Sunday 20 February 2011

Luhmann, Beer and an 'Emotion Machine'

On emotions, Luhmann states:
"emotions are not representations that refer to the environment but internal adaptations to internal problem situations in the psychic system that concern the ongoing production of the systems elements by the system's elements." (Social Systems, 1995, p 274)
He goes on to say:
"In terms of their function, emotions can be compared to immune systems; they seem to assume an immunizing role for the psychic system. With unusual means, they secure the continuing performance of autopoiesis - here not the autopoiesis of life but consciousness - in the face of problems that arise, and in doing so they use simplified procedures of discrimination, which permit decisions without considering the consequences. They can augment and weaken without direct reference to occurrences in the environment, depending on consciousnes's own experience of itself."
I find this quite fascinating and powerful. However, the detail is missing for me, and I want a clearer idea of what the psychic system looks like in order that it can maintain it's viability in this way and produce the wide range of emotions we all know.

Maybe it can be represented using Beer's VSM...

What this characterisation would give us is a way of thinking how the different parts of the psychic system might 'augment' and 'weaken' and how this augmentation and weakening relate to specific emotional states.

1. Falling in love and grief
The feeling that we get when we gaze into a lover's eyes. Like Bataille's concept of 'transgression', this takes the individual out of themselves and into the infinite. Luhmann, in "Love as Passion" talks of the threshold for discriminating about relevant communications becoming lower: everything becomes relevant. That means everything related to the identity of a person becomes swallowed into the overwhelming experience of another person. This suggests that what is augmented is 'System 5': the controlling system that loosens its grip on the homeostat that controls the other regulating mechanisms and hence gives the system its identity. Grief is the converse of this process: the loss of identity which threatens viability.

2. Feeling confident, proud, excited.
This may relate to a state where communications received from the outside are entirely anticipated by the system. Nothing unexpected happens, everything is under control. This may reflect an augmentation of the capacity of System 4 in predicting futures effectively.

3. Feeling driven, focused, lustful, energized
System 3 is the organiser and motivator. Augmenting activity at System 3 would produce energy. It's interesting to think how one might feel both proud and energized: very much 'in the zone'. However, at moments of loss of self-control, where system 3 is augmented, but system 4 diminished, this might produce aimless energy: violence, lust.

4. Feeling anxious and intuitive
I think the realm of anxiety and intuition is system 2, the anti-oscillator. I think in combination with a system 5 that is augmented to make more communication relevant, maybe system 2 plays a role in intuiting things that are going on. It may be here that we have 'gut feelings'. However, an augmented system 2 can also be anxious, worrying about how the system 1 operations can be kept under control.

5. Feeling angry and joyful
What's going on in system 1 of a psychic system? If we look at the job of the psychic system as Luhmann describes it, its job is to make selections: selecting information, utterances, and decoding meaning from communications received. When this works, and selections made result in viable communications, which in turn result in effective selections, all is well. Augmenting system 1 might result in a feeling of joy. But when it is not right, where the selections are wrong, or result in ineffective communications, then anger will be the result. The system cannot communicate its identity because of the environment it is in.

This is a bit sketchy, but I think its worth exploring. What's particularly interesting is the combination of different regulatory 'augmentations' and their emotional counterparts. It's also important to not lose sight of sensual experience.  This doesn't work like verbal communication. The regulating mechanisms of the psychic system 'talk' directly to the source of sensual stimulation. Thus, music can stimulate the psychic system in this way.

The context of an emotional experience is also important. We don't fall in love with everyone. I was always struck as to how Alan Clarke could possibly find Mrs. Thatcher sexy! But that's to do with power I guess. Power would assert the individuality and separability of a psychic system possibly to a point where it might need to 'fall in love' (i.e. augment system 5) to rebalance itself.

Lots to think on....


Anonymous said...

I find it faszinating, that you're trying to map the VSM to emotions. This is very interesting - but also dangerous? Can feelings really be represented by a model or even by a machine? I'm not quite sure! ;-)
I'd like to discuss with you further about this topic!

Mark Johnson said...

Hi - I'll follow this up on email. I think 'represent' is a tricky word! I would prefer to think of this work as an attempt to create 'allegories' (note: not analogies!). The VSM allows us to "tell a story" (using 'regulation' as a metaphor) which may provide us with deeper insight into the intangible world of our emotions...

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