reinforced, that perceptions are committed to make communication credible or at least to make it more difficult to object to it and that we rely on communication not least for the reason, that we do not trust our own perceptions. In actual fact, acknowledging this uncertainty is the crucial precondition for processing it and, in the alternation between criticism of perception and criticism of communication, transforming it into an admittedly transient but nonetheless useful certainty (Descartes 1989, starting from “doubt” to get to a “method”). However, the concept of communication has since been made to serve in denoting a “crisis” in people’s relationship to the world, which can only be counteracted if communication is understood, as far as possible, as an interaction between people who

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are there, and the meaning it conveys is bound as far as possible to the presence of a contact (Peters 1999: 245). But that is ideology, at best philosophy. In actual fact, the concept of communication exists by taking the aesthetic and neurophysiological challenge seriously and giving itself a foundation in cognitive theory (Baecker 2005a). Niklas Luhmann furnished this demand with the point that communication cannot perceive itself and is only possible in the environment where systems of consciousness are capable of perception (Luhmann 2002, 1990a: chap. 1). This comprehends that communication can, for its part, be perceived by the tones, gestures, pictures, texts it produces. Art does profit by this, but it does not change anything about the communicating of this perception of communication being, then again, only possible as communication, namely by excluding perception itself. This difference between perceptible communication and incommunicable perception makes the concept of communication, as we are using it here, intuitively so ponderous. People can only get accustomed, in the truest sense of the word, to this aspect of a sociological theory of communication by accepting it on trial and experimenting with it, that means making observations with it as basis and so gradually gaining a feeling for where it makes sense and where it possibly does not. For that we have had good reasons, not only just theoretically but also empirically, since all attempts to anchor human communication anthropologically in the first place, then psychologically and recently even biologically and neurophysiologically in apparently more graspable areas of reality and to derive it from them, have turned out inadequate. These attempts mostly do not have an eye for the diversity of social forms maybe derivable and they overlook as well how much the comprehensibility of scientific descriptions owes, on its part, to discursive and hence communicative effects, which, through bias towards the “objectivity” of entities, are not accounted for in what people do. Yet, whilst some strive for a reduction of communicative behaviour to anthropological constants, psychological motifs, biological restriction or neurophysiological mechanisms (Roth 2003: 553ff.; more cautious: Singer 2002), others discover that totem and taboos, pictures of sinners and saints, romantic novels, movies, television pictures have long since burrowed into our conscious and unconscious minds so deeply, that any psychology and neurophysiology do anyway run up against the communication they actually wanted to circumvent, if not directly in themselves, then nevertheless in their object (Freud 1996; Benjamin 1969: 217ff.; Merleau-Ponty 1964; Girard 1965; Virilio 1991; Luhmann 1997: 306ff., 2000a).

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In actual fact, the only thing becoming critical here, if we once disregard the authoritative declarations of individual sciences, is the concept of reality. What is still real, if everything that has an effect points to biological and neurophysiological, psychological and sociological facts in equal measure? This question’s urgency has impelled constructivism’s cognitive theory to determine on referring back every single reality to an observer, who has to answer for “inventing” it (Watzlawick 1977). With this, we go back beyond the idealistic problem of knowledge, which has determined from rationality’s responsibility for itself not on “invention” but on “critique.” That is because the question actually is how the observer, who also does not know which constructions of their reality they can now attribute to consciousness or to communication, works out an understanding of reality, for which they believe they have good reason not simply to consider it as their invention (Wildavsky 1994; Luhmann 2002b; Latour 2003). Reality is now no longer something we can assume is a world experienced through evidence, being as it is, whilst we haul ourselves neurophysiologically, psychically and communicatively hand over hand from contingency to contingency, but it is only something that, now distinctly, now somewhat indistinctly, still reveals itself through opposition against our thinking and our actions within this thinking and these actions as a restriction on this thinking and these actions. That I do not feel what I think, or do not mean what I say, should, as a pointer to the reality in which I move, cause me to reflect. That does not make me, in a constructivist manner, the inventor of my reality and certainly not its discoverer in a classical sense. But it makes me the critic of myself, at least where I can tolerate this. And I have no other points of access. In addition, we can also regard the attempt to employ the body where consciousness is no longer enough to guarantee reality, as a failure. The body also only serves to signal an opposition, for instance, when I use my consciousness, to look down at myself and discover where I presumably do actually begin and where I actually come to an end (Merleau-Ponty 1963, with respect to the difficulty of localizing a “nervous substance”). Through my body, I can study what consciousness and communication do to me and can try to differentiate one thing from the other. But that does not make my body any more real than my consciousness and is even no more real than communication. Here we come up to a point where the sociology of communication must recognize its boundaries. For that reason, we have taken care to mention and elaborate on the problem of perception already in the introduction to this book. In actual fact, we should start from here to outline a science of cognition, in which biology and neuropsychology , psychology and sociology participate equally. Heinz von Foerster has already been able

