Organism plus Environment

From: Bateson, G. (2000), Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

What sort of a thing is this, which we call "organism plus environment"?

Let us go back to the original statement for which Korzybski is most famous - the statement that the map is not the territory... It all starts, I suppose, with the Pythagoreans versus their predecessors, and the argument took the shape of "Do you ask what it's made of - earth, fire, water etc?" Or do you ask, "What is its pattern?" (p.455)

"What is it in the territory that gets onto the map?" We know the territory does not get onto the map. That is the central point about which we here are all agreed. Now, if the territory were uniform, nothing would get onto the map except its boundaries, which are the points at which it ceases to be uniform against some larger matrix. What gets onto the map, in fact, is difference, be it a difference in altitude, a difference in vegetation, a difference in population structure, difference in surface, or whatever. Differences are the things that get onto a map.

A difference is a very peculiar and obscure concept. It is certainly not a thing or an event. This piece of paper is different than the wood of this lectern. There are many differences between them - of colour, texture, shape, etc... Of this infinitude, we select a very limited number which become information. In fact, what we mean by information - the elementary unit of information - is a difference which makes a difference (pp.457-459).

From: Bateson, G., 1978, 'Afterword', in J. Brockman (Ed.) About Bateson, London: Wildwood House pp. 244-245

Finally, let me try to give you an idea of what it felt like, or what sort of difference it made, for me to view the world in terms of the epistemology that I have described to you, instead of viewing it as I used to and as I believe most people always do.

First of all, let me stress what happens when one becomes aware that there is much that is our own contribution to our own perception. Of course I am no more aware of the processes of my own perception than anybody else is. But I am aware that there are such processes, and this awareness means that when I look out through my eyes and see the redwoods or the yellow flowering acacia of California roadsides, I know that I am doing all sorts of things to my percept in order to make sense of that percept. Of course I always did this, and everybody does it. We work hard to make sense, according to our epistemology, of the world which we think we see.

Whoever creates an image of an object does so in depth, using various cues for that creation. But most people are not aware that they do this, and as you become aware that you are doing it, you become in a curious way much closer to the world around you. The word "objective" becomes, of course, quite quietly obsolete; and at the same time the word "subjective", which normally confines "you" within your skin, disappears as well. It is, I think, the debunking of the objective that is the important change. The world is no longer "out there" in quite the same way that it used to seem to be. Without being fully conscious or thinking about it all the time, I still know all the time that my images - especially the visual, but also auditory, gustatory, pain, and fatigue - I know the images are " mine" and that I am responsible for these images in a quite peculiar way. It is as if they are all in some degree hallucinated, as indeed they partly are. The shower of impulses coming in over the optic nerve surely contains no picture. The picture is to be developed, to be created, by the intertwining of all these neural messages. And the brain that can do this must be pretty smart. It's my brain. But everybody's brain - any mammalian brain - can do it, I guess.

I have the use of the information that that which I see, the images, or that which I feel as pain, the prick of a pin, or the ache of a tired muscle - for these, too, are images created in their respective modes - that all this is neither objective truth nor is it all hallucination. There is a combining or marriage between an objectivity that is passive to the outside world and a creative subjectivity, neither pure solipsism nor its opposite.

Consider for a moment the phrase, the opposite of solipsism. In solipsism, you are ultimately isolated and alone, isolated by the premise "I make it all up." But at the other extreme, the opposite of solipsism, you would cease to exist, becoming nothing but a metaphoric feather blown by the winds of external "reality". (But in that region there are no metaphors!) Somewhere between these two is a region where you are partly blown by the winds of reality and partly an artist creating a composite out of the inner and outer events.

[Observing Systems] [PME25]

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