Friday, 30 December 2011

Making time and form

Henri Focillon's 'Vie des Formes' is an important study of artistic form written in the 1930s - but fascinated as I am by it, I've had a number of unsuccessful attempts to read it deeply and understand it. Now however it is making more sense to me after I have spent a lot of time thinking about Von Foerster's idea of Eigenform and the relationship between the recursions of thought and the experiences of being: particularly the experiences of matter, space and time. What Focillon says accords very much with Von Foerster's ideas.

Focillon's main thesis is the dynamic interplay between form and experience. He says:

"For form is surrounded by a certain aura: although it is our most strict definition of space, it also suggests to us the existence of other forms. It prolongs and diffuses itself throughout our dreams and fancies: we regard it, as it were, as a kind of fissure through which crowds of images aspiring to birth may be introduced into some indefinite realm - a realm which is neither that of physical extent nor that of pure thought."
This is very much the theme of Von Foerster's Eigenform idea, and reminds me of Louis Kauffman's recent talk at the Von Foerster congress in Vienna this year, where he talked about "what is an object that a person might know it, and a person that she might know an object?". Kauffman's talk centred on the binding relationship between Eigenform, materiality and experience, but most interesting of all was his weaving of time into the equation.

For Focillon too, time is important. Although unlike Kauffman, it is not so much the time of experience which interests him directly (although he does see this as part of the process of form), but rather the historical time of creation: the emergence of epochs and styles in history. But Focillon is not on the side of those who see art as purely political or historical...

"We have no right confuse the state of the life of forms with the state of social life. The time that gives support to a work of art does not give definition either to its principle or to its specific form"
 Form, time and experience are entwined...

Focillon treats the fundamental dimensions of art in separate chapters: Form in the realm of space, form in the realm of matter, in the realm of the mind and in the realm of time. Focillon makes a distinction between the moment of a work of art and the 'moment of taste'. With regard to the relation between these two moments, Focillon says that sometimes they coincide, at others their relationship is sluggish and intractable.
"One is tempted to conclude that, in the former case, a work of art suddenly and with great power promiulgates a necessary actuality that had long been seeking with feeble, rudimentary movements to define itself, and that, in the latter case, a work of art eventually overtakes its own actuality and forestalls the moment of taste. But in both cases, a work of art is, at the very instant of its birth, a phenomenon of rupture" (p155)

This is what I have been wondering about as I examined some of the art works in Cologne's city museum the other day from the 1920s. There was a distinct experience of rupture which (I think) coincided with a moment of taste.

But I want to be clearer about this. I think Focillon has a message which is consonant not only with the cybernetics of Eigenforms, but the cybernetics of human viability and the cybernetics of attachment. Maybe next year I will try and put all this together!!!

Friday, 23 December 2011

What can we reasonably say about music? (a response to Dmitri Tymoczko)

I've always thought there is something very unreasonable about music. It consumes experience but defies reasoned understanding. My intellectual life began by trying (in vain) to seek reasoned understanding. Many many others have gone before me, and recently my attention was drawn to Dmitri Tymoczko's book "The geometry of music" by a rather unflattering review in the Musical Times by Arnold Whittall.

I think what bothered Whittall was the shear confidence with which the theory is presented. And the confidence is evident from this conference presentation:

Tymoczko has 5 basic principles of "what makes music sound good". They are:
1. melodies should move by short distances
2. simultaneous sounds should have consistent harmonic configurations over time
3. simultaneous sounding notes should be consonant
4. notes over time should fall within a statistically limited number of notes (5-7.. not 12)
5. there should be an uneven distribution of probability of emphasis across a range of notes - some should be stronger than others (i.e. tonal centres)

Much as I agree with Whittall, for me there is a more interesting question than whether Tymoczko is right or not (which he clearly isn't!). Because if you ask the wrong questions then being right or wrong with regard to your question is irrelevant. But what are the 'right' questions about music? Are there sensible things to say?