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to envisage this science of cognition in the Biological Computer Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and Francisco J. Varela has written one of its first programmatic statements (von Foerster 1995; Varela 1990), but that is where things have remained so far. However, that will presumably change. For that reason as well, we have placed so much emphasis on mathematical intuitions in this introduction. They are most likely to be appropriate for putting topics to the individual sciences, without taking their respective problematics away from them. That is because one topic on its own is not enough. Since Max Weber’s times, it has been known that sciences can only then be successful when they have also found their own problematics to match the topics (Weber 1949). Perhaps this is not the case for cognitive science yet. For the sociological theory of communication here set out, we are anyway relying largely on sociology and its problematic, which consists in the question as to how social order is possible in the difference between definiteness and the lack of it in human behaviour (Simmel 1950). The knowledge about the differentiations within human consciousness and about the differentiations within the neuropsychology of brain and body is something we are incorporating. However, we are refraining from any attempt to ascertain a human reality in advance, in order to gauge what it apparently is, by way of communication, that livens up the world besides. Instead, we are going with Warren McCulloch, who has so refined his own biology, neurophysiology and philosophy that it suffices, when describing human behaviour, including possible ethical claims on this behaviour, to assume that a human being is also a Turing Machine, in which, of course, only two feedback mechanisms are determined: “a desire to play and a desire to win” (McCulloch 1989: 200).

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2. A Model 2.1 Form The interest in a concept of form for the social is not new. Karl Marx shared it as much a Georg Simmel did. For both, “form” was still, on the one hand, externality, something merely accidental in relation to the substance and content of a thing, which means whatever can be differentiated from the material that comprises what is actually substantial, what really ought to be investigated, hence what is essential. On the other hand, however, “form” is what enables an analytical access to an issue and, in fact, an access, which now aims at relations, at links to something other, and, then again, is suited to investigating how the elements of a phenomenon we are interested in are influenced, marked and formed by the particular relation in which they are standing, indeed are, in the last analysis, scarcely anything else than the relation in which they are standing. Both seem to resist the insight into the merely relational character of the objects interesting them, but cannot avoid attributing to these relations their own substance, their own reality, their own essence. The analysis of the value form of goods, their “character as fetish”, in Marx’s Das Kapital brings this precisely into focus. Here, the “simple” value form is not much more than the apparent form of a good, which does not amount to its exchange value, but contrasts this with its value, its exchange value. In the “unpacked” value form, however, the good is a “citizen of this world”, because its value is not only determined from its relation the value of another good, but from its relation to the entire world of goods. And: “At the same time, the interminable series of value equations implies, that as regards the value of a commodity, it is a matter of indifference under what particular form, or kind, of use value it appears” (Marx 1990: chap. 1, section 3, B.1; see Backhaus 1997: 41ff.). In an almost identical conceptualisation, Georg Simmel differentiates in the first chapter of his Sociology under the title of the problem of sociology between the content and material of socialisation existing in individuals’ “desire, interest, purpose, inclination, mental state and movement”, that is, “the immediate concrete site of all historical reality”, on one side, and the “forms of togetherness and for-one-anotheress (…), which are subsumed under the title of the general notion of interaction (Wechselwirkung)”, on the other side (Simmel 1950, my transl.). And the point of this differentiation consisted for him too in being able to vary the content of socialisation and its forms independently

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of each other, which means being able to see that the same contents, for example, economic interests, could appear in various forms, but the same forms, for example, “superiority and inferiority, competition, imitation, division of labour, partisanship, representation, simultaneity of joining together inwards and separation outwards”, could also afford space for various contents (ibid.). This concept of form, aiming at structural characteristics of social relations, has undeniably fascinated sociology (for instance Parsons 1993: 50ff.), yet has not led so far to any efforts towards a particular type of form theory. Any such form theory would have to rid itself of the reverberations set off by differentiating form from content, at least to the extent that both sides in differentiating might appear again on both sides of differentiating, which means form might count as contents, and content might be investigated as to its form. Dealing with differentiations in this way, which is the precondition for not confusing differentiations with categorically apportioning the things of the world, but taking them seriously as operative categories, seems, nonetheless, to be not untypical for sociology (Abbott 2001: 10ff.). With Spencer Brown, we speak of reintroducing a differentiation into the space of its differentiation. Accordingly, it would be exactly not to the side of form that a form theory of this sociological type would adhere and subsequently would have only fingertip contact with everything material and substantial (Gumbrecht 1996: 580), yet it would understand the operation of differentiation itself as substantial, as constructing a reality, and, to this end, would have to assume at least that the differentiation becomes an event (Gumbrecht 1996: 587). Otherwise, it could not draw attention to itself. For us, the essential step on the way to a possible form theory of the social lies in what formalism offers and can be tested for. We speak of a formalism in mathematics when it is a question of investigating structures, which are understood as relations between elements, where the latter can, for their part, be relations (as the relations are elements of the structures). As regards dealing with forms, the unease shared by Marx and Simmel about only having to do, as and when, with the artificial, outward, accidental sides of a phenomenon, surfaces here in the shape of the problem of abstraction: how much abstraction is needed for us to be able to recognise structures without losing sight of the fact that relations not only connect concrete elements, but have concrete meanings for themselves? Structures, as Alfred Korzybski says (1958: 247ff.), are the only thing, about which mathematics claims to know anything. Yet the only time this knowledge does not lead into the madness of imagining the world’s order excessively simply is when it remains aware of its abstraction: a formalism, as the conclusion from this thinking goes,

