global system brain (gsb)

Everybody has a blog, but not everybody has a brain :)

Collecting & connecting the dots 

Connecting the patterns into metapatterns 

Temporalize, ecologize, politicize complexity

Systems, not people, operate the world, but earth juts through world

#Anthropocene #earthlings #resilience

In a complex world there can be no value neutrality 

Complexity requires reductions 

"Right" and/or "good" reductions imply values

Opinions to the contrary are self-delusion 

To see the world in a grain of sand 

Micro- meso- macro-cosm 

Nonseparability - quantum physics

Interdependence - Buddhism, ecology 

You cannot be neutral on a moving train

Not because Zinn said it but because of the factual interdependence of any operation - be it natural, technological, mental, communicative or otherwise - with other operations 

The pattern that connects (Bateson)

Not just collecting the dots - like confetti during carnival or rocks in a quarry (Darwin) - but connecting them to see patterns & connecting the patterns to see metapatterns 

To promote & advance 

  • fractal thinking
  • Scalar thinking 
  • intellectual GPS thinking 

To understand how the world works/operates

  • operative understanding of being/nature/matter, technology, consciousness, communication 
  • trying to understand how the world works, i.e. how the global system operates - it kind of operates like GSB
  • if your theory is stuck in the Holocene, it is obsolete - if it focuses on the Anthropocene as the most dominant reality since at least the 1950s, it has the chance of being cutting edge
  • theory evolution: Luhmannian social systems theory - global systems theory - operativism
  • key concerns & concepts: global system - functional differentiation - global climate disruption - Anthropocene
  • key theoretical concepts: difference - time (evolution, temporalization) - complexity - selectivity
  • the system continues to describe & re-describe itself but it has long become too complex for its own complete self-description, and continuing to write only makes it more so (Luhmann, Wallace, Brauner; once you start with difference, you never get back to identity again - you never get back to the paradise of simple souls)
  • Everybody has a blog, but not everybody has a brain :)


Please note

  • date format = - 15.12.01 = December 1, 2015


brain stats (as of 16.01.05)

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key theories


Global systems theory 


key concepts

  • observation = distinction-dependent indication of one side of the distinction thus created between marked space / unmarked space (George Spencer Brown 1969: Laws of Form, Luhmann, Baecker, Fuchs ...)
  • information = a difference that makes a difference (Bateson)
  • system = the system / environment-distinction-in-operation




the global system cannot be controlled and therefore will run its course, which is the Anthropocene - the Anthropocene is the trajectory of the global system

  • is our predicament (with outcomes to be coped with - not a problem that could be solved)
  • precisely because it is an autopoietic, functionally differentitated system, it evolves but cannot be controlled/governed/changed (it is self-organizing, hence can only change itself)
  • deludes itself - via its function systems - about its own self-subversion
  • will therefore run its course, and literally run itself into the ground by undermining the very ground it stands on, which is the earth (Heidegger, Hamilton)
  • the consequences of this self-subversion are the Anthropocene (with GCD at its core), peak oil/everything, economic stagnation/contraction, de-democratization & rise of authoritarianism, environmental refugees, resource wars, etc.


"Theory has to know what time it is. Its time is the Anthropocene." (Wark)

  • if your theory does not know what time it is, it is lost
  • theory is either pre- or post-Anthropocene
  • if it is pre-Anthropocene, it is obsolete upon publication (dead on arrival)
  • see self-delusional ecocomm examples
  • call it whatever you want, but call it something and recognize that something fundamental has changed (Wark) - Anthropocene, capitalocene, systemocene ...


global system components

  • social system (world society)
  • earth system ("nature")
  • technology (built environment) connects/hardwires society and nature


environments of society

  • consciousness
  • nature
  • society (the society of society, Luhmann 2012 & 2013)


cultural materialism (Marvin Harris)

  • infrastructure - material reproduction of society - technology - technofix - self-subversion
  • structure - social organization/structure - functional differentiation - 'success' of function systems
  • superstructure - communication - self-delusion


key points

  • the primary form of differentiation of the global system is functional differentiation into function systems (economy, politics, law, science, education, media ... - there is no super-sytem, no head or center - see also Rorty)
  • functional differentiation is a trap
  • we can understand functional differentiation better, but that does not allow us to change its form of differentiation, maybe not even to mitigage its effects (Anthropocene, global climate disruption, etc.)