That's the question I want to address here. When I think about sensible questions, I think about the sensible people who talk about music. Whittall is one of them, but then so is Schoenberg (Tymoczko hasn't got much time for him!), so is d'Indy, so is Schenker (in small doses) and so were many of my favourite composers in the 20th century including Tippett (although I gained most through the eminently sensible interpretations of his music by Ian Kemp), Messaien (how would his music stack up with Tymoczko?), Norgard, Birtwistle, Boulez, Cage, etc, etc...

When looked at in its totality, music asks one question: "What's it all about?". My questions about music are questions about myself. Music does extraordinary things to me. Those extraordinary things are fundamental to my whole being. Moreover, the things that music does are closely related to the things that other elemental experiences have on me, most notably sex and religion. There are, as Wittgenstein would say, strong 'family resemblances' between the types of experience. What you might sensibly say about music is related to what you might sensibly say about sex, or what you might sensibly say about religion. And there we are left with little else sensible to say other than to quote Blaise Pascal:
"Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point"
Is Pascal is saying something about the left and right brain here? Maybe (McGilchrist would approve!). Tymoczko is definitely in the left-brain camp. For some reason, art seems to escape him (he's a composer, though.. but personally I find the same deficiencies in his music as in his thinking).

Pascal presents a challenge to cyberneticians like me. Cybernetics too can be very much in the left brain game. But I believe it doesn't have to be there. The recent emphasis on art and performance at the American Society for Cybernetics conferences in 2010 and 2011 have been very refreshing (if not a bit challenging sometimes). To me, cybernetics (done well) is the best way of reasoning with (not about) the unreasonable, because it seeks to identify and specify the reasonable rather than trying to reason about the unreasonable. In this way, cybernetics is about the negative space of experience. It tries to create spaces where the unreasonableness of the world can do its thing, whilst ensuring that our reasonableness sticks to what it knows and prevents it from entering domains where it can do more harm than good. To quote Wittgenstein once again:
"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
To me, this means that the sensible things to say about music are not 'about' music. They are the things which we can know. Some of those things are musical: scores, biographies of composers, journalism, performances. There are other things which can be sensibly spoken about which are not musical: anthropological issues for example. But then there's the fascinating class of things which we can talk about which are 'self-organising systems' - the stuff of cybernetics. I think that digging into these is the best way of mapping the ground from where the great mystery of music unfolds.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Meritocracy, Family and Education

In "The rise of meritocracy", Young explains how 'the cult of the child' took over from social class as being the most significant driving force behind educational and professional success. The triumph of the socialist movement gradually led parents to go to increasing lengths to get the best for their children: ballet classes, music lessons, reading groups...
"The cult of the child became the drug of the people; inspired by hope, vitalized by ambition, the whole nation began to advance as never before from the moment that the Labour Party came to a standstill" (The rise of meritocracy, pp111-112)
Not surprisingly, Young explains, this led to some distortion of the meritocratic organisation of society, where it was those who had access to the best opportunities - who increasingly tended to be the children of the rising working classes who did best, at the expense of those whose IQ scores were kept low through the lack of access to educational opportunity.
"the children of top trade unionists and Labour Ministers, and of other outstanding working men, were not becoming manual workers themselves. They were in attendance at grammar schools and universities, training for commerce and the professions, very large numbers of them even going to public schools."
The unions too had to adjust: becoming more technical (so the mineworkers becomes the  mine technicians, textile workers becomes the  textile technicians). Some unions dealt with workers (for example, the Association of Science Workers) with higher IQs, and they became highly influential in the TUC: the aquisition of IQ has been the chief determiner of social success, and the high-IQ unions sought to defend 'unfair' means of acquiring IQ (so they exposed the 'IQ crammers' for example).

