That's French for "the ancient system," as in the ancient system of feudal privileges and the exercise of autocratic power over the peasants. The ancien regime never goes away, like vampires and dinosaur bones they are always hidden in the earth, exercising a mysterious influence. It is not paranoia to believe that the elites scheme against the common man. Inform yourself about their schemes here.


Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:50 am

by Gregory Bateson
© 1972, 1987 by Jason Aronson, Inc.




Table of Contents:

• Inside Front Cover
• 1971 Preface, Mark Engel
• 1987 Preface, Mary Catherine Bateson
• Foreword
• Introduction
• Part I: Metalogues
o Metaloque: Why Do Things Get in a Muddle?
o Metalogue: Why Do Frenchmen?
o Metalogue: About Games and Being Serious
o Metalogue: How Much Do You Know?
o Metalogue: Why Do Things Have Outlines?
o Metalogue: Why a Swan?
o Metaloque: What Is an Instinct?
• Part II: Form and Pattern in Anthropology
o Culture Contact and Schismogenesis
o Experiments in Thinking about Observed Ethnological Material
o Morale and National Character
 Differences Which We May Expect Between National Groups
 Alternatives to Bipolarity
 Symmetrical Motifs
 Combinations of Motifs
 National Character and American Morale
o Bali: The Value System of a Steady State
 “Ethos” and “Schismogenesis”
 Balinese Character
 Balinese Ethos
 Applications of the Von Neumannian Game
 Schismogenic System versus the Steady State
o Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art
 Introduction
 Style and Meaning
 Primary Process
 Quantitative Limits of Consciousness
 Qualitative Limits of Consciousness
 The Corrective Nature of Art
 Analysis of Balinese Painting
 Composition
o Comment on Part II
• Part III: Form and Pathology in Relationship
o Social Planning and the Concept of Deutero-Learning
o A Theory of Play and Fantasy
o Epidemiology of a Schizophrenia
o Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia
 The Base in Communications Theory
 The Double Bind
 The Effect of the Double Bind
 A Description of the Family Situation
 Illustrations from Clinical Data
 Current Position and Future Prospects
 Therapeutic Implications of this Hypothesis
 Additional References
o The Group Dynamics of Schizophrenia
o Minimal Requirements for a Theory of Schizophrenia
 Learning, Genetics, and Evolution
 Genetic Problems Posed by Double Bind Theory
 What Is Man?
o Double Bind, 1969
o The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication
 The Theory of Logical Types
 The “Learning” of Computers, Rats, and Men
 Learning I
 Learning II
 Learning III
 The Role of Genetics in Psychology
 A Note on Hierarchies
o The Cybernetics of “Self”: A Theory of Alcoholism
 The Problem
 Sobriety
 Epistemology and Ontology
 The Epistemology of Cybernetics
 Alcoholic “Pride”
 Pride and Symmetry
 Pride or Inverted Proof?
 The Drunken State
 Hitting Bottom
 The Theology of Alcoholics Anonymous
 The Epistemological Status of Complementary and Symmetrical Premises
 Limitations of the Hypothesis
o Comment on Part III
• Part IV: Biology and Evolution
o On Empty-Headedness Among Biologists and State Boards of Education
o The Role of Somatic Change in Evolution
 Summary
o Problems in Cetacean and Other Mammalian Communication
 The Communication of Preverbal Mammals
 Methodological Considerations
 Communication About Relationship
 Analogic versus Digital Communication
 Research Plans
 Comments
o A Re-examination of “Bateson’s Rule”
 Introduction
 The Problem Redefined
 Supernumerary Double Legs in Coleoptera
 Reduplicated Limbs in Amphibia
 Summary
 Postscript, 1971
o Comment on Part IV
• Part V: Epistemology and Ecology
o Cybernetic Explanation
o Redundancy and Coding
o Conscious Purpose versus Nature
o Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation
o Form, Substance, and Difference
o Comment on Part V
• Part VI: Crisis in the Ecology of Mind
o From Versailles to Cybernetics
o Pathologies of Epistemology
o The Roots of Ecological Crisis
o Ecology and Flexibility in Urban Civilizations
 “A High Civilization”
 Flexibility
 The Distribution of Flexibility
 The Flexibility of Ideas
 Exercise of Flexibility
 The Transmission of Theory
o The Published Work of Gregory Bateson
 Books, Reviews and Articles
 Films
• Index

That the population explosion is the single most important problem facing the world today. As long as population continues to increase, we must expect the continuous creation of new threats to survival, perhaps at a rate of one per year, until we reach the ultimate condition of famine (which Hawaii is in no position to face). We offer no solution here to the population explosion, but we note that every solution which we can imagine is made difficult or impossible by the thinking and attitudes of Occidental culture.

(7) That the very first requirement for ecological stability is a balance between the rates of birth and death. For better or for worse, we have tampered with the death rate, especially by controlling the major epidemic diseases and the death of infants. Always, in any living (i.e., ecological) system, every increasing imbalance will generate its own limiting factors as side effects of the increasing imbalance. In the present instance, we begin to know some of Nature’s ways of correcting the imbalance—smog, pollution, DDT poisoning, industrial wastes, famine, atomic fallout, and war. But the imbalance has gone so far that we cannot trust Nature not to overcorrect.

That the ideas which dominate our civilization at the present time date in their most virulent form from the Industrial Revolution. They may be summarized as: ... It’s the individual (or the individual company, or the individual nation) that matters.


I suggest then that a healthy ecology of human civilization would be defined somewhat as follows: A single system of environment combined with high human civilization in which the flexibility of the civilization shall match that of the environment to create an ongoing complex system, open-ended for slow change of even basic (hard-programmed) characteristics.


A “high” civilization shall be limited in its transactions with environment. It shall consume unreplaceable natural resources only as a means to facilitate necessary change (as a chrysalis in metamorphosis must live on its fat). For the rest, the metabolism of the civilization must depend upon the energy income which Spaceship Earth derives from the sun. In this connection, great technical advance is necessary. With present technology, it is probable that the world could only maintain a small fraction of its present human population, using as energy sources only photosynthesis, wind, tide, and water power.

-- Steps to An Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology, by Gregory Bateson
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:54 am

Inside Front Cover

Balinese Painting (Ida Bagus Djati Sura; Batuan, 1937) [Analysis, p. 147]



The reprinting of Gregory Bateson's classic work, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, is an important publishing event making his thought more accessible to new readers and a broader public. The volume contains almost everything that he wrote, with the exception of books and lengthy or ephemeral items. The title precisely defines the contents. These essays, written over thirty-five years, combine to propose a new way of thinking about ideas and about those aggregates of ideas that Bateson terms minds. This book builds a bridge between the facts of life and behavior and what we know about the nature of pattern and order.

The questions raised by Bateson are ecological: Is there some sort of natural selection that determines the survival of some ideas and the extinction or death of others? What sort of economics limits the multiplicity of ideas in a given region of mind? What are the necessary conditions for stability (or survival) of such a system or subsystem?

The main thrust of the book is to clear the way so that such questions can be asked in a meaningful way.

Bateson is concerned with four sorts of subject matter: anthropology, psychiatry, biological evolution and genetics, and the new epistemology from systems theory and ecology. This book addresses Bateson's thesis that in scientific research one starts from two beginnings, each with its own authority: the observations cannot be denied, and the fundamentals must be fitted. This reflects Bateson's basic concern that the vast majority of the concepts of contemporary fields of investigation are totally detached from the network of scientific fundamentals.

This book speaks for itself. Readers will come back again and again to its timely, poignant insights and message.

About the Author

Gregory Bateson, son of pioneer geneticist William Bateson, studied biology and natural history at Cambridge University, where he received his master's degree in anthropology. His work spanned many fields, from anthropology, cybernetics, and communications theory, to his studies of alcoholism and schizophrenia at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, California. His major contributions to psychiatry include the "double-bind" hypothesis, which describes how some individuals who receive contradictory messages of love and rejection from their parents may become schizophrenic. Dr. Bateson's classic works include Naven, a study of New Guinea natives, Balinese Character, a collaboration with Margaret Mead, and Mind and Nature.

