In order to set up a dialogue the author, first, will attempt to discern similarities and differences between the ideas of Gregory Bateson and those of the so-called Pragmatist philosophers, John Dewey and William James. Second, he will address connecting points and relevance to intercultural communication training and teaching. For both sides aesthetics are of central importance, for Bateson, coming from the direction of systems, more in the observation of the pattern that connects (beauty). For Dewey, the aesthetic experience is embedded in the context potentially in any situation. For both Dewey and James human and other organisms actively experiencing environments as situations are the beginning and the end of any philosophy of pragmatic significance. For Bateson, the addition of aesthetics to ecology is necessary to highlight its global significance.
This paper will involve two areas of a possible dialogue between the Pragmatist philosophers and Gregory Bateson: their attempts at naturalized epistemologies (assuming the selection processes of evolution) and their focus on aesthetics. By naturalized epistemologies I mean Bateson’s ecology of mind, which in the form of interactive Gestalts are distributed into the organism/environment, and Pragmatism’s attempt to find meaning by starting with the unity or continuity of organism/environment in co-created situations. Neither tradition seems to be interested in referring to any other metaphysical reality transcending nature and evolution as a source of meaning, truth and beauty; however, to be consistent with their ideals of a pluralist society, first William James, then later John Dewey, strive to keep the religious experience and religion on the fallible level of being open to inquiry. Bateson, critical of institutional religion, nevertheless, seems to be sympathetic to the mystical tradition (ex. William Blake). His use of the word sacred, his focus on the principle of the whole being in the part, and his references to Zen, point to my understanding of the mystical tradition. Highlighting breathing and the body are also indications of the meditational tradition. James clearly confirms the significance of breath and “pure” experience and Dewey basically accepts James’ assumptions, for example, in Art as Experience, published about thirty years later. Dewey himself practiced a kind of body-work, now called Alexander technique, for a number of years.
One goal of this paper is to sift out points in this dialogue which are relevant to training and teaching as a form of practice in Intercultural Communication and the Dialogue Process. The author is quite experienced in these two training forms. The reason for the focus on aesthetics is that this field is so easily shown to be embodied and opens up a further dialogue with trainers and teachers with a background in the arts (ex. dancing and music). From the side of science the obvious connection is with ecology and Bateson’s attempts at establishing ecological aesthetics in the post-World War ii historical period in the West.
By Pragmatist philosophers I mean the works of John Dewey and William James. James’ ideas arose from about the 1870s to his death in 1910. Dewey, a bit younger graduate student, wrote from about the 1880s to his death in 1952. James’ ideas have always been respected in psychology and the study of religion (religious experience) but recently he has been gaining ground in biology through the admiration by two world renowned neuroscientists, Gerald Edelman (2000, 2006) and Antonio Damasio (1999, 2010).
Dewey’s views on aesthetics as experience and on the organism/environment in an evolutionary context places them very close to ecological aesthetics, a discipline which, together with the activism of Barry Commoner and others (ex. Bateson and his wife Margaret Mead), slowly crystalized in the 1960s and early 1970s. There were, of course, other precedents to the emerging of ecological aesthetics as a discipline and a political movement. For example, there was (and still is) the Conservationist tradition in the u.s which involved the arts (ex. John Muir and Ansel Adams) and one remarkable ecologist, Rachel Carson, was exceptional in her impact by adding the aesthetic dimension to her work The Sea around Us as well as her political urgency in her work The Silent Spring. Bateson was aware of all of this. He was a biologist as well as an anthropologist and was afraid that ecology would be coopted by the dominant positivist tendencies in the natural sciences (energy, quantification, efficiency) and simply remain a sub-discipline of biology very much apart from the beauty of mind and nature. One of Bateson’s projects was to integrate aesthetics and sacredness of the whole into ecology. (Harries-Jones 1995, 2005)
The revival in the interest in Dewey’s aesthetics as experience, coupled with the influence of James’ idea of “pure” experience, in the last decades has led me to propose a dialogue between these two traditions, the cybernetics and aesthetics of systems of Gregory Bateson and the epistemology and aesthetics of Dewey and James.
2 Bateson’s Ecology of Mind and the Pragmatist Unity of Organism/Environment
In his best known work, Steps toward an Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson could give the impression to the reader that he starts off on the wrong foot. He says at the very beginning: “The questions which the book raises are ecological: How do ideas interact? Is there some sort of natural selection which determines the survival of some ideas and the extinction of others? What sort of economics limits the multiplicity of ideas as a given region of the mind? What are the necessary conditions for stability (or survival) of such a system or subsystem?” (1972, xv–xvi). Published later in his A Sacred Unity (1991, 162) Bateson brings ideas and the discrimination aspects of the organism (the difference) together as basic units of the mind: “A difference is an elementary idea. It is of the stuff of which minds are made.”
Without reading any further the layperson (like myself) could jump to the conclusion that Bateson is making a mistake when he thinks that the level of ideas can somehow capture the broader level of ecology. Ideas do not interact; organisms/environments interact; ideas, however, can be embodied and embedded in the organism/environment. Ecology or ecosystems are more inclusive than just ideas; they include the organic unity of mind and body, organism and environment. This spontaneous critique, however, leads to a misunderstanding of Bateson. The ideas he is talking about are more like embodied interactive Gestalts (Harries-Jones 1995, 10) (ex. play, histrionics and threat) of organisms, especially mammals. Embodied Gestalts of interaction are quite commensurable with the assumption of Pragmatism that any cognitive map of a system has to be embedded in and have some consequence in or application to the interactions of daily life (including the body). I would add that any system may be expressed cognitively via language and ideas but in the end it has to be expressed in and be interactively distributed through the whole organism and environment, including the sensorimotor aspects of the body. My understanding of Bateson is that he is exploring the question of how the mind is interactively distributed in the whole/part relationship of the environment and the organism. Perception and cognitive Gestalts in their interaction with the environment find collective patterns which form circuits or ecosystems. Bateson is not concerned about things as Dinge an sich but rather about relationships, interaction, messages and communication. Bateson’s and Dewey’s emphasis on aesthetics are central because it is easily shown that beauty is not so much a metaphysical phenomenon; it can easily be argued that without aesthetic experience as a generalized experience (not just what great artists and musicians produce), there can be no or little sense of value.
We can also easily include James’ ideas in the emphasis on the aesthetic experience for three reasons: First, he originally wanted to become an artist. His father ordered him to become a scientist or physician and he suffered from this throughout his life. Second, James is known for his work on religious experience. We can continue the argument in favor of the aesthetic experience, namely, that a religious experience without beauty (or disgust) is not worth much attention. It is hard to justify value using just thoughts like an imperative. And third, his ideas related to aesthetics did indeed have an immense influence on Dewey’s Art as Experience.
Bateson was preoccupied with interactive Gestalts of living organisms and their evolutionary survival. All three, James, Dewey and Bateson assumed that perception and cognition do not stop at the skin. Body/mind, organism/environment, inside/outside and other dualisms are organically united in an evolutionary context (Bateson) or situation (Dewey and James).
According to David Hildebrand (2008, 21), speaking on behalf of Dewey: “In perception, the story goes, the simple ‘ideas’ (or ‘impressions’ or ‘perceptions’) impinge upon the senses and make their way into our thoughts. Dewey’s model rejects this ‘inner/outer’ model from the start. His is an ecological model—mind, body, and the world are mutually created by their ongoing interaction.” Bateson also rejects the inner/outer dualism.
In my understanding of Dewey he highlights more the experience-being-had-as-a-process-and-an-interaction-in-a-situation. The situation is co-constructed by the organism and the environment (including other organisms). The experience of the situation is a product of the discrimination and appropriation of the environment in the form of actions and interactions—or in the late Dewey, transactions. All these aspects of experience and situations are embedded in and expressed as life processes of the organism/environment.
