Friday, April 29, 2011

Value and Valuing

I was reading journalist and author Arthur Koestler's 'five' part trilogy again recently. That is The Sleepwalkers (1959), Act of Creation (Book I and II) (1964), The Ghost in the Machine (1967) and Janus: A Summing Up (1978). The work as a whole covers an investigation of immense ground and circles back on itself, yet within it is the story of the how humans discover and how we discover our humanity. The awareness of knowledge hubris is a theme in the conclusion to all these books.

I found last night one section in Act of Creation on the aesthetics of snobbery, that I had not recalled before. Koestler observes how in the act of great creation there is often some divine inspiration, a release of one plane in the conjunction of two to produce surprise novelty, whether in the sciences or the arts. He talks about how even life-time experts in the aesthetics of greatness of an artist cannot recognize a well-executed fake by one from the master. He says:

"Let me repeat: the principal mark of genius is not perfection, but originality, the opening of new frontiers; once this is done, the conquered territory becomes common property. .. Genius consists not in the perfect exercise of a technique, but in its invention."

Koestler then speaks to the affectation of greatness and of great art. We feel that seeing these objects we may be magically imbued with the creators' essences. "It is not the eye that guides the museum visitor, but the magic of the names." (p. 410) And so people view these works appraised as great and project their own likes and dislikes upon them.

It is then Koestler trigger me to an insight into my own concerns in this. He remarks how the snobbery of art appreciation, rather than its genuine effect through appreciation comes from the confusion of two value frames. The true judgment of value and the valuing of value-judgements. Koestler comments:

"Snobbery ... is a hotchpotch of matrices, the application of the rules of one
game to another game. It uses a clock to measure weight, and a thermometer to measure distance. The creative mind perceives things in a new light, the snob in a borrowed light; his pursuits are sterile and his satisfactions of a vicarious nature." (p. 412)

I then asked why does this occur (and why did it bother Koestler so)? In apithology, we know the expression of pathology arises from the doubt of grace. When we feel we are not able to gain an appreciation for something, it being too intricate to know or too distant to discover, we fear we will lose the grace of its expression. Fearing this greatness might be unavailable to us, we grasp to its artifact, and look to others to affirm the value we cannot see for ourselves. Our fear of deficiency is confirmed and so compensated for, the art itself becoming invisible under the introjection of acclaim.

This is why greatness without pretence is the best judge of genius. Being respected by one's peers, and ignored by all around, is a much greater respect than drawing queues of people around a block to glimpse something proximate that is forever distant. In moments like these I give great thanks for the many peers around me, without whom in their greatness, I would have no sure judgement for my own attempts at stumbled origination. To create takes courage and to appreciate takes devotion. Not all of us can feel into this path, to create value so as not to confuse value.

My own response in this area is the distress I feel when in crowds of people who are trying to have an experience of greatness, knowing there is something there to get, and not getting it. In these moments I find the authenticity of non-appreciation much better than the false acclaim without a moments look. One day in Paris' Louvre I saw Leonardo's Mona's smile for the first time - and knew somatically and completely the reason for the reputation. Behind the ten-deep crowd of viewers we shared a smile, and after a moment I left in increased respect and moved on to the much-ignored passions of Christ in Botticelli's creative recall in an empty gallery, which the tours having not the time or cultural interest, had passed by. Art is more than personal, it is a view into the divine.

I have a van Gogh reproduction on my stairs. It is of Starry Night. It was a gift on a birthday many years ago from lover and friend. Like Koestler's portrayal of a friend with a Picasso that became more valued once discovered as an original, it recalls for me each time I see it those faded days. This begs the question of whether the painting is more cherished simply because of the artist's reputation or the givers giving. Compared to the other original art I have, especially those where I knew the artist, it is a but a parchment, yet it holds a symbolic cherished value - in distant appreciation and remembered affection. Within the art is the act of giving, and that is what is mostly valued.

So why create in any form? Because it brings us closer to the appreciation of the works of genius. For in the works of greatness we create for others, we give a bit of ourselves ...

- and shop a little in the gallery-giftshop stocking the grace of all mankind.

Picture: Teddy Royannez

Friday, April 15, 2011

Autopoiesis and Praxogenesis

I am particularly taken with the work of Chilean biologist, Humberto Maturana (1970, 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981 ...). When you see a body of work that leads to a coherent alternative epistemology described with economy and elegance, it is these artifacts that inspire the researcher.

Of course, there is the opposite effect of becoming intimate with such work too. Maturana's writing is described as difficult, that having a new perspective, it generates new language, and so a new form of reading without assumptions is required. New thought, involves new mind, and a seeing with new eyes - yet with a tired set of old eyes, what do we often see? What we find is the question the work uniquely answers, is often asked and answered - without making any real use of its true benefits.