Jacket design by Nancy Bonaldi

Back Cover

"Steps to an Ecology of Mind belongs in the library of every educated person; it is quite simply a foundation work providing an intellectual structure on which clinicians, evolutionists, cyberneticians, and social scientists of all persuasions have built. Twenty-five years after its original publication it still tingles with excitement and refreshing new ideas -- and will continue to do so for years to come. My coming to this book is as a family therapist, and it is fair to say that Bateson the epistemologist continues to energize new ways of thought in my field... From opening metalogue to closing essay on ecology and flexibility and urban civilization Bateson, our fellow human, shines through: serious and playful, ethical and rigorous, always the powerful intellect at work, always the close observer of starfish, otter, dolphin, schizophrenics, and the State Board of Education of California. Those of us who have read and reread his works over the years continue to be refreshed and enchanted." -- Donald Bloch, M.D.

"Testimony of the transition period between Gregory Bateson's anthropologic and psychiatric work -- Naven and Balinese Character, and Communication -- and his broader epistemological platform -- Mind and Nature and Angels Fear -- Steps to an Ecology of Mind contains a broad scope of the fundamental contributions of this scientist, including the seminal papers of the 'double bind' project and the first series of enchanting Metalogues. Philosophical depth, conceptual rigor, and an uncanny scientific imagination are the hallmarks of this invaluable collection by one of the most influential minds of this century." -- Carlos E. Sluzki, M.D., Chairman, Department of Psychiatry, Berkshire Medical Center

"At the time many of the essays in Steps to an Ecology of Mind became available, family therapy was only a gleam in the creative, collective mind of Bateson's 1950s research group on communication in Palo Alto ... At some point, a small but momentous step was made: the group shifted from studying the speech of schizophrenics on their own to studying the discourse within their families. For the first time, a connection was made between the symptoms shown by an individual and the relationship context in which he or she was embedded .... This book is beautifully written, and Bateson is for me the same kind of poet philosopher as William Blake or Thomas Browne. I have been suffering with my one paperback copy, brown at the edges and beginning to get crisp, and this is not the sort of work that one wants in a form that cannot stand constant use. I applaud the decision of the publishers to bring out a sturdy hardback form with all my heart." -- Lynn Hoffman, A.C.S.W.
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:55 am


I have been one of Gregory Bateson’s students for three years and I was able to help him select the essays which are here brought together for the first time in one volume. I believe that this is a very important book, not only for those who are professionally concerned with the behavioral sciences, biology, and philosophy, but also and especially for those of my generation — the generation born since Hiroshima—who are searching for a better understanding of themselves and their world.

The central idea in this book is that we create the world that we perceive, not because there is no reality outside our heads (the Indochinese war is wrong, we are destroying our ecosystem and therefore ourselves, whether we believe it or not), but because we select and edit the reality we see to conform to our beliefs about what sort of world we live in. The man who believes that the resources of the world are infinite, for example, or that if something is good for you then the more of it the better, will not be able to see his errors, because he will not look for evidence of them.

For a man to change his basic, perception-determining beliefs — what Bateson calls his epistemological premises—he must first become aware that reality is not necessarily as he believes it to be. This is not an easy or comfortable thing to learn, and most men in history have probably been able to avoid thinking about it. And I am not convinced that the unexamined life is never worth leading. But sometimes the dissonance between reality and false beliefs reaches a point when it becomes impossible to avoid the awareness that the world no longer makes sense. Only then is it possible for the mind to consider radically different ideas and perceptions.

Specifically, it is clear that our cultural mind has come to such a point. But there is danger as well as possibility in our situation. There is no guarantee that the new ideas will be an improvement over the old. Nor can we hope that the change will be smooth.

Already there are psychic casualties of the culture change. The psychedelics are a powerful educational tool. They are the surest way to learn the arbitrariness of our ordinary perception. Many of us have had to use them to find out how little we knew. Too many of us have become lost in the labyrinth, have decided that if reality doesn’t mean what we thought it did then there is no meaning in it at all. I know that place. I have been lost there myself. As far as I know, there are only two ways out.

One is religious conversion. (I tried Taoism. Others are choosing various versions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Christianity. And such times always produce a host of self-proclaimed messiahs. Also, a few of those who study radical ideologies do so for religious rather than political reasons.) This solution may satisfy some, although there is always the danger of satanism. But I think that those who choose ready-made systems of belief lose the chance to do some truly creative thinking, and perhaps nothing less will save us.

This second way out—thinking things through and taking as little as possible on faith— is the more difficult. Intellectual activity — from science to poetry—has a bad reputation in my generation. The blame falls on our so-called educational system, which seems designed to prevent its victims from learning to think, while telling them that thinking is what you do when you study a textbook. Also, to learn to think, you must have a teacher who can think. The low level of what passes for thinking among most of the American academic community can perhaps only be appreciated by contrast with a man like Gregory Bateson, but it’s bad enough to cause many of our best minds to give up looking for better.

But the essence of all our problems is bad thinking, and the’ only medicine for that is better thinking. This book is a sample of the best thinking I’ve found. I commend it to you, my brothers and sisters of the new culture, in the hope that it will help us on our journey.

—Mark Engel Honolulu, Hawaii April 16, 1971
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:55 am


Gregory Bateson was fond of quoting Heracleitus: “Into the same river no man can step twice,” particularly in his later work, in which he was trying to define the nature of the interface between the realm of mind and physical reality, and to discuss the way in which mental process establishes landmarks or thresholds, meanings and definitions in the world of flux. But a book is like a river, not in the simple sense of water flowing by, but because the intellectual context, like the reader, changes steadily. Whether one is reading it for the first time or returning after a lapse of years, Steps to an Ecology of Mind is today not the same book as it was when first published some fifteen years ago, and for most readers its impact should be greater. We have changed and the broad intellectual climate has changed. It would not be fair to say that this is the more important publication, but it is certainly more accessible. The increased accessibility of Gregory’s thought today has come about largely because of the steady influence of these essays and other writers drawing on them in the interval, and because, after recognizing the unity of this collection, Gregory himself was able to write at a more general level.

The work of Gregory Bateson has been widely read during this intervening period. Ever year now I hear of two or three conferences focused on some aspect of his thought, sometimes within a single discipline, sometimes across a wider range, and his name crops up more and more often. Even more significantly, many of the ideas that were most important to him have become familiar notions that we feel at home with. He was one of a group of thinkers working toward an understanding of communications, of the importance of self-regulating systems, and the causal role of ideas, messages, differences. This has made him a central figure in the growing appreciation of the importance of looking at events and messages in context and looking at systems holistically, whether we are concerned with the health of the human body/mind or the biosphere. The importance of epistemology is more and more widely understood. At the same time, much of this familiarity is illusory. Strange or unsettling ideas are dealt with as the oyster deals with the bit of grit, packaged in soothing ways, smoothed over. The risk for a reader of Gregory Bateson in 1972 was that he or she would too readily say, “This doesn’t make sense. It’s too obscure for me.” The risk today is the premature claim of understanding, the premature application.

I have had two surprising experiences going back over these articles: The first was the discovery of how many of the ideas that seemed important in his later work were already here, although few will have grasped them completely on first encounter. The second is how much more still awaits discovery in these articles for one who has become accustomed to Gregory’s thought. Working with Gregory and writing about him, wrestling together with new ideas. as they came along, I am probably as much at home here as any of his students and colleagues, and yet the rereading remains a discovery. Most of the pieces in this volume are tight, intense, abstract arguments, that Gregory and others labored to “unpack” over the intervening years; and still there are surprises hidden within them that become visible as the reader comes to move freely in the text.

Frequently , during his career, as his Introduction indicates, Gregory felt as if he were speaking and writing in a foreign language. People did not simply agree or disagree with him; they were bewildered or intoxicated. Mark Engels, in his 1971 Preface, recognized the analogy between the “mind expanding” experiences of drugs and religious conversion and the kinds of intellectual change that could be achieved by a pervasive reshaping of patterns of thought. In retrospect it strikes me that intoxication and conversion were common responses even to these abstract and difficult pieces—responses in which a fraction of the argument was carried on a tide of intuitive affirmation. Today, however, it is becoming increasingly possible to come to grips with Gregory’s thinking, to select, affirm, contest, question. Throughout his life, he treasured the relationships in which he found opportunities for intellectual grappling that went beyond admiration adulation; critical reading is essential.

This new edition, then, invites readers into an encounter with the work of Gregory Bateson that was only available to a few when the collection first appeared. My advice to readers would be to hang on to the challenge as well as the affirmation. We have not as a civilization achieved those epistemological shifts that may some day enable nuclear disarmament, ecological responsibility, and new approaches to both education and healing that will value and enhance the complexity of persons in their familial and social setting. In these and in Gregory’s later books (Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Dutton 1979, and, jointly with me, Angels Fear: Toward an Epistemology of the Sacred, Macmillan, 1987) the intellectual tools are offered. Today they will come more readily to hand, be easier to balance and handle in a disciplined manner than they were in the early 1970s, be more accessible to practice and skill. But still there remains the challenge of using the tools in such a way that they become a part of the user. And still the tasks for which these tools have been shaped largely remain to be done, more urgent today than ever.

