Dec.12-2014 Program: Analytical Psychology Society of Western NY, Repairing the Opposites, Doubling Stars, Turning Swine Into Pears - myself, with Kenneth Warren
- Deeply 80th Birthday Abdullah Ibrahim
- Relishing the Friend
- Loosing My Cool in the Cool
- The Pen
- Titanic Ambitions
- Generative Alchemy
- Nice Guys Finish
- Around and Round, and Never Off the Surface
- Between Heaven and Hell
- Imaginal Cybernetics, the Demonic Daemon, Deep Play
- Creative Workflow – Cat Trying to Swallow Its Own Tail
- Esoteric Intra-Image Dialectic
- Two Teaching Cartoons
- “The judgment of the intellect is, at best, only the half of truth, and must, if it be honest, also come to an understanding of its inadequacy. The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. It is therefore short-sighted to treat fantasy, on account of its risky or unacceptable nature, as a thing of little worth.” The Psychology of Individuation, CG Jung
- Generative Alchemy
- Inside the Psychologist’s Studio With Albert Bandura
- Roots of My Urbanology (II.)
- Leave-taking is as necessary as the homecoming (I.)
- Nothing that might not happen in a universe of fortuity
Tagsa-ha! adult learning analytic psychology anthropology art biology buddhism charlatanry cognitive psychology consciousness critical culture critical thinking culture current events economics education experiential learning Freeplay Softball Gregory Bateson humor management music my casual art new paradigms organizational development phenomenology philosophy poetry politics pseudo-science psychology quotes religion resources Rumi science social psychology speculations sports sufism teaching cartoons teaching story transformative learning urbanology web media
- "It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." - Alfred North Whitehead
- More email newsletters July 2, 2014
- new language annotation software June 25, 2014
- Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism June 25, 2014
- ye olde net… June 25, 2014
- re the big data explosion June 10, 2014
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
- If, during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their organization, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be, owing to the high geometric powers of increase of each species, at some age, season or year, a severe struggle for life, and this certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite variety in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred useful to each being’s own welfare, in the same way as so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance they will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection. [Charles Darwin (1859) On the Origin of Species]
- “It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.” James Madison
- All the property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it. -Benjamin Franklin
Thinking Outside the Agora
- Does this Shining Based Commercial Make You Want to Go to an IKEA? October 22, 2014Props to IKEA Singapore, this is a great looking ad. But is it asking if the prospect of late night IKEA assemblage is scarier than The Shining? Because I think we all know the answer to that.Read more...
- This Massive Spiral Structure in the Sahara Is Visible from Space October 22, 2014This geological formation is probably not what you think it is.Read more...
- Maybe The Originals Is Better When It's Not Just About The Originals October 22, 2014Last night's episode of The Originals was another fun, crazy outing full of family drama. And yet, something felt... lacking. It was only after thinking about it a bit that I realized: There was just too much of the Original vampires, and not enough of the other characters. Spoilers ahead...Read more...
- We Demand The Return of Scientific Freedom In Canada! October 22, 2014In an open letter written to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, some 800 scientists from around the world are calling for an end to "burdensome restrictions on scientific communication and collaboration faced by Canadian government scientists."Read more...
- Here's What Crows and Ravens Are Really Saying October 21, 2014OK, so we don't know exactly what they're saying, though I suspect that at least some of the time they are yelling, "Give me a peanut, human!" But this fantastic video from ornithologist Kevin McGowan helps you recognize the difference between crow and raven calls, as well as what they could mean.Read more...
- Does this Shining Based Commercial Make You Want to Go to an IKEA? October 22, 2014
- New Project: Vomiting Doll Punch Bowl Fountain October 21, 2014
- A Truly 3D Film October 21, 2014
- Exclusive First Look: Inventables’ Sleek New “3D Carving” Machine Is the Designer’s Dream CNC Router October 21, 2014
- New Project: Tracking Planes with RTL-SDR October 20, 2014
- East Bay Mini Maker Faire October 20, 2014
Tag Archives: Gregory Bateson
In zoom mode in Photoshop, while preparing a large new piece to be reduced to a PNG for publishing on the gallery blog, an interesting overall configuration of small details in the edge style of the digital image file.
