Interventions by Rudi Laermans during Stations 2, Brussel, Kaaitheaterstudio's, May 2004.

Stationen 1 Jan 2004English

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Foreword: Thomas Lehman invited Rudi Laermans to give a lecture about his profession. Rudi Laermans teaches at the KU in Leuven, where he's a sociologist; and one of the sub disciplines, where he keeps himself busy with is general sociology and the theoretical frame within that, which is named systems theory. He also gives lessons at the Dancing School PARTS in Brussel.


First night, 20 may 2004

What are social systems? Earlier, Thomas Lehmen tried to explain the theatre structure with a drawing, which is now gone, on the school board. I noticed then that he almost used symbols of people, and that was weird. It would mean that the director of a play - except the book he uses, so the dramatically lines left aside -suggests that in the theatre system, and more in general in the social world, it only comes down to people, and the relationships between people. This may be right in some way, though I still keep on wondering what these relationships between those people would be then? Is it about the relations between bodies or between thoughts? And how on earth would we be able to observe the relation between thoughts, between 'consciousnesses' or between bodies? I think this is no good point to start with, taking the relations of humans for describing the society of social systems, because we never know what we mean when we talk about humans: thoughts, bodies, cells, etc.? So what are interpersonal relationships anyway?

But there is a much more simpler point of departure, which is also relevant when we talk about theatre (later more about that), namely in the social - in the society - it is about interpersonal relationships, and not about people who participate. It's about the 'inter', and what there is between people. It's communication. I think when we talk about the social, we can only use the term 'communication between people', at least in some way of observering matter. I do say 'communication between people', but it does not connect us; we are involved with that communication, but with thoughts who are mutual intransparent. You are here, but at the same time you do have thoughts and your body still continues to produce cells; that is not what is between us. So what is between us? Communication, like I said, but it is not sure if that communication is mine. In some way it is, but in some way it isn't, because even though communication is taking place right now, even I can think of other things. So where is the ‘I’ - me or you - in relation to that communication? But that are, metaphysical questions, where we don't have to bother about now.

So communication... now sharper, to the point. With the notion of communication I mean nothing more than giving information. That is what is caught 'in thoughts', but what is not observable. How can I be sure you understand me? On this moment, I don't know, because all I can do is observe you at the moment the communication arrives you, but if any one would make a remark... (Immediately there's a reaction from the audience: 'Could you talk slower?') With other words, if we talk about giving information, than we should also make a distinction with on one side the understanding of what is happening in people heads, the conscious understanding, and on the other side the eventual social understanding, which is being shown in a following communication. Because of the last one, we know if the communication is understood or not. So this means that, when we use 'communication' as an entrance to talk about the social, society and such, we immediately speak about chains of communications. One communication is actually no communication. Communication follow each other up, and that is why it is 'shown' if the other person has understood the previous communications.

Now think again about the theatre situation; than it is very odd, right? There is communication, but there is no response. Actors and directors never know if they are being understood by the "audience, unless maybe there is a conversation about it in the foyer afterwards. (Reaction from the audience: 'But what about laughing?') Laughing indeed, but that is the cause of the fact that it is a humorous play with a humorous point. During the play there is no verbal communication about understanding or misunderstanding (- unless maybe 'boe' yelling in case of misunderstanding.) There is only one moment, where it is clear if the audience has understood the play and that is the applauding at the end of the show. 20 Applauding is essential, though maybe it is only a way of showing communication took place, that audience believes something like 'communication' has happened. At the same time, applauding is also a way of showing appreciation and, in that case, also understanding. If there's weak applauding, you can observe that there hasn't been much understanding, that just a few things 'came through'.

(Reaction from the audience: 'With music, there's also a lot of applauding, but music is no communication, right?')
I did not say that communication is language. Communication takes part in a lot of different medias. Communication can take the shape of images and music, but it can also fee movement; like dance art.

(Reaction Thomas Lehmen: 'So communication always concerns about the sending of information and the receiving of information. Or does communication also points out that there is something like a process of understanding? Otherwise there is nothing that I can do with the information; and it would also be impossible to communicate I didn't understand it.') Well, this brings us back to what I just tried to make clear about understanding. In fact you say, that understanding would be the purpose of communication. And that leads us immediately to the transfers metaphor of communication; the image that one has an intention and that this intention should be understood by someone else in a specific manner or the communication has failed. But the thing is, when communication is not understood, it gives attention to ask questions and so the communication still continues. But don't forget that there are some specific social systems that always turn out to misunderstanding. For example, you can never tell what you feel, and someone else can never really understand what you feel. So, this is a fantastic something as engine or fuel for communication; there are marriages, which last on emotional misunderstanding for years. And maybe there are also marriages, which revolve about really misunderstanding for years.

