The paradox of self-renewal

Luhmann maintains that all communication is paradoxical because a communication system is self-generated; it’s a causa sui. As far as the system is concerned, it has no beginning and no end; it has always existed and will always exist. It cannot conceive of its own ending because each operation presupposes a subsequent operation. Nor can it conceive of its own beginning because every operation presupposes a previous operation. This is what self-referential means.

Systems need time to make a distinction—i.e., to observe something. If an observer tries to observe both sides of a distinction at once, it faces a paradox. The paradox—the idea that a system creates itself—is avoided by choosing one side of the two-sided form.

Thus a psychic system cannot imagine its own death. For an autopoietic system, there must always be something coming next. The beginning and end of an autopoietic system, or more generally a life, may be observed from outside the system but never from the inside. Self-observation assumes a past and future. Our parents and other older family members remember a world in which we didn’t exist, and our children, we hope, will know a world after our death. We ourselves cannot conceive of these things, however.

The main point is, the idea or awareness that an autopoietic system did not always exist and will not always exist must be ignored or kept in a blind spot by the system in order to avoid an autopoietic impasse or collapse. The paradox must remain unseen because the paradox halts connective operations; it prevents the next connection.

To be clear, the claim that a system, such as a psychic system or consciousness, is a causa sui does not mean that people or other living beings create their own bodies. We are talking about consciousness. An autopoietic system has a memory and expectations, and these are self-generated. Consciousness selects memories; they aren’t stamped on a wax-like mind from the outside (btw, this is where the word impression comes from). Nor are our expectations imposed on us or given to us from someone else. This is structural self-determination.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.