Groups. Individuals. Decisions. Descriptions. Science. Measurement. Therapy. Fred Newman brings them all together in “Undecidable Emotions (What is Social Therapy? And How is it Revolutionary?)”. Here’s an excerpt from the article published in 2003 in The Journal of Constructivist Psychology (Volume 16, pp. 215-232). You can read the article in full here.
For while stars and molecules (and numbers and quanta) do not seem to decide things, other animal species manifest volition and, therefore, could be described as decision makers. But more uniquely human even than deciding (though inextricably connected to the mechanisms by which people decide) is the human capacity to describe (typically using language). The descriptive (or denotative) mode has come to dominate western languages (and culture) as modem science and methodological objectivity have become hegemonic. It is not so much that we “think objectively” (whatever that means) as that we think of our thinking as objective. We presume (without very much thinking about it) that our words and sentences are, generally speaking, about something. And since the modernist “logic of thinking” derives conclusions from mainly descriptive premises, the conclusions (decisions) are mainly of the denotative mode. That is, we take our decisions to be about the relationship between us and our world (“I’m going to have a hot fudge sundae.”).
Many (certainly since Wittgenstein) have challenged this linguistic/conceptual bias. And yet it still dominates our “popular culture.” The depth of our descriptive/denotative bias is so profound that for most cultural purposes (linguistic philosophy notwithstanding) the description is taken to be identical with that which it purports to describe. Hence, reality becomes its description. But in so doing, we systematically obscure certain very interesting features of description, viz., that there are an infinite number of descriptions and that each event (phenomena, situation or whatever) is itself infinitely describable. The paradoxes of self-referentiality are inextricably related to the less dramatic but more pervasive “paradox of referentiality.” For even if we concede that much of language is about something, it is difficult if not impossible, given the double infinitude of descriptions, to decide what it is about. It is reality (to use that anachronistic term) which is undecidable, not merely mathematics or physics. The Gödel proof, after all, turns ultimately not on features of mathematics or logic but on features of language, viz., there are an infinite number of descriptions including those which attribute particular properties to themselves.