(Reaction Thomas Lehmen: 'So in fact it is important how you communicate. It should be in such way that is possible to ask questions, so when it's being misunderstood, the communication can start from there.')
No, because - let's say - in daily communication, you have all sorts of specialized communication, like art. In daily communication the fact that you respond on what someone said, already shows that you have understood it in a some way. And so without saying it directly, continuing the conversation shows implicit your understanding or interpretation about the shared information.

Communication is always being understood in a certain way, which means that it can also be misunderstoo4 all the time. But that 'misunderstanding' can only be in the eyes of the speaker, who interprets his own spoken words in a certain way. So look at it like this, and that is where I plead for: the speaker interpret its own words in a certain way and that interpretation - what appears from the following conversation - will be or not be shared by the listener. But which interpretation is correct? The speaker, because he understands correctly what he says? But why should that be? Why should my own interpretations be superior, because I'm the speaker, to the interpretation some one else gave to my words (which can be radical different than the interpretation that I give)? From that, it shows again how autonomous that something is that is happening here between us, namely communication. Even though I'm the producer of that communication, I also give it an interpretation. With other words; I can misunderstand the words I'm saying. Or better, not misunderstand, but maybe less right than someone else will do.
And now we come, to round it off, by the situation here, theatre. That someone does not understand what he or she is communicating: exactly that is being shown in art, over and over again. The artist makes something and gives it a meaning (interpretation), and afterwards talks about it with a critic. Well, the critic that tells him: 'hmm, that's not the way I looked at it...', could get a following response from the artist? 'Actual, your interpretation is more interesting than I had while I was making it.' 

Now one last question, the same question I asked in the beginning: What is a social system? It is a chain of communications. That is what is happening. It means that a social system exists out of happenings, which follow up on each other. Communication comes, goes and makes place for new communications. But there is still the question: how will it go on? What will be the next communication, and also: will there be a next communication?
Translating that to the situation here: I think that what I just said could be a possible interpretation towards this situation. You never know how communication will continue. So it gives back communication a little bit of her event character, with all its 'unexpectations' and charmes, but sometimes also its irritations.

(Reaction from audience: "You said earlier that it's impossible to communicate feelings.') Exactly and there are many reasons for, but a simple reason is from the communicative perspective: (1) it is possible you couldn't have communicated them, and (2) you could have communicated them differently. This means that the way you communicate about your feelings per definition is not showable. What you say never has an image that fits with it - and how could it ever be - because that what you say or describe, are namely feelings. You can communicate about feelings, but never in a one-on-one relation. That is why a different group / party - and exactly that is the difficulty in emotional communication - always doubts the honesty of the emotional communication. Always. There is a beautiful saying from Niklas Luhmann, one of the great voices within the social systems theory, who says: 'Emotions will lose sincerity the moment people try to communicate them sincere."

(Reaction from the audience: 'But what about the many inventions nowadays? It is great, but the human communication will disappear. What than? Human communications are primary, especially to you, right?')
Not at all. I wrote a book, titled: 'Communication without humans'. And simply said: if you want to understand this society nowadays you have to talk about a world society. You are observing from a world-wide level, if it is about politics, education, science, art, economics, whatever, you are on a world-wide level. This causes that our society is even more impossible to understand by the situation we are in now - and I think that is the great disability of theatre while we are observing each other, and let's call it human communication... that you cannot use this situation as a standard for understanding the society. This situation here of interaction, face-to-face is a situation, which in our society - and especially for the functioning of our society - is only average. Simply said: our society revolves more the less around stock markets, which have a lot effect on the working possibilities, salary, money flows, etc. Stock markets run electronically, mostly, and worldwide. Try to understand the communication in a stock market with the model of communication we are using here, in this situation. It is not possible. Stock markets are too complex and have 'non-human' communications. So let's stop reflecting this situation on the situation of Stock markets, and other things in the world. The model of direct communication between humans is just not right for this.

Second evening, 21 May 2004

Starting with a notion of system. What I tried to make clear yesterday, is that social systems don't consist of the relationships between people. You could think that social systems are elements, named people, where in between the relationships show up. That brings us to a simple definition of 'system': you have relationships and elements. But I would like to see this definition from a sociologic angle and I will demonstrate that elements are no people, not even in a social position -think of an organization, which only consists of social positions; managers and employees, with in between relationships. But also that is not a social system to me. I think social systems are elements named communications, where in between indeed relationships are.
What I want to explain today is that system formation - social system speaking then - is caused by reducing complexity, and to make that clear I must first tell you about complexity.

