Thuistezien 178 — 15.02.2021

Prof. Dr. Dirk Baecker
Laws of Form 2019

The complex mathematical premises developed in George Spencer Brown’s ‘Laws of Form’ are extremely difficult yet extremely fascinating to apply in sociological models, as well as business models, as presented by Prof. Dr. Dirk Baecker. How should an enterprise be started up to work in a strategically successful fashion? Or for example, how to organise the emergency room?

To get an idea of that, Baecker does not comment on the crude mathematics invented by Spencer Brown. Rather, he emphasises the structural elements in Laws of Form to look at human communication. Communication does two things at the same time: it memorises itself, and it oscillates for something new to happen. The background to this observation is Spencer Browns ‘form of distinction’, which is a symbol which he introduced to logics where ‘distinction’ is the most fundamental category for anything (mathematics, science, human consciousness, perception etc.). A separation between ‘a’ and ‘b’, yet this separation is its crucial connecting element. The distinction between ‘a’ and ‘b’ is organised by the two separate entities simultaneously as they come into being.

As Baecker describes the twofold function of communication, he mentions then the notion of ‘re-entry’, where the mark of distinction also can be viewed from a larger perspective of its form. The law of distinction not only instantiates two categories, but it also creates a second-order observer to a first-order observer (connecting to aesthetic theory of Niklas Luhmann). The first-order observer, the first category, just looks at ‘a’ in its content and is confident about their observation. Through distinction, the second-order observer can then reflect upon that observation through its form – where he/she is coming from, which context they’re referring to in order to talk about ‘a’ in the first place, and how ‘a’ might vary with different contexts.

According to sociology the memorising and oscillating function of this basic structure can be used to categorise and endlessly substitute: it will always show a definition of something implied by something else. This structure is useful for thinking about interaction and organisational societies. Seeing as it represents networks of identities/definitions mutually informing and controlling each other, one has to start up an enterprise that takes that interdependence of factors into account. In this way, an entrepreneurial project can be divided up into categories which functionally give structure to an organised complexity. In such a network model all factors, from product to society, are irreducible elements that need each other to work; they refer to each other and as such define the whole. This can eliminate seeming contradictions or dilemmas between elements. Working along the premises of Laws of Form would be a good exercise for entrepreneurs or developers to think of the bigger picture as well as the interconnected details and sub-processes. It guarantees some kind of entrepreneurial integrity and respect for communication and interaction, which might be a formula for success.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Baecker is a sociologist and holds the chair of Culture Theory and Management at the University of Witten/Herdecke. He studied systems theory with Niklas Luhmann and received his doctorate and habilitation at the University of Bielefeld. He has written numerous publications in the fields of sociological theory, culture theory, economic sociology and organisation research.

The exhibition ‘Laws of Form’ celebrated the 50th anniversary of the book of the same name written by English polymath George Spencer-Brown (1923 –2016) and was presented at West Den Haag, 28.09.2019 — 31.12.2019

Text: Yael Keijzer