And yet this is poetic, as the extent of beneficial value in a change to the world may be initially evidenced by how completely it is ignored or actively reframed. For if there was no thought barrier there to change, why the quest? Joseph Campbell (1991) poignantly describes the Hero's Return in such terms, saying:

"You try to find a means to deliver what you have found as the lifeboon in terms and in proportions that are proper to the world's ability to receive. It requires a good deal of compassion and patience. Look for the cracks in the wall and give only to those who are ready for your jewel."(p. 82)

This made me reflect how in the truth of Maturana's theory of structural-coupling in autopoiesis is the effect that the history of experiences, the forms of paradigms of practice, the way language is seen, and the pre-assumptions of perceptions (i.e. reliance on the observer description) - means this work cannot be adequately seen. Yet it does not change its truth.

Let's consider for a moment the implications of autopoiesis, structural coupling and praxogenesis. With regret I will use a simplified form, as otherwise there is no alternative to quoting the original work from Maturana and Varela (1970, 1974, 1999) in its entirety, which is sufficient and complete in itself.

a) the entity forms and has internal changes as part of its functions that maintains its identity; - formation of entity
b) the entity's functions have perturbations requiring a change in structure to maintain identity; - entity and structure structural coupling
c) the recurrence of the perturbations means the entity changes with changes in the state of its medium; - entity and medium structural-coupling
d) the entity has interactions with the space of relations of its functions and responds structurally; - sensory perception
e) the recurrence of the interactions and the structural response triggers a entity-level response; - sensori-motor action
f) the recurrence of the embodied action has spatio-temporal correspondence to changes in the medium of the entity; - semantic coupling
g) the embodied action of the entity effects perturbations or contributions in the medium of the entity; - entity-medium co-enaction
h) the entity and another entity create interactions in the space of relations of each of their functions; - semantic sensation
i) the entities establish a mutual (consensual) domain of recurrent interactions with corresponding structure changes; - entity-entity structural coupling
j) the embodied action of the entity corresponds to embodied actions in the structurally coupled entity; - mutual co-enaction
k) the recurrence of mutual embodied action effects perturbations or contributions in the medium of the entities; mutual entity-medium coupling
l) the recurrent interactions between entities in a shared medium becomes a linguistic domain; - semantic co-enaction
m) the entity recursively interacts with the linguistic domain of its embodied mutual interactions; - self-observation
n) the entity recursively interacts with the semantic description of its embodied-co-enactions; - self-awareness
o) the entity responds in embodied-action with the semantic description of its co-enactions; - self-determination
n) the entities respond in embodied-actions in their consensual domain with the semantic description of their co-enactions; - self-enaction
p) the mutual embodied actions of the entities effects perturbations or contributions in the medium; - semantic-medium structural coupling
q) the recurrence of the embodied consensual action with recursive reflection enables medium aware actions; - entities-medium co-enaction

The effects continue, as entities, their domains of interactions, environments of creation, co-enact and interact in an ecology of evolving simplicity - devoid of observer descriptions as a necessity. As sensori-motor coupling, leads to embodied action, which creates enactive co-enaction - the context for interactions is altered recursively. The result is that the origin of formation is found in the qualities of the structure of the domains of cognition. A first orientation to a particular phenomenon becomes a sensory predisposition, which enacts recurrent actions, and recursively the world is made thus in the direction of embodied perception. The origin of existence is found, when seen as the entire sequence as one event, in first actions (i.e. genesis in praxis ~ praxogenesis). The embodied actions causes the environment of perception. Evolution is, we find ultimately, caused by orientation.

The simplest example I can think of is of two birds nesting, the interaction of their actions within that domain in seeking and feeding on insects to feed their young mitigates the effects of the insects on the trees and enables the recurrence of nest building sites and these interactive domains become, over time, an ecology of forms.

The distinction made in Maturana's characterisation is that evolutionary natural selection is a consequentialist description in the domain of the observer. As the environment does not cause a change in the entity, only triggers a change that is mediated by its cognitive structures (Mingers, 1995) , evolution rather than being environment dependent, is entity dependent. Evolution and environmental enaction is dependent on entity cognitive structure.

In Niklas Luhmann's Ecological Communication extensions of autopoiesis into the social domain of radical constructivism clarifies how the 'environment' is an object in the linguistic domain of the social system. The one thing not described when we speak about the environment is the physical medium in which we are situated that is outside language. This is a description in semantic-coupling that is unavailable to us from within. The sustainability-environment debate is a conversation that occurs solely within the language of the social entity. Luhmann, mentions, but does not deal with, psychic-autopoiesis (the co-enaction of individual cognitions), and fortunately this is now being dealt with in the field of psychological panarchy.

The implications of this are simple, profound and radical.

Our semantic domains (i.e. talking about the environment) as a product of our cognitive domains (i.e. thinking about the environment) will determine if our viable medium for living (i.e. our actual environment) becomes hostile or benign for the conditions of our existence.

In answer to this question of our mutual co-enactive fate... perhaps the future history of our species (as observed by a later passing observer - or our children's, children's, children, depending on our proficiency) will be our only Witness.