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is only helpful, if it puts the few variables on which it concentrates into the context of keeping the endless number of reality’s variables in mind (Korzybsi 1958: 276). However, in sociological research as well, formalisms under this premise have the advantage of replacing with verifiable hypotheses all too facile and, in the end, always correct post-hoc-interpretations of what interests sociology (Tilly 2004). What is more interesting than the question as to whether sociology, in the light of its scientific interests, ought to engage in formulating formalisms, or, in the light of social reality always only partially covered by this interest, may not even begin to play with this thought, is, therefore, the question as to what sort of formalisms it experiments with. That is because there are indeed various formalisms, including the sort in which it is a matter of proximity, simultaneity, connection or similarity (Tilly 2004: 595). Our formalism of communication links up with Shannon’s suggested theory of communication as selection and redundancy, but introduces an additional element allowing the premises of a determined area of selection, that Shannon’s theory presents as exogenous, to be made endogenous, in order to account for the circumstances that communication, in engaging with everything surrounding it as stimulus and interference, creates its own conditionality itself. In Ruesch and Bateson’s theory of communication, this element bears the name of metacommunication (Ruesch/Bateson 1987: 203ff.): communication is then possible, as is assumed, when it refers to itself and anchors itself in the combination of ascertaining and uncertainty contained in every self-reference. This idea renders the conditionalities of communication endogenous at the price of positing a differentiation of levels, which Bateson (1979: 114ff.), here as elsewhere, does indeed consider unproblematical in connection with the so-called theory of types from Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead (1997), but which we believe we have had to, and been able to, dismantle since Spencer Brown’s form calculation has created the possibilities for integrating self-reference. These do indeed always come with the possibility of paradoxes developing, yet simultaneously make unfolding such paradoxes feasible via the introduction (installing) of differentiations (Luhmann 1999; Löfgren 1979; Kauffman 1987). We, therefore, suggest a formalism, which makes both elements of Shannon’s formalism explicit and hence into the object of communication’s operation and form. Communication then comes about when Spencer Brown’s “indications” are established in the context of his “distinctions”. With that, what we formulate comes very close to the basic concepts of Spencer Brown’s calculation,

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“We take as given the idea of distinction and the idea of indication, and that we cannot make the indication without drawing a distinction. We take, therefore, the form of distinction for the form”; Spencer Brown 1972: 1), and we have to deal with a very general concept of communication. Yet we will see that this distinctiveness is effective enough, because, with that, communication is differentiated from everything that is not in a position to look at and process a definition with a view to the differentiation which accompanies it (Luhmann 1990b). We denote the appropriate form as follows (Spencer Brown 1972: 65):

With this form, we can recognise the self-referential indication of communication to communicating a indication in the context of a differentiation. The re-entry bracket also maintains this self-referential indication and is to be read here and in what follows as pointing to the endless re-application of differentiation in the context of differentiation. Instead of a “indication”, we could also talk about a “message” or a “selection”. Here our formalism does not differ from Shannon’s theory of communication. With Shannon, communication results, as with us, in something being defined, which could not be without this communication. The essential difference from Shannon’s theory lies in our introducing the concept of “differentiation” and thereby indicating a further active and, to that extent, endogenous element of communication, which consists in an event, an object or a state being denoted by a message coming about only as a selection from a range of possible messages and being one indicated by the indication itself presupposing a differentiation. Unfortunately it cannot be formulated any easier, although what is at issue declares that communication sets up and claims some sort of differentiation, a tension, a contrast, a delimitation, a repetition or postponement, a delay or restoration, a counterpart or counterblast (Deleuze 1994; Derrida 1982; Lyotard 1988), which determine the room for possibilities, where the indication intended is then one possibility among others. In the context of differentiation, indication alone is the information, with which communication then works. Both, indication as much as differentiation, are, however, treated as a variable in the general theory of communication we are formulating here. That includes how other differentiations suggest other indications and how one

