INTEGRATED INFORMATION THEORY EXPLAINED, BY PROBABILITIES, ENTROPY AND EXPECTED LENGTH OF CODE

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ABSTRACT

In the first part of this article I will speak about magnitudes, probabilities, and entropy, proposing to use a different expression to indicate entropy: expected length of code. The first part of the article is in preparation for the second part, in which I will give a simplified description of the concept of Complexity as introduced by Gerald Edelman and of the concept of PHI, proposed by Giulio Tononi in the context of integrated information theory. In this article PHI is presented as an interesting parameter, not as the core property of consciousness. The main mathematical reference that I employed for PHI is the work of Barnett, Barrett, Seth et al.

PART I: ENTROPY AS EXPECTED LENGTH OF CODE

I.THINGS WE CAN MEASURE
II.KOLMOGOROV AND INTROSPECTION
III.A CERTAIN BLINDNESS
IV.DIVIDING THE WORLD; CLASSICAL INTERPRETATION AND SAME WEIGHT CASES
V.MANAGING COMBINATIONS: LABELS, AND THE WORK OF LOGARITHM
VI.GENERALIZING THE SAME WEIGHT SCENARIO AND THE IDEA OF EXPECTED LENGTH OF CODE
VII.INFORMATION OR COMBINATIONS?

PART II: SAVED CODE AND CONSCIOUSNESS: TWO DIFFERENT BUSINESSES

I.EDELMAN AND COMPLEXITY
II.DESCRIBING A PHOTO: THE SAVING OF CODE
III.CONSIDERING TIME; THE METAPHOR OF THE FILM
IV.EFFECTIVE INFORMATION: THE ADVANTAGE OF THE WHOLE
V.CHECKING FOR INDEPENDENT STORIES – WHICH DECOMPOSITION?
VI.HOW MUCH THE WHOLE IS UPPER THE PARTS
VII.CONCLUSIONS: THE HACKER AND THE ELECTRICIAN

APPENDIX A: A SELECTIONIST ARGUMENT TO MAKE THE CASE FOR CONSCIENT MATTER

APPENDIX B: SOME GRAMMATICAL ISSUES

PART I: ENTROPY AS EXPECTED LENGTH OF CODE

I. THINGS WE CAN MEASURE

Measuring is assigning numbers to objects to represent their properties, but this assignment isn’t simply labelling, like the numbers on the t-shirts of football players, there must be some mathematical property of these numbers that represents relations among those objects.[1] A common example is addition. Think of five random physical objects. Each of them has a weight, we can put them in order from the lightest to the heaviest, and if we add one kilogram to each of these items, their order won’t change. These are some basic facts related to weight having an additive property.

Let’s think of a counterexample in order to fix our ideas. If we take five different pictures it is not possible to find an objective disposition of them from the ugliest to the most attractive, and even if we find it, it’s not possible to add another picture to each of the five initial ones, wielding five new pictures with the same order of beauty.
Maybe we can imagine some particular cases and find certain sequences for certain images that satisfy the conditions according to our taste, but with weight we are able to manage every kind of object in the same way, always obtaining the same results valid for everyone, everywhere.

The objects of measuring are those properties called magnitudes or quantities. Magnitudes are something more similar to real numbers than natural numbers, and, according to Gallistel, the ability to manage them is a very deep and ancient property specific to the mind of men and animals.[2]

II. INTROSPECTION AND KOLMOGOROV

The world produced the mind both with the events of our lives and by the evolutionary history of our species. We host many different weights of likelihood assigned to different items of the world. We are a sort of experiment that harvests the marks of the repetitions of past generations. In the past we stored in our warehouses the structures of many series and now we reproduce and compose them to accomplish our daily tasks. Maybe we will find that there is some property of DNA that facilitates these harvesting activities, and we will realize that there should be a moment in the ancient past when this property was selected.
When we develop a representation and we ask ourselves what is the chance this is true of a certain part of the world, then our mind collects the weight of these items that the representation is made of, and composing them it allows us to assign a certain truth weight to the whole representation. This is what introspection and intuition tell us about probabilities and these weights can be thought of as magnitudes.

Since they are magnitudes, we are able to compare different probabilities and to make additions out of them, even if with just a certain approximation. For example, we can compare the probability of a red number at the roulette and estimate it is larger than the probability of the numbers 3 or 4 over a single throw of the dice. We can operate over probabilities as we operate over weights and lengths, treating them as measurable items.

Not only intuition pushes us to consider probabilities as magnitudes. When it comes to get a formal definition of probabilities the main reference is the work of Kolmogorov. He asked that probabilities, in addition to being non-negative and having a total amount of 1 (normalization), also to being subject to addition.[3] The definition of Kolmogorov establishes probabilities essentially as something that can be measured, making them of the same breed of magnitudes.[4]

III. A CERTAIN BLINDNESS

By probabilities we can treat as magnitudes a great extent of the phenomena in the world, so that in a sense we can think about probabilities as a translation from shapes to magnitudes, as a numerification of the shape. In this conversion some part of information is lost, and a knowledge made of probabilities is affected by a certain blindness in respect to what we could call a knowledge made of structure. Here is an example.

Let’s imagine a solid block with an entrance on the top where we can put a ball. Inside the block there is a web of tunnels ending in 10 holes on the bottom side, and under each bottom hole there is a box. If we are asked to build probabilities about the boxes where the ball will fall, the first move could be to give each box the same chance of 10%. If we are allowed to put the ball in the block one hundred times and check the results, we will understand that the ball dropping into certain boxes is more likely and we will shape our probabilities accordingly. If we are allowed to make the same experiment many more times we will be able to further refine our set of probabilities, but we will never get the same knowledge that we would get opening the block. Instead, if we know how the web of tunnels is made, and if we have enough knowledge about physics, we will be able to build an exact and definitive attribution of probabilities. If we know the structure of the block we can write its probabilitities, but if we know its probabilities we can not describe its structure.

At the beginning of the previous chapter I considered knowledge equivalent to a structure of frequencies, while here I pose knowledge in opposition to a structure of frequencies. The difference is that in the previous case I was talking about the whole structure of frequencies constituting the past of our species and of ourselves, while here I’m talking about the structure of frequencies of a single experiment over a single object. In the previous case, the issue was the rising of our intelligence, while here an already established intelligence is operating to build a description of a circumscribed item.

IV. DIVIDING THE WORLD; CLASSICAL INTERPRETATION AND SAME WEIGHT CASES

When we want to foresee the future, we can try to describe a series of possible outcomes, each with the same probability. This is the core idea behind the classical interpretation of probabilities. The primitive capacity required from our mind to accomplish this task is that of dividing the world into possible states or events. We find this issue also at the beginning of the work of Kolmogorov, who posits as a primitive object a collection of possible events: probabilities come only after the definition of the items to which we apply them.
It is our knowledge that allows us to divide the world into different states and events, and if we consider ourselves as the imprint of the frequencies of the world, then it is from this imprint that derives our ability to divide the world into objects and landscapes.[5] If often we do this well, this testifies to the good work carried out by evolution upon our minds, but there is no guarantee of a successful outcome to this process. We have to divide the world, but we don’t know in advance the best division, and different assignments of probabilities are possible. About this issue, it is interesting to consider the Bertrand’s Paradox in this version: “A factory produces cubes with side-length between 0 and 1 foot; what is the probability that a randomly chosen cube has side-length between 0 and 1/2 a foot? The tempting answer is 1/2, as we imagine a process of production that is uniformly distributed over side-length. But the question could have been given an equivalent restatement: a factory produces cubes with face-area between 0 and 1 square-feet; what is the probability that a randomly chosen cube has face-area between 0 and 1/4 square-feet? Now the tempting answer is 1/4, as we imagine a process of production that is uniformly distributed over face-area.”[6]

I reported this example to show a clear situation where we can’t jump over our doubts about the assignment of probabilities only by reasoning, without going to check what is happening in the world. Our representations do not retain the whole truth of the world for obvious reasons, because we only receive the content of senses, because memory deteriorates and it is never as complete as the current input of senses, and because of the cognitive work made by the cortex. Our representations are naturally made by dropping certain parts of the world. As a consequence, it would be quite strange to be able to accomplish a correct attribution of probabilities “a priori”, only relying on reflection over representations, without probing into the world. Dropping allows us to manage thinner thoughts and makes it possible to have more daring representations, but then we need to go back into the world to verify them.

It seems that the idea of same weight cases is not related with the intimate nature of the world, which we don’t know if we can grasp. It seems to be only one of the strategies to develop our ever evolving approximation of the world. Nonetheless, it remains an important reference for its simplicity. In fact, when we are in a situation of same weight cases, the probability of each case is the inverse ratio of the number of cases. For example, the number of cases after throwing a die is 6, and each of them results in the same probability = 1/6.

V. MANAGING COMBINATIONS: LABELS, AND THE WORK OF LOGARITHM

For managing cases we need to assign a label to each of them. Labelling is a basic form of description where we have a one-to-one relation among the described items and the words of which our description is made. To represent a certain number of cases we need a string that can give us at least that same number of combinations.[7]

If we have a set of, say, 4 characters, each of which can assume 10 different values (from 0 to 9), then the number of ordered combinations is 10 x 10 x 10 x 10, that we can write also as 104 = 10.000 = the number of combinations from 0000 to 9999. Power gives us to the number of possible combinations starting from the number of the characters that we can use. Logarithm works out the opposite function: given the number of different combinations, it returns us the number of characters needed to express them, which is a length of code. For example, if we have to label 100 products we will need two numbers, using all the combinations from 00 to 99. Similarly, if we have 1000 products, then we will need 3 numbers. If there are 2600 products, then we will need 4 numbers, the first which is used only in part. This partial use is reflected in the decimal value of the logarithm of 2600, which is 3,41.