—Mary Catherine Bateson Cambridge, Mass. August 1987
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:55 am


Some men seem able to go on working steadily with little success and no reassurance from outside. I am not one of these. I have needed to know that somebody else believed that my work had promise and direction, and I have often been surprised that others had faith in me when I had very little in myself. I have, at times, even tried to shrug off the responsibility which their continued faith imposed on me by thinking, “But they don’t really know what I am doing. How can they know when I myself do not?”

My first anthropological field work among the Baining of New Britain was a failure, and I had a period of partial failure in research with dolphins. Neither of these failures has ever been held against me.

I therefore have to thank many people and institutions for backing me, at times when I did not consider myself a good bet.

First, I have to thank the Council of Fellows of St. John’s College, Cambridge, who elected me to a Fellowship immediately after my failure among the Baining.

Next, in chronological order, I owe a deep debt to Margaret Mead, who was my wife and very close co-worker in Bali and New Guinea, and who since then has continued as a friend and professional colleague.

In 1942, at a Macy Foundation conference, I met Warren McCulloch and Julian Bigelow, who were then talking excitedly about “feedback.” The writing of Naven had brought me to the very edge of what later became cybernetics, but I lacked the concept of negative feedback. When I returned from overseas after the war, I went to Frank Fremont-Smith of the Macy Foundation to ask for a conference on this then mysterious matter. Frank said that he had just arranged such a conference with McCulloch as chairman. It thus happened that I was privileged to be a member of the famous Macy Conferences on Cybernetics. My debt to Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Evelyn Hutchinson, and other members of these conferences is evident in everything that I have written since World War II.

In my first attempts to synthesize cybernetic ideas with anthropological data, I had the benefit of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

In the period of my entry into the psychiatric field, it was Jurgen Ruesch, with whom I worked in the Langley Porter Clinic, who initiated me into many of the curious features of the psychiatric world.

From 1949 to 1962, I had the title of “Ethnologist” in the Veterans Administration Hospital at Palo Alto, where I was given singular freedom to study whatever I thought interesting. I was protected from outside demands and given this freedom by the director of the hospital, Dr. John J. Prusmack.

In this period, Bernard Siegel suggested that the Stanford University Press republish my book, Naven, which had fallen flat on its face when first published in 1936; and I was lucky enough to get film footage of a sequence of play between otters in the Fleishhacker Zoo which seemed to me of such theoretical interest as to justify a small research program.

I owe my first research grant in the psychiatric field to the late Chester Barnard of the Rockefeller Foundation, who had kept a copy of Naven for some years by his bedside. This was a grant to study “the role of the Paradoxes of Abstraction in Communication.”

Under this grant, Jay Haley, John Weakland, and Bill Fry joined me to form a small research team within the V.A. Hospital.

But again there was failure. Our grant was for only two years, Chester Barnard had retired, and in the opinion of the Foundation staff we did not have enough results to justify renewal. The grant ran out, but my team loyally stayed with me without pay. The work went on, and, a few days after the end of the grant, while I was writing a desperate letter to Norbert Wiener for his advice about where to get the next grant, the double bind hypothesis fell into place.

Finally Frank Fremont-Smith and the Macy Foundation saved us.

After that there were grants from the Foundations Fund for Psychiatry and from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Gradually it appeared that for the next advances in the study of logical typing in communication I should work with animal material, and I started to work with octopus. My wife, Lois, worked with me, and for over a year we kept a dozen octopuses in our living room. This preliminary work was promising but needed to be repeated and extended under better conditions. For this no grants were available.

At this point, John Lilly came forward and invited me to be the director of his dolphin laboratory in the Virgin Islands. I worked there for about a year and became interested in the problems of cetacean communication, but I think I am not cut out to administer a laboratory dubiously funded in a place where the logistics are intolerably difficult.

It was while I was struggling with these problems that I received a Career Development Award under the National Institute of Mental Health. These awards were administered by Bert Boothe, and I owe much to his continued faith and interest.

In 1963, Taylor Pryor of the Oceanic Foundation in Hawaii invited me to work in his Oceanic Institute on cetacean and other problems of animal and human communication. It is here that I have written more than half of the present book, including the whole of Part V.

While in Hawaii, I have also been working recently with the Culture Learning Institute of the East-West Center in the University of Hawaii, and owe some theoretical insights regarding Learning III to discussions held in that Institute.

My debt to the Wenner-Gren Foundation is evident from the fact that the book contains no less than four position papers written for Wenner-Gren conferences. I wish also to thank personally Mrs. Lita Osmundsen, the Director of Research of that Foundation.

Many also have labored along the road to help me. Most of these cannot be mentioned here, but I must particularly thank Dr. Vern Carroll, who prepared the bibliography, and my secretary, Judith Van Slooten, who labored with accuracy through long hours in preparing this book for press.

Finally there is the debt that every man of science owes to the giants of the past. It is no mean comfort, at times when the next idea cannot be found and the whole enterprise seems futile, to remember that greater men have wrestled with the same problems. My personal inspiration has owed much to the men who over the last 200 years have kept alive the idea of unity between mind and body: Lamarck, the founder of evolutionary theory, miserable, old, and blind, and damned by Cuvier, who believed in Special Creation; William Blake, the poet and painter, who saw “through his eyes, not with them,” and knew more about what it is to be human than any other man; Samuel Butler, the ablest contemporary critic of Darwinian evolution and the first analyst of a schizophrenogenic family; R. G. Collingwood, the first man to recognize—and to analyze in crystalline prose—the nature of context; and William Bateson, my father, who was certainly ready in 1894 to receive the cybernetic ideas.

Selection and Arrangement of Items

The book contains almost everything that I have written, with the exception of items too long to be included, such as books and extensive analyses of data; and items too trivial or ephemeral, such as book reviews and controversial notes. A complete personal bibliography is appended.

Broadly, I have been concerned with four sorts of subject matter: anthropology, psychiatry, biological evolution and genetics, and the new epistemology which comes out of systems theory and ecology. Essays on these subjects make up Parts II, III, IV, and V of the book, and the order of these parts corresponds to the chronological order of four overlapping periods in my life in which these subjects have been central to my thinking. Within each part, the essays are in chronological order.

I recognize that readers are likely to attend most carefully to those parts of the book dealing with their particular subjects. I have therefore not edited out some repetition. The psychiatrist interested in alcoholism will encounter in “The Cybernetics of `Self’ “ ideas which appear again in more philosophic dress in “Form, Substance, and Difference.”

Oceanic Institute, Hawaii Apra 16, 1971
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:56 am


The Science of Mind and Order [1]

The title of this book of collected essays and lectures is intended precisely to define the contents. The essays, spread over thirty-five years, combine to propose a new way of thinking about ideas and about those aggregates of ideas which I call “minds.” This way of thinking I call the “ecology of mind,” or the ecology of ideas. It is a science which does not yet exist as an organized body of theory or knowledge.

But the definition of an “idea” which the essays combine to propose is much wider and more formal than is conventional. The essays must speak for themselves, but here at the beginning let me state my belief that such matters as the bilateral symmetry of an animal, the patterned arrangement of leaves in a plant, the escalation of an armaments race, the processes of courtship, the nature of play, the grammar of a sentence, the mystery of biological evolution, and the contemporary crises in man’s relationship to him environment, can only be understood in terms of such an ecology of ideas as I propose.

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 or death of others? What sort of economics limits the multiplicity of ideas in a given region of mind? What are the necessary conditions for stability (or survival) of such a system or subsystem?

Some of these questions are touched upon in the essays, but the main thrust of the book is to clear the way so that such questions can be meaningfully asked.

It was only in late 1969 that I became fully conscious of what I had been doing. With the writing of the Korzybski Lecture, “Form, Substance, and Difference,” I found that in my work with primitive peoples, schizophrenia, biological symmetry, and in my discontent with the conventional theories of evolution and learning, I had identified a widely scattered set of bench marks or points of reference from which a new scientific territory could be defined. These bench marks I have called “steps” in the title of the book.