Complexity is a term we also use in daily life, but in a theory speaking the word has a more specific meaning. It has everything to do with the possible relationships between elements. For example, you know a company has a hierarchic structure. But why? Is it because people are eager to use power, etc? Maybe in some ways, but as a sociologist I know one thing for sure and that is that using power is a special functional way to deal with possible relations between elements - for now, thinking in terms of human. For example, between employees. Because the powerful party says: 'You can only communicate with a or b, and if you want to go to c, you must first go to a or b.' It reduces the possible communications, and more general, it reduces the possible relations between elements. That is reducing complexity.
Complexity means that there are too many relationships possible between elements. These too many relationships make it a complex situation. This is virtual worlds, which will give virtual possibilities to continue. The difference between the actual and the virtual communications, which are both possible thanks to communication, make the social system able on every single moment. The complexity of social systems is exactly in that difference.

How does a social system exist sometimes? How does it continue by itself? It's because of reducing complexity. What does that mean? Nothing more or less than: one communication of all those meaningful connection possibilities will be chosen. This brings us to the paradox of social systems. Because the moment a solution is created, a new problem will show up; on the moment one communication is selected, there is again the question: 'How will it continue?' In short, a social system is caused by reducing complexity, by selecting a communication from a lot of other possibilities, what immediately causes a new problem of complexity. That is the paradox of social systems: reducing complexity results in a situation, which again needs reducing complexity and again and again.

Now one more thing before I go to the situation right here. There are many things possible on any moment of time in a 'system of thoughts' as well as in a social system. The problem, from a sociologic angle, is the freedom. There's too much freedom to continue easily. So that should be declined, and that is exactly what social structures do. That is the first form of reducing complexity; reducing the possibilities. This social structure is nothing else but the binding power of the themes, which we are expected to stick to in a communicative way. You expect me to stick to the theme 'systems theory' and you would be surprised if I would start talking about personal things of my life. With using a theme the connection possibilities have declined extremely. Still there are many degrees of freedom left, but less. That is how social structures work, they decline the connection possibilities so there is a first form of reducing complexity.

Expectations are also part of a structure, and we do have expectations - even when we go to the theatre: about what kind of communication in what kind of social setting there will be. The interesting thing about communication in a theatre is not only the fact that there is communication on the set and at the same time with the audience, but also because there is some of the dynamic, 'hyper complex' or 'over-complexed', when the total possible relationships that are 'able to be' on a certain moment are too many, so that it's actual not possible to calculate it anymore. Back to the situation here; think off all the possible relations that could be right now, between you and me and them; well, that is complexity.

But again, I don't want to think about the social in terms of relationships between people. The most simple reason is that someone else should tell me first what a human actual is, and what then the relationships are between people?! Well, simply said, 'the social' is something that is situated between people; and the most simple/'candidate is communication. It's immediately clear that without communication things like social life, social relations, even relations between people, are impossible. Communication is the point of departure, communication is raw material and also the fuel of social systems. We speak off social system forming when communications follow each other up. There's talking, and talking, and more talking. So it means that the previous communication is gone. Social systems - and also thinking systems of consciousness - are per definition unstable, because they are in movement all the time, without stopping their need for raw material, namely communication. If it stops, the process stops. And we all know how threatening silence can be in social life. So communication is raw material, and a chain of communications forms the social system.

Now, let's try to imagine the following: With one communication there are many possible relations, all with potential up following communications. In theory, analyzing the social system of communication processes it's about observing that the one new, actual communication has many connections. That's why I dropped a silence. You could have communicated as well. That would have formed a conversation with many possible connections. Many questions could have been asked or many things could have been said. Every remark is communication, which continues the social system. So when we imagine the relations between elements, these are the communications in social systems. And the complexity of possible relations should be seen as following; on a certain point x there is communication c(x), which has many ways to start another communication. In this case, I like to use virtual worlds. When we communicate, every communication will indeed open a myriad of which is caused by complexity, and that is very structural for a situation in theatre. Because as a sociologist I see a lot of people wondering: 'How will it continue?' Of course, we can imagine that someone has directed or written the play in such way that there will be an effective meaningful ending. But still, in theatre is tension, drama and the dramatic element bounded with the fact that we are not constantly aware of observing all the connection possibilities, even though we are, and that observation determines how we watch the show; we could long for what will come next. So we don't put our trust in the maker of the play and break the tension by knowing it will be allright. Instead of that, we watch the actors of the play and listen to the communications that come and go, and from that we build up our own expectations. Just by observing the actors and the happenings, we structure it by our own expectation. .We reduces the possible situations. We choose, we expect the play to continue on a certain way. So the complexity makes us wonder: 'How will it continue?' While our expectations reduce it by choosing the 'how' and the way we want to let it be continued.