Because I’m nowadays very sensitive to the level of complexity a possibly worthwhile mirror transformation requires to hopefully capture an intriguing symmetry, I moved around the small scale details looking for a candidate. The first image shows the workflow and the second image above is the detail I discovered.
The result is a symmetry I like. (more I like)
The actual details of the 300dpi original are too small to really see in the 16×10″ proof.
The two hallmarks of my creative ethos and artistic experimentation are: generativity and recursion. I work toward a surprising conclusion by implicating those two procedural factors. In the visual realm the manifestation of both is very clearly exemplified in the above example: the discovery of a small scale within the large scale provides a recursive capture and the mirroring manipulation generates the symmetry. I act as a spotter.
Interestingly, the small scale details result from generative manipulations of the original piece, and the original piece itself is the result of blending two layers both captured in different generative procedures that are keyed by programmed search routines. Those generative instrumentalities, then, represent a recursive routine in their own right.
The final recursion is: this all evokes Gregory Bateson. (see: Peter Harries-Jones: Gregory Bateson, Heterarchies, and the Topology of Recursion. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 12(1-2): 168-174 (2005))
Among Bateson scholars, Peter Harries-Jones (1995) is notable for looking at Gregory’s “ecology of mind” in the context of his mature work, using terms for it associated with that period, “recursive epistemology” or “ecological epistemology.” The processes with which Gregory was concerned were essentially processes of knowing: perception, communication, coding and translation. Ergo epistemology. But basic to this epistemology was the differentiation of logical levels, including the relationship between the knower and the known, ergo a recursive epistemology. Ideally, the relationship between the patterns of the biological world and our understanding of it would be one of congruence, of fit, a broader and more pervasive similarity than the ability to predict in experimental contexts that depend upon simplification and selective attention. It seems useful to refer to Gregory’s ecology of mind as an epistemological ecology to contrast it with the largely materialistic ecology of academic departments. It seems essential to underline that recursiveness is a necessary feature of such an epistemology (and perhaps of every epistemology, since every effort to know about knowing involves the cat trying to swallow its own tail).
Bateson was haunted in his last years by a sense of urgency, a sense that the narrow definition of human purposes, reinforced by technology, would lead to irreversible disasters, and that only a better epistemology could save us. Certainly irreversibilities lie all around us, many, like global warming, the decay of the ozone layer, and the movement of poisons through global food chains, set on courses it is too late to change although we have yet to suffer their full effect. Still, the situation has not worsened as rapidly as he predicted and perhaps he sometimes succumbed to the lure of dramatizing a message in order to get it across in ways that later undermine that message. But the habits of mind that he described can be seen in every newspaper or newscast: the search for short term solutions that worsen the problem over time (often by mirroring it, such as violence used to oppose violence); the focus on individual persons or organisms or even species, seen in isolation; the tendency to let technological possibility or economic indicators replace reflection; the effort to maximize single variables (like profit) rather than optimizing the relationship among a complex set of variables.
Mary Catherine Bateson – new Introduction to Step to An Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson, 2000)
One last recursive piece – that can be thought of as recursive in a second order, thus by way of duplication and “re-relation.”
Also, for me, understanding this is the prime first order insight. What system is my being/doing mostly being-doing in? Consequence: the traffic is me; the traffic ‘over there’ is an extension of me, etc.
The bike won’t free you!
The advice aimed to promote biking is a second order directive, yet, until the differentiation of constituents of traffic is made explicit, these given constituents are identical with respect to how each is related to traffic.
