Thursday, 8 December 2011

Time, Ritual and Attachment

Susan Hiller has commented that the distinction between an object and an event is not a distinction about materiality, but about time: objects are events extended over time, she says. And so begins a conceptual mapping between  art objects, installations, happenings, etc.

My thinking about attachment to objects (for which I've just completed a paper for Cybernetics and Human Knowing which focuses largely on economics), is now extending to thinking about the biological mechanisms of attachments to events, rituals, seasons.... particularly acute at Christmas time.

In Louis Kauffman's work, the distinction between observer and object is tied up in Von Foerster's idea of Eigenform, and Kauffman has recently put time in there (at least this is my understanding) as a kind of operator. I think this conceptual formulation may be consistent with Hiller's thinking... but I don't necessarily find that it solves the attachment situation.

My rationale for attachment to objects is that proximity to the sensual perturbations of objects are maintained by the mechanisms of maintaining viability of the organism. This is shown in the diagram below:
Here the viability of the individual is dependent on the sensual perturbations of objects, and that in order to maintain viability the system has to take action to maintain proximity. In this way, I think that the model can explain Lorenz's baby geese. 

But what about time and events?

The key to understanding how that might work is to think of the role that anticipation might play in this process. I've been thinking that Kauffman and Von Foerster's work on Eigenform is not quite right (see Importantly, I wonder if the Eigenform is really an anticipatory system. As such, it belongs in System 4 of Beer's VSM (which is the part of the viable system which is looking towards the future). I have been trying to articulate (in a video for Kauffman) how an external reality might interfere with this idealised Eigenform, and in so doing 'create time'. Using musical experience as a metaphor (where time seems to move at different speeds at different moments) I've tried to express this as a continually shifting Eigenform
What's interesting here, with regard to attachment, is the extent to which the Eigenform/time relationship might be characterised as a 'form of life'. This in a sense is a higher-level eigenform, which encompasses (generates) the process of emergence of lower-level eigenforms. That means that the question of attachment to seasons, rituals and events may be a question of attachment to 'forms of life', or rather the question of attachment to the higher-level eigenform.

This may sound a bit half-baked. But I believe it has implications for the economic argument in my paper for Cybernetics and Human Knowing. Because in that paper, I make an argument for the compensation of one attachment for another (because we need this to be able to explain the exchange of goods). Now the idea of compensatory attachments might be extended to compensating goods for ritual and forms of life. With regard to education and religion, that is interesting, because it allows us to think what might be going on with St Francis of Assisi (and, incidentally, Stafford Beer!) and others who gave up possessions for spiritual enlightenment. 

There's much more to say on this, but a solid model for thinking is a useful start...

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