(Reaction Thomas Lehmen: You said that people cannot function without forming a structure by their expectations. But it also gives problems, namely when you always expect your own expectations to be full filled.') Yes, but you can also let go of your expectations. The theory does not say that you communicate up to your expectations, because you can also break them by, for example, placing yourself above the expectations, which were defined by an organization. The social structures and the expectations within an organization are extremely light. Another point is, that there will always be a difference in power. The difference in power defines one expectation against another. For that, new communication is needed to change or create new expectations. To me, difference in power is primary for creating an4 pushing through expectations. In that way, artists are very powerful. With every piece of work, they define one real expectation, namely that you will look with the logical vision of the art piece.


Third evening, 22 May 2004

Tonight I will talk about an important coordinating term from the social system theory, and again I will try to translate it to the situation here, namely the notion of observation. When I talk about social systems, I am not talking about humans, but about that what is in between them; a chain of communications. That is why social systems and communication processes have a certain autonomy (away from the fact if there are thoughts being produced and if our bodies still continue making cells, etc.) What I want to make clear, after this, is that social systems, just like any other system, are also observation systems. Observation. Let me give a classical example of observation; the thermostat. It observes temperature and it is programmed to turn on when it gets colder than twenty degrees. With other words, a thermostat is doing nothing else than distinguishing plus or minus twenty degrees. From this, we can departure with knowing that observation always relies on distinction or distinguishing.
So we can say that with every observation, we make a distinction between a and b, and if you have observed a, you also know there is a b. When we observe, there's always something that gets distinguished from what we see, name- r the something that is not there. This is a baseline of the whole observation theory.

One. When one observes something, there are many series handled, using only one side of a two sided distinction. When you observe like this, and differently is not possible, you don't see the real world as it is, because that part disappears behind your used distinctions, but you see a world. Like art, for example. The second you see it, you think: 'That is art.' But immediately you start to doubt if it is really art, because it is not what you had expected to see. So we can observe wrongly, and that is why the real world can be different from our own world interpretation. All thanks to your expectations and distinctions.

Two. There's always being observed in a certain medium, a certain 'substrate.' In the case of verbal communications, it is language. But also our bodies observe constantly, using distinctions, although it has no character of language. For example, our brain system. It observes everything what happens in our bodies and also everything that happens in this room, in terms of electrochemical differences. For the brainsystem the world is nothing but a. continual changing collection of electrochemical differences. It is thanks to our awareness that we get involved with something like a world 'outside' ours, and that is nothing else but an intern produced electrochemical distinguishing. By the observation, which will be communicated, we usually use words, language. But what I want to make clear in this second point of observation, is that we observe within different systems, and that every system has a primary medium for observation. Communication and thinking course to the direction of language, body systems all have their own specific media (like the example of the brainsystem here above). And now you should tell me what a human is! I don't know. It that the organic system, the brainsystem or the consciousness?

Three. Self observation. We describe humans continually on behalf of  distinctions (sympathetic/dislike), but not only other humans, we also observe ourselves. Even here at this moment people produce self descriptions, for example: they are giving descriptions of their professions - though that is a general meaning of this term. Next to self observation, there are also other ways of observing. Like, when we use distinctions for observing the world, we usually think that these distinctions will match with the observed world; well that is observing in first order - that is a realistic point of view (strictly taken, not correct.) But that is not what we are doing right now, so we can forget all about observing in first order. Right now, we observe how others observe themselves, and because of that, they will notice that we can observe 'them' differently (we see them differently than they see themselves). So here we observe self observations, and we observe different ways to present self observation; we call that second-order observation: not the 'what', but the 'how' of the observation settles the matter.

Four. On the moment we observe in second-order, in principle, there is something like 'contingency awareness' possible. Contingency is a technical term, which points out the fact that something can be. That something is possible. Or differently said: it is not impossible and it is not necessary and that is the reason 'the something' is possible. When you observe how other people 29 observe, you can see the contingency of that observation and that is why you can say: 'Well, you can look at it like this, but you can also see it differently.' There are other interpretations possible, there are other distinctions you can use, or you can handle the other side of a same distinction. That is when we see the 'contingency' - the not-necessary usement of our distinctions. In short, when we observe in second-order, we can look at it in different ways and notice the not-necessary usement of our distinctions.

So what happens here in this show? It is clear that when we look at art, we always observe in second order. An artist describes, makes images, shares a way of 'seeing'... so he communicates observations. And these observations is what we observe and we always use some categories: is it art or is it not, is it theatre or is it not. We can look at it in different ways. And eventually, the situation here, what does it call to us? We observe in second-order. The actor makes a character, shows a way of being like an artists shows a way of 'seeing' and it is being communicated. We observe it and also here we use the category: is it theatre or not? Well, during the break, I heard people talk about this. They were trying to give an answer to that question. But why? They continually want to return to the reality value of those terms. But isn't it exactly here, where the 'contingency' of these terms are being shown? We can look at it in different ways and notice the not-necessary usement of our distinctions.