Tag Archives: Gregory Bateson

A Batesonian sign

20121126-205244.jpg

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.

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Revisiting the 2×2 Matrix – Part 1.

Never Wrong Matrix

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.

Dr Puck' s problem matrix

MDFI Matrix aka Dr. Puck’s Problem Solver

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. The Power of the 2x2 Matrix 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.

2x2 Matrix

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:

Robotics Matrix

Inscrutible Robotics Matrix

Social Media and Business Qualification Matrix

Management Matrix

Unsatisfying to me, “Management Matrix”

I devised the following to depict the tension of oppositions betwixt four entangled philosophical themes.

Unity Matrix

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!

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art à l’état brut

Yippie, my nominee for the most consistently the most Batesonian tv show of all time returns Community March 15.

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

Community (NBC) Wikipedia


* 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)

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“I Talked My Way Into It”

Anthropologist-Nicholas Conard- Werner-Herzog

Anthropologist Nicholas Conard (left) and filmmaker Werner Herzog examine artifacts from the Chauvet caves in southern France

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.

Interview at Scientific American
Podcast and article at NPR
Review by Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian.OK

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.

Nora and Gregory Bateson

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.

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Reduced Bateson Set: III. Set Up; Actuality Matters


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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked my friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishin’ Sort of

Sassy & Glori

living the good life

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.

Kitties nappin'
A note.

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.

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Reduced Bateson Set II. Set up; Participant-Dependence

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.

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Treating the Game As A Game


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
game…
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)

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Reduced Bateson Set I. Set Up; Meta-heuristics

Bateson-Mead-Bajoeng-Gedé

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 concomitant 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.

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Two Batesonian Teaching Cartoons

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.

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Minding the Mind

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.

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THINK ABOUT THINKING ABOUT THIS

Favorite droll turn on cogito ergo sum*: I think therefore I think I am. Possibly better: I think therefore I think I am thinking.

Best:

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)

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SCIENCE THAT STUDIES THE PROCESS OF KNOWING

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.

(more…)

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