Dewey and James consistently opposed any kind of reified separation between organism/environment, body/mind, subject/object, inside/outside, etc. The result was pragmatic in the sense that the organism acts in its environmentally embedded mode of experience. Dewey, but also James, typically called this approach “double-barreled”. (Alexander 1987, 81; Dewey 1958, 8; originally in James 2008, 5)
Dewey’s and James’ double-barreled approach to situations and experience, in my view, is truly ecological and as such can enhance the discussion involving Bateson and systems. In this double-barreled way one can experience the organism/environment in a situation co-created by this same organism/environment. Following this approach, using Dewey’s generic vocabulary, there is a pivoting back and forth directing our awareness of aspects of the body’s experience (including feelings, the five senses, the sense of balance, and proprioception) and aspects of cognitive experience (thinking, analyzing, languaging, inquiry, listening, setting goals, decision making, etc.). (The body’s experience alone or the cognitive experience alone, each would be single-barreled.) Moving one’s body, the usual understanding of action, would be considered overt action. Not all the above are overt action (motoric) but they are all action or interaction; this leads to the assumption of the cross-modal unity of the sensorimotor system. For example, both Bateson (Harries-Jones 1995, 201–202) and the Pragmatists do not understand perception as something passive as we normally understand it in daily life. Moreover, perception, especially of beauty, often takes patience and work; there is nothing passive about it. From the theory of neural Darwinism, Edelman (2006, 100) confirms the active orientation of perception; “… every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”
This pivoting or shifting of our awareness between different aspects of experience can be the result of deeply embodied, good and bad habits. Let’s take alcoholism the analysis of which is one of Bateson’s major contributions. A good habit would be repeating to oneself the aa prayer; a bad habit would be the repetitious, compulsive focus on will power and self-control which actually perpetuates the vicious cycle of the addiction. Deliberation is also good and bad for the alcoholic. When the alcoholic deliberately tries to get his life together with the help of aa and thereby breaks the vicious cycle, this is a step toward healing. When he deliberately tries harder to conquer alcohol with a new resolution to control himself, this is definitely not healing.
The cybernetic influence is clear in Bateson’s use of the principle of negative feedback; instead of insisting on controlling or maintaining the power over alcohol, the alcoholic gives up this power. Instead of denying his identity as an alcoholic he accepts this identity. Instead of focusing on his individual will power, he gives it up and relies on a higher power.
Bateson’s analysis—or any analysis (ex. of the Grameen Bank), for that matter—resulting in a co-construction of a system can be generally commensurable with Pragmatism because an analysis, a construct or a map can be part, an important part, of a system, ecosystem or territory (in the map/territory metaphor). In order to understand Bateson’s ideas the metaphor of map and territory can serve as a beginning.
3 Map and Territory
According to Bateson (sem, 180, 185, 449 and Korzybski 1994. 750f), the map is not the same as the territory. Bateson is concerned with the paradoxical relationship of the map and territory which seems to be built into the mind and its need to play (as-if-ness of perception and reality). For Bateson, the relationship is a paradox: The map is not the same as the territory but it depicts the territory in an as-if relation. In my own words, this tension between „is“, „as if“ and “isn’t” is supported in the universal need of humans and other animals to play and to (playfully or seriously) perceive a threat. “A very brief analysis of childhood behavior shows that such combinations as histrionic play, bluff, threat, teasing play in response to threat, histrionic threat, and so on form together a single total complex of phenomena.” (sem 181)1 The relationship between play and threat in human perception and behavior is paradoxical.
Bateson seems to be looking for one step toward the evolution of the mind (and not just human and not just in the head, nor in the self), toward the recognition of paradoxical patterns of the mind (ideas or Gestalts) as these are distributed interactively throughout the environment in whole/part relations. Examples of mind distributed in the environment would be symmetries and asymmetries as patterns in organisms appearing again and again in evolution, therefore, in nature and life.
William James (1916, 71–78) discusses the metaphor of the map much earlier in 1909 (later published posthumously in 1912 by his famous brother Henry). He formulates the issue differently in that the map is constructed from concepts and the concepts are derived from perception (including memory). “Perception is solely of the here and now; conception is of the like and unlike, of the future, of the past, and of the far away. But this map of what surrounds the present, like all maps, is only a surface.” (1916, 74) James moves on to try to create an inclusive relationship in which the territory includes the map and the map is constructed from concepts and percepts. Percepts are less abstract and are built on the here and now and interaction of daily life (territory). He also tries to level the value of perception and conception in general and make their value in the particular and in the moment dependent on the situation. There is no basis for a general bias, which, he thinks (1916, 75), has plagued much of the history of Western philosophy, against the senses, in favor of concepts.
Joel Krueger (2007, 19) interprets James’ ideas on the map/territory in a way which is very amenable to Bateson’s view. In so doing he builds a bridge to Zen. “For James … philosophical confusions ultimately arise when the structures of our conceptual ‘maps’ are thought to provide an isomorphic blueprint of the inner structure of reality itself. James would likely say that this is mistaking the map for that which is mapped. In Zen parlance, this presumption of isomorphism constitutes ‘clinging’ to thoughts and concepts.”
According to my understanding of Pragmatism, the contradiction between the map and the territory is solved by including both poles of the contradiction or paradox in the total fluctuation of experience in the here and now of a situation—also the time and place where performance takes place. The territory and the map are organically united in a particular experience in a particular situation (e.g. of Jane-now-using-a-map-and-body-loosely-but-seriously-in-dancing-and-expressing-her-love-of-life-in-the-territory). Further, the perception of the whole (interaction, here and now, territory), the conception of the whole (the static abstraction from the whole, the map, symbol, language), and action (overt or otherwise) are organically united as dispositions in the fluctuation of life. If however the map, which is an abstraction, becomes mistaken for the wealth of real life, then it becomes a reification. If the abstraction remains loose and understood as part of the territory, then novelty and creativity become possible.
4 Immediate or “Pure” Experience
One short discussion of perception appears in Angel’s Fear: Toward an Epistemology of the Sacred (1987, 95–97). In Bateson’s critique of Descartes he contemplated the possibility of a focus on perception rather than on cognition. He pointed out that perception is always uncertain and presupposes a faith; for example, I see a rock and I have faith that my perception is accurate. “Our senses can only tell us at best what was so a moment ago.” (95) For Dewey and James our senses and motoric (sensorimotor system), together with conception and will, are united in experience. All senses, thinking and action during the performance of the whole organism are transformed quickly to the past tense. However, this admission does not mean that the here and now interaction of the senses are not important. The situation unites perception, motoric, mind, body, organism and environment. And this does not have to be conceptualized or put into language to be real. Experience can be immediate.
Harries-Jones (1995, 200) indicates that Bateson “objected to the supposition that human beings were capable of direct perception of an external world.” In other words, immediate perception is not possible.
In my own reading of Bateson, where I suspect he does not believe in the possibility of immediate or pure experience, as James, Dewey and much of the mystical tradition do, is in his conversation with his daughter Mary Catherine in Angel’s Fear (32–33). She had been giving a lecture and the well-known American poet, Wendell Berry, was in the audience. They started to argue. “And a bat flew into the room and was swooping around in a panic, making like Kant’s Ding an sich. So I caught it with somebody’s cowboy hat and put it outside. Wendell said, ‘Look that bat is really in here, a piece of the real world,’ and I said, but look, the idea of the bat is still in here, swooping around representing alternative epistemologies, and the argument between me and Wendell, too.” Gregory answers that “it is not irrelevant that Wendell is a poet. But it’s also true that since we’re all mammals, whatever word games we play we are talking about a relationship.”