In this way, education drives the society of "the rise to meritocracy". IQ becomes the mark of social standing and the gateway to professional success. But this means that the lower classes are also the least intelligent. Young muses on the "likely events of May 2034" which
"will be at best an 1848, on the English model at that. There will be stir enough. The universities may shake. There will be other disturbances later on as long as the populists survive. But on this occasion anything more serious than a few days' strike and a week's disturbance, which it will be well within the capacity of the police (with their new weapons) to quell, I do not for one moment envisage" (p151)
His reason is that
"without intelligence in their heads, the lower classes are never more menacing than a rabble, even if they are sometimes sullen, sometimes mercurial, not yet completely predictable. If the hopes of some earlier dissidents had been realized and the brilliant children from the lower classes remained there, to teach, to inspire and to organize the masses, then I should have had a different story to tell. The few who now propose such a radical step are a hundred years too late. This is the prediction I expect to verify when I stand next May listening to the speeches from the great rostrum at Peterloo" 
Young was somewhat perturbed when New Labour seemed to take the idea of meritocracy seriously. Maybe it was there before them, but there are many parallels between this spoof history and what we now see unfolding in front of us. Most telling is the increasing power of education, and the organisation of society around educational success. One only has to read 'degree certificates' for 'IQ', and the menacing threat of the Higher Education Achievement Record and other such REAL initiatives start to appear in a sombre light.

The delicious note that the publisher puts at the end of Young's book tells us that
"since the author of this essay was himself killed at Peterloo, the publishers regret they were not able to submit to him the proofs of his manuscript, for the corrections he might have wished to make before publication [...] The failings of sociology are as illuminating as its successes."

Be warned!

Friday, 16 December 2011

The road to Fookinel (with apologies to Michael Young)

Worktown's northern metropolitan district of Fookinel is characterised by a high degree of family breakdown, poor housing, low social aspirations, high unemployment and anti-social behaviour. It's not where you or I would choose to live. But it sits at the very heart of the challenges that face our society. Hopelessness and fear coupled with envy, greed and pride all jostle for prime position in a pathological combination. The result? social unrest, ill health, low achievement, early death and a huge cost to everyone else.

The first problem is that neither you nor I would want to go anywhere near Fookinel. Less so would we want our children to go anywhere near it. They're on their own. The road to Fookinel is empty. And road out of it is poorly maintained and virtually impassable. Fookinel is so notorious that it has become a part of speech.

Not that there haven't been a number of well-meaning interventions - particularly in the domain of education. Fookinel Academy is the latest of these, exhorting its' depressed students to the highest possible academic standards. Various radical initiatives are tried out: personalised learning, huge classes, free curricula, etc. Technologically, they tried giving the kids iPads, but quickly found it necessary to police their use to such an extent that the extra work involved in overseeing the use of the technology outweighed the benefits. What has been successful is the 'zero tolerance' behavioural policy. The children of Fookinel find it difficult to put a foot right, and quickly find the weight of the school authorities bearing down on them. This does seem to have had some positive results: GCSE results are up this year. The champions of the zero tolerance initiative will sloganise their success as "these kids need structure!", or "strict discipline shows that we care!". All meet with approval from managers and well-meaning people who don't live in Fookinel. For the kids of Fookinel, it's just one more set of obstacles they have to jump over. The kids have adapted to dodging obstacles.

But outside the school gates, the kids remain in the domain of the street and the home. There all hell breaks loose with the regularity of clockwork. Dad left when mum was still pregnant with Jonny. There have been a string of male visitors to the house, many of whom have been abusive. Mum doesn't work, but between benefits and with irregular (and rather strange) financial injections, she manages to keep going. Drugs are a necessity to cope. The house is often (and increasingly) cold. They live on canned food and occasionally ready-meals. To mum, every other person in the house, if they don't make some financial contribution, is an extra problem. That includes Jonny. The TV is always blaring out.

Home, to Jonny, is not where the heart is. Jonny hasn't thought about his heart for a long time. It is a long time since he cried. Home is a place of torment where he tries to go to sleep. Although as he gets older, he'd rather find other places to sleep. Already, the lure of financial independence afforded by illegal activities is strong. His friends already deal drugs. There is little doubt that he will go down this route himself too.

Everyone's attachments are to the things they see on TV. All attachments are to fantasy objects, the most popular being talent contests. Each person dreams of winning: their identity is interpreted in terms of their relation to the fantasy. Music (and to some extent, computer games) play a hugely important role in this. In both of these, there is a sensual compensation for the damaged emotional fabric of their selves. But it is only a palliative measure, and indeed, its palliative effect has a whole economy around it. In this way, continual expensive consumption of the celebrity fantasy often takes priority over the meeting of more basic physical needs. This sort of sensual compensation for broken self-regulatory mechanisms is the order of the day. Inner-world storylines are fractured fantasy clips from TV. Outer world communications reflect this with the anxiety of having to defend identities which ultimately are indefensible. Quickly conversations turn aggressive. Offence is taken almost as a matter of course. Little intervention can calm this down, such are the rifts within personality which lie at the heart of the problems.