In the instance of same weight cases, as we saw in the previous chapter, the number of cases is given by the inverse ratio of probability, and if we apply the logarithm to this quantity, then we get the length of code needed to label the number of cases that we are considering.

VI. GENERALIZING THE SAME WEIGHT SCENARIO AND THE IDEA OF EXPECTED LENGTH OF CODE

If we list all the possible states of a certain part of the world and we assign them probabilities, then we have a set of probabilities. For a certain set of probabilities, entropy is defined as the sum of the logarithms of 1/p, weighted by p: ∑ p log (1/p). The interpretation of 1/p as a number of possible cases allows us to consider its logarithm as a length of code, and the overall sum of the possible values weighed by p is, by definition, its expected value. So this sum is the expected length of code[8] required to label all the cases related to a certain set of probabilities. This interpretation is straightforward in the instance of same weight cases, but we need to extend it to the general circumstance when different cases have different weights.
In order to do this we have to break up the situation into subgroups where all configurations have the same probability ip (where ip stands for individual probability). Let’s make an example: suppose we have a book made of the letters A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I. Every character of the book takes values according to the following probabilities:

the probability of A is 0,05 (one twentieth)
the probability of B is 0,05 (one twentieth)
the probability of C is 0,05 (one twentieth)
the probability of D is 0,05 (one twentieth)
the probability of E is 0,05 (one twentieth)
the probability of F is 0,05 (one twentieth)
the probability of G is 0,10 (one tenth)
the probability of H is 0,10 (one tenth)
the probability of I is 0,50 (one half)

The value assumed by each character is independent of the preceeding ones. Thus, the part of the book assuming a configuration with individual probability 0,05 is given by the sum of the probabilities equal to 0,05, that is (0,05+0,05+0,05+0,05+0,05+0,05)=0,30. In a similar way, the part of the book assuming a configuration with individual probability 0,10 is (0,10+0,10)=0,20.

For the part of the book assuming a configuration with individual probability 0,05, the specific number of possible cases is twenty. We define this number as the number of possible cases if the portion characterized by a certain individual probability would be 100% of the system that we are considering. We can also think of it as the number of possible cases divided by the related fraction of this system.[9] This implies that we use this term qualitatively, not quantitatively.

Thus, dealing with configurations characterized by a certain individual probability ip, the length of code required to label the possible cases is the logarithm of the specific number of possible cases. This value is then weighed by multiplying it with the part of the system that assumes configurations with that individual ip, which we call the overall probability (op) of that individual ip.

Expected length of code table

Expected length of code table

In this way we get all the contributions for the expected length of code, which are in the last column of the table above. Making a sum over the items of this column we get entropy, and we see it as the expected length of code needed to label all the possible outcomes for each character of the book. Since in these paragraphs we worked with the logarithm in base 2, we get this measure of code in bits; we need 2,46 bits to represent each character of the book.

Of course, these operations are the same that we usually make to calculate entropy, only the grouping is different.[10] The essence of entropy is absolutely untouched by this recasting, which is intended only to give intuition a different way to understand the structure behind this concept, and to support the renaming of this quantity.[11]

VII. INFORMATION OR COMBINATIONS?

Entropy is higher for a disturbed screen than for a film, and this does not fit our idea of information: who thinks that the disturbance has a higher level of information? Entropy is not a measure of information. It seems safer to follow the reasoning just exposed, conceiving it as a measure of a number of combinations and of the length of code needed to generate them.
Combinations can turn into information, but they are not information in and of themselves. They become information only interacting with the mind. These considerations agree with the idea of Searle that “information is in the eye of the beholder.”[12]
We could even say that information is in the eye of the beholder twice. Once in the sense of Searle, because a mind produces information adding the content of terms, which are retrieved from its inner warehouses, to combinations. But before this can happen, we need the premises for combinations to exist: the mind must identify the basic elements that we can use to compose combinations.

PART II: SAVED CODE AND CONSCIOUSNESS: TWO DIFFERENT BUSINESSES

I. EDELMAN AND COMPLEXITY

Gerald Edelman won a Nobel prize for his description of antibodies by selectionism; he is also famous for a selectionist interpretation of the neural structures of the mind.[13] In 1994 he published an article together with Tononi and Sporns[14], trying to grasp with a formula some important traits of the higher living beings, namely the coexistence of functional segregation and functional integration. Integration and segregation are intended respectively as dependence and independence, and thus they are naturally present in every system. In living beings we can find a strong integration at the global level, and the aim of these scientists was to find an exact quantity, which then they called Complexity, related to this trait. In order to do this, they examined dependence and independence over neural networks by using the concept of entropy. In the following paragraphs I will try to describe the core of their theory with some images, avoiding technical terms, and using the concept of code instead of entropy.

II. DESCRIBING A PHOTO: THE SAVING OF CODE

Think about a web of neurons the states of which are numbers. The set of all these numbers is the description of the web; we can imagine it to be a digital photo in which the pixels are the states. Think of a man dressed in black, doing various phisical actions in a white room. We are photographing at him. In each photo there is a wide area made of white or light grey shades, and darker colors making up the figure of the man. If we have to describe the photo pixel by pixel we will have no other possibility than to tell the color of each pixel. But if we consider wider zones of the image we will be able to describe a black zone by only giving its perimeter, without repeating that each pixel is black. This is the main point: considering wider zones we can create a shorter description for the same image and we get a certain amount of saved code. The more the pixels are interdependent, the larger integration is and the saving of code when the pixels are considered together. We can use this amount of saved code as a measure of interdependence; the usual expression for this concept is mutual information. This is defined as the sum of the expected lengths of code[15] for the distinct elements, minus the expected length of code for all these basics elements considered together.[16]

The last step is considering the system at different scales. The basic expectation for whatever a system is that the saving increases linearly with the size of the system. Instead, if we see that the saving (and thus integration) increases more than linearly with size, we have Complexity.[17]

III. CONSIDERING TIME; THE METAPHOR OF THE FILM

Some year later the conception of Complexity, the way of Tononi departed from that of Edelman. He proposed a different measure, PHI, in the context of what he called integrated information theory.[18] PHI is what we are going to talk about, referencing to the treatment given by Barrett, Barnett and Seth.[19]

In respect to the previous case we will need to consider the relationship among subsequent states, moving our analysis into time. Thus, instead of the metaphor of the photo we will employ the metaphor of the film. We will find again the concept of integration, but its implementation will be different.

Think again about the web of neurons, which now changes its state 1000 times every second. Given the state of the web at a certain time, this will influence the state of the web in the following steps. If we want to describe the state of the web at a certain point in time we will need a certain amount of code; if we want to describe it starting from the knowledge of the previous states, we will need less code. If we are shooting a film of the black dressed man of the previous paragraphs we can avoid to describe the whole frame, we can only describe the differences in respect to the former. So, this time too we have a certain amount of saved code, when we can describe the present on the basis of the past. This fact is related with the stuff that present and past have in common.

IV. EFFECTIVE INFORMATION: THE ADVANTAGE OF THE WHOLE

Break the screen into 4 x 4 = 16 little screens. For each of them we can calculate the amount of code that we can save once we know its prior state. However, if we add together all these 16 little savings we get an overall saving that is less than the saving that we get when we consider the whole screen. In fact, when we consider the whole screen we are be able to detect the arm of the black dressed man moving from the top of the screen to the lower part, and so we are able to predict that the lower part of the screen is going to display the color of the sleeve of our man. Instead, if we consider independently each of the 16 screens, we are not able to exploit what is happening in the other parts of the screen to improve our prediction about the content of the little screen currently under examination.[20]

We can obtain a saving of code from the knowledge of the past and this saving is bigger when we consider the whole screen instead of the single little screens independently. The increasing of the saving that we get when we consider the whole screen in respect to the 16 little screens independently is called effective information. Effective information is the saving of code due to the consideration of the whole system in respect to its parts, in a context where we take into account the development into time.

The expression ‘effective information’ indicates that considering the system as a whole we can grasp a certain amount of information that we could not grasp considering only its parts, and that this information is useful to determine the future states of the system. Thus, in a certain sense, this information has an effect over the future system.

The difference between integration and effective information lies in the former being a general idea and the latter being a precise measure that tries to better define the former in the context of a well defined mathematical model.[21]

V. CHECKING FOR INDEPENDENT STORIES – WHICH DECOMPOSITION?

Now think of this example: we have a film, and for its entire duration the frames are divided into 2×2=4 screens. In each one a completely different story is going on with completely different characters. The saving of code we get considering the whole screen is a maximum, of course, but we can get the same saving also considering the 4 screens independently. This is the same as saying that the whole screen doesn’t show a greater integration in respect to the 4 screens. In this situation the overall system ends to lose some of its privilege of uniqueness, grant that our aim is the individuation of the states with the greatest integration.
If we now stop thinking about the film and we go back to considering the web of neurons, how can we be sure that what is going on is a unique coherent film and not 4 distinct stories? When we deal with the video we can literally understand at a glance what is going on, but when we deal with a web of neurons we don’t know which could be the subset of the web, having its own behaviour independent from the rest. We can’t consider only adjacent items as the pixels of each of the four screens. We have to consider all the possible divisions of the web, also taking into account the relations among distant neurons. This is where calculations become resource demanding.[22]

VI. HOW MUCH THE WHOLE IS ABOVE THE PARTS

The parts generated by every decomposition of the web need a certain amount of code to be described, which is complexively higher than the amount of code needed when we consider the system as a whole. The decomposition that needs the smallest amount of code to be described is the one with the major integration; if we consider the system as a whole we will only get a little saving in respect to it. Tononi set up the convention to consider the smallest saving of this kind as a measure of consciousness and called it PHI. In other words, he managed to find a quantity that is bigger when the level of integration of all the decompositions is lower in respect to the whole system. This means that there are many causes and effects that can be understood only by considering the system as a whole.
For example, in the film described at the beginning of chapter V, there is a decomposition (that of the 4 little screens) preserving the same level of integration of the whole. In this case PHI is zero, and in a certain sense there is no need to consider the current system as a whole.