In this scene a misunderstanding is possible. Catherine mentioned that the bat flying was like a Ding an sich. The Pragmatists would agree that one cannot know the Ding an sich; one cannot know the unchanging substance of something. One can only know what one is abstracting from the territory and perhaps reapplying to it. But there is such a thing as immediate or pure experience, as we find in James, Dewey, Nishida and the meditation tradition. For James it is a deep felt sense of the movement from the flux of the territory. The metaphor of territory falsely implies that it is something stable. The metaphor of the river in Heraclitus is more appropriate. The flowing, chaotic water splashes over and around the stones which appear to us as stable (as ideas and thoughts appear stable in the flow and flux of consciousness).
Once we start thinking about a pure or immediate experience, then it is no longer immediate; it becomes mediated. That is why focusing on breathing is so important. Breathing and meditation are a means to experience the dissolution of the inside/outside of the body opposition. Dewey once also compared immediate experience to the relationship between the mother and her baby, especially in the time before, during and just after birth. According to Daniel Stern (2000, xxv), this is the deepest level of experience, what he called the “sense of an emergent self” and remains a level of experience for the rest of human socialization. It is not a stage of development where it stops and something else begins; it is an enduring level, deeper but later organically united with conception and language. Language is then built upon this deeper level of communication and experience, a level based just as much on similarity as on difference and very much non-verbal, embodied communication.
All of experience is action, interaction or transaction. According to James (2008, Ch. 2), it can be pure experience, i.e. without mediation, in constant change and process, transitive. But experience usually is mediated in situations of daily life by thinking (ex. remembering and imagining), abstractions (ex. math and logic), language (ex. poetry, novels, etc.), objects (ex. a canvas, paint and a brush) and materials (ex. stone, wood or oil). Experience tends toward consummation. Before the consummation is reached it is in transition; in this chaotic state it is “pure” or immediate. I maintain that pure experience, according to James, is close to a meditative state. He argues that consciousness is a creation of breathing. (2008, 17–18)
5 Emotions and Feelings
The vibrations of all of this in here and now interaction are emotions and feelings and have a definite influence on—and are influenced by—the mind/body.
Bateson dealt with the topic of feelings twice: First, he observed that cultures not only have thinking and behavior patterns but they also have affective patterns (sem, 66). This was quite progressive in Cultural Anthropology in the mid-20th Century in America and Western Europe. Second, in his critique of the mainstream scientific community he accused them of being very dualistic with a tendency to assign blame to one side of a dualism; in a letter he wrote in 1977, he warned that “(i)f (scientists) can, they will see their professional problems in dualistic terms (organism versus environment, etc.) and end up with a theoretical basis for assigning blame ….” (in Harries-Jones 1995, 197) Confronting their own fears, according to Harries-Jones (1995, 197) “(Bateson) needed to discover a way of probing epistemological fear, of relaxing premises of control among Western scientists. In particular, he needed to address the fear of ‘vicious circles’ in rational discourse ….” He did not present a systematic analysis of feeling but he certainly did not exclude the feeling factor and seemed to be right on target in terms of learning to loosen up our frames in order to reach a higher level of reflexivity (which includes the body, feelings, perception and proprioception).
For Dewey and James emotions and feelings are a definite area of experience which cannot be neglected, especially if aesthetics and the organism play a major role in one’s life.
What does Dewey say about emotions? According to Hildebrand (2008, 27), Dewey helps us understand emotions by their relationship to the habits of the organism in the situation. “Habits are ‘energy organized in certain channels’ that develop as controlled responses to problematic situations. Emotion, in contrast, is not predominantly an organized or controlled response, but rather the organism’s vibration in sympathy with the situation; it is ‘a perturbation of clash or failure of habit’.”
From an evolutionary perspective habit as a response coordinated with feeling as a vibration and a sign are adaptive. Habit would be the equivalent of the repetitive aspect of positive feedback in cybernetics. Why change a habit if it works? The organism and environment, however, are constantly changing, leading to the possibility that negative feedback, as an adaptive response, is also necessary for further survival. Cybernetics means the science of steering. Steer the boat in the other direction by doing the opposite. The sea is no longer calm. Dewey might say we can pivot back and forth in the steering process if we perceive the ocean is no longer calm. Bateson adds his interest in how the steering patterns together with the patterns of the changing organism and environment, in a recursive process, form metapatterns and consequently become recognized systems of communication.
Feeling serves as a sign to the organism to stay with the positive, to change to negative feedback, or to be creative and try something quite different. Perception and knowledge tell us if the sea is no longer calm and give some indication as to what to do about it. Feelings give us the amplitude and the seriousness of the problem.
What does Antonio Damasio, a great admirer of William James, have to say about this interaction of emotions, feelings and the organism/environment, from a neuroscientific perspective?
Coming from biology and evolution, Damasio (1999, 56) makes a distinction between emotions and feelings, the former less conscious, the latter more conscious. In fact, “(c)onsciousness allows feelings to be known and thus promotes the impact of emotion internally, allows emotion to permeate the thought process through the agency of feeling.”
Notice emotion, through the vehicle of consciousness, becomes (or can become) known in feeling; e.g., the unconscious fear becomes conscious, followed by the impulse to express it, respond to it, or even to freeze or avoid it. Both emotion and feeling permeate the mind/ body/organism/environment. Sometimes the fear, for example, permeates clearly, sometimes not, and it may be mixed with other feelings like pain, anger or even joy. The mind responds to vibrating feelings and these permeate—or are distributed in—the organism/environment; in effect, feelings permeate life just as much as the environment permeates the mind. The result is sometimes continuous and sometimes discontinuous cycles (virtuous or vicious) of mind/body and organism/environment. They unite and reproduce themselves in experience and experience permeates a situation.
6 Bateson, Paradox and Edward Hall
One of Bateson’s major contributions to communication is the role of paradox (ex. negative feedback from cybernetics and the double-bind). Paradox is not only embedded in the relationship of play between the map and its territory; it is also often embedded in communication. The double-bind was originally developed by Bateson to better understand schizophrenia in family systems. He tells us the story of a young man, suffering from schizophrenia. This young man who “had fairly well recovered from an acute schizophrenic episode was visited in the hospital by his mother. He was glad to see her and impulsively put his arm around her shoulders, whereupon she stiffened. He withdrew his arm and she asked, ‘Don’t you love me anymore?’ He then blushed, and she said, ‘You must not be so easily embarrassed and afraid of your feelings.’” (sem, 217) This double bind in communication can only be understood if we make a distinction between verbal and nonverbal communication. The mother was not in position to recognize her own nonverbal behavior of stiffening her body which was related to her own fear and tendency to withdraw. All of this is unconscious and tacit, in effect, such a deep habit that she does not notice what she is doing and how it can be interpreted. As the story continues, she turns her focus around onto her son and admonishes him to have better contact with his feelings. Bateson continues with his analysis but here I want to make the connection to Hall and bring him into the dialogue.
Edward Hall (1998, 53–55) believes that his own ideas on the predominance of the nonverbal and tacit aspects in intercultural communication are the key to understanding the paradoxical nature of the double-bind; he is looking for the “transactions at the cultural interfaces. The study of the interface between two systems is different than the study of either system alone.” (54) This focus presupposes that culture is mainly “tacitly acquired”. Hall highlights the relationship between cultural systems. Bateson is more interested in the relationship aspects of communication and behavior and how careful observation of these relations can lead to a recognition of a system (a vicious or virtuous cycle). What they both have in common is that the study of relationships—not things—is the basis of their research.