Conviviality is completely absent in Fookinel. It wasn't always like this: the old people of Fookinel who remember the community as it was, remember deeper human values and stronger self-respect. Religion brought some degree of this conviviality. But fundamentally, it was the factory that did it. Now, whilst attachment is to fantasy objects and consumer society, and identity is seen not in relation to one another but in relation to unattainable dreams, there seems little that can be done.... But the issue almost certainly is to deal with conviviality.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Attachment, Detachment and Divorce

Tolstoy's detailing of the relationship between Levin and Kitty in Anna Karenina is one of the most fascinatingly vivid accounts of the progress of love. The obsessions of the tabloid press are testament to the fact that how people fall in love and the processes of attachment are in many ways less interesting than the questions of how people fall out of love... effectively a process of 'detachment'. The divorce courts are full of it! Couples, who for whatever reason, once found a deep sense of personal communicative inter-penetration (to use Luhmann's powerful phrase), and shared a sense of joy and excitement in being together, gradually either 'grow apart' or (in the case of Kitty and Levin) may grow together in new ways.

Levin and Kitty's relationship develops in a way where it doesn't fall apart, but it certainly changes from the initial idealisations of both characters (Levin's obsessive idealisation of Kitty and Kitty's wishes for Vronsky and jealousy of Anna). What these processes both attest to is a process of identification and attachment: but the attachment isn't to something real, but an idea. Tolstoy describes Levin's early observations of Kitty, and an almost fetishistic fascination with tiny details of clothing, hands, etc.

The difficulties of life and the intimacy of their married relationship changes the situation. Towards the end of the book, the excitement of Levin's idealisations are long gone, gradually replaced with a deeper sense of spirituality (this is after all, for Tolstoy, a self-portrait!). A more stoic realism pervades their relations. These are the shifting attachments and machinations of identity, as each individual seeks a viable state in the environment they find themselves. In the process, old obsessions are jettisoned as unsustainable and new attachments are formed.

In the divorce courts, new attachments tend not to include the person to whom the attachments were once formed. But Levin and Kitty are interesting because they don't go this way. The detaching from initial objects of attachment causes re-attachments to new objects as identity reorganises itself. But what is fascinating is the focus of these new attachments. One might be tempted to say that sex lies at the heart of it (that would certainly be the tabloid line!). But this doesn't explain Levin and Kitty who turn to religion. It leads me to think that absence, of which sex and religion are manifestations, drives the processes of adaptation and change. Might becoming more aware of how absence works be a key to the sustainability and evolution of human relations??

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Taking Care, Being Fair and Quality agendas in education

Educational institutions have a tendency to obfuscate the path to educational success. When students just want to know how to pass the degrees which they now have to have (and to pay for) to get anywhere in their lives, Universities find ways of making it "more complicated". Obfuscation often takes the form of 'quality improvements': political agendas to which students have to conform, ranging from 'Information literacy', 'personal development planning', 'internationalisation', 'professionalism', 'employability' etc all of which increasingly become burdensome and swamp the curriculum as the criteria for satisfactorily meeting these constructed learning requirements are understood by no-one: neither learners nor teachers.

Why does this happen? I think it's got something to do with technology and institutional anxiety to "do what technology cannot do" as a means to guaranteeing some role for universities in a world where more and more actual learning goes on on YouTube and Wikipedia. The ever ratcheting-up of quality criteria is the response of the institution who believes that this sort of 'quality' is what their customers want. Yet whilst YouTube can teach people about diffferential equations and Keynesian economics, it cannot award certificates.

