Niklas Luhmann
Introduction to Systemstheory

Ed. Dirk Baecker
Polity Press 2013

Luhmann Introduction to Systemstheory
25 General Systems Theory
(Development of a theory of “Open Systems” – “Closed systems” – “operationally closed systems” )

Luhmann Introduction to Systemstheory38
38 The meaning of the term “system”
operational recursiveness, self-reference, and circularity
theory of the observer
40 epistemology
43 Systems as Difference (Formal Analysis)
a system is the difference between system and environment.
George Spencer Brown Laws of Form
38 The meaning of the term “system”
“observing” in the general sense of drawing distinctions?
41 Is there a difference between object and subject, between the object of observation and the observer, that is not already predetermined due to the operational basis that is common to both sides?
Or, in other words, is it not the observer who introduces the difference between the observer and the observed object?
Or, in yet another formulation, is it not necessary to ask the question of how the world manages to observe itself and thereby be rent asunder by the difference between the observer and the observed?
Boe: cf. Spencer Brown Laws of Form pg.105
43 Systems theory became a sort of self-observing, autopoietic, recursive mechanism. Or, one might even say, it became a system that unfolded an intellectual dynamic all of its own, which, in my opinion, is among the most fascinating phenomena that they are able to witness today in our problematic so-called post-modern situation.
Systems as Difference (Formal Analysis)
suspect that we could develop a very general theory that would transcend even systems theory on the basis of this very general concept of form that we can detach from its specifically mathematical use Spencer Brown. We would be dealing with a theory of two-sided forms that can be used only in a one-sided way. I allude to this possibility merely because it could potentially relativize even the systems theoretical approach in spite of its universal pretensions and its scientific claims that are currently being especially well developed (which simply means that there is much literature regarding systems theory). It also could
instigate reflection on the possibility of an even more comprehensive general theory of forms and whether such a theory could then be applied to the concept of number, to mathematics, semiotics, systems theory, the medium/form difference between loose and tight couplings and other issues.

Luhmann Introduction to Systemstheory51
the sign is a form with two sides,
51 a
general concept of form, the “system” can be called a “form”, -
a type of operation that produces the system, provided that there is time, -
autopoiesis, a circular self-production, -
53 A social system emerges when communication developed from communication, -
the concept of “re-entry” - the re-entering of the form into the form or of the distinction into the distinguished.-
the question of purpose
A systems theoretical theory of consciousness: discover something like self- and hetero reference in biology, or at the very least in neurology and neurophysiology. - In consciousness, we imagine that all we perceive is somewhere outside - consciousness is also internal, and it knows that it is. - the difference between self-reference and hetero-reference.
59 Only the essential difference constitutes consciousness - a link with
the concept of meaning.
a system is a form with two sides, -
51 The consequence of this notion of “form” for systems theory is that the
“system” can be called a “form” under the condition that the concept of form must always applied to the difference between system and environment.
I have recapitulated this point several times because it may not be entirely intuitive, and one must simply keep it in mind. We will only be able to judge this presupposition after we have seen what can be done by means of it. Against the background of the tradition of open systems and differential approaches of all kinds, we notice that we might have here within our reach
a synthesis that could make it possible to include in a single theory knowledge derived from widely disparate sources.
52 Thus the first point we enter under the heading “applications to systems theory” is: a system is a form with two sides.
A second suggestion that can also be derived from Spencer Brown concerns the question of whether it makes sense to define a system like Spencer Brown's calculus merely by a single operator and the single mode of operation.
59 A systems theoretical theory of consciousness
There are two cases in which the operational coupling of external and self- reference works. Of course the questions arise as to why there should be only t two, and whether there are in fact further cases.
Could we, for instance, discover something like self- and hetero reference in biology, or at the very least in neurology and neurophysiology.
I would prefer not to commit ourselves to an answer to this question. Such an answer would require precise knowledge of the field. However, at this moment in time I suppose that
the difference between the brain and consciousness, or between the central nervous system and the phenomenally present consciousness, lies in the fact that consciousness introduces the difference between self- and hetero reference.
In consciousness, we imagine that all we perceive is somewhere outside, whereas the purely neurophysiological operations do not provide any such clues. They are entirely closed off and internal. Insofar as it is coupled with self- reference, consciousness is also internal, and it knows that it is. And that is a good thing, too, for it would be terrible if someone could enter someone else's consciousness and inject a few thoughts are few perceptions of his own into it.
Consciousness, too, is a closed system. But its peculiarities seems to lie - if we choose a very formal mode of description - in the transition of the purely operational closure of the electrophysical language of the neurophysiological apparatus to the difference between self-reference and hetero-reference.
Only the essential difference constitutes consciousness, of course on the basis of neurophysiological correlates. I do not intend to claim that consciousness is no longer in need of a brain. However, it is of great interest to ask whether we are dealing not just dealing with a new level of reflection, as is often said - a learning of learning or a coupling of coupling - but with the introduction of a critical difference. If the operational management of self- and hetero-reference is indeed the mark of a certain sphere of reality, it would be possible to formulate a program that would aim at establishing a link with
the concept of meaning.
Here, I can only hint that such a connection. For the moment, the only thing of importance is that there are number of clues indicating that the phenomenal presentation of the world or the informative relations of communication
contain patterns or structures; we perceive these patterns as meaning.
They are at the disposal of consciousness as well as communication. But in each case the operational base is quite different and the patterns will be marked by discrepancies that will not be able to clarify without further reference so long as we rely on world descriptions of the linguistic kind. We try to solidify the difference between the system of consciousness and social systems with regard to their respective operational base; at the same time, we try to maintain that there are agreements all the same - namely, the decisive guiding difference of hetero/self and all the meaning structures that emerged from it.