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indication becomes another in the context of another indication. The latter is particularly evident in the case of the “antonym substitution”, of swapping a counter-concept: it makes a difference whether people differentiate humans from animals (first counterconcept) and consider humans rational, differentiate them from the gods (second counterconcept) and recognise their mortality or differentiate them from machines (third counterconcept) and look for their vitality. It should be pointed out, that here the concept of differentiation does indeed mark the exterior of the form of differentiation, yet has in itself, on the one hand, its own exterior (the unmarked state to the right of the re-entry bracket) and, on the other, leaves open how anything is differentiated here. We need both characteristics of the concept in the context of our formalism, because we could not otherwise describe what concerns us, namely, the process of defining the undefined. The differentiation we are talking about here is capable of defining because it investigates, tests, feels out, structures and, amidst all that, always lets imprecision in on the act. Only in this way does it set the framework for a differentiation, which can then say and mean, what it means and says. To this extent, this formalism also introduces again into the area of differentiation what Paul Watzlawick, Janet H. Beavin and Don D. Jackson made prominent as the differentiation between analog and digital aspects of communication, of which we believe that they can essentially be differentiated more exactly for communication than for processes in an organism or in the brain (Watzlawick/Beavin/Jackson 1967: 60 ff.; see also von Neumann 1958: 22ff., for mixing analog and digital procedure). That may be the case, but if so, then here as well only in the framework of an “analog” context of what is “digitally” differentiated. Our formalism is comprehensive, if we are clear about how it is to be read. We suggest interpreting the equation we have just set out as a form describing communication as introducing and stipulating of degrees of freedom. In setting both indications and differentiations communication is free yet constrained in the way the one relates to the other. Both do, however, belong together, so that we will repeatedly note when observing concrete forms of communication how freedoms can only be risked in the context of constraints, but, on the other hand, every constraint can only come about and be regarded as a constraint on spaces for action. The concept of the degree of freedom hails from physics and technology and allows a system, a machine or another context to be described independently of the system-context and simultaneously from the viewpoint of determining variables, for which certain spaces for action are laid down. A degree of freedom simultaneously determines both: a free

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variable and its determining space for action (Bellmer 1962). The variables of our concept of communication are indication and differentiation. We talk about degrees of freedom for that reason that, in the area of their own conditionality, both cannot be determined independently from each other or independently of the form of communication they determine. In the ways it denotes and differentiates, communication has the space for action it can and must use to settle for itself what are its own possibilities. This context of being differentiated we can also set down as form in an equation:

Here we are also concerned with a differentiation and with the context it creates, that means: with two perspectives on the same form. We will come to see that doubling the perspectives enables us, for the respective form, to talk about a constant differentiation between two variables, which are dependent on each other but can be varied independently of each other. And in addition, we must point out that there is a certain space for action in deciding which of the two variables we set down on the interior and which on the exterior of the form. We are concerned, as the re-entry bracket makes clear, with a form re-entering the space of differentiation; and a form of this kind, according to Spencer-Brown (1972: 58), deprives us of the complete knowledge “of where we are in the form”. Re-entering forms confront us with the paradox of a differentiation, which, as the context of something differentiated and depending of the perspective of observation, is also removed, scarcely is it made. That is exactly what we want to exploit, however, for our theory of the form and forms of communication. To make setting down of the form calculation easier in the following, we will keep largely to the rule of setting down the operation on the interior and the context of the operation on the exterior of the form, in general terms:

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That does not, however, alter anything about the fact that the context of the operation is indebted to an observer; they have to be invoked or otherwise actualised in order to enable it to count for anything. Niklas Luhmann described the formalism (he speaks of a “mechanism”) in differentiating-and-denoting as a case of applying a “very much more general mechanism” (Luhmann 1990: 81), which he specified by the concept of overflow production-and-selection and termed it a variant of the context of destabilisation-andinhibition described by Alfred Gierer (1985: 140f.). We can argue about which is here the more and which the less general formulation. Luhmann considers his formulation more general, because it is motivated by complexity theory and hence makes a certain claim to be the last word on how the world hangs together. I would consider Spencer Brown’s formulation more general, because it does not even presume the world has a state, its complexity, but only enquires into the type of operation, which is suitable for creating a world. If we accept this as the more general formulation for our theory of communication, we do, in fact, restrict this claim not a little. We talk about operations in the medium of sense and leave open the question of how operations are constituted, which happen in another medium and are then perhaps physical, chemical or organic. We do not consider it unthinkable that Physics, Chemistry and Biology can work sensibly with a concept of communication, which aims at procedures for defining what is undefined. But we cannot decide this and, therefore, posit here a differentiation awaiting further exploration. In addition, other social theories also work with a formalism, which works with the introduction and stipulation of degrees of freedom. Harrison C. White’s network theory is, for example, an impressive case of work with a structurally similar formalism, which points equally to the complementarity of space for action (“identity) and limitation (“control”) combined and strives for a “calculus of trade-offs in uncertainty” (White 1992: 17-19, 1995a, 1995b). Elsewhere as well, in philosophy, for example, we can rediscover the notion underlying our formalism. When Kant speaks of reason – and its critique, Hegel of thesis – and its antithesis, Heidegger of a clearing (Lichtung) – and its event, Sartre and Lévinas of the other – and its gaze, Gadamer of prejudices – and their resolution, and Derrida of postponement – and its postscript, the same idea of the combination of opening up and restricting lies at the bottom of them. When composers compose, painters paint, writers write, directors direct and researchers research, when teachers teach and schoolchildren learn, doctors treat and patients submit to treatment, judges sentence and accused accept

