Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Flaw in Gregory Bateson's Otherwise Brilliant Ecology of Mind

OK, so I don't mean that Bateson is flawed, but rather that his thinking and therefore his writing is flawed. The flaws are with cybernetics (no surprise there - I'd already adverted to that surmise) and with brain, each of which resolve to the same flaw. 

And look here, I'm not meaning to suggest that I am remotely qualified as a critic. My role, here and in life, is not to specialize to such extent as my betters have, but rather to seek out possibilities for not just hope, but for a direction of effort toward the Earth's persistence. That direction, I am convinced, will have to be away from rewarding principally those who toy with money and corporate AI power. It will have to move back toward what is holistically human, which would mean to be of a piece with the entire cosmos. We are still so stuck in dualism, and the banishment of any and all knowledge which doesn't begin and end with the quantifiable extension of materialism.

Now I have to confess that I just took a long pause to listen to a talk given by Gerald Edelman some time ago at the nearby Chautauqua Institution. Edelman does all of my dirty work for me and more, quite simply by his demolition of our likelihood to understand, much less to decode, the workings of the human mind. Sure, he's still brain-centric, like Bateson is, but in his case, he doesn't distinguish the brain from the body, and his measurement of mind is of a scale with how many subatomic particles exist in our cosmos. This is based on numbers of possible interconnections in a single brain, though he goes well beyond that simple measure.

Sure it is true that I can't approach the brilliance of either man. It's also true that I don't have the capacity to sit still and listen to a lecture, though I surely could have and would have were I in that audience that day way way back in 2003, before the man died. 

And I can't afford to go on a drive for the purpose of listening, though I know for a fact that driving works for me. So, instead, I decided to mend my moccasins. These aren't made to be mended - they're machine-made in some struggling country, and carry the brand name of Hush Puppies. I got them on steep discount. I could just toss them out, but in answer to my well-off brother-in-law's comment that it's interesting that my scant income is precisely equal to my outflow (he didn't seem to consider that this is the result of my finely calibrated economic decision-making), no I couldn't.

For one thing, I've already invested a repair in them, which was the unravelling of the main lace holding the top to the sole. I have a collection of thread, but somehow lost my store of needles, even knowing where I last had stowed them. While listening, I searched again, hopelessly and with predictable result. So I dabbed the thick thread with some glue, just simply to avoid the waste of a gas-powered trip out to the sewing hobby store on the other side of town, and managed to thread the two-sizes-too-small needle. 

Then there is the problem of pushing and pulling. I have these devices on the sailboat, but it's a lousy day and my main project is to cover the boat. So I find that I can pull the needle with the sleeve end of some rubber gloves for grip (don't touch the fingers, where I could not abide a hole), and a chunk of wood to push, and by the time the talk was finished I'd both repaired my moccasins again, and listened to the whole lecture. 


I hope that this is the very opposite of the "creative destruction" which powers our economy just now. Perhaps we'll even return to handmade repairable everything, certainly because we might have to but also because we might want to. Despite my mildly sore fingers, I found the entire process quite enjoyable in its way. I shall never again be internally judgey about women who knit at meetings.

I have also had some success talking my well-off brother-in-law down from his pride in the good luck of working for Microsoft in the early days when they were in high dudgeon destroying their betters for the sake of their own still everlasting success, leading us to believe that there is indeed only one way to do some particular thing. 

The brain is plastic, as we know, but also evolves in ways unique to every single individual. Edelman got his Nobel prize for identifying the evolutionary processes of our immune system, which led to his understanding of the evolutionary processes of neural interconnectivity.

My own conviction is that the structure of the human mind allows this jiu-jitsu transformation of our 'life-force' to come about in a virtual instant, once the need to do so has been universally recognized. The time is looming and near, isn't it?

Cybernetics for Bateson and for us, is that aspect of reality which is lodged in the mind. There is no actual circle, being the most common example, from Plato. Logic another, which Bateson critically distinguishes from causal processes; the error not to do so being strangely common. His error is to suppose first, that the brain is digital (something about the firing on/off nature of neurons), and second that digital can be embodied, in a computer, say, or a brain. Logic processors are as unnatural as a circle.

