Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Human Use of Human Beings, Chapters 5 and 6

Summary of Chapter 5: Organization as the Message

This brief chapter has as its key point the idea that what is most essential to a living organism is its pattern, which it maintains against entropy and which in theory could be sent as a message, reduplicating the entity. Various analogies from the real world of biology are listed, and sci-fi scenarios involving sending humans by telegraph are lightly explored as a “phantasy."”A comparison/contrast is made with the religious idea of a “soul,” apparently as an analogy for the “pattern” he has identified as the core of being an organism: “The physical identity of an individual does not consist in the matter of which it is made” (101). One difference would be that there is no reason why a living, copied individual could not fork into two individuals with the same past, growing different thenceforward like cells splitting in two. [iirc there was some story, possibly a Jack Vance story, in which this was possible: though the copies that had been sent for communication purposes were made out of perishable material and did not last long; their memories somehow had to be uploaded back to the original, or they would die without the original knowing what they had experienced]. Wiener seems to imagine something more like scanning the body and destroying it as it goes, so the replica becomes the only existing version, a sort of immortality through replication idea [immortality of the pattern, that is, since wouldn’t the consciousness be destroyed each time? I’m trying to recall what Chalmers would have said: for the consciousness evoked or whatever by another copy of the same physical pattern, to be the exact same consciousness (not just a replica) would be pure dualism]. Wiener makes a silly comparison to the amount of information in an Encyclopedia Britannica, which is obviously not even comparable.


Summary of Chapter 6: Law and Communication

In this chapter Wiener appears to be demonstrating the application of cybernetic theory by giving a cybernetic theory of law. Basically the purpose of the law is to communicate clearly the expectations of behavior (and punishments for bad behavior) that will be enforced by the "community" or "the state" in the name of certain cultural understandings of "justice." Such an idea of justice will vary cross-culturally: Wiener provides what he understands as the Western Tradition as an example. This appears to be a very typical functionalist theory of law. How law should work is obtained rationally from the definition: it should communicate clearly. Wiener notes that this is obviously not always the case, but exactly how and why intentional ambiguities or unfairness are introduced is not something he seems ready to analyze in any depth. Instead these are accidents or from some other effect external to the purpose of the law: indeed, "noise." He notes with some apparent disdain or irony that lawyers are allowed and encouraged to introduce noise as confusion, bluffing, etc. in the courtroom – he feels this is unusual in, or rather extrinsic to the proper functioning of, a communicative system.

Within a culturally relativist framing, he describes his understanding of the dominant tradition, of Western Civilization with some influence from the East) and what it entails:

The best words to express these requirements are those of the French Revolution: Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. These mean: the liberty of each human being to develop in his freedom the full measure of the human possibilities embodied in him; the equality by which what is just for A and B remains just when the positions of A and B are interchanged; and a good will between man and man that knows no limits short of those of humanity itself. These great principles of justice mean and demand that no person, by virtue of the personal strength of his position, shall enforce a sharp bargain by duress. What compulsion the very existence of the community and the state may demand must be exercised in such a way as to produce no unnecessary infringement of freedom. (105-6)

[Summarized: 1) this is justified solely by tradition/cultural attachment to these ideals, they are not presented as natural or eternal; 2) each human is to be free to "develop" "the full measure of the human possibilities embodied in him" [a phrasing which could be open on the one hand to de facto inequality (as different persons have different "embodied possibilities;" I was going to say "on the other hand," an expression of the unique, but the measure is still the presence of "human possibilities," so this is a humanism, not a Stirnerian unique-ism.]. 3) equivalence of subject positions (A and B can be interchanged) [here we see an example of the “as if” that assumes that persons of any race, class, gender, sexuality and so on, are interacting in a world that is already equal or “as if” equal, and their actions can be evaluated in this light]; 4) no one can exert strength or duress to get a better deal; 5) a community or state enforces this, and can use force, but only in a way that avoids "unnecessary infringement of freedom," i.e., a subtractive view of "freedom" which in fact takes the existence of state power and “duress” for granted.]

[There is also clearly a limitation to the functionalism of the cybernetic theory of law, as presented in this chapter. It is presumed that since law should be clearly communicated/ing, by definition, then any examples of ambiguity must be explained away as aberrant and to be improved on. The interpretation of such ambiguity as intentional and exploitative is not seen as an inherent or essential aspect of the law as an expression of power or domination, but only accidental and peripheral to the true workings of law in the system.]

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