The Irreducibility of Meaning

In social systems theory, meaning is irreducible; it cannot be reduced to meaningful/meaningless or meaning/no-meaning because these distinctions must also be treated as meaningful. In other words, if I say “Your statement is meaningless” or “This story has no meaning,” my own statement is treated as meaningful. Otherwise, communication cannot happen.

Michel Serres and Protest Movements

“In a living system, a message passed from A to B consists of a mixture of signal and noise. From the perspective of A, the noise is extraneous, a threat to the successful reception of the signal. But from the perspective of B, this mixture of signal and noise need not necessarily be grasped in the same way. Noise ‘cuts’ the signal in such a way that what is received is very different from what was sent. To put this in a different context, when we listen to what another says, we also take in the hesitations, the changes in emphasis, the slips of the tongue in what they say. For the speaker these are all just ‘noise’ to be overcome. But for us, as listener, these may significantly alter our understanding of what is being said. Noise and signal are differentially distributed depending on the position one occupies in a communicative set up.”

Distinction and Indication

Spencer Brown’s mark consists of a vertical line that separates two side, and a horizontal line that points to one side and not the other, and could thus be called an indicator or pointer. The mark is consciously thought of as one sign but it consists of two components. However, if we start out in this manner, a question arises: who could designate one but not the other component without already having a sign for this particular purpose at this disposal? Thus, we must first of all simply accept the mark as a unified mark. . . .

Inclusion & Exclusion

The excluded is always included by an observer. In other words, the observer includes the excluded as the excluded. This is a two-sided form, which means the boundary separating the two sides must be crossable. An observer can only exclude something that could potentially be included. There are no laws prohibiting a person from flapping their arms and flying into the sky like Icarus because such a law could not be broken—i.e., the line separating legal and illegal could not be crossed.

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