Thursday, 5 August 2010

Reality and Sensuality

I've been thinking about the obsession with constructivism after my trip to the cybernetics conference. There are issues with sensuality: laughter, tears, pain, sexual desire, etc. There seems to be some sort of 'order' to the reality of these things. Some seem more real than others. Pain, tears and laughter feel pretty real, biological - hardly a construct. Even to talk of them as being aspects of 'structural coupling' somehow takes away their potency in human experience: to abstract away these things risks losing sight of their causal impact on social organisation. What about other aspects of sensual experience? Sexual desire may be partly conditioned by cultural ideas of beauty (but it still feels pretty real to me!) Perhaps more 'constructed' are things like grief, happiness, courage, joy...  But then there seems to be a relationship that links sensual phenomena to each other...

I think it has to do with causality. Ernst von Glasersfeld remarked forcefully that 'causes are not real' at the conference. I can't be so certain. Hume's reason for doubting the reality of causes was to make sense of scientific practice in the 18th century. Aristotelian causality is a different matter altogether. I'm interested in Beer's statement that 'the purpose of a system is what it does': it seems to me to hark back to Aristotle rather than Hume: that purpose (final cause) relates to material, form and agency. The problem with thinking about sensuality is that all of these feelings are causally connected: sexual desire is connected to grief as well as joy; tears relate to laughter as much as pain. And the mechanisms behind it seem common to human experience. That suggests to me real causes. Moreover, ethics is tied into this as well. For the cause that turns sexual desire into pain and grief can be a selfish or cruel act. Reality is a tricky thing - but doing the right thing is where it really counts.

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