Luhmann-Introduction to Systemstheory60
Re-entry, paradox - the distinction that re-enters itself is the same and, at the same time, not the same, external and internal observation (self-reference / hetero-reference),

Re-Entry: Thus, every distinction contains two components: indication and distinction. The distinction contains itself, but apparently in a very specific form - namely, as the distinction between distinction and indication, and not merely some juxtaposition such as, say, of large and small, or anything else that could be conceived of as a distinction.
Accordingly, the re-entry of the form into the form - or of the distinction into the distinction, or of the difference between system and environment into the system - should be understood as referring to the same thing twice. The distinction re-enters the distinguished. This constitutes re-entry.

Luhmann Introduction to Systemstheory 83
structural coupling: relation between system and environment.
order from noise” - environmental noise that can be transformed into order in the system.
reduction of complexity
co-evolution of consciousness and communication -
medium of language

90 information-processing process (Informationsverarbeitungsprozess)
concept of information
91 information can occur only inside systems.
Every system produces its information

Luhmann Introduction to Systemstheory 93
concept of structural coupling
evolution of cultures and/or societies
modes of communication
communication - language
theory of socialisation
the observer appears
100 observation, observer; metaphysics and autopiesis

Luhmann Introduction 160
The concept of meaning
psychic systems - consciousness systems
social systems - communication systems
meaning is a sort of background beingness
distinction of
medium and form
invisible medium and a visible “form”.
meaning is not something substantial or phenomenal - that is,
some qualitative unity - but a determined mode of difference
between medium and form.

substrate (medium) - forms - interaction
167 meaning creations (Sinnbildungen)
horizon of different possibilities
169 mutual interpenetration (Ineinander) of the actual and the potential.
the medium of meaning is apparently inevitably and universally
170 world relation (Weltverhältnis) of stones, animals, bats
meaningful transitions or proto-meaning
reduction of complexity - problem of selection
objective, temporal, and social meaning dimensions
we, as observers, can distinguish between what is “meaningful” and “not meaningful”. But are we really capable of this? Furthermore, is the distinction between “meaningful” and “not meaningful” really meaningful? And, if so, for whom?
we must apply the category of meaning to two different system types. We have psychic systems - consciousness systems that have meaningful experiences - and we have social systems - communication systems that reproduce meaning by using it in communication.
164 There is apparently a difference between the invisible medium and a visible “form”.
From this follows the possibility of working with the distinction that in the contemporary literature is generally designated with the terms “loose coupling” and “tight coupling”.
First, we have the substrate, the elements that are loosely coupled and can be tightly coupled; however, in the latter case, one must always proceed selectively.
In the second place, we have the forms, and,
in the third place, the interaction in relation to which the entire apparatus of medium and form has meaning only when it is being used.