What I term a ‘four square,’ or matrix, derives in modern times from The Boston Consulting Group’s Growth-Share Matrix. I devise my own four squares and collect any others I encounter. At times the 2×2 Matrix in either its ‘cross’ or ‘four squares’ versions have done duty in my work to help depict human situations. For example, I have employed the following one and used it as the basis for a learner to reflect upon the challenge of having it both ways.
Such visual devices have come to be known as 2×2 Matrix. The essential book on the use of the 2×2 Matrix in business, The Power of the 2×2 Matrix, presents authors Alex Lowy and Phil Hood’s understanding of the tool’s value as an aid to decision making. They write:
2 × 2 Thinking is inherently and profoundly transcendent in nature. Two people face an identical problem differently: one sees an insurmountable problem, while the other perceives options and opportunities. Systems thinker Jamshid Gharajedaghi calls these two approaches either-or versus both-and. Confronted by tough choices, the either-or reaction is to feel trapped and obliged to pick one or the other. The both-and response draws us automatically to a new and different perspective, where it is possible to search for ways to reframe the problem or use conflicting factors in the solution.
The Institute for Manufacturing at The University of Cambridge describes the matrix yet misses two central capabilities, the use of the 2×2 Matrix to plot values, and, the implicit relational dynamic given in the identification of what in this description is termed characteristics.
A two by two matrix is a useful tool for initial sorting of qualitative data.
The axes should be chosen so that, e.g., the data with the most desirable characteristics will fall into the upper left quadrant and the least desirable in the lower right quadrant. While groups may be unable or unwilling to assign absolute values to qualitative data, they usually find it relatively easy to come to a consensus as to which quadrant something belongs in.
Generally, the two by two matrix is a useful tool for categorising things that can be reduced to two simple variables, particularly when quantitative information is unavailable and qualitative judgements must be made.
It enables a rapid clustering (or separating) of information into four categories, which can be defined to suit the purpose of the exercise. It is particularly useful with groups as a way of visibly plotting out a common understanding or agreement of a subject.
2×2 Matrices I’ve found, from the growing collection:
I devised the following to depict the tension of oppositions betwixt four entangled philosophical themes.
The 2×2 Matrix is a very Batesonian device too. I haven’t beta tested a workshop during which learners build a view of their self (or what-have-you,) using the format, yet, it seems a good idea!
Now, if you look at our conventional communication with one another, what you find is that we weave these logical types with incredible complexity and quite surprising facility. We even make jokes, and these may be difficult for a foreigner to understand. Most jokes, both canned and spontaneous, and nearly anywhere, are weavings of multiple logical types. Kidding and hazing similarly depend upon the unresolved question whether the kid-ee can identify that this is kidding. In any culture, the individuals acquire quite extraordinary skill in handling not only the flat identification of what sort of a message a message is but in dealing in multiple identifications of what sort of a message a message is. When we meet these multiple identifications we laugh, and we make new psychological discoveries about what goes on inside ourselves, which is perhaps the reward of real humor. (p 148)
This seems to be a method of exploring the implicit themes in thought or in a relationship. The method of exploration involves the use of messages which are characterized by a condensation of Logical Types or communicational modes. A discovery, for example, occurs when it suddenly becomes plain that a message was not only metaphoric but also more literal, or vice versa. That is to say, the explosive moment in humor is the moment when the labeling of the mode undergoes a dissolution and re-synthesis. Commonly, the punch line compels a re-evaluation of earlier signals which ascribed to certain messages a particular mode (e.g., literalness or fantasy). This has the peculiar effect of attributing mode to those signals which had previously the status of that higher Logical Type which classifies the modes. (p154)\Steps to An Ecology of Mind; Gregory Bateson
* art à l’état brut. . .All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists. (Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act)
Werner Herzog’s new film, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, joins my favorite filmmaker to a subject that has fascinated me since I was a kid. Herzog, as he puts it, “talked his way into the Chauvet Cave” in France. With a three man crew and a lightweight 3D camera, the documentarian, shot his film about the beginning of human graphical artistry. Trailer at bottom of page for film on Herzog’s web site. For a Herzog film, significant buzz.