Bateson's idea [sic] of cybernetics involves coding, which to my mind, is but another way to say that the brain contains replicas - that it replicates - the world outside. That is, to me, logically and causally impossible. I might say that the brain whirls and swirls and mimes with the world "outside," and even that just because it is not outside at all. 

The main burden of Bateson's shift from materialism to ecology is to identify structural identities as these pervade cosmos. Inside/outside are meaningless distinctions without first distinguishing object from field, organism from environment. Such distinguishing, while natural and therefore trivial, is not the same as dividing. Any more than quanta in physics can be divided.

Ideas are not ideas unless they are common to the point of being universal. They therefore cannot be contained in any mind, but constitute the whole, in a way, of a kind of logical universe. They can be deductively derived, viz Plato, with no real learning engaged. In Bateson's terms, they can be reduced to tautology. Which is to say that the necessary learning had to have occurred before any realization of any idea

Realization here of an idea is not the same as reification, which is what Bateson does when he places ideas in the brain. Nevermind Penrose's scheme of quantum relatable tubules, which is still a search for mechanism and transmission which is precisely what quantum physics is not about. The computer is detached, while the brain is embedded and in touch. Transmission of ideas is of a piece with gravity changing the topology of space. 

Batson cannot have been aware of the extent to which we are made up of genetically mediated "other" organisms and their detritus, quite apart from the stuff which carries our own genetic signature. Gene cataloguing and quantifying hadn't been accomplished as he wrote. 

Autoimmune and immune-related diseases might make a kind of accelerator for change which is not directly attributable to the stochastic processes of canonical evolution. Fecal transplant makes an interesting case, as does the cocktail treatments for AIDS.

As I watch my granddaughter grow, I am astonished by how long and how painstaking the transition is from latent to fully conscious human. At just a year, she is already capable to identify picture cards and to change her pronunciation of the words they represent when I say them. But it will be a long way yet before we're having a conversation about ideas.

I remarked in my immediately prior post that we don't need to relinquish consciousness in order to continue our evolution. It's not only the sudden, if not surprising, appearance of Covid19 which might transform us no matter how skilled we are at cybernetically adapting to our changed environment. It must also be the changes to the weather, and to the nature of driving and communicating long-distance. 

When you hop into an autonomous vehicle you are also relinquishing the very thing which made driving cars so compelling. Inside you resemble more the worm of a Mexican jumping bean than you do a human. You are utterly cut off, and perhaps you wish to be. Not so different, really, from driving an AI to do your homework.

Well why wouldn't you if the economy is debasing the whole idea of a liberal education, because it doesn't pay. Like all things elevated, liberal derives from free men, just as high art derives from aristocracy. But you won't internalize a single idea nor masterpiece without a liberal education. A liberal education is the basis for all the rest. 

Now I'm not big on ideas as ends in themselves. I don't think that the inception of a work of art is ever an idea, just as evolution depends on random processes for its creative resolutions. But it is hard to construct a house, say, to extend your range among twisting and turning ecosystems, without some geometric sense about fitting things together. 

Speaking of which, just as we are hurtling in the direction of autonomous vehicles (think hurtling toward Mars, which would be to extricate ourselves from the ecosystem which informs and becomes us) we also hurtle away from houses and cars which are accessible to the mechanics we require to service them. All will be cookie cutter, like the most primitive Super Mario context. 

Mechanics have already become merest menials, subservient to their hedge-fund overlords because that's the way we think the economy has to work. Everything flowing to the top, we still do believe that humans qua humanity as we live it right now are the apex, the top, the culmination of the Great Chain of Being. We are the merited, God's favorite and we must not kill an unborn child because to do so would be to invade, dirty, and disgrace the Handiwork of God as He carries out his plan for Nature. 

What a muddled mess. Those people won't even abide a simple law to help avoid our killing one another, yet somehow latent humans are more valuable to God because, well I don't know, because Father said so?

Whatever God is, He has no hands. No identity. Is an idea outside of history; both natural history and humanity-composed history, which is never just the facts, maam. God is Love and not a designer. We are not apart from God since our minds partake in God. Macrocosm/Microcosm or . . .

Whatever else evolution is, it moves in Love's direction (not at Love's direction). Autonomous digital anything is a reach which exceeds its grasp. Nip it in the bud or live in eternal regret. 

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