Our thoughts are always adressed, either to a person in particular or to a group representing a network of common knowledge and interest. We could call that a socio-symbolic group. Culture relies on the good enough approximation over the coherence of socio-symbolic groups, that means on enough common and shared experience that enables a start understanding.
When I am thinking of something, it is either my own voice (though slightly different) or somebody else’s voice speaking in my imagination. It is the impression of someone speaking and thus representing the coherence of an imaginary, socio-symbolic group receiving the speech, and understanding it.
We are looking for a common appreciation on a common thing : the common object of symbolic relation.
The importance of intermediary structures
The existence, either real and/or symbolic, of those groups guarantees that there is a culture, the possibility of communities, and also that there are heterogenous socio-symbolic spaces involving different symbolic systems. Their rules, their laws, their implicit behaviour are different. I won’t behave and look at the same horizon depending on whom I am relating to in these spaces.
Hence there is a topology of those socio-symbolic systems. There is, we shall say, a topic – the rigid structures and their laws – and a typic – the flaws inside of those structures that allow deviations : loopholes that permit to transgress and transform our relation to them.
The topic would function on the basis of these ‘good enough approximations’, that means that even though there are differences between people’s experiences, there is enough in common so that we share a common basis for interpretation of reality.
The typic on its side is unpredictable, because it represents the ability of the subject to escape the rigidity of the structure and to switch from one system to another, even creating them. Yet the passage from one socio-symbolic system to another means that they are close enough so not to provoke a too radical switch and then break the stability of the main symbolic system to the subject’s mind. However the elasticity of the latter to switch quickly and easily can be trained – like an actor-tress would do.
The capacity to create intermediary structures, new connections between systems is also a way to invent new spaces for new eventual socio-symbolic groups. Inventing new paradigms, new worlds, is a manner of enabling new ways for human beings to see, perceive and exchange about life’s issues and wonderments.
The more you enable the multiplicity of points of view, the more chances you get in creating new connections between systems of thought. Intermediary spaces bring clarity where systems are not defined.
Mathematics and third-party
In fact, a topological system – for instance in mathematics – means that you have in hands an ensemble of definition X and a family of X’s parts named O, that is open.1 We create zones inside of a certain setting, within which we study and get to know that those zones would respond to certain rules, under certain limits, with a certain behaviour.
In life, those zones in the world of meaning and reality we are in, are known intuitively. We are educated to recognise them and to adapt to them. Morals, the knowledge of what is licit or not, according to the degree of privacy of the social spaces, we learn them intimately since born-age to adulthood and more. We also learn progressively how to pass from one of those spaces to another. For example, from the living-room with our family, to our room when we are alone ; or from home to the street and public transports, or at work.
Then our thoughts are always adressed, because of the third-party structure of those socio-symbolic systems. We are allowed to imagine that we could behave and speak as in our thoughts in one potential space or another, to and with such people or such others. I am thinking differently when my thoughts are adressed to someone that would know what I am talking about, than to someone that would not have the faintest idea of that, or only a partial understanding of their underlinings.
Image of the body : imaginary and symbolic
Then there is an affective bond to groups within which I know I shall be received and understood, where my thoughts would carry actions for a progressive future. Otherwise, there are no thoughts possible, because those would not carry one possible action in one possible space.
That is why psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan made a difference between the imaginary and the symbolic. The imaginary can push you far away from a potential realisation in a common space, that is what the structure of socio-symbolic systems guarantees. There, as Lacan said, ‘all human beings participate to the universe of the symbols. They are included in it and bear it, much more than they constitute it. They are much more the support of it than its agents.’2
Coming to the question of the body image, Lacan further described that ‘the body as a broken up desire looking for itself, and the body as an ideal of oneself, do reproject on the subject’s side as a broken up body, while they see the other as a perfect body.’3
Identity and the projection of oneself in reality, we could say, is also interdependent with the ability of those socio-symbolic spaces to welcome them and support them. Because the symbolic carried by language and meaningful actions is intertextual. It is meant to help passing from one system to another, whatever scale and definition setting those systems would be fitting.
The rigidity of the topic cannot be without struggling against the typic, that is the force inside of the living subject to move on to the next step, to seek for a form of progress. It would then seek the familiy of systems where the subject is likely to be allowed to think. That means that the subject is allowed to imagine that their thinkings would potentially lead to a responsive action.
We anticipate a public’s reaction to a potential thought. It is even easier if we imagine those thoughts being embodied by someone else who is speaking. Generally, those ‘someone else’ are figures enjoying a certain degree of moral authority that justifies that we think they would be allowed to talk and be listened to. The peculiar style of the person would allow us to signify more than the structure : precisely, the possible emergence of a type, different from its background and from the territory it came from – a singularity.
Those imaginary voices contain action, in particular spaces of representation constituted by certain socio-symbolic groups. Whether approximative and not including the whole spectrum of those (even imaginary) people’s lives, those groups are defined enough to work and make work whatever things we would like to say, and be listened to.
2In Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire – I – Les écrits techniques de Freud (1953-54), Ed. Seuil, 1975, p. 180. My translation.
3Ibid., p. 171