In the nature of the case, an explorer can never know what he is exploring until it has been explored. He carries no Baedeker in his pocket, no guidebook which will tell him which churches he should visit or at which hotels he should stay. He has only the ambiguous folklore of others who have passed that way. No doubt deeper levels of the mind guide the scientist or the artist toward experiences and thoughts which are relevant to those problems which are somehow his, and this guidance seems to operate long before the scientist has any conscious knowledge of his goals. But how this happens we do not know.

I have often been impatient with colleagues who seemed unable to discern the difference between the trivial and the profound. But when students have asked me to define that difference, I have been struck dumb. I have said vaguely that any study which throws light upon the nature of “order” or “pattern” in the universe is surely nontrivial.

But this answer only begs the question.

I used to teach an informal course for psychiatric residents in the Veterans Administration Hospital at Palo Alto, trying to get them to think some of the thoughts that are in these essays. They would attend dutifully and even with intense interest to what I was saying, but every year the question would arise after three or four sessions of the class: “What is this course all about?”

I tried various answers to this question. Once I drew up a sort of catechism and offered it to the class as a sampling of the questions which I hoped they would be able to discuss after completing the course. The questions ranged from “What is a sacrament?’ to “What is entropy?” and “What is play?”

As a didactic maneuver, my cathechism was a failure: it silenced the class. But one question in it was useful:

A certain mother habitually rewards her small son with ice cream after he eats his spinach. What additional information would you need to be able to predict whether the child will: a. Come to love or hate spinach, b. Love or hate ice cream, or c. Love or hate Mother?

We devoted one or two sessions of the class to exploring the many ramifications of this question, and it became clear to me that all the needed additional information concerned the context of the mother’s and son’s behavior. In fact, the phenomenon of context and the closely related phenomenon of “meaning” defined a division between the “hard” sciences and the sort of science which I was trying to build.

Gradually I discovered that what made it difficult to tell the class what the course was about was the fact that my way of thinking was different from theirs. A clue to this difference came from one of the students. It was the first session of the class and I had talked about the cultural differences between England and America—a matter which should always be touched on when an Englishman must teach Americans about cultural anthropology. At the end of the session, one resident came up. He glanced over his shoulder to be sure that the others were all leaving, and then said rather hesitantly, “I want to ask a question.” “Yes.” “It’s—do you want us to learn what you are telling us?” I hesitated a moment, but he rushed on with, “Or is it all a sort of example, an illustration of something else?” “Yes, indeed!”

But an example of what?

And then there was, almost every year, a vague complaint which usually came to me as a rumor. It was alleged that “Bateson knows something which he does not tell you,” or “There’s something behind what Bateson says, but he never says what it is.”

Evidently I was not answering the question, “An example of what?”

In desperation, I constructed a diagram to describe what I conceive to be the task of the scientist. By use of this diagram, it became clear that a difference between my habits of thought and those of my students sprang from the fact that they were trained to think and argue inductively from data to hypotheses but never to test hypotheses against knowledge derived by deduction from the fundamentals of science or philosophy.

The diagram had three columns. On the left, I listed various sorts of uninterpreted data, such as a film record of human or animal behavior, a description of an experiment, a description or photograph of a beetle’s leg, or a recorded human utterance. I stressed the fact that “data” are not events or objects but always records or descriptions or memories of events or objects. Always there is a transformation or recoding of the raw event which intervenes between the scientist and his object. The weight of an object is measured against the weight of some other object or registered on a meter. The human voice is transformed into variable magnetizations of tape. Moreover, always and inevitably, there is a selection of data because the total universe, past and present, is not subject to observation from any given observer’s position.

In a strict sense, therefore, no data are truly “raw,” and every record has been somehow subjected to editing and transformation either by man or by his instruments.

But still the data are the most reliable source of information, and from them the scientist must start. They provide his first inspiration and to them he must later return.

In the middle column, I listed a number of imperfectly defined explanatory notions which are commonly used in the behavioral sciences—”ego,” “anxiety,” “instinct,” “purpose,” “mind,” “self,” “fixed action pattern,” “intelligence,” “stupidity,” “maturity,” and the like. For the sake of politeness, I call these “heuristic” concepts; but, in truth, most of them are so loosely derived and so mutually irrelevant that they mix together to make a sort of conceptual fog which does much to delay the progress of science.

In the right-hand column, I listed what I call “fundamentals.” These are of two kinds: propositions and systems of propositions which are truistical, and propositions or “laws” which are generally true. Among the truistical propositions I included the “Eternal Verities” of mathematics where truth is tautologically limited to the domains within which man-made sets of axioms and definitions obtain: “If numbers are appropriately defined and if the operation of addition is appropriately defined; then 5 + 7 = 12.” Among propositions which I would describe as scientifically or generally and empirically true, I would list the conservation “laws” for mass and energy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and so on. But the line between tautological truths and empirical generalizations is not sharply definable, and, among my “fundamentals,” there are many propositions whose truth no sensible man can doubt but which cannot easily be classified as either empirical or tautological. The “laws” of probability cannot be stated so as to be understood and not be believed, but it is not easy to decide whether they are empirical or tautological; and this is also true of Shannon’s theorems in Information Theory.

With the aid of such a diagram, much can be said about the whole scientific endeavor and about the position and direction of any particular piece of inquiry within it. “Explanation” is the mapping of data onto fundamentals, but the ultimate goal of science is the increase of fundamental knowledge.

Many investigators, especially in the behavioral sciences, seem to believe that scientific advance is predominantly inductive and should be inductive. In terms of the diagram, they believe that progress is made by study of the “raw” data, leading to new heuristic concepts. The heuristic concepts are then to be regarded as “working hypotheses” and tested against more data. Gradually, it is hoped, the heuristic concepts will be corrected and improved until at last they are worthy of a place in the list of fundamentals. About fifty years of work in which thousands of clever men have had their share have, in fact, produced a rich crop of several hundred heuristic concepts, but, alas, scarcely a single principle worthy of a place in the list of fundamentals.

It is all too clear that the vast majority of the concepts of contemporary psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and economics are totally detached from the network of scientific fundamentals.

Moliere, long ago, depicted an oral doctoral examination in which the learned doctors ask the candidate to state the “cause and reason” why opium puts people to sleep. The candidate triumphantly answers in dog Latin, “Because there is in it a dormitive principle (virtus dormitiva).”

Characteristically, the scientist confronts a complex interactive system—in this case, an interaction between man and opium. He observes a change in the system — the man falls asleep. The scientist then explains the change by giving a name to a fictitious “cause,” located in one or other component of the interacting system. Either the opium contains a reified dormitive principle, or the man contains a reified need for sleep, an adormitosis, which is “expressed” in his response to opium.

And, characteristically, all such hypotheses are “dormitive” in the sense that they put to sleep the “critical faculty” (another reified fictitious cause) within the scientist himself.

The state of mind or habit of thought which goes from data to dormitive hypothesis and back to data is self-reinforcing. There is, among all scientists, a high value set upon prediction, and, indeed, to be able to predict phenomena is a fine thing. But prediction is a rather poor test of an hypothesis, and this is especially true of “dormitive hypotheses.” If we assert that opium contains a dormitive principle, we can then devote a lifetime of research to studying the characteristics of this principle. Is it heat-stable? In which fraction of a distillate is it located? What is its molecular formula? And so on. Many of these questions will be answerable in the laboratory and will lead on to derivative hypotheses no less “dormitive” than that from which we started.

In fact, the multiplication of dormitive hypotheses is a symptom of excessive preference for induction, and this preference must always lead to something like the present state of the behavioral sciences— a mass of quasi-theoretical speculation unconnected with any core of fundamental knowledge.

In contrast, I try to teach students— and this collection of essays is very much concerned with trying to communicate this thesis—that in scientific research you start from two beginnings, each of which has its own kind of authority: the observations cannot be denied, and the fundamentals must be fitted. You must achieve a sort of pincers maneuver.

If you are surveying a piece of land, or mapping the stars, you have two bodies of knowledge, neither of which can be ignored. There are your own empirical measurements on the one hand and there is Euclidean geometry on the other. If these two cannot be made to fit together, then either the data are wrong or you have argued wrongly from them or you have made a major discovery leading to a revision of the whole of geometry.

The would-be behavioral scientist who knows nothing of the basic structure of science and nothing of the 3000 years of careful philosophic and humanistic thought about man — who cannot define either entropy or a sacrament —had better hold his peace rather than add to the existing jungle of half-baked hypotheses.

But the gulf between the heuristic and the fundamental is not solely due to empiricism and the inductive habit, nor even to the seductions of quick application and the faulty educational system which makes professional scientists out of men who care little for the fundamental structure of science. It is due also to the circumstance that a very large part of the fundamental structure of nineteenth-century science was inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems and phenomena which confronted the biologist and behavioral scientist.