the function systems of the global system account for its

  • "success"
  • self-subversion
  • self-delusion


basic contradiction

  • the whole, real world is integrated
  • society is functionally differentiated
  • technology connects social systems with nature


there is no position in society from which collectively binding 

  • descriptions & explanantions of the world could be articulated
  • decisions could be made
  • actions could be taken


this is why there is more and more alarmed and alarming communication (most recently: COP 21), but not more effective action



The very features that make function systems so successful also account for their self-subversion and for their self-delusion about that self-subversion

  • autopoiesis
  • operational closure
  • autonomy
  • codes
  • programs
  • growing differentiation leading to greater indifference & sensitivity over time



function systems

  • mistake their version of reality with total reality
  • the combined communications of function systems provide society with a total version of external reality (nature, consciousness, society)
  • this allows society to reproduce its humanist self-delusion centered on human agency & collective action
  • they therefore have to reject theories which deconstruct their self-delusion, such as Luhmann's - examples: ecomodernism, earth system governance
  • more precisely: most of them ignore it in the first place, because it constitutes their blind spot

in order to operate effectively, function systems have to reproduce their virtual humanist self-understanding, which is a self-delusion - they therefore have to reject theories that deconstruct their self-delusion

  • the only way function systems can operate effectively is by treating their self-reproduced worldview as total reality (rather than as a limited version of reality limited by its own specific coding of the external environment)
  • the combined communications of function systems provide society with a total version of external reality (nature, consciousness, society)
  • this allows society to reproduce its humanistic self-understanding centered on human agency
  • for society to remain modern this image has to survive intact
  • society therefore has to reject re-descriptions such as Luhmann's which highlight the impotence of humanity regarding the operations of function systems & the virtual reality which these systems reproduce ( + professional & personal identity)
  • the rejection of Luhmannian theories is how society protects its virtual self-understanding
  • little wonder then that Luhmann's ideas have received so little attention - perhaps Luhmann's ideas cannot win widespread acceptance until society ceases to be modern




"We," the people, do not control the global system


Function systems, not people, reproduce themsevles, and thereby the global system


Functional differentiation is a trap:

Function systems reproduce expectations that far exceed their capacities


The very features that make function systems so successful also account for their self-subversion and for their self-delusion about that self-subversion:

autopoiesis, operational closure, autonomy, codes & programs, indifference & sensitivity



Theory & pragmatics: Anthropocene & resilience


Theory: "We cannot do much, but at least we can know why the opposite claim is presumptuous." (Moeller 2006)


Pragmatics: If we were to take the Anthropocene seriously, we would urgently build resilience. 


There is much less and much more that we can do than we think we can


We cannot meaningfully mitigate the devastating impacts of the Anthropocene that are already written into the future


We can build local resilience that can buy time and limit the damage, knowing full well that eventually the adaptive capacity of even the most resilient systems will be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the impacts of the Anthropocene


The Anthropocene is an age of extremes and an age of consequences


The global system is already a ruin - broken present, stolen future (Scranton, Collingwood)



Characteristics of the Anthropocene in the 21st century


The Anthropocene will be the emerging reality of the 21st century that will increasingly intrude on our fantasies and delusions.


"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." (Philip Dick)


  • in general: overshoot leading to self-subversion of the global system & declining carrying capacity (ecological bottleneck)
  • resource depletion
  • environmental degradation
  • diminishing returns of technological innovation
  • economic stagnation & contraction
  • socioeconomic polarization
  • political destabilization, dedemocratization & rise of authoritarianism
  • escalation of conflicts over dwindling resources & their securitization



  • "We are Nature - long have we been absent, but now we return." (Whitman)
  • "If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst." (Hardy)



  • complex systems - not people - drive the global system, which drives the Anthropocene
  • systems theory is the best way to understand the global system
  • rejection of dominant assumptions about what society (short for global system, as in world society) is and how it works, especially that it can be steered/controlled/governed
  • society (communication) deludes itself into believing in its own governability
  • better understanding ≠> better action


"We" do not control our world


Systems, not people, make society happen (King 2009)


The operations of function systems - not people - constitute the operation of the global system


The global system evolves, but cannot be governed (or otherwise steered, controlled)


As the global system reproduces itself communicatively, it subverts itself materially


To remain modern, society has to reject Luhmann's theory - 


Luhmann's theory unlikely to win widepsread acceptance until society ceases to be modern


No wonder that Luhmann is not very popular since he radically calls into question the worldview, the personal and professional identity (self-understanding), and the personal and professional practice and praxis of almost everybody, 


To escape its self-subversion, society would need to evolve into something other than modern society


A fundamental change in the way that society presents itself to itself in its communications - a radical redescription of its dominant self-description - may make this evolution as little less unlikely 


