Reduced Bateson Set: III. Set Up; Actuality Matters


(I continue musings which exemplify what I’m musing about. This is the set up to my presenting a schema, the Reduced Bateson Set, I can use to interpret my experience of other person’s presentation of information. Caveat: I am entertaining here an informal perspective. My eventual goal is to connect this perspective with further musings on adult learning.)

Although it may count as one of my most abstruse attempts at communicating complex, ‘softly’ phenomenological discoveries about the exchange of knowledge between persons, between human systems of awareness, the previous post in this series nevertheless entertains several main points. Its first point was that seemingly simple systems of human action do not yield answers to simple questions. The second point was these unanswerables are apparently due to incapacities in both formal and heuristic means for deriving answers and making accurate predictions. The third point was that in a discussion among persons who bring into the discussion differing perspectives and approaches, this discussion productively can happen irrespective of pertinent differences found or implicit in individual perspectives and/or approaches.

Here’s a mundane example. Your car needs a repair. You take it to the mechanic and discuss its ill symptoms. The mechanic sketches some possible causes. You don’t know much about how cars work. The mechanic does know how cars work. Yet, you have a discussion about what’s possibly wrong with your car. In this example, you and the mechanic share the assumption you the car owner do not need to know how a car works, as a condition for having the discussion. However, if you say to yourself, “I really don’t know what he’s talking about since I don’t know how a car works,” then it would be the case that you hold a different assumption. In fact, this different assumption could prove to be decisive. Still, you and the mechanic can have a discussion.

I’m not qualifying, in setting out this example, whether this kind of a discussion is a good or bad kind of discussion. The suggestion is: these kinds of discussions are common.

Another example. A friend once shared a description of their spirituality. The key element of the description was their belief in a single God. I asked my friend if he understood this God to be the God of All. We clarified that I was asking whether this singular God could be defined as being behind or above ‘everything’. He put it that his definition of God could be reduced to a complex proposition:

“God is first, God is last, God is in relation to all phenomena.”

I asked my friend,

“Then your God is also the God the other Abrahamic faiths believe in?”

He had never pondered this. We talked it over, with me suggesting the following implication of the proposition.

“If there is a God of All, then this God is also in relation to those who do not believe in this God.”

On one hand, in this example I’m striving to understand a very fundamental feature of his proposition, while, on the other hand, there’s no reason we could not have discussed his spirituality without attending to the proposition in this particular way. I don’t have to know how his God works to engage in a discussion about his God.

Another example. If I remember correctly, Ludwig Wittgenstein sharply criticizes the method of Freudian analysis by pointing out that the psychoanalyst chooses the element in the analysand’s chain of association that is of psychoanalytic, and potentially curative, interest. Well, by what right understanding of how the psyche works is this a fruitful intervention? The analysand, in this example, is taking symptoms to a different kind of mechanic.

In the same vein, I can discuss Jung’s analytic psychology without entering into this discussion the very basic assumption that holds that there is no substantial empirical evidence able to demonstrate the implicit understanding that each and every human psyche in actuality reflects the structural model given by Analytic Psychology. On one hand, this is a big problem at the level of foundational assumptions, on the other hand it doesn’t have to subvert a fruitful discussion.

I’m sensitive to foundational assumptions. Often hidden, nonetheless these basic assumptions are related to the content of most common kinds of discussions. (‘Discussion’ here is used also as shorthand for many other kinds of communicative acts.) It was fascinating in 2008 as the financial crisis unfolded to read and discuss what different people thought were its causes. That discussants had no substantial idea about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are actually operationalized in the system of finance does not prevent peoples’ productive discussion about possible causes.

For example, at times in my work life I’ve been told what a marketing plan is to be. I often choose to overlook the plan’s mistaken (to me) assumptions about what are the facts (of mechanics, or operations, or contingencies in the market,) so I can proceed to my role in the plan. The plan doesn’t really make sense, yet this does not prevent discussing it. This doesn’t mean my view is correct. This only means I believe it to be correct given unexamined, or presumptive, or, missing, or, poorly formed, assumptions, suppositions, assertions of factitude, etc..

Obviously, the following point is not profound. Discussions may implicate assumptions which could be part of the discussion, but are not brought into the discussion. Some assumptions could disrupt the discussion, yet these same assumptions are not entertained in the discussion.

Discussions, etc., have consequences. The auto mechanic goes fishing. The inept marketing plan unfolds. Deadly force is unleashed on Iraq even though the assumption that there are WMD is mistaken. The rationales for the Iraq war constitute a series of mistaken assumptions which yielded mountains of productive discussion, even given that assumptions implicit within these discussion were abject.

The Reduced Bateson Set provides, among its six factors, a factor for analysis of whether or not a presentation of knowledge or understanding both depends on, and is informed by, an accurate estimation of what is actually materially, (or positively,) true as a matter of spoken or unspoken knowledge or understanding.

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