VII. CONCLUSIONS: THE HACKER AND THE ELECTRICIAN

In this article I only gave a simplified description of a complex mathematical treatment. At the end of the story we have a quantity made up of bits telling us how much the work of our neurons is interdependent. PHI is an interesting parameter, a correlate of consciousness, as they say; it can be used in combination with other neurophysiological data to chase the properties of consciousness, but it is not the ultimate nature of consciousness. Tononi claimed too much about this.[23] Trying to understand consciousness by this measure is like trying to understand human activities by looking at the lights of a city in the night from a satellite. And there are too many dark rooms, the content of which we can’t see.

The statistical work about information integration can be inscribed in the cognitive course that employs the computer as the main metaphor of the mind. But there is not only one way to take inspiration from a computer. For example we can think that everything in the mind can be reduced into bits, or we can list all the input and the output of the mind, or we can go searching for the magical kernel of the software that runs the most important routines. Think of Jaak Panksepp, with his work on emotions. He deems the metaphor of the computer to be misleading when it comes to understanding the mind, but he is more similar than Tononi is to the hackers who sniff a secret system they don’t know, in order to understand its structure. On the other hand, what is the operation over the structure of a computer that is equivalent to the analysis by PHI? Maybe it is the approach of an electrician who tries to understand the functioning of a computer by the electrical properties of the items it is made of? Probably our electrician will be able to understand when the computer is turned on and when it’s carrying a heavy load, but maybe this is not the way we can understand software that we don’t know.

In the land of this science we are not citizens, we are travellers always thinking about our own home. What do we ask from knowledge about the mind? We need the keys to handle the day by day dancing battle that we carry on with the inner parts of ourself. The analysis of the overall interdependence among neurons can be used as a tool for brain imaging in an operating theatre, in order to understand if one is conscious, but it seems to not be useful in improving our skill in managing introspection, which is the main interface with ourselves.

APPENDIX A: A SELECTIONIST ARGUMENT TO MAKE THE CASE FOR CONSCIENT MATTER

Tononi claimed that PHI has a physical meaning and that where we have PHI we have consciousness. There was a debate between Tononi and Searle about this issue, and in this occasion Tononi’s thought was assimilated to a form of panpsychism.[24] I don’t agree with Tononi about the meaning of PHI, but there is still a possibility for consciousness to be a fundamental property of matter.

Let’s avoid the term consciousness for a while, and talk about these two concepts: 1) the capacity to manage the representations of the world in the broadest sense, and 2) the feeling that we exist. Let’s call them respectively representative skill and awareness. We are used to having these two properties together, but they are not the same thing. Awareness is what is missing in a zombie or in a computer simulation of the mind, even if this simulation were capable of reproducing all the tasks of thought, thus demonstrating to possess a full fledged representative skill.
It is acceptable to think that selection selects the representative skill during evolution, because this is useful to guide our bodies into the world, but what about awareness? Or we admit awareness as a fundamental property of the physical world, or we have to explain how it arose. If we accept the fact that selection is the only mechanism that could generate its arising, and that selection only chooses useful things, then explaining the arousal of awareness accounts for finding how it is useful; but I cannot see the usefulness of awareness. Of course the possibility remains that awareness arose as a collateral product of the devices underlying the representative skills, but still we would have to find the relation between awareness and these skills.

Let me make a science fiction game for a paragraph, thinking that maybe awareness is a property of the electromagnetic field, and that this field forms complex structures in neurons, while outside them only simpler objects are formed. Of course this is only a naive speculation. I make it only because a concrete example can help us in understanding the involved abstract terms, and because it can give us a hint for replying to the objection posed by Searle towards panpsychism, “Consciousness comes in units and panpsychism cannot specify the units.”[25] The expected length of code (entropy) and combinations need units, but consciousness maybe not, or at least no more than the quantum discretization.

We saw that since selection does not select items without effect, if awareness is useless we can’t get it by selection, and thus, since it exists, it must be a fundamental property of matter. But is this important? Two of humans’ main current problems as they are now are death and the division of different heads, which makes it difficult forming choruses. The fact that, say, a stone has a minimal amount of consciousness does not help us to fix either of these issues. The practical effect of knowing matter to be conscious is not so large, but this thought, if true, could contribute to determining a new important metaphor for understanding ourselves and the world.

APPENDIX B: SOME GRAMMATICAL ISSUES

According to Quine a general term is a term that “is true of each, severally, of any number of objects”; it is opposed to the singular term, which “purports to name just one object, though as complex or diffuse an object as you please.” There are then mass terms, that “like ‘water’, ‘footwear’, and ‘red’ have the semantical property of referring cumulatively: any sum of parts which are water is water.”[26]
We can use the word ‘code’ as a general term, as in the expressions ‘we need 1000 different codes to label these products’ or ‘this code is wrong’. But we can also use it as a mass term, perceiving it as a magnitude, like in the expression ‘quantity of code’. When we talk about ‘length of code’ the word ‘code’ is used as a mass term.[27] When in this article I talked of specific codes, I usually employed the word ‘combination’ instead of ‘code’, in order to avoid confusion. Sometimes I also used the word ‘label’ as a general term, both as a substantive and a verb.[28]

About the word ‘combination’: I used it intending to mean ordered combinations with repetitions, while in mathematics this word is used to indicate a sequence without order and without repetitions. I preferred to keep this word despite this counterindication, because it focuses on the discrete nature of the issue better than other terms like sequence, configuration, disposition or arrangement.

  1. [1]José A. Díez, “A Hundred Years of Numbers. An Historical Introduction to Measurement Theory 1887-1990,” Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 28, (1997): 167-185.
  2. [2]Charles R. Gallistel, Rochel Gelman, Sara Cordes, “The cultural and evolutionary history of real numbers.” In Evolution and Culture: A Fyssen Foundation Symposium, ed. S. Levinson & P. Jaisson (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006).
  3. [3]Andrey N. Kolmogorov, Foundations of the Theory of Probability (New York: Chelsea Publishing Company, 1956).
  4. [4]“Kolmogorov comments that infinite probability spaces are idealized models of real random processes, and that he limits himself arbitrarily to only those models that satisfy countable additivity. This axiom is the cornerstone of the assimilation of probability theory to measure theory. ”
    Alan Hájek, “Interpretations of Probability,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Winter 2012 Edition), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/probability-interpret/
  5. [5]By the way, our structure of frequencies depends on the body it is based upon. If we see our body as a set of transducers, then we can ask ourself how much the specific set of transducers influences this structure of frequencies. We can also ask what will happen embedding new transducers in the body, and even if we can drop the body once the business of intelligence is established by means of that body.
  6. [6]Alan Hájek, “Interpretations of Probability,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (Winter 2012 Edition), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/probability-interpret/
  7. [7]See appendix B for the use of the word ‘combination’.
  8. [8]In order to indicate this quantity we could also use the abbreviation ELOC.
  9. [9]In this case it is 6/0,30=20
  10. [10]The standard operations for calculating entropy in this case are: 6*(0,05*log(1/0,05) ) + 2*(0,10*log(1/0,10) + 1*(0,50*log(1/0,50).
  11. [11]In 1948, Shannon used the word ‘entropy’ to dub a quantity, the formula of which was the same of thermodynamic entropy. It is reported that Von Neumann suggested to Shannon that he should use the word ‘entropy’ because no one understood this concept very well.
    Cf. Myron Tribus, Edward C. McIrvine, “Energy and Information,” Scientific American 225(3), (1971): 179-188.
  12. [12]John R. Searle, “Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness?” The New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jan/10/can-information-theory-explain-consciousness/
  13. [13]Gerald M. Edelman, Darwinismo Neurale. La teoria della selezione dei gruppi neuronali. (Neural Darwinism. The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection.) Torino: Einaudi, 1995.
  14. [14]Giulio Tononi, Olaf Sporns, and Gerald M. Edelman, “A Measure for Brain Complexity: Relating Functional Segregation and Integration in the Nervous System,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91, (1994): 5033.
  15. [15]The use of the adjective ‘expected’ implies that we don’t know the content of the photo, and that we have to describe it probabilistically. For the sake of simplicity, and in order to focus on the core concepts that I want to illustrate, I often skip this conceptual step and instead I talk about exact images that we already know. The use of the expression ‘expected lenght of code’ allows us to do this overtly, dropping the adjective ‘expected’, while we can’t do this with the word ‘entropy’.
  16. [16]Compare these considerations to the following expression by Shannon about mutual information, referring to the expression H(x) + H(y) – H(x,y): “it is the sum of the two amounts less the joint entropy and therefore in a sense is the number of bits per second common to the two.” Claude E. Shannon, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” The Bell System Technical Journal 27, (1948): 379.
  17. [17]In order to keep a more complete parallelism between these images and the web of neurons as considered scientifically in the articles that I’m talking about, one shouldn’t simply consider the code needed to describe a certain image, but rather a method for describing a whole family of images. I avoided putting this consideration in the foreground for the sake of simplicity.
  18. [18]Giulio Tononi, “An Information Integration Theory of Consciousness,” BMC Neurosci 2004, 5:42, doi:10.1186/1471-2202-5-42
  19. [19]Anil K. Seth, Adam B. Barrett, Lionel Barnett, “Causal density and integrated information as measures of conscious level,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369 (2011): 3748–3767, doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0079
    Adam B. Barrett, Anil K. Seth, “Practical Measures of Integrated Information for Time-Series Data,” PLoS Comput Biol 7 (2011), doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1001052
  20. [20]The advantage of considering the whole screen also comes from the mutual information in each moment.
  21. [21]Compare: “To measure the extent to which this information is integrated, we use the concept of effective information (φ), which refers to the information generated by the whole system, minus the information generated independently by the parts .” Anil K. Seth, Adam B. Barrett and Lionel Barnett, “Causal density and integrated information as measures of conscious level,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369 (2011): 3748–3767, doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0079
  22. [22]To keep this demand within lower values, we can consider the decompositions in two parts only.
  23. [23]Cf. “Another feature of the IITC [information integration theory of consciousness, A/N] is that integrated information is identified with consciousness, implying a relation of sufficiency. In our view, dynamical complexity (information integration) may be necessary, but is unlikely to be sufficient for generating consciousness. A challenge to the IITC in this context is that all measures of integrated information so far described exhibit instabilities due to normalization, undermining the ascription of physical meaning to the quantity.”
    Anil K. Seth, Adam B. Barrett, Lionel Barnett, “Causal density and integrated information as measures of conscious level,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369 (2011): 3748–3767, doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0079
    Cf. also Anil K. Seth, Eugene Izhikevich, George n. Reeke, and Gerald M. Edelman, “Theories and measures of consciousness: An extended framework.” PNAS 103 (2006): 10799-10804, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0604347103
  24. [24]John R. Searle, “Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness?” The New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jan/10/can-information-theory-explain-consciousness/
    Christof Koch, Giulio Tononi, “Can a Photodiode Be Conscious?” The New York Review of Books, March 7, 2013, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/mar/07/can-photodiode-be-conscious/
  25. [25]John R. Searle, “Can Information Theory Explain Consciousness?” The New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jan/10/can-information-theory-explain-consciousness/
  26. [26]All the three citations in this paragraph come from Willard V.O. Quine, Word and Object (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1960.) pp 90-91.
  27. [27]When we think about a lenght of code, we are using the word ‘code’ as a mass term, and we perceive it as a magnitude. Instead, when we talk of specific codes, we are using the word ‘code’ as general term. The logarithm leads us from the number of specific codes to the lengh of code needed to generate them. So, it happens that there is a bit of the logarithm in the relationship among code as mass term and code as general term.
  28. [28]According to Quine, substantive, adjective and verb can be viewed as “variant forms given to a general term.”