If one decided to work with the conceptual crutch “medial substrate”, one might say that every experience of meaning always happens in two parts and assumes the
form of a distinction. If one prefers to express this state of affairs in Spencer Brown’s terminology, one may say that, on the inner side of the distinction, one always has a kind of form at one's disposal with which one can work.
Meaning in its specific configurations, its specific shapes, and its specific forms is merely the inner side of the medium.
There is always also the outer side of all other possibilities of use.
169The next point concerns the thesis that
the medium of meaning is apparently inevitably and universally valid. This means, in the first place that we also have to use it when we use negations. In other words meaning is a non-negative category. After all, if we say that something makes no sense (keinen Sinn), this statement itself makes a claim to meaning (Sinn). By the way, this argument has a certain philosophical tradition: “If I think that I cannot think, I have at least to think this and thus refute myself”. This is the figure of an operational self-refutation or, a performative (self)-contradiction. This is my first point. We cannot get outside the medium.
170 This is the reason why we cannot conceive of, and situate ourselves in a world in which there are no meaning-processing systems.
Perhaps I ought to formulate this more carefully. Of course we can conceive of a world in which all human beings and all computers have been destroyed and only rocks and perhaps insects, desert conditions, and remainders of radiation exist. We can imagine a world in which no meaning is operationally produced or reproduced any longer. But we can arrive at this conception only in terms of meaning.

Luhmann-Introduction to Systemstheory 233
Double contingency: How is social order possible?
how common values and the symbolic encoding of social behaviour came about.
contingency” - the possibility that things could be different, which is to say, as the negation of impossibility as well as necessity
interactional and operationally manageable regulation of situations of double contingency.
temporality or temporal structure replaces the idea of a value consensus as the premise or answer to the question of how social order as possible.
selfreference - assymmetries
238 hierarchical order of society - postmodernism
239 evolution engenders itself
233 Double contingency - Historically speaking, one ought to know that the reformulation of an old question lies hidden behind the strange expression “double contingency”. This old question is simply “How is social order possible?
contingency” in the sense of the possibility that things could be different, which is to say, as the negation of impossibility as well as necessity.
Nevertheless, there is no clear road from this insight to regulation of the problem of double contingency that would be useful under everyday conditions.
The question is, then, how one can move from a programme of values to an interactional and operationally manageable regulation of situations of double contingency.

237 All this is based on
a model that starts off with self reference and circularity, since double contingency is circular: “if you do what I want, I will do what you want!” But who is responsible for breaking the circle?
Who creates asymmetries? The answer is: time and he who acts first. The quickest actor calls the shots. He will thereby not necessarily get all the others to follow his lead, and he but he will define the issues, the topics, and the positions that are going to be at stake. In a certain sense, he determines the tone or the type of system that can emerge in consequence.
The form of the model may give rise to the idea that double contingency comes first, and then systems develop.
In a manner of speaking,
evolution engenders itself… The basic idea is that, in some way, a split between variation and selection occurs, and this process stimulates the emergence and change of structures. It reviews and stimulates itself to produce order.
References to the primeval soup or the primordial condition of the emergence of life, language, and social order cannot explain their occurrence. However, if we look at the concept of double contingency as an idea that problematizes functional analyses, or as the invention of a problem of reference for the said analyses, then we can recognise the parallel with the theory of evolution and other that attempts to decouple the description of social development from questions of how everything originated and what the primary historical causes were.

Niklas Luhmann