Prof. Niklas Luhmann 1996
University of Bielefeld

World Redescription through Research

Excerpt from the investigation decisions, about Dieter W. Liedtke's art and his concept for the art open art exhibition.

He modifies and dissolves the framework of known theories. His new scientific theories are both a condition and a product of his own operating.
... One could think of an evolutionary achievement that, once invented and introduced, makes itself possible. If one transfers this result to the system of modern society, which puts its structures into effect and out of force through decisions, then one sees a result of evolution.
The most impressive new descriptions observed and cultivated in society to date can be found in the Copernican Revolution and, even more radically, in the macro- and microdimensions of modern physics. But this change of views is presented as a result of scientific research that one has to submit to because it is the truth. The fact that society itself makes such research, its publication and acceptance possible, remains unconsidered. Obviously, it plays a role that research is no longer committed to the continuation of a religiously based world thesis.

But is this a sufficient perspective for the next millennium or for the continuation of world redescription? Or: how can society react to the fact that science itself has engaged in a pragmatic choice of methods and a constructivist epistemology? To provide new descriptions is certainly a matter for science, which changes the problems themselves by proposing new solutions to problems, but also by understanding the insolubility of problems. In addition, one will have to think of the mass media, which constantly change the possibilities of looking back at the past with new information. Above all, however, poetry serves to snatch the past from oblivion and to present it in such a way that it can be described anew aletheia in the original sense.

But how can all this happen when the world itself is constantly renewing itself through decisions? In addition to the classical new descriptions aimed at aletheia, other forms of communication are now appearing that generate information about decisions. Society is renewing itself and the problem is only how communication can keep up with it, how it can keep society up to date. Certainly, a society that constantly renews itself through decisions must be understood as a system that generates its own uncertainty. We do not know in advance what the outcome of the next political elections will be, whether and where the fluctuations in the international financial markets will lead to investment or who will marry whom. A world that has to cope with this can probably only be understood as a unit that realizes itself in time and constantly creates a new, still open future. Seen in this light, there is an isomorphy between a society that is decisive for itself and a world that is open to the future, whose present state, whose clotted past, does not determine what is to come.

This world situation emerges in a number of terms with which society is currently working in order to adapt to it. We speak of risk and risk calculation or of innovation and creativity in order to create the conditions for as many different future developments as possible. One encourages oneself and surely doing nothing and waiting would not be a solution to the problem.

One must create facts in order to be able to understand in retrospect what has happened with one's own participation. This means that the world can no longer be understood as a total stock of (visible and invisible) things, no longer as Universitas Rerum. The concept of the world becomes a correlative concept of decision and the limitations of decision making are given more by its own history than by the world left untouched. For this very reason literature (and one could add: science) has the already mentioned function of expanding memory. Furthermore, when the world allows decisions, it must acknowledge that time becomes irreversible (because the difference between past and future is constantly renewed) and that this happens through events that manifest meaning even though they do not endure and disappear with their emergence.

The result is a historical world in the strict sense, which owes its dynamics not to special forces (energia), but to the instability of its elementary components. This can only be a world that no longer provides support. The observation of the world is thereby redirected back to what has happened, and precisely because it has happened as an event, it can no longer be changed. All the more this description of the world accentuates the future, in whose unfamiliarity possibilities are hidden, for whose realization one can decide.