Reduced Bateson Set

If you grow up, as we do, with a worship of the quantitative aspect and a minimal
attention to the qualitative aspect, I believe you inevitably land yourself in the
dilemmas of our civilization.

But I get back to the fact that the way we are going about things with this enormous
emphasis upon the quantitative view and the minimal emphasis upon the patterned
view is, I believe, the easiest way of the descent into hell.
Gregory Bateson


…is an ongoing exploration of one participant-observer’s useful set of heuristic frames and meta-frames for “taking in” human situations.

Gregory Bateson playing with dog

Gregory Bateson and canine research subject

In a nutshell: given an explanation, the following typical aspects are understood to demarcate the explainer’s choices:

(1) Inner – temporal choice about: at which point does the explanation begins
(2) Meta – reflexive choice about: where the explainer sets their self within the explanation
(3) Outer – propositional choice about: the logical level of domain concreteness in which the explanation takes place

These three aspects are positioned against the following orders:

(1) Just so
(2) Instrumentally related
(3) Related in reference to a repertoire

Brief Introduction
Think about the conceptual frameworks you informally employ to make sense of the human situations you encounter.

Over the years I have come to resolve in considerable detail specific borrowings from Gregory Bateson’s work. These borrowings constitute a very flexible, decidedly non-formal, yet concentrated framework focused on the means for analyzing human situations, especially situations where adult learning is a central element. It could be said that there are no human situations which are absent of the element of learning.

The following are my running notes about a framework I sometimes use to make my own sense of various human situations.

I. Set Up; Meta-Heuristics
II. Set up; Participant-Dependence.
III. Set up; Actuality Matters

Reduced Bateson Set I. Set Up; Meta-heuristics
(November 5-2011)


Gregory Bateson & Margaret Mead, Bajoeng-Gedé, Indonesia; photograph by Walter Spies

Sometime ago, yet late in my scatter shot intellectual development, I realized five problems fascinated me in psychology. One is the problem of how our brain instantiates and substantiates consciousness. Two is how it came to be that the equivalent of a William James doesn’t arrive much earlier so as to shift proto-psychology forward at an earlier stage in history. This problem wonders about the relationship between culture and contemporaneous psychological categories. The third problem, related to the second problem, is coded (for me) as the problem of introspection. The fourth problem is coded too, as the bundle of problems given by folk psychology at the level of meta-psychology; ie. philosophy of psychology.

And, finally, the fifth problem, very much related to the fourth problem, is the problem of: everyday behavior joined with how psychology’s different disciplines approach everyday behavior as its object of research. I am especially intrigued by how behaviors are named despite those same names being unnecessary to persons behaving in the way the name denotes.

I will seek to explain what I call The Reduced Bateson Set in a series of posts. The Reduced Bateson Set names a framework I utilize. Meanwhile, from an authoritative source:

For the moment, the set-up for this was evoked by my trying to figure out how to describe what is The Reduced Bateson Set. I was moved to look up the definition of heuristic–or rather a definition–in a standard reference book, because I thought this might be the best descriptive term. If so, I could simply say The Reduced Bateson Set is a heuristic I have come to use and favor.

I didn’t think the term was strikingly adequate, inasmuch as I had a deviant definition of heuristic in mind.

According to the now prevailing definition, heuristics are rather parsimonious and effortless, but often fallible and logically inadequate, ways of problem solving and information processing. A heuristic provides a simplifying routine or “rule of thumb” that leads to approximate solutions to many everyday problems. However, since the heuristic does not reflect a deeper understanding of the problem structure, it may lead to serious fallacies and shortcomings under certain conditions. Thus, in contrast to the positive connotations of the original term, the modern notion of cognitive heuristics has attained the negative quality of a mental shortcut that frees the individual of the necessity to process information completely and systematically. Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology

Okay, my definition turns out to be a bit too innovative! But at least it doesn’t imply a ridiculous optimal “problem solving.”

More precisely to the point here, is how rapidly I landed in a Batesonian moment. Unfolded in the encyclopedia entry is a long treatment of the term, yet, it’s not describing much about what I wish to also describe. And, the problem could be that it could not describe even what it seeks to describe–in a deep sense able to capture something very very common.