Another documentary has just gone into very limited release, and I guess I’m going to have to be patient. An Ecology of the Mind is about the great systems thinker, anthropologist, and, multi-disciplinary investigator Gregory Bateson. He was, and his thinking is, second-to-none as a main source of my own outlook and ingredient for my own undisciplined poking around, and, research. His daughter Nora is the filmmaker…and it’s about time.
From the same page where I purloined this photo is a review and the trailer.
The hardest saying in the Bible is that of St. Paul, addressing the Galatians: “God is not mocked,” and this saying applies to the relationship between man and his ecology. It is of no use to plead that a particular sin of pollution or exploitation was only a little one or that it was unintentional or that it was committed with the best intentions. Or that “If I didn’t, somebody else would have.” The processes of ecology are not mocked.
On the other hand, surely the mountain lion when he kills the deer is not acting to protect the grass from overgrazing.
In fact, the problem of how to transmit our ecological reasoning to those whom we wish to influence in what seems to us to be an ecologically “good” direction is itself an ecological problem. We are not outside the ecology for which we plan—we are always and inevitably a part of it.
Herein lies the charm and the terror of ecology—that the ideas of this science are irreversibly becoming a part of our own ecosocial system.
We live then in a world different from that of the mountain lion—he is neither bothered nor blessed by having ideas about ecology. We are.
I believe that these ideas are not evil and that our greatest (ecological) need is the propagation of these ideas as they develop—and as they are developed by the (ecological) process of their propagation.
If this estimate is correct, then the ecological ideas implicit in our plans are more important than the plans them-selves, and it would be foolish to sacrifice these ideas on the altar of pragmatism. It will not in the long run pay to “sell” the plans by superficial ad hominem arguments which will conceal or contradict the deeper insight.
The closing page from Bateson’s Steps to An Ecology of the Mind; my emphasis.
(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.
Somewhat in alignment with the Bateson motive, here’s our two new cats, in some relation to an aquarium screensaver. I installed a demo of on my wife’s Macbook.
Glori, the mostly black short hair cat, and, Sassy, the tiger short hair, have enhanced our quality of life since we were almost forced to bring them into our abode in mid-October, after Kate, finally bowed out at almost 19 years of age.
We’re both cat people, and I’d add we’re inveterate cat people. But, I haven’t been in the land of kittens for almost 30 years, and my wife Susan has never had the delicious experience. Since we had it pretty good before, let me tell you what I mean by ‘enhanced.’ For one thing, we have to be careful where we step. The main thing is how much we both look forward to coming back to this land and its amusements. We anthropomorphize our furry children, calling them our daughters and doing so to the extent my step-son, Susan’s son, Matt is now their brother.
By far the finest consequence for me personally is that I get to hear my wife’s laughter even more than usual. Her laughter is by far my favorite sound in the world.
I like to study our kittens’ behavior. I guess this makes me an informal ethologist. Anyway, the two female kittens came from different litters, took to each other over the course of their first half day together, and, yet have established a pecking order too with Glori being the alpha. As far as the shelter was concerned the two kittens were the same age, born around the middle of August. Our vet thinks it likely Glori is a couple of weeks older. She’s definitely 30% bigger. Sassy is deferential at times. We’ve had to protect her food dish. In fact, Glori will go through part of her food and then try to take over Sassy’s bowl.
Still, at the same time, both kittens spend large amounts of time wrestling and chasing each other. Sassy holds her own with her alpha playmate, yet Glori will at times put her foot down, so-to-speak. Both girls handled the influx of relatives over Thanksgiving, including nieces and nephews, oh, and brother, just fine. Also, both are inquisitive.
