Wednesday 12 October 2011

Anticipation and Meaning

Heinz von Foerster wrote a paper on memory which asked "What is memory that it might have hindsight and foresight as well?". In my recent paper on memory and music (which I received in print today: I consider whether questions such as "what is memory?" or "what is music?" or even "what is foresight?" should be preceded by considering the answer to the political question "what sort of a world do you want to live in?", because the ontological foundations to any questions about memory, consciousness or cognition have causal efficacy in the world that is constructed around those assumptions or theories. In other words, "what is foresight?" needs to be treated as an ethical problem before it is treated as a psychological one. This also means, I think, that any answer to the question is necessarily 'tensed' in history.

But having said all that, I am too curious about the things that I love about life not to want to try to explain them. Above all, I am fascinated by sensual experience. I do not believe I am alone in this!.. although I know many who are either too embarrassed or do not know how to approach talk about the experience of love, sex, music, religion, art or poetry. If I find myself striving to be less coy it is because these are the things that I believe should be talked about because they are simply the things which make life worth living. Talk about engineering, computers, stock markets or economics - fascinating and important though it is - is deficient if it does not build on the foundation of those fundamental sensual experiences.

Sensual experiences are laden with meaning. That's another way of saying they are "the things which make life worth living". In this sense, I believe, they are pregnant with hindsight and foresight. I was interested to note that Leydesdorff (who I'm meeting tomorrow) sees a close relationship between 'meaning' and 'anticipation', drawing on Luhmann's theory. I think that's a sensible alliance.

I also think that sensual experiences represent situations of deep attachment which affirm identity. It may be in this way that they are laden with meaning. Love is the obvious example, where the mechanisms of individual identity become tightly coupled to another person: the attachment relationships between children and their parents is fundamentally about this. But the sexual attraction which preceded the love between their parents presents some deeper paradoxes. I'm inclined to follow Bataille in identifying death (or maybe absence) as the prime mover. Death, I think, also fits the experience of music, art and certainly religion: we are drawn towards not-being.

In the cybernetics of attachment there is a control situation that emerges where the homeostasis of the individual is dependent on the homeostasis of the relationship with the object of attachment. With death, or absence (here I'm increasingly thinking Bhaskar is right about absence.. but that's another post!), the homeostasis of the "here-now" is dependent on the homeostasis of the relationship to the "not-being". But physical objects of attachment move around in the world, and so the individual has to adapt. Does the psychic object of "not-being" also "move around"? Are we constantly having to chase it? I think this is a possibility, and the cause of "not-being" moving around are the physical manifestations through which it reveals itself: the beautiful woman on the other side of the room, the brushwork on a Constable cloud painting, a mellifluous passage of Mozart, the sunset, and so on.

But what's in the chasing? Cybernetically, it's adjustments to the regulating mechanisms. But what adjustments? How can we know? How do we anticipate? Anticipation may simply be the experience of chasing an attachment to "not-being". But then again, we intuit what is likely to happen, and more often than not, we are right. Much depends on the means we have for altering our regulating processes at any moment. Not all options are open to us, some are more to-hand than others. There will be a natural order of response in each situation, and that natural order of response will similarly shift as the situation shifts.

If we looked at the 'natural order of response' in a snapshot, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find some sort of symmetry in what is most available as a regulatory adjustment. Anticipation may simply be a natural ordering of regulatory response to maintain attachments. Anticipation of sensual things then becomes a natural ordering of regulatory response towards death.

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