For at least 200 years, say from the time of Newton to the late nineteenth century, the dominant preoccupation of science was with those chains of cause and effect which could be referred to forces and impacts. The mathematics available to Newton was preponderantly quantitative, and this fact, combined with the central focus upon forces and impacts, led men to measure with remarkable accuracy quantities of distance, time, matter, and energy.

As the measurements of the surveyor must jibe with Euclidean geometry, so scientific thought had to jibe with the great conservative laws. The description of any event examined by a physicist or chemist was to be founded upon budgets of mass and energy, and this rule gave a particular kind of rigor to the whole of thought in the hard sciences.

The early pioneers of behavioral science not unnaturally began their survey of behavior by desiring a similar rigorous base to guide their speculations. Length and mass were concepts which they could hardly use in describing behavior (whatever that might be), but energy seemed more handy. It was tempting to relate “energy” to already existing metaphors such as “strength” of emotions or character or “vigor.” Or to think of “energy” as somehow the opposite of “fatigue” or “apathy.” Metabolism obeys an energy budget (within the strict meaning of “energy”), and energy expended in behavior must surely be included in this budget; therefore it seemed sensible to think of energy as a determinant of behavior.

It would have been more fruitful to think of lack of energy as preventive of behavior, since in the end a starving man will cease to behave. But even this will not do: an amoeba, deprived of food, becomes for a time more active. Its energy expenditure is an inverse function of energy input.

The nineteenth-century scientists (notably Freud) who tried to establish a bridge between behavioral data and the fundamentals of physical and chemical science were, surely, correct in insisting upon the need for such a bridge but, I believe, wrong in choosing “energy” as the foundation for that bridge.

If mass and length are inappropriate for the describing of behavior, then energy is unlikely to be more appropriate. After all, energy is Mass x Velocity2, and no behavioral scientist really insists that “psychic energy” is of these dimensions.

It is necessary, therefore, to look again among the fundamentals for an appropriate set of ideas against which we can test our heuristic hypotheses.

But some will argue that the time is not yet ripe; that surely the fundamentals of science were all arrived at by inductive reasoning from experience, so we should continue with induction until we get a fundamental answer.

I believe that it is simply not true that the fundamentals of science began in induction from experience, and I suggest that in the search for a bridgehead among the fundamentals we should go back to the very beginnings of scientific and philosophic thought; certainly to a period before science, philosophy, and religion had become separate activities separately pursued by professionals in separate disciplines.

Consider, for example, the central origin myth of Judaeo-Christian peoples. What are the fundamental philosophic and scientific problems with which this myth is concerned?

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

Authorized version

Out of these first ten verses of thunderous prose, we can draw some of the premises or fundamentals of ancient Chaldean thought and it is strange, almost eerie, to note how many of the fundamentals and problems of modern science are foreshadowed in the ancient document.

(1) The problem of the origin and nature of matter is summarily dismissed.

(2) The passage deals at length with the problem of the origin of order.

(3) A separation is thus generated between the two sorts of problem. It is possible that this separation of problems was an error, but—error or not—the separation is maintained in the fundamentals of modern science. The conservative laws for matter and energy are still separate from the laws of order, negative entropy, and information.

(4) Orde is seen as a matter of sorting and dividing. But the essential notion in all sorting is that some difference shall cause some other difference at a later time. If we are sorting black balls from white balls, or large balls from small balls, a difference among the balls is to be followed by a difference in their location—balls of one class to one sack and balls of another class to another. For such an operation, we need something like a sieve, a threshold, or, par excellence, a sense organ. It is understandable, therefore, that a perceiving Entity should have been invoked to perform this function of creating an otherwise improbable order.

(5) Closely linked with the sorting and dividing is the mystery of classification, to be followed later by the extraordinary human achievement of naming.

It is not at all clear that the various components of this myth are all products of inductive reasoning from experience. And the matter becomes still more puzzling when this origin myth is compared with others which embody different fundamental premises.

Among the Iatmul of New Guinea, the central origin myth, like the Genesis story, deals with the question of how dry land was separated from water. They say that in the beginning the crocodile Kavwokmali paddled with his front legs and with his hind legs; and his paddling kept the mud suspended in the water. The great culture hero, Kevembuangga, came with his spear and killed Kavwokmali. After that the mud settled and dry land was formed. Kevembuangga then stamped with his foot on the dry land, i.e., he proudly demonstrated “that it was good.”

Here there is a stronger case for deriving the myth from experience combined with inductive reasoning. After all, mud does remain in suspension if randomly stirred and does settle when the stirring ceases. Moreover, the Iatmul people live in the vast swamps of the Sepik River valley where the separation of land from water is imperfect. It is understandable that they might be interested in the differentiation of land from water.

In any case, the Iatmul have arrived at a theory of order which is almost a precise converse of that of the book of Genesis. In Iatmul thought, sorting will occur if randomization is prevented. In Genesis, an agent is invoked to do the sorting and dividing.

But both cultures alike assume a fundamental division between the problems of material creation and the problems of order and differentiation.

Returning now to the question of whether the fundamentals of science and/or philosophy were, at the primitive level, arrived at by inductive reasoning from empirical data, we find that the answer is not simple. It is difficult to see how the dichotomy between substance and form could be arrived at by inductive argument. No man, after all, has ever seen or experienced formless and unsorted matter; just as no man has ever seen or experienced a “random” event. If, therefore, the notion of a universe “without form and void” was arrived at by induction, it as by a monstrous—and perhaps erroneous — jump of extrapolation.

And even so, it is not clear that the starting point from which the primitive philosophers took off was observation. It is at least equally likely that dichotomy between form and substance was an unconscious deduction from the subject-predicate relation in the structure of primitive language. This, however, is a matter beyond the reach of useful speculation.

Be that as it may, the central—but usually not explicit — subject matter of the lectures which I used to give to psychiatric residents and of these essays is the bridge between behavioral data and the “fundamentals” of science and philosophy; and my critical comments above about the metaphoric use of “energy” in the behavioral sciences add up to a rather simple accusation of many of my colleagues, that they have tried to build the bridge to the wrong half of the ancient dichotomy between form and substance. The conservative laws for energy and matter concern substance rather than form. But mental process, ideas, communication, organization, differentiation, pattern, and so on, are matters of form rather than substance.

Within the body of fundamentals, that half which deals with form has been dramatically enriched in the last thirty years by the discoveries of cybernetics and systems theory. This book is concerned with building a bridge between the facts of life and behavior and what we know today of the nature of pattern and order.



1. This essay, written in 1971, has not been published elsewhere.
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 4:59 am

Part 1 of 2

Part I: Metalogues

DEFINITION: A metalogue is a conversation about some problematic subject. This conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject. Only some of the conversations here presented achieve this double format.

Notably, the history of evolutionary theory is inevitably a metalogue between man and nature, in which the creation and interaction of ideas must necessarily exemplify evolutionary process.

Metaloque: Why Do Things Get in a Muddle? [1]

Daughter: Daddy, why do things get in a muddle?

Father: What do you mean? Things? Muddle?

D: Well, people spend a lot of time tidying things, but they never seem to spend time muddling them. Things just seem to get in a muddle by themselves. And then people have to tidy them up again.

F: But do your things get in a muddle if you don’t touch them?

D: No—not if nobody touches them. But if you touch them—or if anybody touches them—they get in a muddle and it’s a worse muddle if it isn’t me.

F: Yes—that’s why I try to keep you from touching the things on my desk. Because my things get in a worse muddle if they are touched by somebody who isn’t me.

D: But do people always muddle other people’s things? Why do they, Daddy?

F: Now, wait a minute. It’s not so simple. First of all, what do you mean by a muddle?

D: I mean—so I can’t find things, and so it looks all muddled up. The way it is when nothing is straight

F: Well, but are you sure you mean the same thing by muddle that anybody else would mean?

D: But, Daddy, I’m sure I do—because I’m not a very tidy person and if I say things are in a muddle, then I’m sure everybody else would agree with me.

F: All right—but do you think you mean the same thing by “tidy” that. other people would? If your mummy makes your things tidy, do you know where to find them?

D: Hmm… sometimes—because, you see, I know where she puts things when she tidies up.

F: Yes, I try to keep her away from tidying my desk, too. I’m sure that she and I don’t mean the same thing by “tidy.”

D: Daddy, do you and I mean the same thing by “tidy?” F: I doubt it, my dear—I doubt it.

