Cybernetics and Human Knowing. Vol. 22 (2015), no. 4, pp. 75-89
Is the System Badly Named? Noise as the Paradoxical (Non-)foundation
of Social Systems Theory Justine Grønbæk Pors
Through an analysis of the concept of noise, this paper argues that Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory is not only a theory built on binary oppositions such as system/environment, but also a theory full of paradoxical third things that challenges any idea of systems as stable, systematic entities. To revitalise the concept of noise I trace the concept back to the sources that Luhmann draws on, namely Heinz von Foerster and Henri Atlan. Moreover, I introduce Michel Serres’s theory of noise to emphasis that noise is not just an outside to orderly systems, but the unstable ground of always changing orders. Through this synthesis I conclude that systems should not be understood as predictable entities or identities with pre-given boundaries, but rather as autopoietic processes driven by indeterminacy and paradoxes.
Keywords: Niklas Luhmann, noise, Henri Atlan, Michel Serres, social systems theory