EMMANUEL TODD AGAINST THE CRISIS: EUROPEAN PROTECTIONISM

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Reflections about the text by Emmanuel Todd[1]: ”Après La Démocratie” (After Democracy)

ANIMAL FARM 2.0
A EUROPEAN PROTECTIONISM FOR SAVING DEMAND AND DEMOCRACY

ANIMAL FARM 2.0[2]

(About the fall of the demand provoked by globalization)
Once upon a time, there was a big Farm where the Dogs only bought goods produced by the Dogs, and the Cats bought only those produced by the Cats. The chiefs of the Dogs were not interested in lowering the wages of their employed Dogs, because then they would buy less items at market stalls in the Dogs’ market.

Dogs' chiefThen came the day when all the chiefs of all the animal species of the Farm made a General Gathering where they decided a turn toward Free Trade. The Dogs’market would no longer be divided from that of the Cats, Rabbits, Pigs, and all the other animals of the Farm. Everyone would be able to purchase the products of other animals, freely choosing the one with better quality at the most convenient price.

In the following days, the Dogs’ chiefs had a secret meeting, where one said: “Why should we give our subordinates high wages, when they use it to buy the goods of the Cats and the Horses? If we lower their wages, our products will cost less and we will be able to sell them even in the markets of other animals, and to beat our competitors!”

So they did it. At the beginning, some of the employees protested because of the wage reduction, but then they saw that thanks to Free Trade they could buy collars and leashes from the Mice, at a much lower price in respect to the Dogs’ market stalls. So, the employed Dogs balanced the reduction of the payroll with the availability of cheaper goods, especially the ones coming from the Mice, Chickens and Crows.

The chiefs of the Dogs were three times happy: they too could buy cheaper goods, their subordinates were less expensive, and they even started selling to the Pigs, Cows and Horses. In particular, there had just been the acquisition of an order of carriages that brought a positive mood in the Dogs’ headquarters; it was then that in the Dogs’ newspapers there appeared titles praising the success of Free Trade, thanks to which Progress and Well-being would ruled forever over the Farm; above all in the zone were the Dogs lived.

But it was destiny that things evolved differently. Within two months from the General Gathering, even the chiefs of the Cats decided to lower the wage of their subordinates to have cheap labour, therefore contrasting the strategy of the Dogs. The Ducks followed soon, and then the Horses, who wanted to take up the orders of carriages they had lost. In the turn of a season, all the chiefs of the different races of animals in the Farm decided to lower the wage of their subordinates, and the Dogs lost the competitive advantage they gained on the markets of the other animals.

So, there was an other meeting of the chiefs of the Dogs, where it was decided to further lower the wages. Even in that case, the advantage was only temporary, because the chiefs of the other animals
followed the path undertaken by the Dogs again. Subordinate animals complained, because at that point the diminution of wages prevailed on the advantage of having some products at an inferior price; but the chiefs were not interested in this, because they succeded anyway in keeping the production cost low and in increasing the gain of their companies.

A wages cutting spiral was triggered, that led all the animals to earn less. The consequence was that, at a certain point, the markets of the Farm were attended by poorer animals in respect to the time when Free Trade began, and the overall sales of the market stalls of the Farm remarkably diminished.

The chiefs of the animals started a fight among themselves to increase the respective share of the market, but they ended up causing a shrinkage of the whole market.

At the beginning of the tale the Dogs’ wages were not reduced since the chiefs of the Dogs felt the market of the Dogs as their own, and they knew that lowering the wages the market would become weaker and the industries of the Dogs would sell less products. With Free Trade, the chiefs of the Dogs no longer thought that the market of the Dogs (in a certain sense) belonged to them, because even other animals could enter it to open sale points for their products.[3] With Free Trade, the chiefs of the Dogs started thinking of subordinates only as a resource to be exploited as much as they could to increase profits and lower the cost of their products, which were intended to be sold all over the Farm, not only to the Dogs. You can see the outcome of this strategy revealed itself as disastrous.

The solution exists for this condition of things: that all over the Farm there is a unique assembly of chiefs to set wages. So, the assembly of chiefs will return in thinking that defending the wages of the producers, one defends the strength of the market where products are sold. The fundamental concept emerging from this tale is that there must be a correspondence between the extension of the market and the decision-making structure that regulates the market, between the economical space and the political space.

At this point, one could easily think about a unique global government, fixing the problem at its roots, but this is not the way Emmanuel Todd is indicating to us.

A EUROPEAN PROTECTIONISM FOR SAVING THE DEMAND AND DEMOCRACY

The title of Todd’s book is “After Democracy”, it analyzes French society and cares about the future.
Some of the subjects it handles are the lack of collective values and the division of population into a part with high education and another one at a lower level, the irresponsible nature of the élite in charge and the possible political drift toward a racist or antisemitic outcome.

Accordind to Todd, the main issue menacing the continuation of the democratic experience in France as in Europe is the indefinite compression of wages, which is a consequence of the Free Trade doctrine, established as a unique thought since the eighties. “It’s about escaping the current nightmare: the chase for the external demand, the indefinite shrinkage of wages to lower production costs, the following lowering of the internal demand, the chase for the external demand, etc., etc.”[4]

As we saw above the solution can be a regained coincidence between the economical space and the political one, but not at the global level: “The planetary democracy is a utopia. Reality is that, on the opposite, we face the menace of a generalization of dictatorships. If Free Trade should generate a planetary economical space, the only political form conceivable at the global scale would be the «governance», a euphemism to designate an authoritative system in gestation. Why then, since a well integrated european economical space already exists, don’t we lift up democracy at its level?”[5]

So, according to Todd the right farm where unifying the government is not the world but Europe, and of course this farm can’t practice Free Trade with the other farms, if not, the wicked game would simply move to a major scale. We are talking about protectionism at a European level.

American theorists make the list of damages Free Trade brought to the United States, but then they end their analysis saying that there is no alternative, since in the United States the industrial structure excessively deteriorated, and makes it unlikely a fast reconstruction of the productive capacity that in a protectionist scenario would be needed. On the contrary, Europe is still able to produce everything, and finds itself, between the decline of the United States and the rise of China, the major concentration of technical competencies of the planet.[6]

The protectionism Todd talks about is not a definite closing. “As far as I’m concerned, I push for the moderation of protectionism till distinguishing accurately, on the contrary of the ideologists of globalization masked as economists, the movement of goods from that of the means of production. As a good disciple of Friedrich List, I’m in favour of the free circulation of capital and labor”[7] [8]

The primary objective of the european protectionism is to oppose the economical crisis saving democracy, avoiding the drama of a continuous lowering of wages. “The purpose of protectionism is not, fundamentally, to push back the importations coming from the country outside the communitarian privilege, but to create suitable conditions for an increase of wages”[9] “The increase of incomes implies a revitalization of the internal European demand, that by itself entails a revitalization of imports.”[10]

Assuming that the European protectionism is the objective, Todd does a simulation game (from a french point of view) to understand how it can be reached. Where England is concerned, Todd says that initially it could not accept a turn toward protectionism because Free Trade is such an important part of English national identity. Germany is at the centre of his reasonment: France should face Germany directly, persuading it to care more about the inner European market and inviting Germans to a change toward European protectionism. If they refuse, France should threaten the exit from the Euro, that would provoke, almost automatically, the same move by Italy.