D: But, Daddy, isn’t that a funny thing—that everybody means the same when they say “muddled” but everybody means something different by “tidy.” But “tidy” is the opposite of “muddled,” isn’t it?

F: Now we begin to get into more difficult questions. Let’s start again from the beginning. You said “Why do things always get in a muddle?” Now we have made a step or two—and let’s change the question to “Why do things get in a state which Cathy calls ‘not tidy?’ “ Do you see why I want to make that change?

D:… Yes, I think so—because if I have a special meaning for “tidy” then some of other people’s “tidies” will look like muddles to me—even if we do agree about most of what we call muddles.

F: That’s right. Now—let’s look at what you call tidy. When your paint box is put in a tidy place, where is it? D: Here on the end of this shelf.

F: Okay—now if it were anywhere else?

D: No, that would not be tidy.

F: What about the other end of the shelf, here? Like this?

D: No, that’s not where it belongs, and anyhow it would have to be straight, not all crooked the way you put it.

F: Oh—in the right place and straight.

D: Yes.

F: Well, that means that there are only very few places which are “tidy” for your paint box.

D: Only one place—

F: No—very few places, because if I move it a little bit, like this, it is still tidy.

D: All right—but very, very few places.

F: All right, very, very few places. Now what about the teddy bear and your doll, and the Wizard of Oz and your sweater, and your shoes? It’s the same for all the things, isn’t it, that each thing has only a very, very few places which are “tidy” for that thing?

D: Yes, Daddy—but the Wizard of Oz could be anywhere on that shelf. And Daddy—do you know what? I hate, hate it when my books get all mixed up with your books and Mummy’s books.

F: Yes, I know. (Pause)

D: Daddy, you didn’t finish. Why do my things get the way I say isn’t tidy?

F: But I have finished—it’s just because there are more ways which you call “untidy” than there are ways which you call “tidy.”

D: But that isn’t a reason why.

F: But, yes, it is. And it is the real and only and very important reason.

D: Oh, Daddy! Stop it.

F: No, I’m not fooling. That is the reason, and all of science is hooked up with that reason. Let’s take another example. If I put some sand in the bottom of this cup and put some sugar on the top of it, and now stir it with a teaspoon, the sand and the sugar will get mixed up, won’t they?

D: Yes, but, Daddy, is it fair to shift over to talking about “mixed up” when we started with “muddled up?”

F: Hmm… I wonder… but I think so—Yes—because let’s say we can find somebody who thinks it is more tidy to have all the sand underneath all the sugar. And if you like I’ll say I want it that way.

D: Hmm…

F: All right—take another example. Sometimes in the movies you will see a lot of letters of the alphabet all scattered over the screen, all higgledy-piggledy and some even upside down. And then something shakes the table so that the letters start to move, and then as the shaking goes on, the letters all come together to spell the title of the film.

D: Yes, I’ve seen that—they spelled DONALD.

F: It doesn’t matter what they spelled. The point is that you saw something being shaken and stirred up and instead of getting more mixed up than before, the letters came together into an order, all right way up, and spelled a word—they made up something which a lot of people would agree is sense.

D: Yes, Daddy, but you know…

F: No, I don’t know; what I am trying to say is that in the real world things never happen that way. It’s only in the movies.

D: But, Daddy…

F: I tell you it’s only in the movies that you can shake things and they seem to take on more order and sense than they had before…

D: But, Daddy…

F: Wait till I’ve finished this time… And they make it look like that in the movies by doing the whole thing backwards. They put the letters all in order to spell DONALD and then they start the camera and then they start shaking the table.

D: Oh, Daddy—I knew that and I did so want to tell you that—and then when they run the film, they run it backwards so that it looks as though things had happened forwards. But really the shaking happened back-wards. And they have to photograph it upside down… Why do they, Daddy?

F: Oh God.

D: Why do they have to fix the camera upside down, Daddy?

F: No, I won’t answer that question now because we’re in the middle of the question about muddles.

D: Oh—all right, but don’t forget, Daddy, you’ve got to answer that question about the camera another day. Don’t forget! You won’t forget, will you, Daddy? Because I may not remember. Please, Daddy.

F: Okay—but another day. Now, where were we? Yes, about things never happening backwards. And I was trying to tell you why it is a reason for things to happen in a certain way if we can show that that way has more ways of happening than some other way.

D: Daddy—don’t begin talking nonsense.

F: I’m not talking nonsense. Let’s start again. There’s only one way of spelling DONALD. Agreed?

D: Yes.

F: All right. And there are millions and millions and millions of ways of scattering six letters on the table. Agreed?

D: Yes. I suppose so. Can some of these be upside down?

F: Yes—just in the sort of higgledy-piggledy muddle they were in in the film. But there could be millions and millions and millions of muddles like that, couldn’t there? And only one DONALD?

D: All right—yes. But, Daddy, the same letters might spell OLD DAN.

F: Never mind. The movie people don’t want them to spell OLD DAN. They only want DONALD.

D: Why do they?

F: Damn the movie people.

D: But you mentioned them first, Daddy.

F: Yes—but that was to try to tell you why things happen that way in which there are most ways of their happening. And now it’s your bedtime.

D: But, Daddy, you never did finish telling me why things happen that way—the way that has most ways.

F: All right. But don’t start any more hares running—one is quite enough. Anyhow, I am tired of DONALD, let’s take another example. Let’s take tossing pennies.

D: Daddy? Are you still talking about the same question we started with? “Why do things get in a muddle?”

F: Yes.

D: Then, Daddy, is what you are trying to say true about pennies, and about DONALD, and about sugar and sand, and about my paint box, and about pennies?

F: Yes—that’s right.

D: Oh—I was just wondering, that’s all.

F: Now, let’s see if I can get it said this time. Let’s go back to the sand and the sugar, and let’s suppose that somebody says that having the sand at the bottom is “tidy” or “orderly.”

D: Daddy, does somebody have to say something like that before you can go on to talk about how things are going to get mixed up when you stir them?

F: Yes—that’s just the point. They say what they hope will happen and then I tell them it won’t happen because there are so many other things that might happen. And I know that it is more likely that one of the many things will happen and not one of the few.

D: Daddy, you’re just an old bookmaker, backing all the other horses against the one horse that I want to bet on.

F: That’s right, my dear. I get them to bet on what they call the “tidy” way—I know that there are infinitely many muddled ways—so things will always go toward muddle and mixedness.

D: But why didn’t you say that at the beginning, Daddy? I could have understood that all right.

F: Yes, I suppose so. Anyhow, it’s now bedtime.

D: Daddy, why do grownups have wars, instead of just fighting the way children do?

F: No—bedtime. Be off with you. We’ll talk about wars another time.

Metalogue: Why Do Frenchmen? [2]

Daughter: Daddy, why do Frenchmen wave their arms about?

Father: What do you mean?

D: I mean when they talk. Why do they wave their arms and all that?

F: Well—why do you smile? Or why do you stamp your foot sometimes?

D: But that’s not the same thing, Daddy. I don’t wave my arms about like a Frenchman does. I don’t believe they can stop doing it, Daddy. Can they?

F: I don’t know—they might find it hard to stop…. Can you stop smiling?

D: But Daddy, I don’t smile all the time. It’s hard to stop when I feel like smiling. But I don’t feel like it all the time. And then I stop.

F: That’s true—but then a Frenchman doesn’t wave his arms in the same way all the time. Sometimes he waves them in one way and sometimes in another—and sometimes, I think, he stops waving them.

* * *

F: What do you think? I mean, what does it make you think when a Frenchman waves his arms?

D: I think it looks silly, Daddy. But I don’t suppose it looks like that to another Frenchman. They cannot all look silly to each other. Because if they did, they would stop it. Wouldn’t they?

F: Perhaps—but that is not a very simple question. What else do they make you think?

D: Well—they look all excited…

F: All right—”silly” and “excited.”

D: But are they really as excited as they look? If I were as excited as that, I would want to dance or sing or hit somebody on the nose … but they just go on waving their arms. They can’t be really excited.

F: Well—are they really as silly as they look to you? And anyhow, why do you sometimes want to dance and sing and punch somebody on the nose?

D: Oh. Sometimes I just feel like that.

F: Perhaps a Frenchman just feels “like that” when he waves his arms about.

D: But he couldn’t feel like that all the time, Daddy, he just couldn’t.

F: You mean—the Frenchman surely does not feel when he waves his arms exactly as you would feel if you waved yours. And surely you are right.

D: But, then, how does he feel?