What is this something? It is that some large portion, possibly a majority portion, of human behavior is “heuristical.” Which is to suggest: it is likely a majority of human problem solving, leaarning, discovery, etc., everyday, (every darn day,) processes information incompletely and not systematically. Also, a corollary to this is: some large portion of human problem solving cannot access both a totality of pertinent information, or, have been the subject of a complete processing within, I suppose, a formal requirement for complete and systematic processing.

Wikipedia’s entry is not robust, but it is more satisfying.

Heuristic (pronounced /hj??r?st?k/) or heuristics (from the Greek “???????” for “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Heuristic methods are used to come to an optimal solution as rapidly as possible. Part of this method is using a “rule of thumb”, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense. A heuristic is a general way of solving a problem.

Except I will quarrel with it too. I don’t know the correct term for that which is a precise and focused heuristic way of solving particular everyday problems. Yet, I do understand the ‘human everyday’ presents a series of opportunities to problem solve, learn, and discover. Figuring out what you’re going wear is a particular problem, and a problem I’d suppose is solved in precise and focused ways.

(Perhaps a differentiation made among general, and, ‘problem-particular,’ methods is unnecessary.)

Among, (what I will term Batesonian,) distinctions found in definitions is this hot one. First, to develop a correct definition is itself a problem to be solved. Could it be demonstrated that any given normative (or authoritative) definition was created, subject to heuristics? Here of course I’m speaking of an example, the definition of heuristic. A second Batesonian distinction is implicit in speaking of the possible heuristics behind the term heuristic.

Here’s a doable experiment. Collect five of the foremost social psychologists together and have them each write out their definition of the term, heuristic. Assume there is a sound method for scoring to what degree the five definitions match up. For my argument here, let’s assume the result of this experiment shows a very high degree of matching.

The five world class experts are then asked to do the following: “How do you know your definition is the correct definition?” Score the answer.

Let’s do this same experiment and add the following parameter. Before either primary question is addressed, each group member is asked the following: “How many pages will you need to answer the question, How do you define heuristic?” Allow no limit in length for their written answers.

Hypotheses are to be entertained. I won’t offer these, yet I will suppose the results of this experiment will demonstrate considerable disagreement on question number two, How do you know your definition is the correct definition, and this disagreement increases the longer any answer is to either question. So, the most disagreement would be found between the longest answers.

There’s a problem incurred by my supposing the answers could be scored. How would we score different points of emphasis? Those points could not be scored as only disagreements. Still, our scoring would have to resolve this problem in reckoning with matching points of emphasis and divergent points of emphasis.

My hunch that there would be found disagreement is, obviously, completely a matter of a decidedly intuitive and heuristic approach to thinking about the problem of defining a normative term. What I’m thinking about here is the human system able to develop useful definitions about its own features. The experiment might well defeat my hunch. But, what if the experiment proved the underlying hypotheses?

What then could be suggested by the results of this experiment about hypothesized deviations from agreement? What also could be suggested about how the problem of expert definition is approached by experts? Do these experts employ heuristics as an effective, or not effective, means?

Consider a countervailing–with respect to my hunch–supposition. That: in a description, where detail increases, deviations are reduced. (Speaking of building houses: we can all agree on the sharp nail and the straight board.) This suggests that as descriptions penetrate ‘down’ to more elemental levels of order in a system, deviations between descriptions are reduced.

My hunch asserts the opposite is possibly the experimental result. So: as experts expert in the same system propose descriptions of this system, as the level of detail increases in their descriptions, their descriptions will tend to diverge.

Again, a countervailing supposition might be rooted in the same idea given in the Blackwell encyclopedia: to define a system correctly, and so free the definition from any reliance on heuristic means, this definition must result from a complete and systematic process that reflects deep understanding. However, even if this is true as a matter of commonsense, it is also true that this brings with it the same problem. When we think about the means via which we could shape and amplify convergence, we’re still confronted with this move also opening up to the opportunity for divergence. Surely if you asked five experts in the same field how to promote greater agreement about the field’s conceptual fundamentals, in most fields their answers to this “how” question would prove to be very divergent.

When I walk this back to everyday circumstances in which terms/names/concepts and their concommitant definitions are facts of innersubjective assumption rather than innersubjective negotiation, I’d be even more confident that a similar experiment would verify my hunch.

Actually, I informally test this hunch all the time. The main paradox I’ve discovered in doing this is that people speak about shared concepts, (and these concepts implicate shared systems,) without really caring about whether they share the same definitions for these shared concepts. They likely do not share the same definitions! That this underlying disagreement hardly comes to matter is a fascinating element of ‘folk psychological’ behavior and of what could be called intersubjective heuristics.