Economists on television pretend not to know about the issue of the pauperization of the markets described in the tale, otherwise they would admit that Free Trade generates problems, and they would give up being trendy economists (and receiving subsidies from the chiefs of the Dogs).
These economists say protectionism is an old thing and is not part of the shiny future we have made our way to, but maybe they are wrong. Emmanuel Todd invites us to reflect about an intelligent protectionism extended from Great Britain to Russia: “The political and the economical spaces will coincide again. The so created new political form will be of a new genre, and will entail complex institutional changes. But one can affirm that in this case, and only in this case, after democracy, there will still be democracy.”[11]

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  1. [1]Emmanuel Todd, a french sociologist and demographer that studied at Cambridge University, is a researcher by the Institut national des études demographiques in Paris.
  2. [2]Animal farm is the book where George Orwell tells the vicissitudes of animals in a hypotetical farm, making the parody of the birth of Stalin’s dictatorship.
  3. [3]In this sense we could say that Free Trade entails a sort of communism of markets, since the market of every animal species “belongs” to the sellers of all animal species.
  4. [4]“Il s’agit d’échapper au cauchemar actuel: la chasse à la demande extérieure, la contraction indéfinie des salaires pour faire baisser les coûts de production, la baisse résultante de la demande intérieure, la chasse à la demande extérieure, etc.,etc.” Todd, E. (2008) p. 293
  5. [5]“La démocratie planétaire est une utopie. La réalité, c’est, à l’opposé, la menace d’une généralisation des dictatures. Si le libre-échange engendre un espace économique planétaire, la seule forme politique concevable a l’échelle mondiale est la «gouvernance», désignation pudique du système autoritaire en gestation. Mais pourquoi alors, puisqu’il existe un espace économique européen déjà bien intégré, ne pas élever la démocratie à son niveau?” Todd, E. (2008) pp. 290-291
  6. [6]Todd, E. (2008) p. 292
  7. [7]Todd, E. (2004) p. 21
  8. [8]An example in the textile sector could be the following: the textiles used in Europe must be produced in Europe, but the machines needed to produce textiles could be made in Europe and sold in China, or made in China and purchased by Europe. China could use its money to buy European companies that produce textiles, but with the intrinsic duty of keeping them active in Europe.
  9. [9]“Le but du protectionnisme n’est pas, fondamentalement, de repousser les importations venues des pays situés à l’extérieur de la préférence communautaire, mais de créer les conditions d’une remontée des salaires.
    Todd, E. (2008) p. 293
  10. [10]La hausse des revenus implique une relance par la demande intérieure européenne, conduisant ellemême à une relance des importations.” Todd, E. (2008) p. 293
  11. [11]“Espaces économique et politique coïncideraient à nouveau. La forme politique ainsi créée serait d’un genre nouveau, impliquant des modifications institutionelles complexes. Mais on peut affirmer que dans ce cas, et dans ce cas seulement, après la démocratie, ce serait toujours la démocratie.” Todd, E. (2008) p. 298

SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC

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Interpretation keys of the project of man in the dimension of time.

INTRODUCTION
CHORDS AND MELODY
NARRATIVE AND METAPHOR
PROJECT POINT OF VIEW
FACING NECESSITY
APPENDIX: SYNCHRONIC DISCOURSES OR DIACHRONIC ONES?

INTRODUCTION

Synchronic and diachronic are two concepts employed by Ferdinand De Saussure[1]to describe the way one studies the nature of languages. The prefix dia means through and chrono is time: a diachronic vision entails objects going through time. The prefix syn implies togetherness, and the objects of a synchronic discourse occur together at the same time. A synchronic vision takes into account the reciprocal positions of the objects at a certain moment without considering their movement. [2]

The diachronic analysis of language dominated before De Saussure. After him, another approach was allowed whereby the hypothesis disregarded the formation processes of language, setting oneself the task of describing language structures only on the basis of the relationships active in a certain present time.[3]

Diachrony is the flow of time like a film telling a story. Synchrony is reality captured by intuition like a still photograph.

CHORDS AND MELODY

The pleasantness of a C major chord is attributable to the ratio of the frequencies of the three notes composing it: C, E and G. To recognize it, it suffices hearing the superimposition of these three sounds for a fraction of second. On the other hand, a melody is when a sequence of notes is reproduced one after the other. Suppose a melody is repeated six times slightly variates each time. When the seventh melody is played, the listener would expect something similar to the previous six, and the seventh turn indeed begins according to the sequence, but develops differently. An instinct tries to complete the beginning on the basis of the model given by the preceding melodies. However, a difference will become evident between the attempt of completion and the real behaviour. The listener will then realize the variation as a significant stylistic phenomenon.

Should we play the seventh sequence at the beginning without anything played before it, no sensation of stylistic difference would originate in the listener since there would be no expectation induced by the first six, in respect of which noticing the gap.

The pleasantness of the chord is synchronic in nature since it rests independently in the istantaneous superposition of notes and apart from what follows or precedes. On the other hand, the way we value a musical melody implies diachronic dynamics since it’s linked to the temporal paths from which musical objects reach the attention of our mind. Not only every note of the melody is valued on the basis of the preceding one but further, there is a level where whole groups of notes assume different meanings accordingly to their similarity with previously played groups.

With chord progression,[4] we have an example of artistic structure based as such on the synchronic dimension (harmony among notes inside a chord) as on the diachronic one (chord progression), tightly connected in the compass of the tonal system.

NARRATIVE AND METHAPOR

Let’s take into account the narrative with which we build a story. Its operative core consists of adding elements to the characters structure, being them people, concepts, or setting, so that what is added could assume a preparatory function of what will happen later.
Narrator’s building activity manages the pathes of characters through time, hence naturally operating in a diachronic dimension.

A poem also utilizes a narrative structure however, poetry usually gives its preference to the metaphorical dimension. A metaphor is a superposition of different concepts. It is a comparison and recognition of how structures and subparts of two dfferent concepts correspond. Metaphor is a synchronic structure in the sense that its effect is similar to a chord of concepts. On the other hand, it’s quite evident that the narrative of events shares the same structure akin to melody and therefore it could be called a narrative of notes.

PROJECT POINT OF VIEW

FIRST EXAMPLE: DASHBOARDS

I remember an anecdote which tells a story of a young engineer designing car interiors. As he began working, he drew fine-looking dashboards but articulated it too much and filled it with undercuts. His creation clashed with production exigencies and with the difficulties of realizing complex and expensive moulds. He was driven by a synchronic idea of the aesthetical harmony among the parts of the panel and failed to anticipate the productive processes from which his idea could become reality.

SECOND EXAMPLE: RIACE BRONZES

You are a very creative artist with the head in the clouds. Within a few days you will move to the tenth floor of a palace in the centre of the city and you wonder about the furnishing that you will put in the living room. A mirror will be placed in the middle of the left wall while the right one will hold a big white clock with black characters. In the centre of the room will be a cristal table on which a fleshy-leaved plant will be inside an opaque pot. Now you are searching thoroughly for the main character: something classical and unexpected at the same time. Here it is! The full-size reproduction of the Riace Bronzes with elegant curls and blue eyes crowning that impressive mass; with a plastic pose revealing an aristocratic awareness of the body; with that flavour of Ancient Greek that’s always intimately connected with a deep vision of the future. Wouldn’t it be nice to re-paint the walls looking for the best match for the tone of bronze?

Following the aesthetical necessities of the room, you reasoned in a synchronic way, thinking about maximizing the beauty of your living room, and manipulating its apparel objects. But may be the Riace Bronzes are too big and heavy to pass through both the lift and the stairwell. It’s not enough to imagine them in the final arrangement. You need to create a film inside your head simulating all the middle phases associating the desired output to the starting one which are the reproductions of the bronzes delivered at the ground floor, still packaged, there on the pavement.

FACING NECESSITY

Necessities of the physical world and economic-productive system call for man to reach concrete results respecting tight bonds. Confronting itself with such demand, human mind operates both in a synchronic and diachronic way. Synchronically, the mind lets itself to be dominated by great inspirations which define both the vision to follow and concepts employed for describing the world. Man seems to be expressly made to fall in love with these ideas architectures in which every part has its role in respect of the others. The building of the harmonical vision usually happens after dropping the reflection about how to bring it to reality. Such reflection usually happens in a phase when the synchronic vision (for the mere fact that it exists in the mind) starts confronting itself with daily events. Then occurs the shift from a creative setup to a more organizational one, and starts the evaluation of the modality for realizing the project in the diachronic dimension of causes and effects, tangled as thin threads through the tortured mass of becoming.

In the best case, the result is the higher form of the spirit that is somehow similar to the chord progression which is provided both with a diachronic and synchronic coherence. What I’m referring to is the spiritual core perceiving the mind and the world as a whole in the magic of Here and Now, but without being overturned by the economical becoming since it’s able to employ the diachronically right categories and procedures to satisfy the demand of body, society and productive processes. A spiritual structure facing economical necessities keeping itself aesthetical and musical.

In the wood of time,
let’s plan paths
for the objects to follow.

APPENDIX: SYNCHRONIC DISCOURSES OR DIACHRONIC ONES?

Utilizing these concepts, one may ask whether a certain discourse is diachronic or synchronic. I’m more inclined to consider both concepts as dimensions simultaneously associated to the same discourse therefore making it richer. The two questions corresponding these different attitudes are: “Is this discourse synchronic or diachronic?” and “In what quantity is this discourse diachronic, and in what quantity synchronic?”

Diachronic-Synchronic-Segment-Discourse-Position

Fig. 1 The geometrical model implicated by the question: “Is this discourse synchronic or diachronic?”. An eventual increase of synchronic or diachronic argumentation would provoke a shift of the red circle indicating the position of the discourse, respectively to the right or left side.

 

The geometrical model implicated by the first question is a segment having the pure diachronic and the pure synchronic as extremities. In this model, the addition of diachronic or synchronic descriptive elements to the discourse does not lead to a visible increase of the discourse value, but to a shift of the position of the discourse towards one of the two extremities.

