Monday, November 2, 2009

The laws of form and performance

The Laws of Form is a book, written (in 1969) by George Spencer-Brown, which influenced me as a graduate student in the late 1980s. I wrote in (chapter 4 of) my dissertation that it showed "that all of Boolean logic is inherent in the single concept of distinction." In retrospect, I may have claimed this because of a criticism of the book in an article cleverly named "Flaws of Form," in which the authors claim "that Brown's system is [merely] Boolean algebra in an obscure notation." My claim is really equivalent to the detractors' but with a positive spin to it.

Distinction is a powerful intellectual tool. Another is abstraction, but I digress.

This post is about a book that I have just read, entitled "The Three Laws of Performance" (by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan) published this year (2009, forty years after the other book).

What reminded me of the other book is the odd observation that the newer book's title contains the older book's title within it, thus: The Three Laws of Performance [emphasis added]. It is a quirk of my personality that I enjoy such coincidences and word play.

However, there is a deeper reminding, having to do with the power of distinction as an intellectual tool.

The first of the three laws of performance is, "How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them." At first glance, there is no distinction drawn here. However, in the explanatory material following the first expression of this law, the authors speak of what they call the "reality illusion" [emphasis in original].

This is precisely the first great distinction of Popper's three worlds (which played an important part in chapter two of my dissertation).

The "reality illusion" is the distinction between Popper's world one and his world two. This is the distinction between reality itself (world one) and the mental constructs which we create in our minds (world two) about reality, or how we explain reality to ourselves.

The powerful thrust of the first law is that it explains people's behavior: how people behave ("perform") is consistent with ("correlates to") their mental constructs ("how situations occur to them").

Compare my sentence (from the perspective of Popper's three worlds)
How people behave is consistent with their mental constructs.
with that from the (newer) book (and the perspective of laws of performance)
How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
So that this post is not a plot spoiler (my readers are encouraged to read this new book), I will only say of the other two laws that they recognize that the material, or substance, of our mental constructs is language, and that language phrased in the future tense (declarative language) has greater power to change our mental constructs (than descriptive language, in present or past tense).

If you have a mathematical bent, I encourage you to read Laws of Form.

If you are interested in improving/changing your own performance, I encourage you to read The Three Laws of Performance.

1 comment:

Myrna said...

I am thinking that these books might be helpful for my dissertation, which though on a different topic entirely, does deal with the concepts of reality and illusion.