Consider the beneficial efficiency gained from being able to talk about systems all the while disagreement about basic stuff is underfoot. Whenever I hear the word socialism in our contemporary political discourse, I’m reminded of this paradox of effectiveness.

The Reduced Bateson Set is a heuristic of the kind that are structured and demonstrably pragmatic. The Reduced Bateson Set is my private naming of a pragmatic structure for working through the experience of observing and participating in, learning, inquiry, and dialog. This structure is useful in other interactive circumstances. I’ve named it so because it is my appropriation of stuff reduced from the partial set of Bateson’s ideas I know.

Reduced Bateson Set II. Set up; Participant-Dependence (November 21-2011)

Consider a thought problem about human whistling.

You are placed in the role of observer. Presented to you is a person who will whistle Mary Had A Little Lamb. Your direction for the exercise is to describe the act of this person whistling this tune. The only qualification for the description you are to document is that you are able to articulate for any of its elements what each has to do with the whistling you are observing.

At the conclusion of you, the observer, documenting observations, your report will be evaluated against two constructs: Observer-Independence/Observer-Dependence. Each element of observation will be classified as being one, or the other.

For the purpose of the former classification, Observer-Independent descriptive elements are those elements that are necessary to human whistling, and, do not require prior knowledge beyond the modest scope given by self-observation.

For example, to state:

(1) I am observing a whistler.
(2) Whistler whistling have to include a human with a blood-pumping heart.
(3) Whistling has to include brain activity.

is to assert Observer-Independent elements.

For example, to state:

(1) This is a fast version of the tune.
(2) The whistling is loud.
(3) The last passage was uncertainly in-tune.

is to assert Observer-Dependent elements. These latter descriptions are not necessarily findings every observers could possibly note.

The situation given by observations rendered through using particular kinds of prior knowledge have feet in both camps. A physiologist might identify a muscle necessary to whistling. The muscle is used in every instance of whistling. Yet, this prior knowledge is instituted only by the kind of observer who can employ it.

What we have here, in such a thought problem–and it’s one which could be done–is one human system observing the acts of another human system. The observations could be furthered qualified with respect to what is their subjective quotient.

There’s a paradox in all this. Let’s say the problem to be solved is this: predict the time the tune will be finished. What kind of information derived from prior observations of other whistlers would be helpful in deciding the answer? Interestingly, much of the Observer-Independent information about the human whistler is completely useless. Even if we formalize this to include specialized (in some formal sense) prior knowledge, most of that kind of information will be useless with respect to simple problems, and the simple problems out of which more complex problem are built.

Would you be able to detail the features of, for example, the heuristic you commonly employ for the sake of getting to know another person? Many dyadic, and group, procedures for inquiry are born by meshing of ‘heuristical’ tools, given differently to such procedures by the various (so-to-speak) parties. Another paradox is that these meshed procedures may be, often are, very effective means for making an inquiry, even though the underlying heuristics are not roughly the same, or similar, or commensurate with one another. In fact, parties to inquiry may not have thought through the very tools he or she employs. These tools can be said to be partly tacit to the user: they operate without the operator entirely knowing what is being operated by their self.

The formal means for understanding complex interactive inquiries use prior knowledge and formalized methods, yet these means are not precisely useful when trained on everyday–for example–interpersonal actualities. If these means can’t unravel whistling, they won’t be more powerful with many times more complex phenomena.

Yet, this situation, the basic imprecision of both informal and formal naturalistic inquiry when trained on particularized subjects, is extended to almost every natural process where knowledge is presented in particularized subjects and situations. So: a marketing idea is presented; a developmental plan is presented; an interpretation is offered; a self-report is revealed; an illustrative story is told; etc., and each of these exchanges is about something truthful, and, each is also about that which constitutes the human system, so-to-speak, of presenting its stuff, and its moment of some kind of truth.

The Reduced Bateson Set, appropriated from my interpretation of Bateson, collects six motifs, (Bateson’s term,) in an array of three positions and three orders. This array of motifs sets up the following means for interpreting a ‘presentation.’