Diachronic-Sinchronic-Cartesian-Discourse-Value-Increase

Fig. 2-3 The geometric model implicated by the question: “In what quantity is this discourse diachronic, and in what quantity synchronic?”. On the right I represented the value increase of the discourse, coming from an increase of synchronic argumentation.

 

On the other hand, the model regarded by the second question is a Cartesian plane with synchronic and diachronic dimensions. In this case, the addition of new synchronic or diachronic elements increases the correspondent side of the rectangle of discourse and of course its value, that is considered equivalent to the area. In this way, it becomes evident that there is the opportunity of integrating in the same discourse (not so easy, I know) both synchronic elements and diachronic ones.

Of course, this kind of representation is a simplification which does not express the intrinsic complexity of language, but I’m interested only to highlight that what appears to be a worthless shade (the difference between the two questions characterizing the models) can affect the judgments which presides the development of discourses.

  1. [1]His most famous work: Course in General Linguistics, have been published posthumous in 1916.
  2. [2]These concepts are to be used with a certain elasticity: for example, a synchronic vision can focus on the dynamics occurring in a given historical period, disregarding the way it originated from the previous ones. In such a case, the phrase “ without considering their movement” refers to the movement among different historical periods, not to the bustle of daily events occurring inside a single period, which can be regarded as a part of the synchronic discourse.
  3. [3]De Saussure made a comparison between the language and a game of chess: every configuration of the language is like a configuration of the chessboard, which can be examined indipendently from the sequence of moves that produced it.
  4. [4]Just out of idle curiosity, chord progression has been set up during the 17th century in Europe. “While in a polyphony of the 16th century the melodic organization was prevailing, in the sense that the superposition of melodies should simply care that derived harmonies were made by legitimate chords (chords made by consonant gaps), in the new tonal organization the harmonic progressions of chords have a primary structural importance and melody has to keep this in consideration adapting itself to them” Baroni, Fubini, Petazzi, Santi, Vinay 1988, Storia della musica, (History of music), Torino, Einaudi, Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi 25, Nuova serie. Pag 149.

THE DANCE OF HERE AND NOW: A POCKET PARADISE

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MY DANCING RELIGION

THE WORLD: A GREY CONTEXT
DANCING: THE ZONE OF COLOR

THE WORLD: A GREY CONTEXT

Our thought is the art of organizing what we see according to an aim, but what we see is dramatically little in respect of the deafening bustle of becoming that everywhere blazes in the world, in offices and minds, on screens, in factories and atmospheres.

We think we know how things will go, and we create an image about it in our head. But the rest of the world does not organize to comply with our expectations. There is an intrinsic nature in things, proceeding according to its own rules, indifferent to our programs. Above all, there are the intents of other men, opposed to ours.

Meshes of reasoning become larger, trying to wrap up consequences and conditions of productive processes, but one cannot take care of all. It suffices to wait, and always something unforeseen arrives that forces us to change our thought readjusting it to the world. Our expectations are a crystal that will fall apart in the insensitive gears of becoming.

There is something wicked in the way man falls in love with his projects over the world, that come to life with so much enthusiasm but then trap in themselves the same man that loved them, making sad his reasoning. Society functions by this perversion, which mechanism is difficult to escape.

But if the reasoning about the world became sad, then thought needs a place aside where he can forget the world. If society is a high forest where light does not penetrate, we look for a glade with no shadow to retrieve the sky. We move away from the future to stay in the present, forsake the rest of the world to look only at these houses, divert ourselves from people and withdraw in the interior that does not speak.

Aries Tottile said that if man is reason, then the good for man is the practice of reason; but man is also and above all body. Putting aside the broken reasonment to make more room for the body can be the best strategy for later coming back to a reasonment that moves from cleaner ambients of the thought.

Often the will that organizes action to reach objectives ends to create a sort of smoke-screen between us and our movements, that are accomplished without being lived. But once we turned our back to the tainted reasonment, action can free itself from slavery of results, and gets access to that amount of sacre that is inherent in every gesture.

So, i’m ceasing to feed the thoughts of projects and of society duties. I let the images about work, people and news turn pale. After parking attention into the listen of breath, i look with the corner of my eye at the thoughts of the day keeping on sprouting. But if I hold myself and don’t watch, if I don’t pluck them, they return underwater, as a dolphin that after coming out in the air falls again. If before reason sent the order of movement by a telegram, now he listens to what body has to say. It’s the moment of adherence, the moment for attention to spread through the volumes of flesh, through the great muscles of arms and legs but even through the tiny ones which names are known only to doctors. It’s the moment for welcoming the sound organized in rhythms and harmonies of superimposed notes: music, the trainer of body and thought.

THE ZONE OF COLOR: DANCING

Among the leaves of a tree the sight of man looks in the hope of a fruit, and when it turns to interpret a face, the arrangement is made around the eyes. In the same way the mind longs for the polar points of a musical structure, and when it seems that something has been found, the mind makes a test, trying to seize that something with the captain of all gestures: the foot that meets the floor.

Every time the gesture guesses the time, energy does not diminish due to the accomplished work, but rises with the soundness of the musical sensation. And if the game of legs is well done, then the soul of inspiration takes possession also of trunc, arms and hands, till the articulations of fingers. Body structure is put in the service of music structure, as it were a puppet of manifold possibilities, and simple gestures that beat time are followed by more elaborated editings.

In adventure films, there are secret tiles, and when someone tramples by mistake on them, hellish traps spring up and palaces crumble. In this video-real-game instead, there is a secret G point inside the cement, moving just under the surface, like a big worm of Dune, and when you succeed in following him with your steps, the floor comes to life and becomes an animal to be ridden. When you lose his traces you have to stop, still like a silent statue waiting for the intuition to re-find the position.

But we are not in a twentieth century theatre workshop, and he is not an athlete the one who is dancing, interested in tougher muscles for more powerful jumps. He’s a citizen of the sad empire that by profession does something other, and uses with love the body available to him to play the score, without getting angry about the limits of his instrument. It is not the intensity of the physical performance ruling in this game, but the syntax of the movement words the inner director disposes of.

And there where fatigue lets its voice be heard, the dancing citizen interposes immobile pauses or lessen beyond measure the intensity of every movement, till it remains only a nod of the head or the look. But never he gives up about getting charmed by the fire-flies that kindle in the magic triangle among body, mind and the organized sound.

Man’s book teaches us a dance for building up the kingdom of here and now, giving a sense to the enterprise of facing the other coming against us in the days. It’s not a dance to comply with the look of a public; it’s a form of beauty that is not observed by the ones outside, but by the unique one[1] inside.

  1. [1]A clarification: I did not use this expression to indicate the faith in a monolithic “I”, that on the contrary I feel as manifold. I think the convention of a unitarian grammatical “I” to be a method that can be freely employed on the basis of the situation. In this specific case, the unique one is the mental point where inspiration is going to take shape, not bidden by an order, but invited by waiting.

JÜRGEN HABERMAS: A LAW FOR EUROPE

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Thoughts about law, beside Habermas’ text: Morality, Law, Politics[1] [2]

LAW’S ABSTRACT AND UNIVERSAL SHAPE

“There are 144 customs in France, they say, that have the force of laws; these laws are nearly all different. A traveller in this country changes laws almost as often as he changes horses. […] Nowadays jurisprudence has perfected itself so much that there is no custom without many commentators; no one of which, needless to say, is of like mind.”[3]

With these words, Voltaire described the French legal system before the Revolution: a variegated construction hosting in its recesses the privileges of clergy and nobility. This situation changed with the French Revolution[4] and the passage to a unified law of an abstract and universal kind, which still today constitutes the backbone of state organizations.

An abstract thought is devoid of colours and smells, of places, dates, and faces: the abstract and universal shape does not allow it to favour certain individuals rather than others, because it can not name them (in fact, should it name them, we would get an expression not abstract, but having concrete references).[5] Being unconnected to any definite conditions, it is portable throughout the different places of our social universe of today and tomorrow.

Let’s take a look at article 575 of the Italian penal code, which concerns murder: Anyone who causes the death of a man shall be punished with imprisonment for not less than 21 years. This text, by means of the word “anyone,” clearly refers to every individual, not only those belonging to certain social groups. This text does not talk about a murder committed by the poor against the rich, and neither about longer or shorter detentions for men or women.[6]

THE LEGITIMATING POWER OF LAW’S RATIONALITY

Max Weber talks about law’s rationality referring to the universal and abstract form of laws, in addition to other linked characteristics, such as the organization of the laws in a sentences system; the absence of specific addressees of the law; an application as mechanical as possible, intended for minimizing cases where subjective interpretation is needed; clearness and simplicity to generate in citizens definite expectations about what is allowed, which are important premises for social and economical projects.

In this conception of law’s rationality, attention is not directed to what is said, but to how it’s said. Indications are given not about the content of a law, but about the shape in which it’s written. Therefore one can talk about law’s formal properties.
If we imagine photographing a law, we will obtain a photo in which it will be possible to detect rationality as intended by Weber, which in his speech refers to law’s structure and not to law’s processes of formation, nor to law’s application processes, for capturing which a video would be needed.

According to Weber, law’s rationality is the main property that allows it to justify power, to legitimate it in the people’s eyes. In fact, governments don’t limit themselves to impose by force a series of rules made at their pleasure without respecting any principles, but they need to operate within laws capable of gaining some level of acceptation from the population.[7]
The alternative, an undesirable one, is a completely authoritative power operating without consensus, by force alone.

MOVING AWAY FROM LAW’S FORMAL RATIONALITY

Historically, centralized law with abstract and universal properties functioned in contrast to the privileges of the clergy and nobility, and thus favoured those who gained wealth by their labor instead of by birth, rent, or tradition. Thanks to ownership protection, many citizens can accumulate and preserve the fruit of their work. As such, conditions are created for an increased importance of the markets where individuals meet one another to seek advantages by exchanging goods and services, without violence, in the shadow of a regulation guaranteed by a state having force monopoly.