Sassy was found and fostered very early on, maybe within a week of being born, so she is a wool sucker, although she doesn’t eat into the sweater or what-have-you. Glori, meanwhile, I called the zen cat. Susan calls her the chill kitty. Now, I call Glori the yoga kitty to acknowledge how she likes to stretch in any number of positions, including on her back with her legs up in the air, and, the same, but with her head hanging down off the back of the couch. Glori’s a bit more athletic than her half-sister (!) and has a vertical leap that exceeds her tale-to-nose length of about 20 inches. Both cats usually break into a motoring purr as soon as either of us pick either up, yet neither are lap kitties. They mostly like to hang nearby, lounge next too, but not upon either of us, with Susan sometimes proving to be the exception to this.
Sassy likes to look at the TV should the picture have some motion in it and dialog. She’ll sit below it and gaze at the screen for minutes, up to about five minutes–a mountain of focused time in Kitty land. I’m reminded it is not clear how the human system of awareness can capture the actuality of the feline system of something like awareness, interest, etc.. …a mild Batesonian point, if you will.
excerpt I. In 2004 Jean-Denis Vigne of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and his colleagues reported unearthing the earliest evidence suggestive of humans keeping cats as pets. The discovery comes from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where 9,500 years ago an adult human of unknown gender was laid to rest in a shallow grave. An assortment of items accompanied the body–stone tools, a lump of iron oxide, a handful of seashells and, in its own tiny grave just 40 centimeters away, an eight-month-old cat, its body oriented in the same westward direction as the human’s.
Because cats are not native to most Mediterranean islands, we know that people must have brought them over by boat, probably from the adjacent Levantine coast. Together the transport of cats to the island and the burial of the human with a cat indicate that people had a special, intentional relationship with cats nearly 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. This locale is consistent with the geographic origin we arrived at through our genetic analyses. It appears, then, that cats were being tamed just as humankind was establishing the first settlements in the part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent.
excerpt II. Considering that small cats do little obvious harm, people probably did not mind their company. They might have even encouraged the cats to stick around when they saw them dispatching mice and snakes. Cats may have held other appeal, too. Some experts speculate that wildcats just so happened to possess features that might have preadapted them to developing a relationship with people. In particular, these cats have “cute” features–large eyes, a snub face and a high, round forehead, among others–that are known to elicit nurturing from humans. In all likelihood, then, some people took kittens home simply because they found them adorable and tamed them, giving cats a first foothold at the human hearth.
excerpt III. The wide range of sizes, shapes and temperaments seen in dogs–consider the Chihuahua and Great Dane–is absent in cats. Felines show much less variety because, unlike dogs–which starting in prehistoric times were bred for such tasks as guarding, hunting and herding–wildcats were under no such selective breeding pressures. To enter our homes, they had only to evolve a people-friendly disposition.
So are today’s cats truly domesticated? Well, yes–but perhaps only just. Although they satisfy the criterion of tolerating people, most domestic cats are feral and do not rely on people to feed them or to find them mates. And whereas other domesticates, like dogs, look quite distinct from their wild ancestors, the average domestic cat largely retains the wild body plan. It does exhibit a few morphological differences, however– namely, slightly shorter legs, a smaller brain and, as Charles Darwin noted, a longer intestine, which may have been an adaptation to scavenging kitchen scraps.
The Taming of the Cat. By: Driscoll, Carlos A., Clutton-Brock, Juliet, Kitchener, Andrew C., O’Brien, Stephen J., Scientific American, Jun2009, Vol. 300, Issue 6
Our previous vet, once had a bumper sticker that read:
Dogs have masters,
Cats have staff.
One of Gregory Bateson’s most important (and well-known,) papers became the chapter, A Theory of Play and Fantasy, in Steps To An Ecology of the Mind. Here’s enough of an excerpt to allow you to draw the connection with the land of kittens.