It locates the human subject. It suggests by way of interpretation and analysis that explicit choices reveal implicit choices, and, reveal what is not chosen. It does the same for figuring out what is and is not connected to positive actuality. Then, along the other ‘side’ of the array, it qualifies these motific means with respect to how sensitive the human subject is to modifying their presentation. This latter means for interpretation and analysis holds that this sensitivity itself refers to implicit choices which argue for the human system being, roughly, flexible or not flexible.

Roughly, the suggestion is this: there are human exchanges of knowledge, and these are most often, or commonly, ‘heuristical’ on the part of both parties. What is then given by this flux of two largely informal systems are informal understandings. Embedded in such understandings are great amounts of implicit and tacit givens; threaded into this also are other systems; partialities of informal and formal prior knowledge; histories of experience; and, among many other factors, novelties and innovations given by the specific consequences granted in two or more particular human systems coming into particular participation together over the matter of an exchange of knowledge; alternately, information.

The flux in this human system is a situation of Participation-dependence, which is to say the practical description of the seeming paradox is that there are, for example discussions between two people that necessarily instantiate such an exchange, yet, in this, often widely disparate, individualized features in direct relation to the matter of exchange are not also relevant factors in the exchange. In other words, to turn the Batesonian cybernetic posit on its head, in these instances–which are everyday and ubiquitous, some differences do not make any difference.

My suggestion here is this kind of smoothing of difference allows two people, two human systems of awareness, to conduct exchanges of information without introducing what are demonstrably pertinent differences discoverable as features not shared between the two people.

Another way to put it, is that a conversation proceeds productively without negotiation of, for example, pertinent unshared assumptions.

Were we to convene a group mixed between technical experts and keen observers who are not technical experts, the answer to the question, ‘when will the whistler stop whistling?’ will not arise as a matter of differentiating between formal or informal estimates. However, this same group can productively discuss this question and do so without entertaining its individualized and specific to each member, assumptions about how to answer the question.

Any number of similar thought problems can be created. In each such problem, the suggestion is that there are a large, if not infinite, number of questions which can be discussed but not resolved by the efficacy of either formal or heuristic prior knowledge.

There are two currents given here. One is that the discussion can nevertheless evoke knowledge, and, that the discussion cannot evoke knowledge-in-the-form of an accurate prediction.

From here I would next move to support the claim that most exchanges of knowledge in everyday circumstances refers to heuristical means, is constructed from individualized heuristics, and that the differentiation of this heuristic basis does not prevent productive and efficacious exchanges.

The differences are smoothed over so that these exchanges may happen.

Reduced Bateson Set III. Set up Actuality Matters (December 8-2011)

(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.

THE REDUCED BATESON SET (May 2010 1.0 – February 2014)

My intention is to articulate a background form I’ve integrated for the sake of my navigating my being a participant/observer in transformative learning. I am stepping lightly and carefully right through the middle of a problem, and, through a meta-problem.

The assumptions implicit in my ‘set’ are not the assumptions implicit in your set.

The problem is: how to describe a process for doing something without flattening this description into a recipe for this same doing.

The meta-problem is: how to convey that this background form’s utility isn’t at all the utility given by a whole host of informal and tacit terms, terms such as: filter, lens, methodology, framework, model, theory.

Neither of these problems are resolvable by virtue of that which a description can concern.

(There is a solution. It’s not on offer. The solution is to participate in transformative learning.)

I will literally tiptoe through the problems, not solve them, and mislead inasmuch as the description will surely seem, at least, like a scheme, and, at most, like shorthand for method and implicit theory. It’s not.

The Reduced Bateson Set will be introduced in a very condensed description. Next, some applications will be revealed. Then, in posts to follow, the import of this framework will be roughly fit to a perspective on experiential learning.

The Reduced Bateson Set represents a ‘thin’ and idiosyncratic appropriation of some of Gregory Bateson’s insights on learning. The set comprises a useful framework, or way of participating, observing, and analyzing, experience in interpersonal circumstances.  For example, the RBS is valuable as a means for integrating its perspective and tuning it to the circumstances of learning, inquiring, collaboratively studying any subject, or system.


Ask somebody a question which does not imply a certain, positive, answer, and one could employ the first aspect of the Reduced Bateson Set by taking account of:

  1. How the answerer locates their own self in the answer.
  2. How the answerer chooses a starting point for the answer.
  3. How the answerer defines contextual connections implicit in the answer’s relations to contexts

These three elements are, for me, coded as: Inner; Meta; Outer. Also, these elements are entangled, and in relationship with one another.