This brain is such a redescription


Much more likely: "With supertheory, the world does not become morally better, more rational, or spiritually complete. It only becomes more distinct." (Moeller 2006: 201)



key points

  • functional differentiation is the primary structure of the global system (society) - consequences:
  • its dominant communication is self-delusional (reproduction)
  • its material operation is self-subversive - consequences:
  • securitization of the environment and resources




"The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else." (Commoner)


"It had always been clear to me that a thoroughly constructed conceptual theory of society would be much more radical and much more discomforting in its effects than narrowly focused criticisms - criticisms of capitalism for instance - could ever imagine." (Luhmann, Protest)



excerpts (King 2009) - society deludes itself about its self-subversion -- this is the main function of mainstream/popular culture: culture manages the terror arising from the awareness of vulnerability and death (terror management theory)

  • rejects that society can be governed
  • this delusion of governeability is based on the belief that a better understanding of society will lead to better problem solving through better human action
  • "the very notion of society depends upon the perpetuation of these myths"


"Yet, what makes the thesis of this book different from all these debates and the many thousands of previous books and articles written on the subject of human destiny and social control, is that it totally rejects the basic assumptions that pervade these debates about what society is and how it works. Above all, it totally rejects the fundamental idea that society, any society, can be steered or controlled, whether by human or divine hands.


Modern society is not the first society to have proved to itself that it is perfectly able to improve itself and control its future. The difference today is that these delusions are founded upon a belief in the possibility of increasing understanding of society itself. Just as the high priests had to admit that God acts or the gods act in mysterious ways and that prayers or sacrifices may, for no clear reason, be ignored or rejected, the message of this book is that, a belief that the future may be controlled through a growing understanding of society itself is bound to lead to disappointment. There can be no control of the future, but only the illusion in the present that the future is controllable. Yet, much more interestingly, these very illusions of control, according to which almost anything is possible through knowledge acquisition, problem solving, and human action, are themselves essential for society‟s existence. The message here is that the very notion of society depends upon the perpetuation of these myths. This is the paradox of society which I want to unravel in the pages that follow. (King 2009, 9-10)



"Luhmann's argument is that only way that social function systems are able to operate effectively as autopoietic or operationally closed systems is by treating the world view, that they themselves generate, as total reality, rather than a limited version of reality restricted by the system‟s own specific coding of the external environment. More widely, the combined communications of social function systems provide society with a total version of external reality - that is of nature and consciousness and society itself - which allows society continually to reproduce an image of itself existing as a product of human endeavour, human success and also human failure. Clearly, for modern society to remain „modern‟ this image has to survive intact. Modern society therefore has to reject sociological approaches, such as Luhmann‟s, which highlight the relative impotence of humanity in the face of the operations of function systems and the virtual nature of the reality which these systems create. Indeed, one could argue that this rejection of social theories such as Luhmann‟s, which cast considerable doubt on the almost universally accepted image of society is essential to the maintenance of the „modernist‟ social order or, at least, to the maintenance of an image of a social world that has meaning, that makes sense for modernity. Little wonder then that Luhmann‟s ideas have so far received so little attention outside academic circles. Put the other way round, perhaps Luhmann‟s ideas cannot win widespread acceptance until society ceases to be modern.


Be this as it may, it is not altogether surprising, that given Luhmann‟s ironic tone and what many take to be the underlying message of his writings - „Lord what fools these mortals be‟ - his ideas were hardly likely to win many supporters in the media or among the world‟s opinion leaders. Indeed, much of his writing has scandalized, professional practitioners, who do not want to be told that they are no more than products of their system. They have also infuriated ideological critics of society who seek to reform or revolutionize it in a variety of different ways and they have angered those social scientists, both theoretical and empirical who are committed to a humanistic, progressive approach to change." (King 2009, 161-162)


key concepts

  • global system
  • functional differentiation
  • global climate disruption (GCD)
  • Anthropocene


global system

  • complex
  • dynamic
  • nonlinear
  • functionally differentiated (Luhmann)
  • uncontrollable (ungoverneable)
  • runaway system



  • the most likely scenario is that is that the global system will continue to run its course, thereby undermining itself
  • the main calamity of functional differentiation is neglect (collective inaction)
  • the best thing we can do is to urgently build local community resilience


key thinkers

  • Niklas Luhmann
  • Hans-Georg Moeller
  • Michael King
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Craig Dilworth
  • Clive Hamilton
  • Nafeez Ahmed
  • Kevin Anderson