Furthermore, Bateson, in his chapter called “Redundancy and Coding” in Steps, discusses two major areas of nonverbal communication, kinesics and paralanguage, which are coded in similar patterns in nonhuman mammals. “There is a general popular belief that in the evolution of man, language replaced the cruder systems of other animals.” (411) Bateson was opposed to this principle which was based on the common assumption in evolutionary theory that when an organism does not use a function, it will slowly lose it. Kinesics and paralanguage (e.g. in the form of music and gestures) can be separated from language but language cannot be separated from kinesics and paralanguage. The evolution of language cannot be separated from the evolution of the nonverbal; in fact, Bateson offers the brilliant hypothesis that the nonverbal aspects of human evolution help us to account for the parallel artistic revolution, parallel to the evolution of language. The pressure to improve verbal and nonverbal communication, together and separate, represents the extreme evolutionary pressure on the original human beings to survive in an environment in which other animals were normally superior in every way. Since the time of the hunters and gatherers, “(t)he logician’s dream that men should communicate by unambiguous digital signals has not come true and is not likely to.” (412) Bateson would certainly oppose the common use of the popular metaphor of the “software of the mind” in defining culture in the discipline of intercultural communication. I infer from this that the use of it metaphors is not the right path for intercultural training; they constrict, rather than widen, the organism’s total experience of itself and the environment. (There is also an implied critique e.g. of the overuse of emails, which excludes the nonverbal, in contemporary communications.)
Both Hall and Bateson were trained as cultural anthropologists; their training involved the traditional emphasis on participatory observation as the key to understanding especially nonverbal, tacitly acquired culture. If we substitute the more general term inquiry, which is Dewey’s contribution, for participatory observation, then we have a basis for a triangular dialogue between Bateson (systems and communication), Hall (intercultural communication) and Dewey (Pragmatism). In his theory of inquiry Dewey assumes that it is a total body/mind phenomenon; it is broadly understood, broad enough, for example, to connect up religion, art, science and any daily-life experience, all of which are fallible explorations, tempered by inquiry. Inquiry as exploration includes practicing perceptual acuity and recognizing patterns and metapatterns (ex. ecosystems). Perception (including all the senses), the motoric and proprioception, together with already acquired tacit knowledge, still do not cover the whole experience and situation. There is always something not covered by the map which needs further inquiry and exploration.
7 Bateson’s Aesthetics as Mind in Nature and Pragmatism’s Aesthetics as Experience
When Bateson emphasizes the recognition of the pattern that connects, he means the perception of mind (mentating Gestalts) in nature. Mind in nature, when recognized, for example, as symmetry or asymmetry in an open, organic system, is that which makes nature beautiful and sacred. The whole ecosystem of life is imbibed with the mental and the perception of this is beautiful; if the system is being destroyed, e.g. mainly by human intervention, then it becomes ugly. Bateson equated ugly with mechanical, dichotomized control, which he thought was a deeper assumption of mainstream science and society during the time of his writing (post-World War ii). Most experience lies in between the extremes of beauty and disgust but the experience of the extremes, I maintain, solidify embodied value.
Bateson believes mind and nature or mind and body are a unity and recognition of this unity means recognition of the pattern which connects—which implies the experience of beauty.
He does not, however, really tell us how to experience it. What can we do concretely to recognize the pattern? Trainers are especially interested in this last question. I may experience the beauty of a performance in ballet but I may not recognize all the techniques, methods, practice, rules and work that went into making this performance possible. What do I have to do to become a ballet dancer or at least to appreciate more what went into the performance? Whatever the answer, it is specifically related to the performance of ballet; perceiving the whole pattern means all the past preconditions, the anticipation of a future whole, the total context of the performance, the formation on the dancer’s sense of a part and the whole ritual (with orchestra, audience, choreographer, building, etc.). In terms of my own experience as a trainer in Intercultural Communication and Dialogue, I already often have to start with the established training methods being heavy on language and thought; they are sometimes open to use of body work, art or music, but if a trainer moves in that direction, she does not have a theory to follow her. The ideas of the pragmatist philosophers and of Bateson are my candidates to help us expand our horizons to include the body in our training and coaching and to fill this theoretical gap or blind spot. For example, a workshop can spend 90% of the time talking about intercultural competence but hardly a minute on performance (which has to include the body). Companies, in my experience, have spent much too much time and money on developing measuring tools in order to select the competent from the incompetent. Such tools may be intended for self-assessment in the best tradition of personal development in psychology but inevitably many companies use them to select and reward. Coaching—which is usually confidential—with the goal of improving performance has helped to balance out the overemphasis on competence in terms of abstract criteria.
Bateson’s examples of systems (alcoholic cycle) and the use of paradoxes (double binds) are beautifully thought-out. The alcoholic cycle as an analysis, using communication as a basic category, is beautiful as an analysis, as a part of a map. The rest of the map would include the total planning and thinking that goes into creating it. To have a deeper understanding of alcoholism we need to include all aspects of each alcoholic’s experience, his body and mind, biology, feelings, history, and social context of a problem in a situation, a problem which the alcoholic can overcome with the help of others in a particular ritual developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (aa). The part of the map, the ritual of aa, is only a part of a whole experience (territory) of an alcoholic; nevertheless, a successful analysis and a ritual which works, can be a beauty in itself; it just has to fit into the wider experience of a problematic situation which the alcoholic finds himself in. And this problematic situation always includes the alcoholic’s organism and environment, his body and mind.
The search for a system in the form of vicious or virtuous cycles is a worthy search in ic or dialogue workshops concerning organizational development. In order to achieve this, the organization, who is a customer, needs to be open to giving lots of information, something they are not likely to do. In the area of coaching the search for relevant patterns of behavior, thinking and feeling is more useful; coaching is an area which is close to therapy, even though it has to remain more superficial, e.g. for moral and legal reasons. A coach, however, has to know the exact borderline between coaching and therapy. Body work can go very deep and as a result body exercises have to be carefully chosen which are oriented toward joy, play and acceptance. Exercises which can easily lead to the deeper levels of fear and anger are to be left to the therapists who are better trained to handle the situation.
Aesthetics of mind, in which mind is understood as interactive Gestalts, is possible. Aesthetically perceived (beautiful or ugly) objects, processes and relationships are the result of our embodied perceptual skills and (usually) tacit knowledge performing in the foreground. The total experience or perception, however, also includes the background (ex. the picture frame, the wall and the light) until we reach (to use James’ vocabulary, Krueger 2007, 80 and James 1983, 256) its fringe—which is usually not clear. As the fringe approaches clarity then the perception is already moving toward abstraction and thought. In other words, as the experience arrives at a consummation, conceptualizing and languaging as a habit or an option can become more prominent.
Using Dewey’s vocabulary, an aesthetics of the mind/body would involve an experience in situations, something like the following: We are able to pivot back and forth between part and whole or foreground (beautiful thought or language) and background (the rest of the organism and the environment, including duration). The fringe of the experience can be shifting along with the pivoting. By doing this the organism tries to coordinate the experience with the environment, thereby, facilitating beauty or ugliness (or the many shades in between). This may be mutual: The environment from its side may also be trying to coordinate the experience. Sometimes we are struck by the beauty as if it were coming from the outside.
Bateson’s focus on aesthetics as well as his awareness of the starting point of the necessary unity of the organism and environment are confirmed in his next book Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979), especially in his introduction. By starting with the unity of mind and nature or organism and environment, Bateson in this work edges close to the Pragmatist tradition.
