Tag Archives: interpersonal knowledge

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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