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the verdict, priests pray and believers believe, politicians decide and voters re-elect them, something similar happens each time: a space is opened up and subsequently restricted, in the course of which the restriction remains convincing exactly as long as the space, in which it takes place, remains visible. The formalism, with the help of which we want to define the phenomenon of communication and identify the problematic of this phenomenon, presumes an interpretation of all the termini or of the elements, as the case may be, of the equation formulated above. The equation

postulates a structural context consisting of the following elements: a) “communication”, what is to be determined and what determines itself through the term to the right of the equals sign; b) “=”, the equals sign, the indication that this formalism is only a setting out, a determination (of communication) in the context of a differentiation (of determination and differentiation) and, to that extent, points back to the theory that justifies it and stands and falls in as far as it is maintained; c) “determination”, selecting a message; d) “differentiation” , constructing an area of selection produced by selecting a message as conditionality for the possibility of selection; e) “ ”, marking the differentiation of the determination makes introducing the

degree of freedom of the selection of a determination explicit, without which the determination could also be interpreted as given exogenously, for example, as motivated by the thing determined; f) “ ”, marking the differentiation and the reintroduction of the differentiation of determination into the space of differentiation makes the self–stipulation of the possibilities given by the determination explicit, as these possibilities can only be realised in the framework of a determination; and finally g) “ ”, the unmarked state to the right of the re-entry bracket, which draws attention to the fact that constructing a differentiation for the purpose of contextualising the selection of a determination allows, for its part, the exterior of a form to be included,

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which can be observed concurrently, in order to reflect the selectivity of this construction as well. This formalism fulfils both our conditions named above. It abstracts, yet includes a consciousness of its abstraction, as marking both determination and differentiation can be observed as setting boundaries, which recombine what they shut out into the resultant form. And it formulates a structural context, which impels framing determinations, differentiations, as well as introducing and stipulating degrees of freedom, if we are going to talk about communication. This is the reason why we reach back here for Spencer Brown’s concept of form. Beyond any other, this concept is in a position to observe a differentiation as a context of what has been differentiated without, for instance, tracing the production of this context back to an already given cosmos, to fate or to nature, but to the contingent operation, the praxis of an observer, who establishes this difference but could also establish another. Getting used to this concept takes time. That is because scarcely anything else contradicts our European thinking, interested as it is in categorical clarity, more than the invitation to extrapolate from the differentiation straight to the difference and the form this claims, that is to the context of what has been differentiated. The concept of form describes an indefinite definiteness, into which definitions, both differentiated and capable of differentiation from the observer’s perspective, can inscribe themselves. That is exactly what makes it a concept of relations, which can be understood alternatively to the concept of causality – as this combines what is defined with what is certain – and which is, just so, suitable as a canvas for the work on a concept of communication, which is what interests us here. Our formalism goes beyond the dialectical use of the concept of form by Marx and Simmel, harking back to contradictions or alternations respectively, because the structure attributed to a phenomenon is more precisely described. However, it takes up both authors’ intuition on a concept of form, which consists in that concept aiming to enable identifying connections between elements themselves possessing, on the one hand, the status of elements and, on the other, being so interpreted that these elements could not possibly be what they are without their relations. In consequence, our formalism obviates differentiating between element and relation, as it underpins older systems theories, and replaces it with an operative calculation, a formalism capable of reckonings. Just as much as relations, elements are then understood as operations, which initially have to take place, so that subsequently an observer has any chance of differentiating them qua element and relation. In differentiating between element and relation, this culminates in

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also having to look for an excluded third factor (Bahm 1969), where in our case communication, deployed into our formalism’s termini, conceals itself.