Bateson (mn 6) has great hope in the human race because of this aesthetic dimension. “There seems to be something like a Gresham’s law of cultural evolution according to which the oversimplified ideas will always displace the sophisticated and the vulgar and the hateful will always displace the beautiful. And yet the beautiful persists.” This reminds me of the Pragmatist tradition which assumes that Heraclitus’ river, in spite of its constant changing and unpredictability of the currents, still retains its continuity as a river. (Remember also James’ analogy of the birds flying and perching. The perchings are momentary and seem static but they are just parts of a continuous flux.) (1983/1890, 236)
Rather, they would meet the primrose with recognition and empathy. By aesthetic, I mean responsive to the pattern which connects.” How Peter Bly perceives the world in his simplistic, objective way is what Dewey called recognition; what Bateson meant by the aesthetic bias of his students is what Dewey meant by perception. Perception takes time, work and patience to increase intelligent discernment and action; recognition does not and therefore often misses the mark.
A Primrose by the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him;
And it was nothing more.
Bateson’s respect for the mystical tradition is demonstrated, e.g. by referring to the “world as a grain of sand”. (sem 306) In other words the dispositional unity of part and whole becomes more prominent than a world of things or facts in our common, stressful, everyday experience, again, what Dewey called recognition (as opposed to perception). Ecology, aesthetics and part/whole relations are closely connected for Bateson. The view that the whole is in the part (the world in a grain of sand) is also the connecting point not only to the mystical tradition but also to chaos theory (ex. fractals) (Gleick 1987, 83–118), holographics and at least one theory of organizational development. (Morgan 2006, Ch. 4)
This part/whole relationship can be connected up with his views on alcoholism as well (sem 332); in effect, when the alcoholic gives up his power over alcohol and places his fate in a greater power. The reified self of the alcoholic, through letting go (negative feedback) of it, letting it become dispersed in the broader whole interaction, can become alive and heal. This experience some would say is religious; it could also be considered aesthetic because the ritual, when it works, is beautiful.
The aesthetic questions for Bateson (mn 13) when confronted with any organism are “how are you related to this creature? What pattern connects you to it?” This pattern which connects is “a dance of interacting parts ….” In Mind and Nature (88–89) he speaks also of “rhythmic patterns” and “aesthetic experience” together in the same breath. (A theory of rhythm was developed by Dewey and supplemented by Hall. Here is an obvious convergence.)
Bateson (mn 19) bemoans what he thinks is present day human beings’ lack of belief that the “larger whole is primarily beautiful.” The rising interest in ecology, however, shows that there is “an impulse still in the human breast to unify and thereby sanctify the total natural world, of which we are.” This “ultimate unity is aesthetic”.
Bateson was concerned with how the mind can produce such beauty (as well as pathology) and at the same time presupposing that it is interactively distributed as patterns or Gestalts throughout the organism and environment. This is understandable if we accept his use of the word idea as an interactive Gestalt. Such a Gestalt includes the organism and environment as a dynamic unity.
As a trainer of intercultural communication, I need to know how to select experiential exercises which simulate situations in an organization. In one of the few commentaries about Bateson’s views on ecological aesthetics, Peter Harries-Jones (2005, 72) refers to the last part of Sacred Unity and to Angel’s Fear and discovers that Bateson did indeed try to account for both the perceptual and the conceptual aspects of the mind when experiencing aesthetics. By the perceptual aspect Harries-Jones means the “perceptual acuity in recognizing a difference between beauty and ugliness” and the conceptual aspect refers to the “observer’s knowledge of pattern of disease, and disruption.” Exercises highlighting perceptual acuity and coordinated with tacit knowledge can be helpful. Harries-Jones, in my view, is moving in the right direction of expanding experience. Feelings, proprioception, balance and the motoric would have to be added as possible highlights or options for mastering a situation.
In Pragmatics of Human Communication, a work which Bateson did not approve of and which has also influenced present-day systems and ic training considerably, his students, Watzlawick, Bavelas and Jackson (1963) neglected this aspect of perceptual acuity, the body and aesthetics. I assume that Aesthetics and the body as experience are the key to experiencing value and, as a consequence of this neglect, systems as a form of training was already moving backward, having to explain value intellectually in hindsight, if at all. Aesthetics, instead of moving up a few notches on the priority list, as also Gadamer supported, was again left in the cellar. Bateson, in contrast, tried to integrate aesthetics and embodiment, organism and environment, into the whole from the very beginning of his analyses, as did Dewey in Art as Experience.
In a little known work by Mildred Reed Hall and Edward Hall (1975), The Fourth Dimension in Architecture, the authors also assumed the priority of aesthetics in the case study of the building of the new headquarters of John Deer in Moline, Illinois, in the early 1960s. The ceo at that time had to face stiff resistance but he recruited the best architect and landscapist he could find on the world market and as a result made history in the aesthetics of corporate landscapes (See also Mozingo 211, 119–136). Normally Hall is known in ic as the founder of the study of personal space in intercultural communication. (This is applied today in the area of sales and negotiations in business organizations.) On closer reading, however, among other aspects of cultural space, he mentioned “semifixed-feature” (ex. interior decoration and gardening) and “fixed-feature space” (ex. buildings) as significant aspects of communication and organizational culture (1966, Ch. 9) Aesthetics was implicitly of major concern for Edward and Mildred Hall. In his Forward to this little book, Edward Hall recalls “(it) was 37 years ago that I saw … Deer & Co. headquarters for the first time. I can still remember it as though it were yesterday. I was overwhelmed with awe.” (4) There is no reason why there should not be more emphasis on cultural and aesthetic space and sense of place in our present-day ic training. This presupposes however that aesthetics is defined broadly as aesthetics of experience, not just as specialized areas of the arts. This broad and necessary—necessary for value—experience is what Dewey, James and Bateson tried to convey. This also presupposes that the study of intercultural time would be kept close to the study of intercultural space; one way of keeping them united is to focus on both in situations and contexts. Such a focus Hall also understood; situation, context and intercultural space and time were extremely important areas of concern for him.
In my reading of Sacred Unity (1991, 254–255), I found some interesting ideas which show considerable commensurability of Bateson with Pragmatism. First, Bateson announced the need for a theory of action. The Pragmatists (especially Dewey and George Herbert Mead) gave primary attention to the question of action, interaction, and transaction. Second, in reviewing the ideas presented at a previous conference, he pointed out that “there is some sort of opposition between verbal understanding and that more total and nonverbal understanding which is necessary for transfer of learning.” In support of his discussion of Steps (see the above) the implication that the nonverbal communication is closer to the broader territory than the verbal is suggestive of Edward Hall’s assumption of the priority of the nonverbal, especially in understanding Bateson’s idea of the double bind. The organism/environment is the broader category and this has a right to specification on its own terms, which in most animals are nonverbal and contextual.
Third, Bateson proposed that the “total organism … is used as a metaphor.” The Pragmatists would agree with the emphasis on the organism and add that the organism is not only a metaphor. And if we understand Bateson’s use of metaphor as an interactive Gestalt, then there is even a closer convergence with Pragmatism. The experience of the organism can be unmediated, according to Dewey and James. The organism, however, from a biological point of view—and this would support Bateson—probably cannot, simply because the somatic processes mediate our behavior. Most of these processes are unconscious which eventually can be made conscious and others are not. (E.g. I do not experience directly my immune system doing its selection work and never will; however, I may experience it indirectly through inference from a rise in my body temperature.)
James, like Bateson, also had a great interest in the mystical tradition but more likely channeled through the generics of pure experience and religious experience. At least one Japanese philosopher in the early 20th Century, Kitaro Nishida, was influenced by James’ idea of pure experience (without any mediation). (Nishida—and I would add Bateson—were also influenced by Zen.) (Krueger 2007).
James has been well received by religious readers by expressing his openness to religious experience as a serious object of study; this was clearly manifested in his work Varieties of Religious Experience (1958). In his understanding of religious, social and political pluralism, which implies a loose relationship between the map and the territory, he evidently wanted to reserve judgement and keep open the possibility of different kinds of experience, even if they first appear as irrational, emotional and nonscientific.