(3) The first definite step in the formulation of the hypothesis guiding this research occurred in January, 1952, when I went to the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco to look for behavioral criteria which would indicate whether any given organism is or is not able to recognize that the signs emitted by itself and other members of the species are signals. In theory, I had thought out what such criteria might look like—that the occurrence of metacommunicative signs (or signals) in the stream of interaction between the animals would indicate that the animals have at least some awareness (conscious or unconscious) that the signs about which they metacommunicate are signals.
I knew, of course, that there was no likelihood of finding denotative messages among nonhuman mammals, but I was still not aware that the animal data would require an almost total revision of my thinking. What I encountered at the zoo was a phenomenon well known to everybody: I saw two young monkeys playing, i.e., engaged in an interactive sequence of which the unit actions or signals were similar to but not the same as those of combat. It was evident, even to the human observer, that the sequence as a whole was not combat, and evident to the human observer that to the participant monkeys this was not combat.
Now, this phenomenon, play, could only occur if the participant organisms were capable of some degree of meta-communication, i.e., of exchanging signals which would carry the message “this is play.
(6) Threat is another phenomenon which resembles play in that actions denote, but are different from, other actions. The clenched fist of threat is different from the punch, but it refers to a possible future (but at present nonexistent) punch. And threat also is commonly recognizable among non-human mammals. Indeed it has lately been argued that a great part of what appears to be combat among members of a single species is rather to be regarded as threat (Tinbergen,64 Lorenz65).
(8) We might expect threat, play, and histrionics to be three independent phenomena all contributing to the evolution of the discrimination between map and territory. But it seems that this would be wrong, at least so far as mammalian communication is concerned. Very brief analysis of childhood behavior shows that such combinations as histrionic play, bluff, playful threat, teasing play in response to threat, histrionic threat, and so on form together a single total complex of phenomena. And such adult phenomena as gambling and playing with risk have their roots in the combination of threat and play. It is evident also that not only threat but the reciprocal of threat?—the behavior of the threatened individual?—are a part of this complex. It is probable that not only histrionics but also spectatorship should be included within this field. It is also appropriate to mention self-pity.
From the chapter, Redundancy and Coding.
(7) This still leaves unexplained the shift from communication about interaction patterns to communication about things and other components of the external world. This is the shift which determines that language would never make obsolete the iconic communication about the contingency patterns of personal relationship.
Further than that we cannot at present go. It is even possible that the evolution of verbal naming preceded the evolution of the simple negative. It is, however, important to note that evolution of a simple negative would be a decisive step toward language as we know it. This step would immediately endow the signals— be they verbal or iconic—with a degree of separateness from their referents, which would justify us in referring to the signals as “names.” The same step would make possible the use of negative aspects of classification: those items which are not members of an identified class would become identifiable as nonmembers. And, lastly, simple affirmative indicative statements would become possible.Conscious Purpose versus Nature*
Here, of course, we’ve left the land of kitties.
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.
One of the conventions the Free Play handicapper implements is to set one elder against the other. Here the elders embrace after the contest, and you can’t tell who was on what side of a 20-4 score, can you?
F(ather): Suppose you tell me what you would understand by the words “serious” and a “game.”
D(aughter): Well… if you’re… I don’t know.
F: If I am what?
D: I mean… the conversations are serious for me, but if you are only playing a
F: Steady now. Let’s look at what is good and what is bad about “playing” and
“games.” First of all, I don’t mind —not much—about winning or losing. When your questions put me in a tight spot, sure, I try a little harder to think straight and to say clearly what I mean. But I don’t bluff and I don’t set traps. There is no temptation to cheat.
D: That’s just it. It’s not serious to you. It’s a game. People who cheat just don’t know how to play. They treat a game as though it were serious.
F:But it is serious.
D: No, it isn’t—not for you it isn’t.
F: Because I don’t even want to cheat?
D: Yes—partly that.
F: But do you want to cheat and bluff all the time?
D: No—of course not.
F: Well then?
