Only communication can communicate

Humans cannot communicate; not even their brains can communicate; not even their conscious minds can communicate. Only communication can communicate.

Niklas Luhmann (1988). “How can the mind participate in communication” In: Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht et all. (Ed.) Materialities of Communication. p. 371 ( link

Society emerges out of communication (as a solution to double contingency); however, society is the communication, not the people who communicate (society doesn’t become smaller when one person dies or larger when a baby is born). Furthermore, only communication communicates. One communicative event (the synthesis of information, utterance, and understanding) links to another communicative event. A communicative event, which vanishes in the same moment that it occurs, can only link to another communicative event.

It’s clear that a single, isolated human being cannot communicate, but nothing changes if we add one or more other human beings. Social social systems communicate, and social systems are not collections of people. Human beings do not and cannot communicate.

On the other hand, society cannot control or steer a human being’s thoughts or perceptions. Psychic systems, though structurally open to social systems and organic systems, are operationally closed. A psychic system (or consciousness) is a not a subsystem of society; nor is it a microcosm; it is not a passive receptacle (tabula rasa) for  perceptual content (from one side) or physiological irritations (e.g, hunger, headache) from the other (organic) side. As Hans-Georg Moeller argues,

Society cannot “socialize” a mind–socialization is a “do-it-yourself” project as far as consciousness is concerned. No parent, teacher, preacher, or government can directly interfere in the mental operations of consciousness. How we structure our consciousness is ultimately decided by our own consciousness.” (Luhmann Explained : From Souls to Systems, 83-84)

Society cannot socialize a mind because every mind (consciousness, psychic system) is structurally determined. However, while minds and bodies are excluded from social system operations, “persons” or “individuals” are included as topic, addressee, or speaker. It’s a semantic issue. Moeller continues,

[C]ommunication systems ascribe individuality to “persons.” This is how they are able to resonate with the psychic complexity in their environment. Social systems develop . . . a semantics of “persons” or “individuals” so that communication can be properly addressed and can form proper conceptions of “entities” that correspond to ongoing activities of consciousness that irritate communication. Inclusion is the term for the manner in which social systems can recognize persons. (Moeller 84)

There can no longer be unified subjects, no individuals in the old sense of undividable (indivisible) souls.  In a functionally differentiated society, individuality is defined as uniqueness rather than indivisibility. The soul is (or was) knowable by God, but the mind or motives (or consciousess) of a person cannot be known by society; it’s a black box.

In contrast, in the old stratified society an individual was indivisible; she was one person and she was included in one household. One’s “natural” place was within a household. A wife joined the household of her husband and left her former household. Or one could enter religious life or military life, and their whole person would then belong to the Church or the army rather than a household.

Quoting Moeller again,

[The] individual can no longer be an in-dividual in the traditional sense of indivisibility. In order to exist as a social being, he or she has to divide him- or herself: ‘He or she is in need to musical self for the opera, a diligent self for the job, a patient self for the family. What is left for him or herself is the problem of his or her identity’ (Luhmann 1989, 223). (Moeller 89)

This problem cannot be solved by shared moral code. For instance, a person might be a hard worker, with working hard being a moral virtue, but the worker must also be competent. A skilled surgeon who has gotten lazy and doesn’t actually work very hard, is more valuable than an incompetent but hard working surgeon. And that skilled surgeon might also be a terrible parent. We all have multiple identities. The “concept of person presuopposes that every individual can play many different roles” (Luhmann, Organization and Decision, p. 68.)

The father confessor who had to take care of the sanity of the individual souls of Old European individuals is replaced by the New European psychiatrists and therapists who now look after the multiple selves. . . . It is now more or less obvious that even subjectivity is not the essential core of human existence, but rather a semantics tightly connected with a type of social differentiation, namely functional differentiation. (Moeller 89-90)


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