This concern for pluralist difference, very strong as political concerns of both Dewey and James, could only be placed in the American historical context of the Suffragist movement, the founding of the naacp, the planning and creating of the Harlem Renaissance, along with the second great immigration wave in the us from the 1890s to the 1920s, as new challenges of immigrants from eastern (Jewish and Catholic) and southern (Catholic) Europe made their presence felt shockingly in a very “Protestant” America. The parallels to the present refugee and economic migrant crisis on a world scale should remind us of the importance of the need for good pluralist theory. Especially James influenced pluralist theory immensely, at least in this American historical context.
Bateson was not so much concerned with the aches and pains of a pluralist society struggling toward integration; he was worried about the dangers of atomic war and the destruction of the environment. Society needed an urgent change of direction based on the experience of nature as an aesthetic, mentating whole and this living, beautiful and disgusting whole should be integrated into ecology.
For James and for Dewey experience is central; Bateson hardly ever uses the word. In his analysis of the double bind, he uses the word more often but it never becomes a central category as it is in the Pragmatist tradition. He is more likely to use the word “observation” or “belief”, the latter of which in the Pragmatist tradition, follows experience.
Observation, probably derived from his anthropological training (participatory observation), reflects a bias in favor of the visual search for meaning, truth and beauty. Even if it also includes the audio aspect of experience, it does not include touch, smell, taste, balance, proprioception, and feelings. It also does not include James’ experience of the deep felt sense, for example, of words and thoughts. The primary experience for James is always qualitative and active; quantification is not the opposite; it has its own quality or deep felt sense.
If we are serious about dialoging with the neurologists and other biologists, we need the more inclusive words perception and action/transaction. These words as maps cover best the total cross-modal experience involving vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, balance, proprioception and feelings. Even better is the addition of the term “sensorimotor system” which would include the overt action of the body. The producer of the aesthetic experience, e.g. in dancing or sports, involves the mind, the senses and body movement at the same time. Also, if a dancer or an athlete suddenly loses a sense of balance because of a concussion, or if they suddenly get a stomach ache (proprioception), there will most likely be serious problems in their performance. Balance and proprioception are easily forgotten in our discussions of experience and the senses.
The producer or initiator of the aesthetic experience, who is also perceiving, is just as important as the perceiver, who is also co-producing it. Both perceiving and producing are action or interaction in the broad sense. Both are involved in communication and performance as a process and as an act in a situation. Knowledge gives the confidence that these actions can be repeated. Feelings give amplitude as vibrations accompanying the process of experiencing. Situations and contexts are constructed based on the principle of searching or finding oneself in a common space and time with other organisms and the rest of the perceived environment. Information, according to Bateson, is always based on difference; the difference that makes the difference implies a value; there is something relevant on a higher pattern level, on the level of a broader whole. There is a danger, however, of reifying the recognition of difference as being separate from and superior to the recognition of similarity. True, discrimination is the main perception and conception process but without a context or a situation it is worthless. Context and situations imply similarity. The degree of participation in creating the situation or how helpless an organism is in its creation—the Gestapo come knocking at my door.—is related to the question of power.
Harries-Jones, as I cited before, insinuated to his systems colleagues that they should follow Bateson’s lead and practice developing perceptual acuity to improve the likelihood of discerning beauty and ugliness or disgust. Thought and language, of course, should remain; tacit knowledge is competence, but competence is not performance. Both potentiality (competence, tacit knowledge) and interaction (performance, coordination, breathing, here and now) belong together also as an organic unity, according to Dewey (1960, 237). Harries-Jones’ ideas of perceptual acuity of beauty and knowledge of ugliness are quite commensurable with Dewey’s distinction. In this interaction/performance which includes in the perceptual acuity or discernment of the here and now, the performer has to be in good contact with her breathing, centering her body, with perception and proprioception, her feelings and body movement, strength, will, etc. If the knowledge is truly tacit, she does not have to do a lot of thinking; it is more a total mind/body performance in social interaction with other organisms. Tacit knowledge implies that we are so adept at using the map that we do not need it anymore. To set the map to the side means to let go of our attachment to it. This is very similar to the practice of suspension of judgement in the Dialogue Process (Gerard and Ellinor 2001, 7). The person practicing this skill first recognizes her own judging (including feelings) as it is experienced, followed by a gentle setting it to the side; “envision picking it up and placing it at some distance from yourself.” The judgements or feelings are not stopped; this is not possible. They are just momentarily suspended, like hanging one’s jacket a hook. In my experience, when this happens something in my body also changes; I may feel fear; it may lead to exhaustion, simply because it is so “unnatural” for me not to continue to finish my response in a deeply, habitual way. Dialogue is hard work when we contradict (negative feedback) our “natural”, deeply ethnocentric responses (ex. tendency to blame).
Dewey is interested in the aesthetic experience; Bateson’s focus on recognizing the pattern which connects would be a cognitive, aesthetic experience (ex. the symmetry or homology of the anatomies of some animals), which is distributed in the organism and environment. Of course, the use of the word cognitive needs to be a bit modified for Bateson because it is closer to a pattern or Gestalt of interaction. The aesthetic experience and ecology, according to Bateson, had to be brought together urgently and this urgency implied political urgency in a struggle against the military-industrial complex and the destruction of the environment.
The path of aesthetics as an embodied experience can also be manifested in any life situation; this was developed again and again in Dewey’s Art as Experience (1934), which, according to Alexander (1987), is the most advanced of Dewey’s thinking. Of course, minds, ideas and maps can be beautiful but so can moving, skilled human bodies (athletes, dancers, acrobats, jugglers, clowns, divers, etc.) as well as swift animals (the running cheetah, the swimming dolphin, swarms of birds, etc.), less swift plants (flowers, trees, etc.), all of which are embedded in environments (ex. a seashore or sunset)—which again can be beautiful or ugly. Any act or performance of various durations (ranging from the here and now of the wink of an eye to the time it took to build the pyramids) can be successful and beautiful (for example, communicating, loving, empathizing, making peace, being compassionate, dancing, playing the violin, playing basketball, etc.); and of course the opposite is always possible; these also can be ugly, pathological, disgusting, boring, “out of sync”, etc.
The difference does make the difference, to use Bateson’s famous phrase, but shared, common context completes the organic whole of difference and similarity. The pragmatist point of view is similar. It is the experience, action or interaction that makes the difference in situations so that organisms can move toward and maintain equilibrium. The basic units in life are situations of the living, experiencing organisms. Some situations, such as the total destruction of our ecosystem, are more important than others; the particular situation during and after World War ii was of main concern to Bateson.