The second aspect provides a way of contextualizing the answerer’s answer on a continuum of what I term, Order. Although my understanding of this second aspect is ‘layered,’ the basic coding is:

  1. Automatic (or: Unity)
  2. Choice-full (or: Difference)
  3. Contextualized Choice (or: Differentated)

A shortened way of seeing these elements is to relate them to an increase in ambivalence. (In fact, the so-called orders are valences, forms for marking and indexing valuation.) With this in mind,

  1. Automatic: habitual
  2. Choice-full: open to various choices
  3. Meta-choice-full: open to reasoning among choices

Finally, there is a principle that figures the ‘field’ for bringing the Reduced Bateson Set to bear on interpersonal circumstance.

The Three Aspects apply to all persons in the circumstance.

When I, were I, to routinely deploy the set, then it could be said such deployment is habitual, and would then tend to my 1st Order use of the set. If I did this, and another person in the circumstance, or field, asked, ‘Why are you using this form for analyzing our circumstance?’ my addressing this question would itself implicate all the elements to some degree.

My answer would reveal how much of my self I’m willing to locate; where I chose to begin my rationale; how this same rationale connects to actuality in ‘some’ world, or refers to actual elements and operations.

The Reduced Bateson Set is commonsensical in its structural make-up. It identifies expected elements found in almost any circumstance for which an answer, explanation, report, understanding, (etc.,) is entertained. So: the subject enacts self, the self’s thoughts-in-context, and, these entanglements are related to, entangled in, ‘some’ world, element, operation.

The word entanglement is obviously not a technically appreciative descriptor. This is important because even the modest structural commonsense of this framework is informal and underdetermined.

The Reduced Bateson Set. Now, if the reader is much of a Batesonian at all, he or she may appreciate my wordplay here. For all others, this over-arching term conveys my calling my use of someone else’s understanding, a small part taken from something big, and, giving credit where credit is due.

Noting this, my understanding is focused on applying it.


The Reduced Bateson Set came about from my desire to develop an effective form for fulfilling the roles of participant/observer/facilitator. This is in the context of my working and playing with learners in the midst of transformative/experiential learning.

Although there is a tale about how I came to, with my colleague and mentor, Judith Buerkel, develop this approach, for now just I’ll mention several of the needs it attends to. These concern the reflective aspect of facilitation.

I almost always operate my experiential learning applications in the mode of participant. This is in addition to my being an observer and facilitator. The challenge of doing my applications this way is two-fold: I need to sustain guiding the learning process without becoming overly absorbed in any one role. It’s also important to capture information/ communication as it arises during the learning experience. As well, it is critical to sense the non-overt information, to take into account what is telling by its not being told!

Bracketing both these considerations are the patterns and relations and what I call the ‘dynamical betwixt and between.’ It is possible to capture a lot in the debrief after the process has been closed, yet it is often critical to the outcome that what arises and hides in the real-time environment of the experiential process, be held or captured, and later reworked.

The Reduced Bateson Set was my way of giving form to my way of addressing these aspects of reflective facilitation.


This set turns out to also be a very powerful form for resolving some of the features of responses given by inquiries. Just as it is with focused application in particular experiential learning processes, the more general use of this set helps build a view of relations, patterns, hidden features, and, novelty. Some provisional effects and certain ramifications given by the complexity of embodied consciousness in relation with the world may be apprehended by using the set as an enlightening lamp.

The Reduced Bateson Set is an aid to getting at parts of systems which are hidden by “givens.”

The Reduced Bateson Set helps Stephen to look in a direction he wouldn’t normally look in.

The set aids observation and facilitation by framing a handful of ways of being attentive in the learning experience. This is what it is most directly concerned with.


The Reduced Bateson Set has three elements. Each is in relation with one another. The elements are: inner, meta, outer.




The I-M-O is not a stack of anything. A Venn diagram could symbolize their integrity.

Q&A Example

Stephen: Please, Smith, tell me what you believe were the principal causes of the financial meltdown?

Smith, (after not a lot of time): It boils down to a perfect storm between cheap money, which became the means for both expanding house ownership and capitalizing and leveraging investment, and, new instruments for giving other investors a stake in this market. But, many of the new home buyers brought too much risk into this market by their dubious ability to repay loans. And, the new instruments’ upside and risk profile was based in faulty assumptions, including assuming the credit worthiness of the sub-prime home buyers.