D: Oh—Daddy—you’ll never understand.
F: I guess I never will.
F: Look, I scored a sort of debating point just now by forcing you to admit that you
don’t want to cheat—and then I tied onto that admission the conclusion that therefore the conversations are not “serious” for you either. Was that a sort of cheating?
D: Yes—sort of.
F: I agree—I think it was. I’m sorry.
D: You see, Daddy—if I cheated or wanted to cheat, that would mean that I was not
serious about the things we talk about. It would mean that I was only playing a
game with you.
F: Yes, that makes sense.
(excerpt; 2.3 Metalogue: About Games and Being Serious | Steps to An Ecology of the Mind; Gregory Bateson)
Okay. I mentioned I had this darn insight many years ago: something like a Batesonian metalogue–which are sprinkled throughout his books–seems to be discoverable in the deep structure of particular Sufi teaching stories. This old insight has evolved and this is due mostly to my original apercu not really being the actual case.
I would put it differently now. There is in this kind of story a hidden potential for shifting one’s “base” way of experiencing their being-in-the-world. (This is but one way of putting the experiential ‘trap door’ contained in such stories.) Whereas, Bateson never specified a comprehensive set of applications which could be said–had these been specified–to be implicate in his research and articulation of his understanding. He never, as-it-were, surfaced those kinds of robust edifying activities.
To hold these two different aspects from two different ‘realizations,’ together, nevertheless, reveals similar practical objectives. One simple way to suggest this is to bring in the metaphor of peeling the onion. Certainly this does fine duty with respect to the technology given by the Sufi teaching story. After all, the teaching story is surely a technology for peeling the onion. On the side of Bateson, similarly, but less tried and tested, there is an implicate technology focused on supporting a deep, counter-habitual, and no less subversive ‘environmentally-experiential’ learning.
Now I’m reviewing my archive of teaching cartoons to see which ones elicit these similar aspects.
Stephen Nachmaninovitch’s seminar was terrific. I’m not going to talk too much out of school, except to make a couple of observations. Later, I’ll highlight Stephen’s resources.
He brought Bateson into his mostly experiential presentation in very subtle ways. He insinuated a handful of ideas by softly integrating each into the composition of his program. From my perspective, it seemed he was ‘making ground’ for negative capability. I suppose I’m sensitive to this, so it was striking. Those of course are just my terms.
Among the bright Ph.D. candidates in the room, many seemed to find their way in a situation aiming to be expansive rather than one aimed to feather their (likely) laser-directed professional aspirations!
This leads to my other observation. There is, in the context of the professional academy, a very ripe circumstance for this kind of instigation. There were many moments during the seminar when I was chuckling inside because so many ‘givens’ were coming under a lot of pressure–except this was entirely by deep and indirect implication. This seemed almost tacit, yet obvious too.
And, at the same time, Nachmanovitch was very selective. He interjected Bateson’s sense about the problem with nouns-with reification-with flattening, but didn’t then highlight this applies to ideas as well as people, places, and things. All he said was that this applies to people, places, things, and ideas. It seemed he was seeding a handful of experiences and frames and allied concepts. Briefly, at the end, he wrapped this all up in a mildly didactic closing.
It was masterful for what he didn’t say; for what he left to ‘roam on its own;’ and, for trusting his students to discover what they will. As Bateson would have it: he didn’t close off possibilities.
My favorite (Gregory) Batesonian teaching story, reconfigured and originally via Idries Shah.
A frenchman is teaching another french rudimentary english.
“So, the word for froid crème glacée is ‘cold ice cream.’ “
“What’s the word for chaude crème glacée?”
“Oh, they have no need for it, so there’s no word for it.”
