Stress, Temporal Scales & Contexts

Scott Holmes (sholmes@NETCOM.COM)
Sat, 11 Feb 1995 08:50:59 -0800

because of my concentration on the ideas of Gregory Bateson, my recent posts
have been attempts at interpreting the physical environment as context.
Environmental changes are thus changes in context. I am aware of possible
nesting such a broad frame entails but I'm currently not prepared to deal with
all the intricacies involved. So, at least for the time being I can deal
only with the broad strokes.

Environmental changes and their resultant stress, can occur quite rapidly
and this includes those associated with glacial fluctuations. Granted, the
time it takes for ice sheets to expand may be calculated in terms of human
generations but effects from conditions that allow for such expansions could
very well be noticable from one year to the next. I don't have the sources at
hand but I recall from my own research on Neoglacial climatic fluctuations
that a shift in frequency of no more than three additional storms and a
slightly cooler summer are enough to cause glacial growth. Results from
studies of the Greenland ice cap and from Atlantic ice flow deposits bear this
out. Bonnie, feel free to nail me on the details of this.

The stresses I refer to are not limited to degrees of warming or cooling
but also the shifting of human populations and their prey. Also of changes
in water supplies (etc.). There are also a number of changes that can
be directly linked to human activity as well. It seems to me that to overcome
or cope with such variations survival strategies must also change; new tools,
modification of social structures and new roles for individuals to play.
These new skills must have come about because of creative thinking and
innovation. Bateson's work demonstrates that such innovation may be
related to severe stress. Individuals and social groups capable of recognizing
and adapting to the changing conditions would be most likely to survive.

Personally, I'm not prepared to come down on either side of the argument:
those that had evolved to greater intelligence survived or the survivors
evolved to greater intelligence. I would like to note, however, that a
feedback mechanism seems to be operating. This mechanism would appear to
have been operating far enough back in time to encompass the period of
cranial growth.

I hope I am not being percieved as an "Environmental Determinist". I am
not suggesting that environmental factors are causal but that recognition of
and adaptation to changing environmental conditions is what's important.
It is the inherent adaptability of an organism that is at the heart of the
developmental process. The ability to learn is an important aspect of that

For those of you who have followed my intermittent postings, you might
recognize my concern with context as an underlying theme. From the origins
of warfare to the petty flame wars of cyberspace, eventually, those who can
recognize and adjust to new rules will prevail. Those who cannot recognize
or adapt to variations in context fall back on the useless, nonproductive
strategies of violence and name calling precisely because they are unable to
imagine any other recourse. I realize that these topics are of a far more
complex nature than my blanket statements seem to indicate but I do think
investigation of the context within which anthropological thingies are found
can be just as important or even more so than investigation of the thingies

----------- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, ----------------
Scott Holmes <> Informix 4GL Applications
---------------- Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ------------------------