2.2 Play In one essential aspect, the formalism of our theory of communication touches on an intuition from the mathematical theory of play as formulated by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern. Here, games have been introduced as solutions to the balancing problem of individuals maximising rational strategies of behaviour. Games were understood as those “standards of behaviour” or respectively “established orders of society”, which then strike a balance, when it excludes individuals’ behaviours depending on each other, so that each individual one controls the variables it wants to maximise in the way its behaviour functions (von Neumann/Morgenstern 1972: 40ff., and see 11ff. and 31ff.). The theory of games gives the methodological individualism of economic theory the interesting twist of linking individuals’ maximising calculations to pursuing strategies, which are not thinkable without the knowledge of socially maintained standards of behaviour and social arrangements. That is because these standards and arrangements come into play where every single individual has to realise that it does not live in a Robinson-Crusoe-economy, but that crucial variables of their own behavioural function are controlled by other individuals. As soon as Robinson Crusoe is not dealing with the wilderness any more, but it is Cru who has to do with Soe, according to the focus John G. Gurley and Edward S. Shaw bring to the problem (Gurley/Shaw 1960: 141f.), it becomes uncertain, which behaviour leads to which results. Hence, it becomes necessary, not only practically and empirically, but also on the level of a theoretical justification of ways to ensure a balance, that additional variables are introduced, which absorb the uncertainty, because they manifestly cannot be influenced either by Cru or Soe. A methodological collectivism joins the methodological individualism, if “collectivism” is here allowed to mean that variables are examined, which result from the interdependence of individual behaviour, that is, from the fact of the social. The concept of strategy incorporates this problematic, because, with an eye on the interdependence of individual behaviour, it permits deriving advantages from self-definition, that is, from stipulating introduced degrees of freedom. Schelling (1960) formulated this precisely for a theory of strategic behaviour in politics (Schelling 1960; see also the ambiguous notion of “strategy” in von Neumann/Morgenstern 1972: 79). Economic theory finds it difficult to call on the factor
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of interdependence not only for the results of strategic behaviour but also for the problematic of strategy, as above all Robert Axelrod documents with his investigations of possible solutions to the prisoner’s dilemma (Axelrod 1984). However, another intuition from von Neumann and Morgenstern is more important for us. From the description of the interdependence of individuals’ behaviour, they use complexity theory explicitly to derive an access to their problematic, which excludes depending on differential equations from mathematical physics for describing this behaviour; instead what would suggest itself is working with combinatorics and set theory (von Neumann/Morgenstern 1972: 45). Through mathematical research developing familiarity with non-linear equations and particularly with recursive functions, it might have since become more optimistic as regards solving complex problematics, that is, ones not susceptible to framing with either causal or statistical descriptions (Weaver 1948; Morin 1974; Waldrop 1992). At this point, we can leave this to one side. For us, it is interesting that the quantity theory advanced by von Neumann and Morgenstern is attractive because it permits the development of behavioural functions, which work systematically with limited information, with lack of knowledge, and from this it demonstrates how the social orientation of behaviour is anchored in the strategies of individual behaviour. If we know that we do not know something decisive, we cannot avoid observing other people’s behaviour to see what it can, under the circumstances, say about what we do not know. How von Neumann and Morgenstern introduce the notion of not knowing is itself worth considering, because it possibly allows building a bridge from the Marxist analysis of commodity form to Luhmann’s version of constructivism. That is because the decisive concept for von Neumann and Morgenstern is a version of quantity theory, which they call theory of partitions, a theory of dividing or separating quantities containing information and excluding each other. That reminds us of the dialectic of opposites or also of the contradiction between exchange value and use value on which rests the analysis of commodity form by Marx, who uses these opposites or contradictions in terms of form theory for investigating precisely the mutual restriction of opposites into a single form of commodity. And that is reminiscent of Niklas Luhmann’s suggestion, going on from the epistemology of constructivism to formulate a definition of reality, which does not equate this in a pre-Kantian manner with fiction and invention, but has it deriving, after Kant, from a process of criticism and of critical correction, namely from opposing internal operations with internal operations (Luhmann 1995b: 96, 168f.). Reality is no longer something recognisable as an external world by dint of its opposition to

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knowledge, but reality is only something recognisable by dint of contradictory knowledge, that is: strictly internally. It is the same notion, but without wanting to understand it dialectically or through cognitive theory, that von Neumann and Morgenstern also formulate. A partition is a differentiation separating quantities containing contrasting information: “a partition is a system of pairwise mutually exclusive bodies of information –concerning an unknown element of Ω [of a certain quantity, db] – none of which is absurd [that means an empty quantity ∅, db] in itself. In other words: a partition is a preliminary announcement which states how much information will be given later concerning an - otherwise unknown – element of Ω; ie. to what extent the range of possibilities for this element will be narrowed later. But the actual information is not given by the partition (…)” (von Neumann/Morgenstern 1972: 67). In other words, partitions, divisions between quantities of contrasting information, put a contrast in the place of a (still) unknown piece of information. Partitions can expand our horizons yet further. Mathematically, they represent a fundamentally additive understanding of a process of decomposition (Andrews 1976: 1). That means, they allow observing of a differentiation and of cascades of further differentiations with regard to the gain in aspects they are combining (Kauffman 1995). A differentiation, recognisable by its two-sided form consisting of marked state and unmarked state, also finds a definition where what is indefinite is always to be borne in mind as a correlate of the definition. To this extent, the Spencer-Brown differentiation is the general case to the specific von Neumann and Morgenstern case of partition: that is because, where partition already reckons straightaway with later information resulting from the course of the game, differentiation produces in the first place the unknown and indefinite factors that, presumably, then make it actually worth our while playing, and, in any case, force us to play too. The mathematical games theory relies on the sequentiality of the moves, in which the outcome’s uncertainty is wound down move for move; by contrast, a theory of communication relies on the generative moment of the game itself, which arises from the differentiation and produces the uncertainty that makes it worthwhile playing (Leifer 1991). We adopt the concept of the game and build it into our model of communication. What we mean by communication is to undertake moves, which lie respectively in an individual’s interest, are related strategically to the necessity of considering the perspectives and interests of other individuals and have this happen in a context, which is in its nature heuristic, in the sense that it reckons with being able to find out, but not with

