in Laws of Form
At the foundation of Laws of Form is the concept of
distinction. Here is a distinction:
Notice that there's nothing there. That's because the distinction
lies in the viewing frame. The break in the text surrounds
empty space, thereby highlighting it. You naturally see through
this frame and recognize the nothing inside of it, rather than the
In considering the frame, we did a context shift from being inside
of the discourse to being outside of it, where we studied its spatial
form. This change of perspective is also a distinction. In one case
we step in, in the other we step out.
Now let's collapse those two distinctions by making the content of
the frame the same as its context:
Notice here that you can recognize the frame within the frame. And
the frame within that. This is called self-reference because
when we cross the distinction, we arrive at the very place we started.
Now, this isn't true self-reference since the document image
isn't the same as the document and because you can step out of this
frame and see the rest of your display. Self-reference is an
important aspect of Spencer-Brown's work which we'll come back to
Since we seek to recognize distinctions, we need a clear means of
denoting them. Rather than use an implicit frame as above, we like to
draw distinctions explicitly. Below is one way to do that (another way
is to use parentheses).
To review, notice that the inside of the circle is empty. In order
to confirm this, your perspective must cross both the viewing frame
and the boundary of the circle.
The concepts of frame, reference, representation, and boundary all
involve a basic disconnection of content from context; they are all
In the book, Spencer-Brown builds a
calculus of distinctions consisting of the laws calling
and crossing, illustrated below.
These are the laws of form.
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