Half-formed thoughts, questions really. Perhaps less of a focus on epistemology, on knowing and defining criteria for when someone can be said to know, and more an exploration of what it means to learn. A hypothesis. A system– often these systems are human, but they can be societal, animal, or electronic –can be said to learn when it is able to detect a new signal or set of signals from out of a field of noise (hyper-complex reality) and respond to that signal through cognitive, communicative, or embodied algorithms. Response-algorithms can, of course, be a combination of embodied and cognitive responses.
A comparison between a Freudian psychoanalysand and a jazz musician might help to illustrate the relationship between signal and action. The psychoanalysand– we must say it’s the psychoanalysand as they’re the ones who do most of the work –is one who has learned how to hear themselves in a new way. The slip of the tongue, the bungled action, the joke, the dream, and above all, the symptom have now become signals. Before they would have gone unnoticed, they would have been background noise. They would have been thrown away. Now they signify. And they signal in the speech and action of others as well. But it is not simply that they are noted. The psychoanalysand does not simply note these signals, but knows how to proceed cognitively with them in a vector of thought. They are able to find a meaning in these apparently meaningless events. “I left my umbrella at my friend’s flat. I did not want to leave.” They now practice free association, leading themselves to unexpected places, discovering desire in the innocuous. They have acquired the capacity to discover another thinking within themselves.
While there are clearly cognitive components in the case of the jazz musician, there are embodied ones as well. The jazz musicians is one who is able to encounter signals in the musical play of another without a pre-defined plan. Their capacity or newly won power lies not simply in hearing certain signals in these others, but in knowing how to respond– through breath in the case of brass, and finger and foot in the case of string and key –extemporaneously in a manner similar to the wandering path of a conversation, ceasing something in the process between the two (or more) without precedent.
What is remarkable in learning is how any signal emerges from the noise at all. A signal is something that is encountered as statistically independent. The world as such is hyper-complex. Anything is potentially a signal; which is why the world or noise is noise. Yet somehow signals emerge from this chaos. There’s almost a sort of magic here, for something that wasn’t there at all for the observer and actor now flashes into relief as information, where nothing was there before. How does this take place?