What if the raising of compulsory schooling to (at least) 21, or until you get a degree, has more to do with the economy finding ways of maintaining education as a vital part of the service economy, rather than meeting 'skills' agendas?? There has been a key political and economic shift in the last 20 years. Governments used to think directly in terms of skills and promote skills development by funding education programmes (and other 'quality' initiatives in universities!). But maybe this isn't the agenda now. Maybe it is about keeping the education industry going...

Looked at this way, students are in a difficult situation - they are the pawns for keeping the system going: placed in an impossible situation where they either pay their fees for their degrees, or face a future in a professional wilderness where it becomes increasingly difficult to get a job without having paid your fees for a degree. And a good deal more of those available jobs will be in education itself, or in fields associated with it.

Quality agendas then become pernicious. Because they make the process of being awarded a certificate more difficult, less transparent and potentially unfair. After all, the over-dependence on individual judgement already introduces levels of uncertainty into the system. Couple this dependence on individual judgement with increasingly nebulous areas where those judgements have to be made, and you have a double-whammy for students: "how do I pass my degree?" "get on the right side of Dr x, whilst adhering to the requirements of quality agendas a, b and c - each of which are pretty incomprehensible and open to interpretation".

This is nonsense.

There are two fundamental things that must happen in educational processes:


Good teachers take care of their students, steering them through the difficult emotional landscape of learning. Institutions need to ensure that good care is a universal across all teaching. But more importantly, institutions must be fair with their students, ensuring that all students know where they stand and understand what it is they have to do to pass, and ensure that one student in one part of the institution doesn't stand a better chance of passing than another of equal ability.

As institutions globalise and expand their provision internationally and nationally, it is getting harder to BE FAIR. Dissonance between individual judgements causes 'autistic ruptures' within institutional processes which can be deeply unfair to students and which are fundamentally out of their control.

As education has been made increasingly compulsory over the last 100 years, the process has been accompanied by increasingly standardising assessments (often against much opposition). That means standardising the 'fairness bit' - ultimately to make it more fair, and to take away the element of 'pleasing Dr x'.  I think it's time Universities standardised their assessment. That would mean they could concentrate on "TAKING CARE", whilst "BEING FAIR" became part of a separate process.

But this doesn't have to follow the 'exam board' route. I think this ( would be a way of doing it...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Uninstalling EU...? (or why I am an Educational Cybernetician)

The best tweet I saw today was "Uninstalling EU... 1% complete". There's some 'big stuff' happening at the moment.

The problem seems to be to get any clarity on the situation. The first step is identifying where the crisis is. I'm tempted to say it's not the Euro which is in crisis, or the EU... the economic crisis is a "crisis of economics". The uncertainty over causal connections stems from the collapse of the available models we have for making sense of the world. Interestingly (but predictably), the reaction to this collapse is one of denial: economics can't be wrong; we have to fix our institutions to make them fit the available models - and 'fixing our institutions' means different things depending on whether you are France, Germany, Greece or the UK.

But really, we should be concentrating on fixing our models! There is a theory-practice gap, and I don't think the practice can develop without some serious attention being paid to the theory.

This is familiar territory for learning technologists. There's long been a theory-practice gap in educational technology (and education in general). It's telling that there has been very little coherent theoretical development in 50 years, whilst there has been an inordinate amount of shifting of practice - usually to advance towards pre-existing theoretical positions (whether constructivist, instructivist or whatever). But it's rare to find work which looks at practice as it is and seeks to remodel the theory.

We urgently need to look at the world as it is. We need to look at the lived experience of people in the globalised, technological bubble that we have created for ourselves; not from the perspective of wanting to oppose it (although we might), but simply from the perspective of acknowledging that it has happened, and at some level we (collectively) wanted it to happen. But most importantly of all, we need to recognise that living in the bubble produces the conditions under which it gets harder to stand back from it and ask "what's going on?". We need to see the danger in that, and find ways of doing something about it.

I was struck in a recent meeting in my University that staff are increasingly being asked to study for PhDs, whilst at the same time are so busy that they have no space to think. That's the situation that technology is producing for us (and particularly the species of 'techno-education' which has taken over the University sector). We have to understand it to learn how to live with it and manage it. And we have to make space for ourselves (whether we are in a University or not) to think.

