Unreal Nature

July 17, 2018

There Is Only One Understanding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… whatever one meant doesn’t actually exist at all.

This is from ‘Foretaste of an Author with Two Editors’ in The Beginning of Heaven and Earth Has No Name: Seven Days with Second-Order Cybernetics by Heinz von Foerster, edited by Albert Müller and Karl H. Müller and translated by Elinor Rooks and Michael Kasenbacher (2014):

… I sit here and make these sounds with the air that blows across my vocal cords, with my mouth, in order to modulate something. And the other responds: “Yes, thank you very much,” “Do you really love me?” That is actually unbelievable.

So I hope that the other will be able to make something of it. That’s the game that we start. In a dance, first one person is leading, then the other. The music is there — they dance. Naturally I make my sounds in the hope that the other will be able to make something of them. And then I am so conceited that I even hope that he will make of them more or less what I hoped he would. He replies. Why does he reply? Because he too hopes that I understand him. He hopes that I will make of his sounds something that fits in with what I had hoped he would make of the sounds that I made. A very complicated sentence. But that is how I see the language game.

As a speaker, you learn from the listener’s reaction to what you had said.

I have only my interpretation of the listener’s reaction, not his reaction. I have no idea how he has reacted. I only see how I believe he has reacted. I would claim that misunderstandings, so-called misunderstandings, do not exist. There is only one understanding, namely, how I understood it. But maybe it is not what my counterpart had hoped I would understand. Then it is not a misunderstanding on my part. It’s not as if I can misguess something. All that I have are his signs and what I have just heard.

[ … ]

… whatever one meant doesn’t actually exist at all. The game of language consists of both parties having the intention of making something, inventing something, constructing something out of the grunts and sibilants that the other produces. Now both are designers, making something of the utterances of the other.

Now on to the ‘First Day’ of the book:

[ … ]

These many beginnings or these many stories of the beginning refer us on one hand to the problem of observation and the many contexts and cultures that generate these stories of the beginning. On the other hand, there is the question of whether such stories are meaningful at all. Is it possible to connect these stories of the beginning with decidable questions?

These stories belong to basically undecidable questions. They are mostly a game to find out who the actor is: “How did the universe come into being?” If I hear the answer “Big Bang,” I say, “Thank you, that’s astrophysicist talk” …

[ … ]

Astrophysicists and physicists coud now explain that, with the Big Bang, observations, conjectures, and counter-conjectures may be found so that the matter of the Big Bang will become a decidable question.

Why astrophysicists consider it decidable, I don’t know. I know it’s undecidable. I’ll draw a comparison. The situation is like in chess: You choose a move, and that is the moment when the undecidable question becomes a decidable one. You’re saying, “We want to play a certain game now; it’s called astrophysics.” What are the rules? We make observations with telescopes, we build space telescopes, we know spectroscopy. We know what Doppler wrote about wave movements, frequency movements, and so on. Within these rules we want to find out how the world came into being.

[line break added] Thus we could come to certain conclusions. That means that in the matter of beginnings, the unanswerable is a question of which game I should play. And if we all decide to play the game of astrophysics or physics or chess or checkers or backgammon, then the undecidable first decision is made. Because until then it was basically undecidable which game I should play — this, that or the other — maybe arithmetic, mathematics, or the numerical system.

-Julie

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