Does the answer contain the answerer inasmuch as it makes an account of the relation between answerer and answer?

No, it does not. Although the person providing the answer is implicit in their act of answering, there is no provision of anything beyond a 1st order relation between answerer and answer. The 1st order relation is comprised, simply enough, by an answerer answering a question without also telling of their definite relation with the answer.

If Smith had instead mentioned, “You know, funny you should ask, because I just signed the papers giving my home back to the lender,” then there arises with this, inner context. This context is absent from the first answer.


The second element of the set is concerned with the relations implicit in the answer, but not offered. The short cut to the meta is to ask yourself, “Why is this the answer, rather than some other answer?”

The meta addresses where somebody starts from. Smith could have said the following:

Smith:I have an answer for this question, but first I’d like to explain a bit about how leverage came about as a means for funding ownership of real estate.

This answer points to a context before, and, as-it-were, at a lower logical level, than was given by the first answer. From the first answer we can’t ascertain what’s behind it. Yet, by going back to more fundamental features, the second answer introduces something of a context in relation to another context. First, you need to know this.


Outer is easy enough to describe because it refers to the degree an answer relates to actual (elemental and operational) phenomena. Certainly, answering a question is, in an of itself, an actual phenomena. Also, given in many answers is a kind of thrust in the direction of “actuality.” But, actuality itself might be contested. The answer would have to, (and see this,) go meta to begin to unravel the implicit problem of actuality given by answers, and, also in inquiry.

This problem calls forth a Batesonian point: although the Outer is easy to describe as an element of the set, it opens up to the intense problem of resolving what is actuality in the context of actually being essential. This can alternately be sensed not as the Outer opening up to, but, rather, folding back into itself.

Smith, why did you have to give back your house?

  1. start at the exact beginning
  2. include the entirety of each and every pertinent system, and include the systems which are pertinent to deriving those same systems

What’s happened here is we’ve started to go backward and back into the meta while idealizing the outer actuality. This outer recurses; Smith goes on to explain.

    1. Meta. Backward into an explanation about explanation. And, on offer here is meta-upon-meta. Why? Because, the question becomes:

Stephen:Please tell me how you’re going to sort through the various possible ‘explanations of your explanation?’

Another way of putting this is, ‘How are you going to realize what the best explanation is for your explanation about why your answer explains…(something or another?)

So, as much as we can recognize this problem does not fully arise in very specific types of cases, it nevertheless arises, and, with other kinds of cases it crucially arises.


The next move is backward into the Inner. The move is from meta back to inner.

Due to a lot of fortuitous influences, I am, as a facilitator, concerned with abetting the learner’s return to their own actuality, and, also in helping the learner to move into other fields of provisional, oft novel, actuality, I support their exploration of more differentiated experience, and, support their learning from this same exploration about what additional exploration may come to be concerned with.


One of the secrets of my facilitation, besides that it sometimes fruitfully refers to the aforementioned modeling, is that it is interactive.

At times, the set does constitute a lens—especially during debriefs and during after-the-fact note taking. At other times, it’s not a lens at all but a sort of flavor or inflection.


These reductions and shorthands are rectilinear for the sake of convenience in their presentation. If I cut them into pieces and threw them to the floor, we’d get closer to their point.

Introduced here are three notional elements, Unity, Difference, Differentiated. Their structural force is as: valences. Applied valences are qualitatively oriented to:

Openness and sensitivity to environment
Openness and sensitivity to novelty
Openness and sensitivity to relationships in sympathy or antipathy
Openness and sensitivity to dynamics, motion, feedback, loops, etc.

For example, the element, Inner, is in relation to, and informed by the valence of Unity, Difference, Differentiated, or their combination. Valence is a provisional term. Its use is temporary. The problem I’m grappling with is how to fold in with The Reduced Bateson Set psychologically-toned qualifiers concerned with discriminating levels of sensitivity. These qualifiers are, in an unsatisfying sense, a form for marking and indexing vectors-with-ecological learning dynamics.

Rough rubric Basic ‘location’ Questions L1
1st level – inner (subjective) Inner – reflexive How do you fit into the answer?
2nd level – meta Conceptual –system of implicit systems How did this answer come to start where it starts?
3rd level – outer (actual) Outer – real-actual to a degree How does this answer connect to actual phenomena?