Bateson adds a contribution in moving to the level of systems in which the reflexivity of the perceiver is on a third level. The first level (Learning i) is the habituation, rote learning in “contexts of instrumental reward and instrumental avoidance.” (sem 287–288). The second level (Learning ii) is to recognize the deeper assumptions and implies a “change in the process of Learning i; e.g. a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which a choice is made ….” (293) And the third level, Learning iii, implies a “corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which a choice is made.” (293) This level is “difficult and rare,” according to Bateson (sem 301) One can find hints of it when William Blake proposes that “without contraries is no progression.” (in sem 303) The purpose of Learning iii is to “throw … unexamined premises open to question and change experience.” (303) One grasps one’s own participation in a wider system of assumptions and relations (a family, an alcoholic cycle in expanding contexts and wholes). It is on this Level iii that I see the broadest understanding of reflexivity. In the Dialogue Process it is called “observe the observer”; this requires a slowing down of our thinking and feeling processes (Hartkemeyer, Hartkemeyer and Dhority 1999, 94); this kind of reflexivity should include our checking our awareness of all of our bodily reactions “mit Urteilen, Kritik, Zorn, Furcht und automatisierten Reflex-Reaktionen …,” followed by trying to recognize a wider system. And any wider system can be experienced as aesthetic, either beautiful (ex. a sunset) or pathological (ex. alcoholic in his vicious cycle). Bateson thinks that on this level of reflexivity and learning, as in Zen, the “concept of ‘self’ will no longer function as a nodal argument in the punctuation of experience.” (sem 304)
Much of communication can be explained as the transfer of information but not all of it. Take, for example, empathy. The first spontaneous phase of empathy is, according to De Waal (2009, 48), emotional contagion. Two animals are so closely mapped in their mutual behavior that when one baby cries the other babies cry. When one dog barks, they all bark. One human yawns, a gorilla yawns. (Contagion can also move across species lines.) When one bird flies up, the whole flock flies up. When there is a picture in the media of a refugee child lying dead on a beach, common feelings of shock, sadness and pain are communicated to the world, as if it were everyone’s own child. Compassion is contagious, unless the person has frozen his fear and resentment. The next phases of empathy (imagining the other parents’ situation and, if necessary, moving into the problem solving mode) probably can be explained with the vocabulary of information and communication, the way Bateson understands them—but not necessarily the first phase. Bateson’s theory of communication cannot account for this first contagious phase. Notice however that the language of the map has reappeared; it has become a process called mapping, in this case, the mutual mapping of bodies, minds, selves, emotions, and behavior which help the group members interact and adapt to a situation. The maps mutually map each other’s territories so that at least for a short time the difference between our bodies and minds nearly disappear. The similarity of the context or situation for the two or more communicating organisms predominates, even if it is only for a split second, after which the imagining of each other’s situation and thinking in a problem solving mode take over.
Also, from the perspective of neurology, Damasio (2010, 18) states that the “brain maps the world around it and maps its own doings. Those maps are experienced as images in our minds, and the term image refers not just to the visual kind but to images of any sense origin such as auditory, visceral, tactile, and so forth.” Here there is no prejudice against the other senses. An image is not just visual; maps are not just visual and even though the word observation may be more of an active, methodical visual competence, it is still too narrow, when one considers the total experience of the organism. A conversation is also too narrow even though it includes a speaker and a listener. My experience of myself and another person or animal may be a beautiful silence or we may wrestle with a lot of joyful body contact and testing of our strength. Nonverbal communication and context are often more pronounced in experience than words and thoughts.
Maps and images can be beautiful and so can the mind and nature. The beauty of the mind is extended into nature, which as a whole can be perceived as beautiful or ugly. This is my understanding of Bateson and he, of course, was mainly concerned with the patterns that connect in nature and with how this aesthetic experience of the mind embedded in nature can be integrated into ecology.
Dewey was very similar but he made the aesthetics of experience the broader category and argued that the mind/body/environment as transaction in scientific or artistic activity, in nearly any daily-life situation can serve as the occasion for the aesthetic experience of the whole.
“It would then be seen that science is an art, that art is practice, and that the only distinction worth drawing is not between practice and theory, but between those modes of practice that are not intelligent, not inherently and immediately enjoyable, and those which are full of enjoyed meanings. When this perception dawns, it will be commonplace that art—the mode of activity that is charged with meanings capable of immediately enjoyed possession—is the complete culmination of nature, and that ‘science’ is properly a handmaiden that conducts natural events to this happy issue. Thus would disappear the separations that trouble present thinking: division of everything into nature and experience, of experience into practice and theory, art and science, of art into useful and fine, menial and free.” (Dewey 1958, 358; also in Alexander 1987, 277)
This quote does not raise the arts up one level in an inclusive relationship toward scientific activity. Rather, science as a handmaiden points to a very intimate relationship between science, art and the community—with more emphasis on similarity than on difference. Dewey is more interested in the creative, exploratory, fallible, emancipatory aspects of both science, art and daily life. At the same time there is a controlling, materialistic, applicatory, technological side to both—not just to science as it is normally understood. Of course, the artist needs her technique and materials. What would an artist do if she didn’t know much about the canvas, the paints and how to mix them—her medium? What would a scientist do without any sense of creativity in finally arriving at a beautifully designed experiment or hypothesis? “The quintessence of the scientific attitude for Dewey was not to be found in its results nor in its tendencies toward reductionist thinking. Rather it was to be found in the cooperative spirit of exploration, creative speculation connected with practical action ….” (Alexander 1987, 276) What really binds the arts, sciences and everyday life together is experience and the most memorable, value-producing experience is beauty or ugliness of the whole. The community issue on this level of experience then becomes how to facilitate the beauty and how to protect against ugliness (ex. environmental destruction). Framed in situations, experience in any aspect of life can be aesthetic. Bateson may use a bit different vocabulary (communication and belief instead of experience, context instead of situation, the sacred) but I do not consider these differences as serious hurdles to dialogue with Dewey, James and Hall.
A sense of the imperative can follow aesthetic experience. In fact, leaning on Kant’s moral imperative, Steier and Jorgenson (2003, 130), who clearly come from the discussions of systems, propose that we should consider an ethical imperative and an aesthetic imperative. The ethical imperative is to “act so as to always increase the number of choices”. The aesthetic imperative is: “If you want to learn how to see, learn how to act.”
Steier and Jorgenson are applying these imperatives to the observation and construction of frames. How can we keep the frames loose? By generating diversity of choices or scenarios. How can we keep from mistaking the map for the territory? By understanding that learning how to act is learning how to perceive (perceptual acuity). A good map is good tacit knowledge and has a teleological aspect; it is meant to help the organism act. Perceptual acuity (interaction) and tacit knowledge (potentiality) are both needed for intelligent action or communication.
There is truly a basis for a dialogue between the Pragmatists and those working on Bateson’s ideas and systems. The fostering of practicing perceptual and proprioceptual acuity, in addition to knowledge (tacit or otherwise), which is built on the past, is the first real indication that we can now make contact with those trainers who develop experiential exercises and heuristics for their workshops. If in the training process we as a group can construct a system, e.g. for our organization or our family, all the better. It also seems fairly obvious that we can connect up with the meditation tradition (ex. through breathing and the body) in the broad sense (e.g. Alexander Technique, Zen, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, Judo) as well as with the dialogue between East and West.
Without perceptual acuity, I maintain, there will be no aesthetic experience and without aesthetic or religious experience (including the experience of love and compassion) there is little basis for belief (a major category for Bateson) and the overt action of creating imperatives and ethics. From a Pragmatist point of view first comes the experience, followed by the will to believe, creating an imperative. An attempt at the construction of ethical maxims can follow. James and Dewey start with experience, including all the senses, proprioception, balance, emotions/feelings and overt action in the sensorimotor system; this is something biologists can work with (e.g. Damasio 1999, 2010 and Edelman 2000, 2006). Conception and languaging come with the further abstracting process of the mind—which is also embodied.
Whether one starts with the aesthetics of experience or the religious experience, which has to be in some way also aesthetic, Dewey, James, Bateson and Gadamer all implicitly or explicitly advocate the placing of aesthetics in the broadest sense high on the priority list in search of meaning and value. The main reason, I maintain, is that of all the areas of theory and philosophy aesthetics is the most easily argued as embodied (e.g. dancing, sports, paralanguage, a beautiful sunset, etc.). The next step is to open it up to all experience and not constrict it to the arts.
Bateson believes in focusing on the relationship of the percept to the territory and to other percepts, on the relationship between concepts and other concepts, between words and other words, between messages and other messages; such relationships are based on difference and are embedded in cultural systems and the interaction of daily life. Contexts are what we share in the communication process. Actually, difference and commonality, therefore, are both united in the whole in a recursive process. Hall, from intercultural communication, tries to balance difference in verbal and nonverbal communication with the context as a common space/time for the participants from different cultures.