Although I have an acute memory, I can’t recall which friend of mine did me the favor of bringing the work of Gregory Bateson to my attention. It was a long time ago. (Maybe it was Chris Irion? Pilcher?) I dug into Bateson’s Mind and Nature thirty years ago, when it was published. In another sense, it only matters as a fuzzy starting point. It was definitely in 1996 that I returned to his opus in a re-doubled effort to make some further connections. This was due to meeting my mentor and squareONE partner Judith Buerkel in 1995. During this first meeting it turned out Bateson was our mutual touchstone. Bingo!
It was only then, after a more mature effort to really deal-in, that Bateson’s understanding came to deeply inform my outlook, and to comprise a large facet in my favorite lens. The interesting nexus for this was a weird insight evoked by my trying to make coherent the weaving together of three things, the Sufi teaching story, my new (at the time) fascination with others’ theorizing about experiential learning (this via Mezirow and Kolb,) and, my revisiting Bateson (via his last book, Where Angels Fear. Toward An Epistemology of the Sacred.) About this last visitation, the bookmark stuck a third of the way through the book–when I picked it up again–marked where I had left off nine years earlier.
Judith basically told me to woodshed! Ultimately, we grappled with how to underpin our applications–what was to become the tool kit for squareONE. We spend a lot of time discussing the practical import for our work of our different Batesonian outlooks. We both thought Bateson was an adept designer; (although this is a novel sense about Bateson, who overtly was an anthropologist, psychologist, philosopher, and naturalist.)
Anyway, my insight at the time, excitedly delivered at our weekly meeting at Arabica, was this: it was apparent to me that something like Batesonian metalogues were embedded, even secreted in the structural folds of many Middle Eastern teaching stories. Judith responded: “They’re folded in everything.”
I’ve been revisiting Bateson once again over the last month. This, however, comes long after I added my experience and understanding of his understanding, (well, some of it,) to be, basically, the fundamental facet of my favored lens. By which I mean: some synergy of dynamic ideas-in-interplay make up the essential background frame for my intentional observations. Funny how lens and frame come together!
I use a ‘reduced set’ roughly taken from Bateson. Perhaps it would better to say appropriated from Bateson. I’m not a Batesonian because I’m eclectic, disorganized, not masterly, and, an ol’ hippie. Yet, in another sense, I often turn the world around to experience its different sides using my idiosyncratic (sort of) Batesonian lens.
If I assert that I’m dedicated to being a student of my environment, then in the background of this claim is this lens. You should know this to know where I’m coming from. I’ll have more to say about this soon.
I’ve recently had reason to woodshed some more and revisit the work of Gregory Bateson. I was invited to participate in a seminar at the local grad school. Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of the terrific book Free Play, musician, and student, friend, colleague of Gregory Bateson, is to give a lecture on something to do with experiential learning and play.
Getting back to one of my main people has been fantastic. The Explorations Blog is going to go on a Bateson trip for a spell. Stay tuned. I’ll wrap with a review of resources I’ve discovered out in the shed.
Favorite droll turn on cogito ergo sum*: I think therefore I think I am. Possibly better: I think therefore I think I am thinking.
You are your epistemology. (Gregory Bateson)
I’ve always stuck with John Lilly’s:
My beliefs are unbelievable.
In this context, why not: “My thoughts are unthinkable.”
* But I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No. If I convinced myself of something [or thought anything at all] then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So, after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind. (Rene Descarte)
Yeah, What Bateson said.
From a Batesonian perspective, it is the way we classify, make distinctions, and make sense of things that is fundamental. If it is the distinctions we ourselves make that are causes, then it is how we process information and map the territory that explains. Within this framework, any explanation or scientific activity becomes fundamentally recursive. It follows that if the world of mental process is recursive, then our descriptions of it should also be recursive and address the multiple layers of mutual influence in any relationship. Once it is understood that recursiveness is fundamental to the development of a science of human interacting systems, “the focus of explanation shifts from the world of matter to the world of form” (Bochner, 1981, p. 74). There are always different orders of recursion and different ways of slicing things up. Every picture can tell a multiplicity of stories.