F: Well—let us suppose you are talking to a Frenchman and he is waving his arms about, and then in the middle of the conversation, after something that you have said, he suddenly stops waving his arms, and just talks. What would you think then? That he had just stopped being silly and excited?

D: No… I’d be frightened. I’d think I had said something that hurt his feelings and perhaps he might be really angry.

F: Yes—and you might be right.

* * *

D: All right—so they stop waving their arms when they start being angry.

F: Wait a minute. The question, after all, is what does one Frenchman tell another Frenchman by waving his arms? And we have part of an answer—he tells him something about how he feels about the other guy. He tells him he is not seriously angry—that he is willing and able to be what you call “silly.”

D: But—no—that’s not sensible. He cannot do all that work so that later he will be able to tell the other guy that he is angry by just keeping his own arms still. How does he know that he is going to be angry later on?

F: He doesn’t know. But, just in case…

D: No, Daddy, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t smile so as to be able to tell you I am angry by not smiling later on.

F: Yes—I think that that is part of the reason for smiling. And there are lots of people who smile in order to tell you that they are not angry—when they really are.

D: But that’s different, Daddy. That’s a sort of telling lies with one’s face. Like playing poker.

F: Yes.


F: Now where are we? You don’t think it sensible for Frenchmen to work so hard to tell each other that they are not angry or hurt. But after all what is most conversation about? I mean, among Americans?

D: But, Daddy, it’s about all sorts of things—baseball and ice cream and gardens and games. And people talk about other people and about themselves and about what they got for Christmas.

F: Yes, yes—but who listens? I mean—all right, so they talk about baseball and gardens. But are they exchanging information? And, if so, what information?

D: Sure—when you come in from fishing, and I ask you “did you catch anything?” and you say “nothing,” I didn’t know that you wouldn’t catch anything till you told me.

F: Hmm.

* * *

F: All right-so you mention my fishing—a matter about which I am sensitive—and then there is a gap, a silence in the conversation—and that silence tells you that I don’t like cracks about how many fish I didn’t catch. It’s just like the Frenchman who stops waving his arms about when he is hurt.

D: I’m sorry, Daddy, but you did say…

F: No—wait a minute—let’s not get confused by being sorry—I shall go out fishing again tomorrow and I shall still know that I am unlikely to catch a fish…

D: But, Daddy, you said all conversation is only telling other people that you are not angry with them…

F: Did I? No—not all conversation, but much of it. Sometimes if both people are willing to listen carefully, it is possible to do more than exchange greetings and good wishes. Even to do more than exchange information. The two people may even find out something which neither of them knew before.

* * *

F: Anyhow, most conversations are only about whether people are angry or something. They are busy telling each other that they are friendly—which is sometimes a lie. After all, what happens when they cannot think of anything to say? They all feel uncomfortable.

D: But wouldn’t that be information, Daddy? I mean—information that they are not cross?

F: Surely, yes. But it’s a different sort of information from “the cat is on the mat.”

* * *

D: Daddy, why cannot people just say “I am not cross at you” and let it go at that?

F: Ah, now we are getting to the real problem. The point is that the messages which we exchange in gestures are really not the same as any translation of those gestures into words.

D: I don’t understand.

F: I mean—that no amount of telling somebody in mere words that one is or is not angry is the same as what one might tell them by gesture or tone of voice.

D: But, Daddy, you cannot have words without some tone of voice, can you? Even if somebody uses as little tone as he can, the other people will hear that he is holding himself back—and that will be a sort of tone, won’t it?

F: Yes—I suppose so. After all that’s what I said just now about gestures—that the Frenchman can say something special by stopping his gestures.

* * *

F: But then, what do I mean by saying that “mere words” can never convey the same message as gestures—if there are no “mere words”?

D: Well, the words might be written.

F: No—that won’t let me out of the difficulty. Because written words still have some sort of rhythm and they still have overtones. The point is that no mere words exist. There are only words with either gesture or tone of voice or something of the sort. But, of course, gestures without words are common enough.

* * *

D: Daddy, when they teach us French at school, why don’t they teach us to wave our hands?

F: I don’t know. I’m sure I don’t know. That is probably one of the reasons why people find learning languages so difficult.

* * *

F: Anyhow, it is all nonsense. I mean, the notion that language is made of words is all nonsense—and when I said that gestures could not be translated into “mere words,” I was talking nonsense, because there is no such thing as “mere words.” And all the syntax and grammar and all that stuff is nonsense. It’s all based on the idea that “mere” words exist—and there are none.

D: But, Daddy…

F: I tell you—we have to start all over again from the beginning and assume that language is first and foremost a system of gestures. Animals after all have only gestures and tones of voice—and words were invented later. Much later. And after that they invented schoolmasters.

D: Daddy?

F: Yes.

D: Would it be a good thing if people gave up words and went back to only using gestures?

F: Hmm. I don’t know. Of course we would not be able to have any conversations like this. We could only bark, or mew, and wave our arms about, and laugh and grunt and weep. But it might be fun—it would make life a sort of ballet—with dancers making their own music.

Metalogue: About Games and Being Serious [3]

Daughter: Daddy, are these conversations serious?

Father: Certainly they are.

D: They’re not a sort of game that you play with me?

F: God forbid… but they are a sort of game that we play together.

D: Then they’re not serious!

* * *

F: Suppose you tell me what you would understand by the words “serious” and a “game.”

D: Well… if you’re… I don’t know.

F: If I am what?

D: I mean… the conversations are serious for me, but if you are only playing a game…

F: Steady now. Let’s look at what is good and what is bad about “playing” and “games.” First of all, I don’t mind —not much—about winning or losing. When your questions put me in a tight spot, sure, I try a little harder to think straight and to say clearly what I mean. But I don’t bluff and I don’t set traps. There is no temptation to cheat.

D: That’s just it. It’s not serious to you. It’s a game. People who cheat just don’t know how to play. They treat a game as though it were serious.

F: But it is serious.

D: No, it isn’t—not for you it isn’t.

F: Because I don’t even want to cheat?

D: Yes—partly that.

F: But do you want to cheat and bluff all the time? D: No—of course not.

F: Well then?

D: Oh—Daddy—you’ll never understand.

F: I guess I never will.

F: Look, I scored a sort of debating point just now by forcing you to admit that you don’t want to cheat—and then I tied onto that admission the conclusion that therefore the conversations are not “serious” for you either. Was that a sort of cheating?

D: Yes—sort of.

F: I agree—I think it was. I’m sorry.

D: You see, Daddy—if I cheated or wanted to cheat, that would mean that I was not serious about the things we talk about. It would mean that I was only playing a game with you.

F: Yes, that makes sense.

* * *

D: But it doesn’t make sense, Daddy. It’s an awful muddle.

F: Yes—a muddle—but still a sort of sense.

D: How, Daddy?

* * *

F: Wait a minute. This is difficult to say. First of all—I think that we get somewhere with these conversations. I enjoy them very much and I think you do. But also, apart from that, I think that we get some ideas straight and I think that the muddles help. I mean—that if we both spoke logically all the time, we would never get anywhere. We would only parrot all the old cliches that everybody has repeated for hundreds of years.

D: What is a cliche, Daddy?

F: A cliche? It’s a French word, and I think it was originally a printer’s word. When they print a sentence they have to take the separate letters and put them one by one into a sort of grooved stick to spell out the sentence. But for words and sentences which people use often, the printer keeps little sticks of letters ready made up. And these ready-made sentences are called cliches.

D: But I’ve forgotten now what you were saying about cliches, Daddy.

F: Yes—it was about the muddles that we get into in these talks and how getting into muddles makes a sort of sense. If we didn’t get into muddles, our talks would be like playing rummy without first shuffling the cards.

D: Yes, Daddy—but what about those things—the ready-made sticks of letters?

F: The cliches? Yes—it’s the same thing. We all have lots of ready-made phrases and ideas, and the printer has ready-made sticks of letters, all sorted out into phrases. But if the printer wants to print something new—say, something in a new language, he will have to break up all that old sorting of the letters. In the same way, in order to think new thoughts or to say new things, we have to break up all our ready-made ideas and shuffle the pieces.

D: But, Daddy, the printer would not shuffle all the letters? Would he? He wouldn’t shake them all up in a bag. He would put them one by one in their places—all the a’s in one box and all the b’s in another, and all the commas in another, and so on.

F: Yes—that’s right. Otherwise he would go mad trying to find an a when he wanted it.

* * *

F: What are you thinking?

D: No—it’s only that there are so many questions. F: For example?

