Unconscious Codes, Ecological Thinking in Risk

Originally posted on November 20, 2020 @ 2:55 PM

imageBiosemiotics is the idea that life is based on semiosis, i.e., on signs, symbols and codes. Biosemiotics is the study of signs in living systems. In ecological life there is a ’thinking’ dynamic or ‘force’ that drives everything from the construction of a snowflake to the formation of a hurricane. Most of this ‘force’ is invisible and unconscious.

Ball in his book ‘Critical Mass, How One Thing Leads to Another’ (2008) discusses the mystery of biosemiotic codes and what they can teach us about understanding life and living, being and becoming. The opposite of ecological thinking is that darling of risk and safety systems – ‘predictive analytics’.

Ecological thinking is not systemic thinking, particularly the kind of systemic thinking that posits that life is mechanical, predictable and certain. Ecological thinking understands that loosely coupled entities have inter-connected and unconscious codes that drive emergence.

I guess people tend not to think of the molecular world as embedded with signs and meanings, purpose and ‘forces’. Semiosis is the study of meaning making and how sign/symbol systems make ‘being’ in the semiosphere. At a biosemiotic level even the collective genome and genetic code construct meaning at an organic level no less so that any other code or ‘force’.

In many ways Climate Change is the reactive force of the world’s ecology to the human industrialization of the planet. The world’s ecology is basically saying ‘we don’t like it this way’. It seems human made systems are at war with Nature’s codes and semiosis. We use the word ‘Nature’ to personify our understanding of the world and its language, semiosis and life force. This is discussed by Barbieri in Biosemiotics: A New Understanding of Life (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5487617_Biosemiotics_A_new_understanding_of_life).

When we explore the nature of causality in ecological life we observe how life is a rhizome, a messy mat of chaotic roots that tangle and interconnect in unpredictable non-patterns. We can learn much from this metaphor of the rhizome for how we understand causality and risk (https://safetyrisk.net/the-rhizome-as-a-learning-model-for-risk/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/like-a-rhizome-cowboy/). This idea that being, doing and becoming are neat and tidy, predictable and certain is the delusion of the risk and safety industry. It explains why so many are surprised when an accident happens.

A recent piece by Strevens (https://aeon.co/essays/an-irrational-constraint-is-the-motivating-force-in-modern-science?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=da9e4416f8-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_11_16_01_09&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-da9e4416f8-71232212) proposes that Science has lost it’s taste for the irrational, I think perhaps he means the aRational (https://safetyrisk.net/the-rational-arational-and-irrational-in-safety/). He suggests that there are forms of intelligence that Science excludes to its own detriment. He states:

‘What is logically objectionable, let me emphasise, is not that scientific deliberation prefers empirical evidence to aesthetic thinking. There is no need to choose one or the other; you can have both. You can privilege the evidence, the ‘hard facts’ as much as you like, especially as they accumulate and approach incontrovertibility. The principle of total evidence has no problem with that. All it says is that you must also, if you think aesthetics provides some useful intelligence, take beauty into account. But science says you must ignore it completely, regardless of how important you take it to be. Or more exactly, you must ignore it in your professional contributions, your publications. That’s what’s irrational’.

What Strevens argues is for a credible Transdisciplinary approach (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-safety/) to Science that includes Aesthetics amongst other Disciplines. A call for Transdisciplinarity is not a call for the rejection of Science but rather the inclusion and validation of Disciplines that positivism rejects.

What does this imply for the way humans tackle risk?

  1. Understanding the human world as a ‘wicked problem’ (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-and-safety-as-a-wicked-problem/) creates a new way of envisioning risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ). If we understand the ecological world as a rhizome we adopt a different approach to understanding risk to what is proposed by risk and safety orthodoxy.
  2. When we think organically we move away from mechanistic language that dominates the risk and safety world. The risk and safety world simply interprets its own reality through this mechanistic paradigm but it is not true to reality. Human reality is an ecological reality not a mechanistic one. The challenge of Schrödinger’s Cat (https://wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/2013/07/30/what-did-schrodingers-cat-experiment-prove/) demonstrates the limits of the mechanistic measurement myth.
  3. The biosemiotic and ecological envisioning of life, being and becoming understands risk as an unsolvable problem that one can at best ‘tackle’ but cannot ‘solve’ or ‘fix’. There is no zero. Indeed, at an ecological level there is so much we don’t know and will never know. The acceptance of mystery is essential for the envisioning of risk.

Just imagine if we came to indecent investigations without all our pre-conceived notions of confirming what we already know. Unfortunately, what the risk and safety worldview of mechanics and measurables fosters is false narratives based upon delusions of a predicable world and mechanical ideology. What the Social Psychology of Risk calls ‘False Consciousness’ (https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/false-consciousness).

In the SEEK Program (https://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psyvhology-of-event-investigations-unit-2/ ) we explore an SPoR approach to incident investigations that shines a new light on tackling risk and envisions a new way to approach the way we tackle risk.

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