This depends on having tools to think with. As I see it, the study and theorising of 'organisation' is the only disciplinary area which can feasibly and defensibly examine the mechanisms behind everything from the atoms of matter, to the biology of the cells from which we are composed, to the psychologies that yield us consciousness and action, to the communications that we make, and the institutions and nations we build. This is why I'm a cybernetician. More importantly, though, because I see that the only hope for us is to teach each other our understanding of these mechanisms, I would say cybernetics on its own isn't enough. It must be an 'Educational Cybernetics' which recognises that however good its models might be, those models must be taught and learnt before any change is possible.

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...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Body and Screen

In the Graham Greene short story "The end of the party", Greene describes how the two twin brothers, Francis and Peter, are playing hide and seek in the dark. Francis did not want to play, and had had a sense of foreboding about going to the party in the first place. Greene describes the intimacy of the relationship between the two brothers as they seek each other in the hide and seek game:
"for between Francis and himself, touch was the most intimate communication. By way of joined hands thought could flow more swiftly than lips could shape themselves round words. He could experience the whole progress of his brother's emotion, from the leap of panic at the unexpected contact to the steady pulse of fear, which now went on and on with the regularity of a heart-beat." 
This is, to me, what attachment is. It is fundamentally a sensual communication: the mothers voice, smell, touch with the baby - just as the touch between twin brothers similarly communicates "more swiftly than lips could shape themselves round words."

I'm thinking about this as I read Sherry Turkle's new book "Alone together".

Turkle is worried about our lives on screen. She sees physical togetherness separated by screens - peculiar techno-etiquettes which seem to run against common-sense behaviour (like the nanny who would only text her housemate because it "was intrusive to knock on her door"). I share many of these concerns, but I'm anxious to address them in a way which doesn't say "technology bad!".

The problem is attachment, and the fact that attachment may well be fundamentally physical. I'd wondered about an online space where attachments could form; but a friend pointed out that that is no more likely to be meaningful than virtual sex. But if it is about people being physically together, then we have a problem because somehow we have to stop the screen becoming a barrier and turn it into something convivial. The question is "how can technology help us to use the screen to face each other?".

I often sit on the sofa with my daughter and a laptop looking at her and my favourite youtube videos (lots of comedy). These are special moments for both of us, and something which we could not have done without Youtube and laptops. Both Youtube and the laptop enhances the moment of togetherness in an immediately to-hand way. But the attachment is with each other: we both recognise it as a special moment: we dwell in the moment.

Most of the time when I'm on the computer, this togetherness is not my experience. My thoughts are active, strategic and somewhat selfish: "how should I phrase this message to so-and-so?"; "I see so-and-so online.. should I skype them?"; "how many people have viewed my latest blog post?"; "what should my next blog post be?" (that one preceded me writing this!). I wonder if I'm not always seeking personal advantage or ego-boosting...

There may not be anything wrong with that, but it is important to recognise what it is not. Personally, I've found myself to be a happier person since I started blogging and tweeting, but my blog started out as a kind of therapy: I've learnt to blog as I've learnt not to be afraid. (Which makes me think that Luhmann is right about communication!) But on the other hand, I know so many people who live on Facebook in such an ever-active frame of mind that I'm left wondering about their deeper lives, their sense of self and ultimately their capacity to act sensibly. There is an aspect of 'life online' which is riddled with a deeper existential fear: do I blog and Facebook as a way of drawing attention away from my mortality?

It may be that only with catastophic loss does the power of attachment really hit home. At such moments, Facebook is not the place to be - it is not the moment when strategic communications are made. The place to be is directly dealing with those affected.

Greene's story ends in death, with such a loss. His Catholic doubt beautifully expressed:
"'Where's Francis?' but they were silenced by Mrs Henne-Falcon's scream. But she was not the first to notice Francis Morton's stillness, where he had collapsed against the wall at the touch of his brother's hand. Peter continued to hold the clenched fingers in an arid and puzzled grief. It was not merely that his brother was dead. His brain, too young to realize the full paradox, yet wondered with an obscure self-pity why it was that the pulse of his brother's fear went on and on, when Francis was now where he had been always told there was no more terror and no more darkness"