Expectation and Affect

Causality is attributive. Observing systems attribute effects to causes. Luhmann’s ideas on expectation schemata (or expectational structures) are relevant here. Causality isn’t simply linear. Attribution can be retrospective or anticipatory. We look at something that has occurred and attribute a preceding cause to it: We say that A has caused B. We say, for instance, that regular exercise and a good diet caused improved health. In the case of anticipatory causality, we expect A to cause B, but this expectation can, of course, be disappointed. The observing system can then change its expectation structure (learn) or maintain its expectational structure in the face of disappointment (and not lear). These are cognitive and normative responses, respectively.

This is about resonance. Expectational structures produce different kinds of resonance, and expectation schemata are based on distinctions, or two-sided forms.

Expectations also affect sensations. If I pick up a glass of wine and put it to my lips thinking it’s grape juice, I will be startled because I was expecting grape juice. Tastes are also acquired as over time we come to expect certain drinks or foods to taste a certain way.  Or we can enjoy a book because we’ve enjoyed other books by the same author and we expect this one to be good as well. Or we can hate the book because we expected to hate it. Of course, expectations are often disappointed. A book we had expected to love might suck. But we have to start with some kind of expectation, some kind of initial baseline.  The act of reading the book is a consistency test–we find out whether the reading experience is consistent with our expectation.

In The Affect Theory ReaderSara Ahmed discusses John Locke’s ideas on pleasure and happiness.

[Locke] argues that what is good is what is “apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us.” We judge something to be good or bad according to how it affects us, whether it gives us pleasure or pain. Locke uses the example of the man who loves grapes. He argues that “when a man declares. . . that he loves grapes, it is no more, but that the taste of grapes delights him.” For Locke happiness (as the highest pleasure) is idiosyncratic: we are made happy by different things, we find different things delightful. . .  (31)

We happen upon the grapes, and they happen to taste delightful. If others happens upon them in the same way, then we would share an object of delight. But if happiness involves an end-oriented intentionality, the happiness is already associated with some things more than others. We arrive at some things because they point us toward happiness. . . (40)

In other words, happiness is not based on reason. If it were based on reason, then every reasonable person would experience the taste of grapes in the same way. The “subject,” or modern individual, are said to have different tastes. Subjects make affective associations as well as reasonable judgments.  When Ahmed says “We arrive at some things because they point us toward happiness,” she is talking about an expectational structure. The psychic system that is drawn to grapes has a specific expectational structure related to grapes.

Ahmed goes on to write,

So rather than say that what is good is what is apt to cause pleasure, we could say that what is apt to cause pleasure is already judged to be good. This argument is different from Locke’s account of loving grapes because they taste delightful: I am suggesting that the judgment about certain objects as being “happy” is already made. Certain objects are attributed as the cause of happiness, which means they already circulate as social goods before we “happen” upon them, which is why we might happen upon them in the first place.

In other words, we anticipate that happiness will follow proximity to this or that object. Anticipations of what an object gives us are also expectations of what should be given. . . Happiness is an expectation of what follows (my emphasis), where the expectation differentiates between things, whether or not they exist as objects in the present. . . . This is why happiness provides the emotional setting for disappointment even if happiness is not given: we just have to expect happiness from “this or that” for “this or that” to be experienced as objects of disappointment. (41)

Expectational structures reduce complexity by limiting a response to confirmation or disappointment.

I think the Stoics can teach us something about happiness or contentment. A lot of unhappiness is produced by unrealistic expectations, or expectations that are bound to be disappointed. If we expect the sun to shine every day, every cloudy or rainy day will be depressing, and we will likely blame the weather for our unhappiness.

Another problem with the classical theory of causality–the assumption that particular actions cause particular effects–is that we don’t know where to set the limit for an action or effect. How far back do we trace an action to arrive at its origin? Or how far forward can we the trace the consequences? Is there a Prime Mover? Luhmann refers to two problems: the problem with the external limitation and the problem with the internal limitation of action:

As far as external limitation is concerned, it is not clear to me which consequences are part of the action and which are not. Where exactly does the chain of consequences break off, so that one can actually say that up to this point everything is action and beyond it everything is effect and no longer belongs to the action itself. (Introduction to Systems Theory, 184) . . .

The internal limit has to do with the question of motivation. Normally one talks of action only if one can find a motivation, or . . . only if the intention of the actor can be fixed and this the action can be attributed to an intention. For this reason, there is the tendency to formulate “action”in terms of a theory of attribution. . . . In this case, one must ask the question of what these motives consist. (185)

In other words, motivation has to do with agency and intention. The classical concept of action entails an agent–an actor who has acts with a purpose. But where do we draw line between unconscious action, instinctual response, or accidental action and purposeful action?


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