The described change represents progress the moment it allows citizens to realize their life projects, but it’s not devoid of negative aspects. In particular, it does not hinder the formation of a wide swath of the population that falls beneath the minimum income level required for a dignified life. If this malaise strata assumes a systemic nature, the need arises for its systemic management by the state by means of apposite rules.[8] Examples are disability or retirement pensions, health care, and collective work contracts specific to each industry.

Where is the problem, for him who desires to preserve law’s rationality? The point is that laws made to improve the status of the poor will not speak about men in general, as required by law’s abstractness and universality; instead, they will specifically talk about the poor. Tutelage of weak men turns to be an increase in law complexity, and it pushes us away from formal rational criteria, because of the need to define specific situations in which help and intervention must be addressed.

To sum up, simplicity and abstractness are applied at the beginning of the nineteenth century to fix inefficient laws that became entangled with privileges. Moving away from the zero point where this change occurred, the negative effects of the new laws accumulate and become evident as grey zones[9] that need to be managed by further laws, which are more specific and detailed because they must suit the multiplicity of the existing system, without the possibility of deleting it by a new, improbable revolution.
This development is equivalent to a shift from formal rationality as described above. We can talk about this process as law deformalization. Deformalization comes both from an historical continuity not repudiated by a discontinuity moment and from an increase of complexity in the social context in which law is applied.[10]

HABERMAS AND LAW’S PROCEDURAL RATIONALITY

In the ancient empires, law is based upon its sacred origin, upon habits and upon bureaucratic action. The sovereign can’t make of law what he wants, because this would mean going against the tradition and sacred authority law derives from. The fact that political power can’t dispose of law by will is indicated by talking about an unavailability moment.
In the moment when custom and the sacred sphere stop being sources of law, the only references remaining are the collections of laws created by man, who, having created them, can modify them too; so one faces the risk of law being manipulated by the political sphere for its own purposes, and the need is felt to anchor law to a referent that can protect it from the whims of power; one such possibility is to establish law as an expression of the collective will of the people, which authority is then placed above every other state’s body.

Should someone ask me what I’m doing now, I would not reply analysing the inside of my psyche and trying to detect the elements of thought involved in writing, and those elements having a rest, but I would tell him: “I’m writing an article about a Habermas’ book.” Now let’s create a mind experiment: try to imagine a people provided with a collective will, and ask him what is right and wrong. I don’t know what he will answer, but if he thinks as did I above, then he will speak without reference to his internal divisions, without mentioning single citizens and without referring to specific social situations. He will speak in an abstract way.

This is how one can think that a collective citizens’ will expresses itself with abstract and universal laws, with which it preserves law’s autonomy in relation to politics, opposing the inopportune wishes of the government with the necessity of expressing rules in a certain manner that is supposed to guarantee justice, avoiding explicit privileges allocated to certain social classes.

Habermas regards as an error considering the universality and abstractness of language as a guarantee that the aims of a collective monolithic will are fulfilled.[11] Universality and abstractness of law remain as reference points, but it’s necessary to deepen our understanding of how decisions form themselves, breaking the black box of people’s collective will as it has been thought by Rousseau.[12] This deepening has not been made by socialists,[13] while it has occurred in liberal theories.[14]

The abstract and universal nature of law does not allow it to formulate measures directly assigning privileges to particular citizens with a name and a surname, but also does not prevent laws from casting advantages and disadvantages onto society’s foliage creating dark and light zones. To avoid a manipulation of the grey regions generated by laws, there is the need to regulate the process by which decisions representing the will of all are taken at the top, rather than simply the manner in which these decisions must be written.

In this way, in respect to the formal rationality as intended by Weber we find ourselves with a concept of procedural rationality broader and sounder, that can keep its validity in the complexity of the contemporary situation, in which it’s hard to maintain intact the abstract and universal nature of law.

While formal rationality according to Weber had an instantaneous nature (in the sense that it was about properties present in the law in every single instant), examining procedural aspects of the law clearly brings us to consider events extended in time, and there is a passage from the synchronic dimension to the diachronic one. Using a musical metaphor, we could say that while Weber pored over the harmony among superimposed sounds, Habermas focuses our attention on melody and chord succession.

LAW AND MORALITY

In our society there can be different moral types; for example, there can be a morality based on the maximization of total happiness or one based on the practice of certain personal virtues. There can be one based on the love of the neighbour, or again another based on accepting only those behaviours that could be put to use by all men without damaging society. So we find ourselves in a situation where a unique law must be able to mediate among varying moral systems.

Aside from this, moral nature is intrinsically different from legality. Morality is more propositive, and drawing examples it can inspire action, while law is a prohibitive system. In addition, morality can talk about invisible thoughts, while this area remains inaccessible to law: one can not be on trial for his intentions. Law handles concrete and identifiable objects, while morality is (or can be) the seat of more daring inspirations and is hard to pigeon-hole systematically. Morality can describe a behaviour model that is a fragile equilibrium, rarely only reachable in practice; by the finger, morality can even point to the moon, and it’s not said that its speeches always reach definite conclusions. On the contrary, law must be a rule easily enforceable in every day contexts, and must arbitrate conflicts on the routes of the world. Law must (or should) give rise to fast and objective material decisions, while needing only reasoning that is as simple and repeatable as possible.
If we think about their respective social functions, we can consider law as a sort of completion of morality, because it constitutes the mechanical apparatus by which human conflictuality magma is modelled towards the direction suggested by morality.

A PROJECT FOR EUROPE

Habermas longs to detect the criteria permitting the elaboration of a fair and functional law for the contemporary context, and the European context in particular. To do this, he begins by discussing the concept of rationality described by Max Weber, and he means to give a better version of it, one more resistant to the law deformalization problem as well as capable of regulating how law absorbs moral matters, and of protecting law itself from attempts at manipulation led by political power.[15]

Habermas research is quite broad, taking account of different themes, from the origin of law in prehistoric societies to contemporary trends in legal thought in Germany and the USA, and from issues related with the formation of a united Europe to the thought of Niklas Luhmann and Friedrich Fröbel. Special attention is given to a series of considerations about the French Revolution and to the Enlightenment thought of Kant and Rousseau.

The solution detected by Habermas is a law’s rationality intended above all in a procedural sense: that is, the formation processes of political-legislative will must be such to receive the moral content present in public speeches made outside institutional structures, both political and juridical. Following Habermas, we see that democracy depends on the way we as citizens discuss arguments, on the quality of our speeches.

Habermas’ project is a political construction capable of incorporating different cultural shapes of life. Against this project of liberal democracy based on citizens’ awareness works that part of power that always longs for the dozing off of thought. In favour, here we are. If souls stay sitting in their armchairs watching TV, there is not much to hope for. But every time someone gets up from comfort to really want something, then the project regains strenght and a united, independent Europe returns to the realm of the possible, keeping up with its role in history.

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  1. [1]I worked on the following Italian edition: Jürgen Habermas, Morale, Diritto, Politica, Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi, vol. 359 – Filosofia, Torino 1992. This volume includes the original German titles Recht und Moral (Tanner Lectures 1986); Volkssouveränität als Verfahren (1988); and Staatsbürgerschaft und nationale Identität (1990), in Jürgen Habermas, Faktizität und Geltung. Beiträge zur Diskurstheorie des Rechts und des demokratischen Rechtsstaats (Suhrkamp, Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1992). The quotes in the following notes (if nothing else is indicated) are from the Italian edition.
    All translations from Italian to English made by the author (both quotes and the entire article, which was composed in Italian).
  2. [2]After a deep reading of Habermas’ text, I chose some of the main ideas present in it. This article has been constructed as a narration preparating the enunciation of the chosen concepts. This means the arguments coming from the book are not delved into; rather they are simplified to provide a basic introduction to the citizen.
  3. [3]Voltaire, Oeuvres de Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique par Voltaire (Paris: Imprimerie de Cosse et Gaultier-Laguionie, 1838). Entry for “coutumes”: “Il y a, dit-on, cent quarante-quatre coutumes en France qui ont force de loi; ces lois sont presque toutes différentes. Un homme qui voyage dans ce pays change de loi presque autant de fois qu’il change de chevaux de poste. […] aujourd’hui la jurisprudence s’est tellement perfectionnée, qu’il n’y a guère de coutume qui n’ait plusieurs commentateurs; et tous, comme on croit bien, d’un avis différent.”
  4. [4]Of course, the codes historical formation process is complex and extends through time; in addition, its formation is not a direct and exclusive effect of French Revolution.
  5. [5]“Citizens’ collective will, being capable of expressing itself in the form of universal and abstract laws only, operates excluding all interests not susceptible to be generalized, admitting only those rules that guarantee equal liberties to all men.” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” p. 84
  6. [6]If we say, in example, that a vassal can sell wine 30 days before others, or that only vassal can hunt game, or that only vassal has the right to receive a tribute from all the lands of the fee, then we are creating distinctions favouring certain social classes.
  7. [7]From common citizens, but from legal professionals as well.
  8. [8]The so-called welfare state.
  9. [9]“In the degree to which constitutional monarchies and the Napoleonic code affirmed themselves, social inequalities of a new kind came to light. In place of inequalities linked to political privileges, other inequalities succeeded them, starting from the institutionalization of equal liberties, in the field of private law. They were the social consequences of the unequal distribution of an economic power that was wielded outside the political dimension.” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” p. 88
  10. [10]This does not mean that at the zero point laws were “better” because they did not need the integrations that subsequently have been necessary. At the zero point, new laws have not yet had time to diffuse their consequences, which in a complex world can’t avoid having negative as well as positive aspects too.
  11. [11]“Kant, too, has been responsible for a confusion that soon will no more allow to separate between them two completely different meanings of universality: the semantic universality of an abstractly general law will early take up the place of procedural universality, characterizing the democratically established law as an expression of a popular collective will.” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” p. 72
  12. [12]“It is necessary that the moral substance of self-legislation – compactly concentrated by Rousseau in a single act – disarticulates itself through the many grades of the proceduralized formative process of opinion and will, thus becoming accreditable in low-denomination banknote also.” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” p. 99
  13. [13]“Marx and Engels limited themselves to touch on the Paris Commune, and they always disregarded every issue of democratic theory. […] To the enlarged concept of politics, it did not correspond to any theoretical deepening about which functions, communication forms, or institutionalization conditions, should characterize an egalitarian formation of the will” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” pp. 88-89
  14. [14]“Every democratically enlightened liberalism keeps faith to Rousseau’s intention, but in the same time recognizes that popular soveraignity shall express itself starting from the discursive conditions only of an opinion and will formation process, differentiated in itself.” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” p. 85
  15. [15]In the sense that there is the aim of defining a criterion under which political power can’t do all that it wants about laws, just because it must act within well-defined procedures allowing to gather the fruits of public speeches. Cf: “Communicative power is wielded in the modality of a siege. […] It regulates and fixes quotas to the reasons pool that the administrative power can sure instrumentally manage, but never – structured as it is in a juridical form – afford the luxury of ignoring.” Habermas, “Morale, Diritto, Politica” p. 98