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having to know already, the necessary information for defining individual behaviour through constructing contrasts in particular and differentiations in general. The future being unknown, other participants’ perspectives - partially transparent anyway - surprises from the practical situation, and not least uncertainties produced in the course of communication, these are the materials from which the possibility of communicating must be - indeed cannot be otherwise - constantly acquired anew, move by move and on the basis of differentiations. The concept of games formulates the same context as the concept of introducing and stipulating degrees of freedom, yet underlines additionally, that such a stipulation may not be confused with completely determining the situation of communication. The game would be over, if, in each of its moves, the degrees of freedom already introduced were not confirmed anew or new degrees of freedom not found in each of its moves. And all the same, and only in this way, does the game’s remedy for retaining balance persist and, in this sense, the continuity of communication. We are retaining this idea of the game, as we introduce a further differentiation, which goes beyond the conceptual framework of mathematical games theory, yet is arguably compatible with its original insight: the differentiation between observations of the first order and observations of the second order. Observations of the first order are the making of differentiations for designating practical circumstances, be it objects, persons with their names, or also time-horizons, including the proposition that the past is known, the future unknown and the present is just that. And observations of the second order mean observing differentiations with regard to them having a two-sided form, that is, including what they exclude. Observations of the second order, therefore, mean simultaneously observing observers, as differentiations only exist in as far as they are manufactured, as Gregory Bateson, above all, has emphasised (Bateson 1972: 451ff.). This is an insight, which does, not least, lead also to removing humanity’s privileged position, albeit something questioned by gods, angels and spirits, of observing the world and of talking about observations everywhere that differences are established, be it in and by organisms, in and by machines, or in and by social systems. Our formalism amounts to thinking about communication as integrating observations of the first and of the second order. Observations of the first order exploit the degrees of freedom in making designations, which observations of the second order introduce out of differentiations. The concept of games then allows formulating the thesis that communication can gain stability, that is, a robustness under changing circumstances and a reproducibility over the course of time, but not as some sort of interaction among

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observers of the first order, and only as a game of observation of the second order. That is because observations of the second order are the ones reckoning with the interdependence of observers and drawing their conclusions from the observers’ differentiations in the context of what accompanies these differentiations as things not known. With the help of this gesture towards differentiating between observations of the first and second orders, it is possible to think of the mathematical games concept paired with a constructivist games concept, as Gregory Bateson has advanced it (Bateson 1972: 177ff., 1956; see Miller 1973; Baecker 1999). In this game concept, it is a matter of describing the metacommunication accompanying all communication with regard to all boundaries accepted by the respective communication so that they are constantly being more or less casually tested, and this is something which is not otherwise possible with borders, as it happens from both sides. It is constantly coming to small or also greater transgressions and progressions, which are performed and sanctioned in the framework of the accompanying correction of mistakes and only allow in this form an initial determination of the situation and the framework of the situation in a dependable way for everyone involved. According to this concept, games make the framework of a situation accessible in the situation. Using Spencer Brown’s conceptualisation, we can say that they make accessible the differentiation designating a situation, with its two sides, hence with what designates it and with what it includes as things excluded, in the situation for the situation. This notion, in any case, accords with the games concept of von Neumann and Morgenstern in as far as this re-introduction of the situation’s framework through testing the two sides of the framework is the conditionality for making visible that “pattern of information”, which von Neumann and Morgenstern aim for with their concept of partition, as do we with our concept of the form of differentiation. Those levels in stipulating degrees of freedom as games are what our model is aiming at. However, they are this only because in them observers of a second order come to consult each other over observations of the first order, agreeing just as much as dissenting (Hahn 1989), which can then count as the object and material of communication.

2.3 Space In his book Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft Niklas Luhmann formulates the conditions a model of communication has to satisfy. On the one hand, the concept of communication would have to be formulated as a concept of form, in order to enable observing that every communication moves within a
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strange clutter of knowing and not knowing and includes, as things unsaid but reflected besides, what it excludes. Otherwise, we would not be able to consider that “communication finds its trigger typically in ignorance” (Luhmann 1997: 40, my transl.) hence in what we ourselves or others still do not know, in what we would like to find out but not thematize, in what we would like to dispel as a trepidation by speaking about something else, in what is meant to be subsequently possible by making the issue initially something else, and so on. And on the other hand, were we to think of constructing a model at all (constructing a model would always amount to deeming the object of the model to be stable anyway) we would have to so construct a model, that the object, here communication, can be demonstrated in its complexity and fluidity, “and that means above all: in its richness in possibilities which remain ignored” (Luhmann 1997: 74, Fn. 95, my transl.). Our model measures itself against both claims. In its centre stands a formalism, setting the conditions for the intended discussion of the form of communication. And its basis is a concept of form, which aims for the dynamic of including the excluded. We will attempt to furnish the proof for this statement in what follows by not only talking about the form (in the singular), but also about the forms (in the plural) of communication. We unfold, translate, risk our formalism in a plethora of various forms of communication, in which the structure of communication identified in our model, a designation in the context of a differentiation, remains constant, whilst both the designation and the differentiation fixing it in context vary in the way they are set. With that, we claim that our formalism of communication also functions as an algorithm (von Foerster 1971), which means, as an unequivocal, definite process for schematically solving more than the one problem: What is communication?, but rather a whole class of problems: How does communication function in the context of interaction, organisation, protest movement and society? What role do the signifying functions system, person, medium, network, evolution play? And how can communication be shaped? Spencer Brown’s concept of form fosters the fulfilment of these claims on two levels. In the first place, his understanding of the arithmetic and algebra in his calculation of form is decisive for what follows. The arithmetic, expressed with the aid of the brackets, which are understood as indexes of the differentiations made, concerns itself with the constants of a form; the algebra expressed with the aid of letters or terms repectively, which are written into the states the differentiations mark, concerns itself with the