Figure A

Reduced Bateson Set – Sensitivity Terms

Term Short hand* Consequence
Unity Non-critical and not very sensitive Context is given 1st order experience
Difference Non-differentiated and sensitive Contexts are latent, then discernable 2nd order reflection and playing around with possibilities
Differentiated Critical and very sensitive Contexts are discernible; then differentiated; then related; then ‘pattern-recognized” 3rd order choosing from a repertoire

Figure B

*For example, Unity/1st Order experience is descriptive shorthand for my vastly, even abjectly, reductive collapse of a complex, living system of systems. It is implicit and recognized that 1st Order experience manifests sensitivity on a continuum; is subject to development and ‘quickening,’ and that the deeper inner reaches of 1st order experience evoke equisite sensitivity and critical unity.

Reduced Bateson Set – Vector=Sensitivity/Openness Terms







First thing that came into my mind

Just so


“Here is me!”

“This is what I came up with.”

“There may be stuff I don’t know about, that I need to take into consideration.”


“Here’s why I’m personally ambivalent.”

“After playing with it, here’s the reason…”

“On the other hand…”

Figure C

Reduced Bateson Set – As Enactment

Term Orders Example
Unity 1st order experience Cruise control ? “I don’t really recall driving the car, yet I got here anyway.”
Difference 2nd order reflection Subject and objects ? “I chose paying close attention to my driving, and was alert to ‘me’ being the person doing the driving.”
Differentiated 3rd order choosing from a repertoire Subject and objects and context ? “My choice of different means of attention occur within multiple contexts.”

Figure D

Reduced Bateson Set – As Inquiry: via heuristics; or formalization; or active experimentation

Term Orders Example
Unity 1st order experience No experimentation
(Differentiated I.)
2nd order reflection Experimentation beyond the given, but short of knowing the context for other hypotheses; random selection is okay
Differentiated II. 3rd order choosing from a repertoire Experimentation in the light of differentiating the context for contexts; choosing hypotheses for reasons

Figure E

Reduced Bateson Set – Experimentation as recursive impetus

Term Orders Example
Unity 1st order experience No experimentation
2nd order reflection Differentiation of subjectivity allows 2nd order discernment of most accessible context ? and, experiments (or trials) are conducted from this starting point
(Differentiated I.) 2nd order reflection (under pressure) As the scope of experiments increases, the 1st order system evolves into a 2nd order system ? different experiments evoke different contexts
Differentiated II. 3rd order choosing from a repertoire As the 2nd order system becomes more experienced, experimental results—learning—constitute/formulate a repertoire ? thus the utility of learning comes to be provisionally fit to applications differentiated in relations betwixt contexts
Recursion Cycling from 3rd order back to 1st order Yet, as the learning become integrated, it carries the potential to also become less: complex; sensitive; and, differentiated ? may cycle back to becoming more given and then a Given ? may then become a defense against experimentation and active re-contextualization

Figure F

Orders Bateson From Kolb

(very roughly)

pathway notes”
inner 1st order is automatic; unreflective; habitual; zero resistance; first-choice Learning I Concrete Experience Vivified when informed by experimentation
meta 2nd order is intentional; reflective; adaptive under pressure; sensitive resistance; choosable Learning II Reflective Observation Visionary when informed by experimentation
outer 3rd order is meta-intentional; reflective; critical resistance; choosable from a repertoire Learning III+ Abstract Conceptualization Innovative when informed by experimentation

Figure G

ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION (Kolb) = RECURSIVE LEARNING (IV.) returning back through Outer to Meta, Meta to Inner. This deposes Kolb’s dialectical treatment (only for the sake of non-fragile loops,) and, so, the RBS vivifies what I term a Social Cybernetics, through which contextualization and recontextualization are the tokens of self-organizing (and non dialectical,) differentiation back and forth, round and round, through the orders.

Also, per Ernst von Glaserfeld, and, what in my view is a contingent proposition:

The relation between knowledge and reality is no longer a representational relation, it’s not the picture of reality. but it’s a relation of fitting into the possibilities of reality. This means that you don’t know what reality is like, but you begin to learn what you can do in that reality and that’s the most important aspect of constructivism. EvG source

Be Sociable, Share!

2 Responses to Reduced Bateson Set

  1. Pingback: ALCOHOLISM | Pearltrees

  2. Pingback: The Map May Not Be the Territory, But Differences and Affordances Have More Fun | Dawn of the Cyborg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *