Saturday, 23 October 2010

Diachronic symmetry and the morphology of institutions

What is Diachronic symmetry? We might see it in the way we tell historical narratives about something... In biology it would be a way of telling the ontogenetic story of an organisism, or the phylogenetic story of  a species. In economics, it might be the emergence of relations of production. But diachronic symmetry is also something we feel. We feel it's time for change ("and now for something completely different!"), or we feel that something needs developing, or we feel that something simply has to be forced to happen. This symmetry of the flow of experience is genuinely diachronic. It's in the moment; not rational. Whereas narrative histories are constructs, emerging from the flow, they are in essence synchronic.

I'm thinking about Bergson's 'cone' of memory and the distinction between the lived present (temps réel) at point S, and the constructed past as sections of the cone. Diachronic proportion at point S, in the flow of lived experience however is causal in the construction of the cone and its sectioning through remembering processes. But Bergon's diagram does invite some speculation as to how the proportions and symmetries of lived experience might be shown.

What's particularly interesting with Bergson is that he situates rationality with the conic sections, and not with temps réel. He's probably right. Having said that, however, rationality may be all we've got - particularly for organising social forms which seek to maintain the viability of human life.

Bergson, like many thinkers of the period, takes an individualist standpoint when he thinks about memory and the forms of lived experience. Even if he was right, his structure of lived experience would lead to the emergence of social structures. Yet he doesn't go so far as to explore the sociological dimensions of his theory. If there is a form to diachronic experience (to temps réel) and its relationship to the synchronic aspects of perception (the cone of memory for example), how does this form relate to the synchronic structures of institutions? How does it relate to the diachronic processes of the emergence of social forms?

These are practical questions for me. Because pedagogy seems to me to be a diachronic concern, which has to take account of synchronic dimensions, but which inevitably involves making choices in the moment. Technology is fundamentally a synchronic concern (perhaps a bit like Bergon's view on mathematics), but which has to take account of the diachronic aspects of being human, but which may ultimately involve structural intervention. One is about flow, the other about form, but they rely on each other...

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