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variables of a form (Spencer Brown 1973, 2nd session). We, therefore, interpret every appearance of a form,

as a pointer to realising a communication, in order to look subsequently, with an eye to the way the form’s variables are assigned, at what specific form, one of those “forms taken out of the form” (Spencer Brown 1972: 3ss), we have to deal with in any given case. As already said, we hence run the risk of interpreting Spencer Brown’s general mathematical calculation of form too specifically as a formalism of communication, yet we counter this risk by justifying our method with the thesis that Spencer Brown’s calculation of form is one of the many configurations, where communication’s matter and the problematic has been discovered in the 20th century, without necessarily describing it as one too. Other configurations, where communication’s matter and problematic have been discovered, are cybernetics, systems theory and constructivism, here explicitly, as well as semiotics, structuralism and deconstruction, here more exactly implicit. We are only signalling this thesis here, without being able to justify it otherwise than through rehearsing it exemplarily in the context of this book. In any case, what is decisive is that this relationship of constants and variables on the level of arithmetic and algebra of form is the conditionality for an operative, dynamic and complex understanding of the model of communication, because, on the basis of this understanding, we can extrapolate the unity of the model into the diversity of the phenomena it can comprehend. Here, how, for their part, unity and diversity relate is, as is fitting in the context of a complexity theory, predetermined, something people have in recent years got used to formulating as a relationship of self-similarity (Mandelbrot 1982, 1983). Sociology already interprets this relationship of self-similarity through form theory in the best sense, as it derives it from self-application, that is: from recursion, iteration and the re-entry of differentiations, even if it does not, to that end, have recourse to Spencer Brown’s mathematics (Abbott 2001: 10ff., 157ff.; S. Fuchs 2001: 251ff.). The second level, on which Spencer Brown’s concept of form accords with our claims for our model is his understanding of the “space” of differentiation. What we understand by this space matches more recent philosophical tradition and matches encounters with
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modern physics in not being the externally given, absolute space, but a space arising first and foremost from concrete operations of differentiation (Heidegger’s Ent-fernung, Derrida’s inscription) (Minkowski 1984; Einstein 1956: 3f.; Heidegger 1967: §§23, 24, 70; Derrida 1997; see Baecker 2005b). A space arises, when a differentiation is made. In any case, and this is a major reason why it is prudent to formulate the concept of differentiation as a form concept, this space does not perhaps arise as the delimited space of the differentiation, but as this delimitation itself and the conditionality for it. A space is always already a space in other spaces, although orientating oneself in these spaces is only possible out of one space at a time. That is what governs, on the one hand, thinking of every differentiation as a boundary and being able to observe it with regard to both its sides, yet at the same time never being able, on the other, to overlook how we can only undertake this observation, if we (a consciousness, a communication, an organism) make a differentiation for our part, that is, fixing a space and occupying it. Observing diverse perspectives is only possible from one single perspective. In our model of communication, we speak, therefore, of a formalism determining the space of communicative possibilities, as it repeatedly delimits it anew, extends and restricts it and in this way has it expanding and contracting according to the extent of the differentiations used. Under the rubric of forms (in the plural) of communication, we will study a plethora of possibilities for introducing and stipulating degrees of freedom. Yet, that requires always bearing mind how this introduction and stipulation of degrees of freedom is itself a process of communication. This finds expression in the two terms, transmission and subversion, as Spencer Brown conceptualises the calculation of form. “Transmission” is intended to mean that, in a manner only calculation can describe, every variable of a form relates to every other variable to varying degrees openly and covertly (Spencer Brown 1972: 59). This is exactly what differentiation as description of a context is actually meant to highlight. And “subversion” is meant to mean that forms of a differentiation reentering the space of differentiation are conceivable, and they result in partially destroying the constants’ characteristics as differentiations (ibid.: 62). This subversion happens from the outside in, which means it merges communication’s excluded possibilities into its delimited states and thus endangers differentiation itself, if we do not consider the context of both sides of differentiation as a product of differentiating. It is possible that Spencer Brown’s calculation is, in actual fact, the calculation of communication we have been waiting for since Karl Marx’s theory of capitalism, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s structural anthropology, in

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order to get a line on a complex of “communicating tubes”, which conflate separation and relation, causing constant confusion (Breton 1990). That would mean, among other things, that in this present book we have only derived the very first steps from what the calculation envisages as possibilities for doing assessment. To be precise, we are not even calculating yet, but are only looking at what are the constants and variables we would have to reckon with, as soon as we are more familiar with the formalism here presented and its accompanying conceptualisation as a model.

Dirk Baecker, Form and Forms of Communication