Re: The Review of Mind & Nature

Scott Holmes (sholmes@NETCOM.COM)
Sun, 5 Mar 1995 09:23:18 -0800

I would like to respond to Danny's points of criticism.

8) Keep in mind randomness which "feeds" creativity, art, learning and
evolution. In the latter portions of _Steps ..._ Bateson emphasizes the
importance of a variance in perspective between the "physical" sciences
(micro to macro) and cybernetics (macro to micro). The realm of
anthropology deals with an open system, thus there is never "nothing".
This bit from King Lear applies to thermodynamics but not very well to
information theory.

10) "Quantity and pattern are of different logical type". I suspect
that closer examination of systems that exhibit "qualitatively different
patterns" because of a change in quantity are actually experiencing
variations in ratios of multiple quantities. The patterns were already
latent. Changes in the relationships of the components changes the
patterns. Bateson uses as an example an island with two mountains. When
the sea level rises to a certain point, there are two islands. "... when
the pattern changed, the change was sudden and discontinuous".

11) Danny's phrase "all other things being equal" removes the argument
from the realm Bateson is discussing, ie patterns. All other things are
not equal. A greater supply of seeds may cause an increase in rodent
population with possibly profound negative effects. I seem to recall
just such an event in the American Southwest. An "oversupply" of pine
nuts allowed a sudden increase in rodent population and an outbreak of
a "flu" or "fever" insued. I don't recall the dates or name of this
outbreak but do recall that the "Native Americans" in the area had the
earliest and most accurate explanation for the outbreak of the disease.
Bateson uses the example of money as a monotone (the more the better)
but only a few sentences later places money within a context where "more"
may in fact be toxic.

As for Bateson's use of the word "mind", I believe it is only a matter
of convention. He notes in his introduction to _Steps..._ that "mind"
is one of several concepts that "... are so loosely derived and so
mutually irrelevant that they mix together to make a sort of conceptual
fog which does much to delay the progress of science".

As for the idea that Bateson's discussion is "at a level of abstraction
too high to provide useful insight into practical questions"; I find his
concept of context to be directly applicable to questions of "cultural
evolution" (please excuse the phrase if it is now unacceptable, I'm still
20 years out of date). His statement to scientists studying cetacea, I
think, is his clearest exposition of the matter:

"(1) that a relationship between two (or more) organisms is, in fact,
a sequence of S-R sequences (i.e., of contexts in which proto-learning
(2) that deutero-learning (i.e., learning to learn) is, in fact, the
acquiring of information about the contingency patterns of the contexts
in which proto-learning occurs; and
(3) that the `character' of the organism is the aggregate of it's
deutero-learning and therefore reflects the contextual patterns of
past proto-learning."

I have, in previous posts, attempted to apply the concept of context in
considering the "Invention of War", in language development and in the
development and use of tools. I have also posited that a measurement of
the ability to deal with contexts may be the true measurement of intelligence.

Finally, Bateson remains cautious about the heirarchical appearance
of his theory, asserting that there are clear relationships between
adjacent levels but uncertainty about relationships between non-adjacent
levels. Perhaps what we have is a Mobius heirarchy.

I am grateful to Danny for bringing Bateson to the forefront of discussion.
I believe his work can bring valuable insight to our studies. I have often
wondered if he has been deliberately ignored or merely mislabelled as
"New Age". One must be very careful with these labels. Marija Gimbutas
as suffered the same fate by being automatically catalogued as "Women's
Studies". Problems with contexts, eh?

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