A major implication from Dewey’s philosophy is that we need to start with the experiencing, interacting organism and the environment as an organic unity, rather than with language and thought. Language is included in communication and both are included in the whole situational experience as the languaging, communicating organism. Communication would place the verbal, nonverbal (including silence) and context on the same level of appreciation, as Edward Hall (1959, 1966, 1976, 1983), the founder of intercultural communication as a discipline, strived to do in his works. Following Pragmatist and ecological assumptions, all language, thought and messages are embodied in a process, even though as abstractions they give the impression of being static. By starting here, we make a direct connection to ecology and broaden communication and context rather than awkwardly try to encompass them by stretching language to cover the territory (ex. through metaphor, conversation and speech acts). Of course, stretching language creatively to cover and involve different, unique aspects of the territory in a systematic way, can certainly be powerful and beautiful. This is what novelists, storytellers, poets and journalists do, if they are successful. But it should go without saying that creative writing or storytelling are only two areas of the arts. What about dancing, instrumental music, or almost any aspect of daily life, e.g. an exceptional athlete in an exceptional moment or when a Grandpa or Grandma read a story to their grandchild in a memorable moment of love, etc. etc.?
The organic unity of the organism and the environment and body and mind—in the sense of a disposition which we can influence—should be the starting point of ecology. We can then move to the mind and ask how it is distributed beyond itself into the body and into the social, cultural and biological interaction with the environment. As the philosopher Joel Krueger (2010) might ask, how is cognition extended and thereby fully embedded in social interaction? Then the switch: We can explore how interaction with the environment is distributed in my mind and body. The background assumption of unity or continuity, however, remains intact, for Bateson, Dewey and James.
Bateson’s focus on the recognition of patterns, special patterns that connect, of interactive Gestalts as building blocks of the mind, is one of his major contributions to our understanding of nature and science. Aesthetic value puts value as an experience back into the one-sided objectivity of science. It brings life into ecology. Such patterns are perceived as difference which humans then consciously or unconsciously judge as relevant (the difference that makes the difference). Another emphasis of Bateson is that every experience has to have a context. Context, I maintain, which also includes time and duration of the experience, is always commonly shared in communication; it is co-created on the basis of similarity. Bateson needs this emphasis on shared context just as Dewey needs the emphasis on shared situation. Shared contexts or situations, however, do not imply complete freedom to create or co-create them. These can be coerced; contexts and situations can be forced upon organisms and therefore, coupled with double binds, can lead to pathology. Out of the contraries and contradictions of life Learning iii may be the highest level of systemic learning or it can be pathological.
There seems to be one differing assumption between Bateson and Dewey/James. Bateson evidently does not assume the possibility of immediate knowledge. Dewey and James would agree but they also assume there is the possibility of direct experience. Any percept which abstracts to the point of perceiving something out there is of course already mediated, but only because through deep habit the “out there” has already been abstracted. James’ and the meditation tradition’s focus on breathing leads to the possibility of experiencing the unity of inside and outside the body.
In spite of this difference of assumptions between Bateson and Dewey/James, their ideas are for the most part commensurable. Bateson is dealing with the ecology and aesthetics of the mind, the mind being distributed in the interaction with the environment. Dewey and James start from the perspective of experience of the organism embedded in the situation and therefore the environment; the aesthetic and moral experience and interaction together with conceptual and practical knowledge, e.g. of ugliness, lead to the political urgency which is also found in Bateson. In spite of this urgency, assertions or attempts at reduction which are inferred from experience are, to use Dewey’s vocabulary, fallible and tempered with inquiry.
Finally, the question remains how this discussion can be related to our ic and dp training and teaching.
- 1.First, by expanding experience into the area of the whole organism and environment, reflexivity also expands beyond the narrow cognitive view. In the Dialogue Process this expansion relates especially to two skills: suspension of judgement and observe the observer. Our bodies/minds have deep reactive habits and blind spots. Slowing down the process and listening or being aware of everything going on in one’s body and mind can only improve reflexivity. Listening is also not just narrow listening for content; it is an attempt at total awareness of the situation or context.
- 2.The aesthetic experience, which necessarily includes the body/mind and organism/environment, deserves high appreciation on the part of training or teaching situations. As a major source of value it is already embedded in Bateson’s and Dewey’s theories, especially Dewey’s because his view of the aesthetic experience fits well into his broader theory of experience and the situation. The alternative is that we plan, develop strategies and act first; afterwards we justify these by referring to values based on our traditional rational, utilitarian or moral imperative approaches. Ethical injunctions are simply planted in front of the performer; the performer is simply asked to accept them.
- 3.The aesthetic experience can also help to bridge the sciences, the arts and everyday life. For training purposes we have more options as a result.
- 4.Both Edward Hall and William James seemed to be moving in the direction of aesthetics later in their lives. For ic especially, this means we need to go back to the works of Hall and take them more seriously. In terms of Bateson, the systems trainers and researchers should be careful not to forget his emphasis on aesthetics and perceptual acuity and how these relate to ecology. Watzlawick apparently has already forgotten this and his work is often more influential on the development of training methods than Bateson himself. Dewey also has suffered from many misunderstandings; the reasons are many, but the main point is that his work deserves a reexamination. His ideas are again making their way into serious discussions about epistemology and aesthetics; he is no longer simply an education department icon. In short, let’s all go back and check the roots of our disciplines again.
- 5.As the body, experience and consciousness reappear on our horizons, the need for interdisciplinary cooperation will appear in our training and teaching. Combinations of co-training and co-teaching will appear in different formations (ex. systems person and a musician or music therapist; ic trainer and a Feldenkrais teacher; a Dialogue Process trainer and a choreographer/dancer; a teacher of Alexander technique, an ic trainer and dp trainer; a medical doctor and a Zen master dealing with cancer patients, etc. Notice how the many options open up space and time to many variations and opportunities for creativity. This expansion of options means also that teams become more important. Only teams can handle diversity of disciplines and shades of emphasis on body or mind. Only teams can deal with difficult situations and contexts that individuals and groups find themselves in. The recognition of a system in such situations and contexts can be of immense value and potency.
- 6.The line between training/coaching/teaching, on the one hand, and therapy, on the other, remains firm but communication across the line can be improved. Often the experience in therapy is more intense and usually deeper than in training/coaching/teaching. Deeper experience is not always a pleasant experience and consequently the area of therapy has to be respected.
- 7.As was clear in Bateson, be careful with the computer metaphors, they are digital and this means they tend to constrict rather than expand our mapping of reality. An example in ic is the understanding of culture as a “software of the mind”. Implicitly the hardware would be the brain and biology in terms of determinisms. The latest research on the brain tells us just the opposite, that the brain and nervous system are much more flexible and plastic than we ever imagined. According to Edelman (2006, 104–105), the founder of neuro-evolutionary theory, “(u)nlike the requirement that an error must be removed from a computer program, …, the likelihood of error must be tolerated even in the normal individual if the brain is to confront novelty in an adaptive fashion.”
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Hans Georg Gadamer (1994, 101–110) also discusses the seriousness of play and games. Here is a paraphrasing by Gondin (2000, 59): “Das Spielen bedeutet nicht einen Rückzug des Spielers auf das Innenreich seiner ungebundenen Freiheit, es ist vielmehr ein Sichbeugen vor einer überragenden Wirklichkeit, die ihren entfesselnden Ernst hat.” “Sichbeugen” und “eine überragende Wirklichkeit” are very close to Bateson’s idea of the sacred and the pattern that connects.