The Physiology of Observation in Nietzsche and Luhmann

Rüdiger Campe, Jocelyn Holland, Elisabeth Strowick and Edgar Landgraf


The article examines Nietzsche’s adoption of Johannes Müller’s principle of specific nerve energies, which Nietzsche expands to encompass the relationship between nerve stimulus, mental image, and language. As a consequence, Nietzsche dispenses with the unity of the subject as primary observer, replacing it with a media theory of sorts; and he encounters a problem of recursion, as the findings about the physiological limits of observation need to be applied to these findings, too. Reflecting the philosophical consequences of nineteenthcentury neurophysiology, Nietzsche engages problems that are at the center of Niklas Luhmann’s epistemology. For Luhmann, the observer is no longer viewed as an entity (a subject, a mind, a transcendental I) located outside of what is being observed. Instead, drawing on twentieth-century neurophysiol ogy, observation is formalized as a process of auto-observation where the operations of a particular system must be thought to constitute what is being observed. (EL)

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