WRITING WORDS FOR FINDING IMAGES – THE INSPIRATION TWISTED WAYS AND CREATIVE DRAWING

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My customer wants a picture for an article. It must be clear without falling into the banal; i don’t find it. This article talks about children in a context of divorce, and i’m collecting sad and crying children, in the full or in the dim light, sitting alone or pulled by parents… The sheet and the thought fill up with images elbowing for a place, without leading me beyond. My creations become a little crowd besieging me with bother. I find myself caught between an inspiration need and the impossible gesture of stretching out my hand for seizing it. The more I try, the more it escapes me.

Talking about his animals, Konrad Lorenz pointed out that game occurs when there is no danger and the belly is full: when there are not important and urgent issues to face. But the appointment with my buyer is exactly this, and it seems to prevent the favorable circumstances for the creative game that itself requires.
Clearly, working doggedly on the aim does not favour the birth of the image, but neither i can stay with folded arms while a stupid clock is scoffing at me. What work can i carry on with to get closer to the inspiration, downwind, without making it escaping? The right image seems to come when it feels like coming only, but there must be in the back-stage of the mind a suitable situation for its birth. There must be somewhere between the conscious and the inconscious an idea of the structure that i have to illustrate, capable to supply raw materials for starting the neural magic off towards the G point of creativeness.

And so, i stop drawing children and i start writing where they came from and where they will go, forgetting their appearance. I let fading away all the images i collected before, because they absorbed the effort sweat they had been conceived with, and the smell was not good. I interview the subject of my paintings and i tell in words his past and his future, jumping from one thing to another or deepening in the never ending details, inventing something completely or mixing my experiences with my fancies. In this way i can give vent to my stress with a work bringing me closer to the result. The stories causal nexuses sediment in some hidden place of the thought, populating it with seeds i await a bud from, in occasion of which i will come back from the words world to the images one.

When i insisted on searching inspiration in the images field, the badly functioning creations[1] asked me to trace the breakdown and to make them worthwhile. So every figure that was not the right one weighed me down ending up by being a damage. Now that I moved into the words field everything i build is nothing and does not weigh me down, slips away without regrets because it’s not what I’m looking for.[2]
But really this words flow is not a nothing only, it’s the care too for something still i don’t see; as there is a rain dance, there is a dance for the images, and words are drops to forget and find them again.

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  1. [1]All but the last one: the good one interrupting the search.
  2. [2]Of course, the difference between the images dynamic and the words one is not due to their intrinsic nature; it’s because of images are the destination field, while words are the intermediate field.

THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR: NOT LITERATURE ONLY

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THOUGHTS ABOUT BARTHES’ SCRIPT [1]

POSSIBILITY CLOSING

The individual thought is open to manifold possibilities the written words can evoke or drive away. If we imagine the reader’s thought as the big full light of a reflector, then every reading is a black sheet wherein some spaces are open, and after the sheet is put on the light, a part only of the thoughts remains possible. Changing reading is changing the sheet. Instead, writing an interpretation is putting a second sheet in addition to the first; less thoughts will remain possible: only the ones that will find the coincidence between the holes in the two sheets. It’s in this way that the interpretation of a work can shut its horizons, dimishing the possibilities it can match. In this sense, shutting a text is in itself neither good nor evil. If one likes the chances remained open then he will be happy they are more evident, and vice versa.

A competent functionary of the power, equipped with a long term vision, will be concerned about promoting global visions coherent with his interests, choosing the interpretations suitable with friendly thoughts. And the literary critic will be welcome to the political parts of which he shares the values scheme. Barthes, who has no liking for “the system”, takes a stand opposed to this lie of the land.

I can’t say whether the historical premises Barthes makes use of suffice for supporting his reasoning, or if they are valid as an introduction only, but even with these doubts about the roots of his reflection, it’s clearly possible to see its effect: the death of the author works as a slogan for disconnecting the author’s past from the tissue of the text, in order to contest the literary criticism and foster a synchronic reading.[2]
Literary criticism that Barthes takes aim to produces interpretations of a diachronic type:[3] they bring back the value of the literary work to the past dynamycs that generated it, with a route that traces back from the writing to the author’s supposed purposes. Then, if the ground where the critic browses are the author’s will routes, here is Barthes building a scriptor equipped with a Here and Now only, lacking any intention; a sort of bare procedural skill. Making the author die, Barthes breaks the critic’s toy.

A MENTAL ATTITUDE

Beyond the premises and the consequences of the death of the author, it is worth while to make some observations about the way it structures itself. The author’s elimination is first of all articulated as a refuse of the time before writing, during which the author conceives the work, making the scriptor’s existence coincident with the writing act.

“The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after.”

“In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now.”

This emphasis put on the writing moment can even produce a certain enthusiasm into the reader, who can project himself in a writing modality grazing the sacred dimension, but this excitement is doomed to lessen when we see Barthes reducing the writer’s skills to a mere recombination of pre-existing elements, expressly depriving him of any personal emotional content.

“His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them.”

“Succeeding the Author, the scriptor no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions…”

Barthes is capable in preparing its entering in the scene, but the concept of scriptor is unbearable when one compares it with the historical complexity of the real individual who produced the work. The refuse of the duration can be ascribed (forcing a bit the hand) to the moment only when it occurs the definition of the exact words forming the text, but not to the entire creation process, that, besides, sees the author becoming the reader of himself with the purpose of accomplishing a validation or a self-criticism. In the process of setting up the literary device the author can’t be considered independent from his own history. The only way for having a likely scriptor, is intending him as a subpart of the real author, as a sort of mental microclimate typical of the writing moment.

LIGHTENING AND OPENING OF THE SUBJECT

Reading Barthes’ article, one perceives the need for a major impersonality; this term can be intended as the replacement of a cumbersome and monolithic I with a fleeting and manifold creature. As a consequence, the author does no more enter intrusively in the writing, but occupies himself handling a variety of mechanisms that will give rise to the beauty of the words tissue, accompanied by  the awareness of his own specific identity acquired by experience.
But in Barthes’ writing i see a corrupt version of impersonality, asking us to throw away our history, both as writers and as readers. It’s a request that hardly can get a positive answer.

A RESIDUE THAT ONE CAN NOT ELIMINATE

Unfolding the death of the author, Barthes maintains that narrated stories are other than the stories of the author’s life, and that the main narration line is not close fitting the author’s lived. Consequently he values inconsistent the practice, made by the literary critic, of deciphering the narrative line, leading it back to that lived.
But, even if there is no direct transfer of author’s stories into the text, there must be an author’s specificity passing into the work. Otherwise, the authors would be barely equal one each other. Therefore, strictly speaking, it always subsists the possibility to set up an interpretation of the writing tracing back to the specific features of its origin.

WHERE THE PROGRESS REMAINS

Altogether the death of the author seems to me a controversial issue[4]. As readers, the best use we can make of this image, is conceiving it as an invitation to temporarily set aside the causes of the past, symbolized by the author.
In doing so one creates the premises for losing himself in the present time, interpreting the writing according to the relations between the parts, avoiding any reference to an elsewhere. This way of giving trust to the text favours creativeness, in the same extent that the reflection works on fully available structures and is not broken off for the need of a search in the traces of the past, to verify the causal lines. The disadvantage, obvious, is that one gives up with certifying and enriching the analysis with the information content of the past.
About me, progress consists in finding the qualitative factors that can point out the right moment for breaking the synchronic analysis switching to a diachronic check. Eager to make immersions in the various localities of Here and Now, we need a method that indicates when it’s time for going back to the global context of History.[5] [6]

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  1. [1]This article contains my reflections about “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes, 1968. “Image, music, text” 1977 Pagg 142-148 publisher: Fontana, Londra – ISBN/ISSN: 0006861350 – Translated by S. Heath. You can find the pdf here: http://smile.solent.ac.uk/digidocs/live/Furby/Text/Barthes.pdf
  2. [2]That examines the present time without recurring to the past events, and hence to the becoming.
  3. [3]Extended in time; considering the present in relation to how it originated itself from the past.
  4. [4]In example I, as an author, am not very inclined to commit suicide.
  5. [5]It’s clear the movement between History and Here and Now localities happens many times; it’s not a single isolated event.
  6. [6]This reflection has been introduced referring to the reader role, but it does not exhaust itself in this compass.