Structurally closed systems exist only conceptually or analytically; however, operationally closed systems exist in reality—or more precisely, they are observable. Social systems (and other autopoietic systems) are structurally open and operationally closed.
All social systems attempt to resolve a paradox. For religion, the paradox is that immanence needs transcendence and transcendence needs immanence; thus immanence must precede transcendence and transcendence must precede immanence. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Each assumes the prior existence of the other. This is a logical dead-end, which was why philosophy treats paradoxes as logical errors and religion just appeals to an authority to answer the question. The way this religious paradox is resolved by using time. We privilege transcendence and say that it came first. First we have a transcendent God or creator, and this God creates the world. . . . But resolving a paradox in this way simply un-asks the question of how each one can precede the other.
The more specialized chemistry becomes, the less meaningful it becomes to speak of chemistry as a discipline. Thus, for a scientist to say she is “a chemist” comes to have very little meaning. This is case of semantic change reflecting structural change.
“It is suggested that the number of neocortical neurons limits the organism’s information-processing capacity and that this then limits the number of relationships that an individual can monitor simultaneously. When a group’s size exceeds this limit, it becomes unstable and begins to fragment. This then places an upper limit on the size of groups which any given species can maintain as cohesive social units through time.”
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.
Luhmann said he was surprised that his work had been associated with postmodern theory because his work is quite different. In his 1995 lecture on
“Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.” (Stephen Jay Gould, 1994)
“Michael King takes recent academic debates concerning the nature of knowledge, the observation of reality and the relationship between social and conscious systems and, by reproducing them in the form of a highly readable narrative makes them applicable to contemporary social issues. Anyone who has an interest in the future of humanity and is concerned by claims that the future can be controlled by decisions made in the present will find this book fascinating and disturbing reading.”