D: Well, I see what you mean about our getting into muddles. That that makes us say new sorts of things. But I am thinking about the printer. He has to keep all his little letters sorted out even though he breaks up all the ready-made phrases. And I am wondering’ about our muddles. Do we have to keep the little pieces of our thought in some sort of order—to keep from going mad?

F: I think so—yes—but I don’t know what sort of order. That would be a terribly hard question to answer. I don’t think we could get an answer to that question today.

* * *

F: You said there were “so many questions.” Do you have another?

D: Yes—about games and being serious. That’s what we started from, and I don’t know how or why that led us to talk about our muddles. The way you confuse everything—it’s a sort of cheating.

F: No, absolutely not.

* * *

F: You brought up two questions. And really there are a lot more… We started from the question about these conversations—are they serious? Or are they a sort of game? And you felt hurt that I might be playing a game, while you were serious. It looks as though a conversation is a game if a person takes part in it with one set of emotions or ideas—but not a “game” if his ideas or emotions are different.

D: Yes, it’s if your ideas about the conversation are different from mine…

F: If we both had the game idea, it would be all right? D: Yes—of course.

F: Then it seems to be up to me to make clear what I mean by the game idea. I know that I am serious—whatever that means—about the things that we talk about. We talk about ideas. And I know that I play with the ideas in order to understand them and fit them together. It’s “play” in the same sense that a small child “plays” with blocks… And a child with building blocks is mostly very serious about his “play.”

D: But is it a game, Daddy? Do you play against me?

F: No. I think of it as you and I playing together against the building blocks—the ideas. Sometimes competing a bit—but competing as to who can get the next idea into place. And sometimes we attack each other’s bit of building, or I will try to defend my built-up ideas from your criticism. But always in the end we are working together to build the ideas up so that they will stand.

* * *

D: Daddy, do our talks have rules? The difference between a game and just playing is that a game has rules.

F: Yes. Let me think about that. I think we do have a sort of rules… and I think a child playing with blocks has rules. The blocks themselves make a sort of rules. They will balance in certain positions and they will not balance in other positions. And it would be a sort of cheating if the child used glue to make the blocks stand up in a position from which they would otherwise fall.

D: But what rules do we have?

F: Well, the ideas that we play with bring in a sort of rules. There are rules about how ideas will stand up and support each other. And if they are wrongly put together the whole building falls down.

D: No glue, Daddy?

F: No—no glue. Only logic.

* * *

D: But you said that if we always talked logically and did not get into muddles, we could never say anything new. We could only say ready-made things. What did you call those things?

F: Cliches. Yes. Glue is what cliches are stuck together with.

D: But you said “logic,” Daddy.

F: Yes, I know. We’re in a muddle again. Only I don’t see a way out of this particular muddle.

* * *

D: How did we get into it, Daddy?

F: All right, let’s see if we can retrace our steps. We were talking about the “rules” of these conversations. And I said that the ideas that we play with have rules of logic…

D: Daddy! Wouldn’t it be a good thing if we had a few more rules and obeyed them more carefully? Then we might not get into these dreadful muddles.

F: Yes. But wait. You mean that I get us into these muddles because I cheat against rules which we don’t have. Or put it this way. That we might have rules which would stop us from getting into muddles—as long as we obeyed them.

D: Yes, Daddy, that’s what the rules of a game are for.

F: Yes, but do you want to turn these conversations into that sort of a game? I’d rather play canasta—which is fun too.

D: Yes, that’s right. We can play canasta whenever we want to. But at the moment I would rather play this game. Only I don’t know what sort of a game this is. Nor what sort of rules it has.

F: And yet we have been playing for some time.

D: Yes. And it’s been fun.

F: Yes.

* * *

F: Let’s go back to the question which you asked and which I said was too difficult to answer today. We were talking about the printer breaking up his cliches, and you said that he would still keep some sort of order among his letters—to keep from going mad. And then you asked “What sort of order should we cling to so that when we get into a muddle we do not go mad?” It seems to me that the “rules” of the game is only another name for that sort of order.

D: Yes—and cheating is what gets us into muddles.

F: In a sense, yes. That’s right. Except that the whole point of the game is that we do get into muddles, and do come out on the other side, and if there were no muddles our “game” would be like canasta or chess—and that is not how we want it to be.

D: Is it you that make the rules, Daddy? Is that fair?

F: That, daughter, is a dirty crack. And probably an unfair one. But let me accept it at face value. Yes, it is I who make the rules—after all, I do not want us to go mad.

D: All right. But, Daddy, do you also change the rules? Sometimes?

F: Hmm, another dirty crack. Yes, daughter, I change them constantly. Not all of them, but some of them.

D: I wish you’d tell me when you’re going to change them!

F: Hmm—yes—again. I wish I could. But it isn’t like that. If it were like chess or canasta, I could tell you the rules, and we could, if we wanted to, stop playing and discuss the rules. And then we could start a new game with the new rules. But what rules would hold us between the two games? While we were discussing the rules?

D: I don’t understand.

F: Yes. The point is that the purpose of these conversations is to discover the “rules.” It’s like life—a game whose purpose is to discover the rules, which rules are always changing and always undiscoverable.

D: But I don’t call that a game, Daddy.

F: Perhaps not. I would call it a game, or at any rate “play.” But it certainly is not like chess or canasta. It’s more like what kittens and puppies do. Perhaps. I don’t know.

* * *

D: Daddy, why do kittens and puppies play?

F: I don’t know—I don’t know.

Metalogue: How Much Do You Know? [4]

Daughter: Daddy, how much do you know?

Father: Me? Hmm—I have about a pound of knowledge.

D: Don’t be silly. Is it a pound sterling or a pound weight? I mean really how much do you know?

F: Well, my brain weighs about two pounds and I suppose I use about a quarter of it—or use it at about a quarter efficiency. So let’s say half a pound.

D: But do you know more than Johnny’s daddy? Do you know more than I do?

F: Hmm—I once knew a little boy in England who asked his father, “Do fathers always know more than sons?” and the father said, “Yes.” The next question was, “Daddy, who invented the steam engine?” and the father said, “James Watt.” And then the son came back with “—but why didn’t James Watt’s father invent it?”

* * *

D: I know. I know more than that boy because I know why James Watt’s father didn’t. It was because somebody else had to think of something else before anybody could make a steam engine. I mean something like—I don’t know—but there was somebody else who had to discover oil before anybody could make an engine.

F: Yes—that makes a difference. I mean, it means that knowledge is all sort of knitted together, or woven, like cloth, and each piece of knowledge is only meaningful or useful because of the other pieces—and…

D: Do you think we ought to measure it by the yard?

F: No. I don’t.

D: But that’s how we buy cloth.

F: Yes. But I didn’t mean that it is cloth. Only it’s like it—and certainly would not be flat like cloth—but in three dimensions—perhaps four dimensions.

D: What do you mean, Daddy?

F: I really don’t know, my dear. I was just trying to think.

F: I don’t think we are doing very well this morning. Suppose we start out on another tack. What we have to think about is how the pieces of knowledge are woven together. How they help each other.

D: How do they?

F: Well—it’s as if sometimes two facts get added together and all you have is just two facts. But sometimes instead of just adding they multiply—and you get four facts.

D: You cannot multiply one by one and get four. You know you can’t.

F: Oh.

* * *

F: But yes I can, too. If the things to be multiplied are pieces of knowledge or facts or something like that. Because every one of them is a double something.

D: I don’t understand.

F: Well—at least a double something.

D: Daddy!

F: Yes—take the game of Twenty Questions. You think of something. Say you think of “tomorrow.” All right. Now I ask “Is it abstract?” and you say “Yes.” Now from your “yes” I have got a double bit of information. I know that it is abstract and I know that it isn’t concrete. Or say it this way—from your “yes” I can halve the number of possibilities of what the thing can be. And that’s a multiplying by one over two.

D: Isn’t it a division?

F: Yes—it’s the same thing. I mean—all right—it’s a multiplication by.5. The important thing is that it’s not just a subtraction or an addition.

D: How do you know it isn’t?

F: How do I know it?—Well, suppose I ask another question which will halve the possibilities among the abstractions. And then another. That will have brought down the total possibilities to an eighth of what they were at the beginning. And two times two times two is eight.

D: And two and two and two is only six.

F: That’s right.

D: But, Daddy, I don’t see—what happens with Twenty Questions?

F: The point is that if I pick my questions properly I can decide between two times two times two times two twenty times over things—220 things. That’s over a million things that you might have thought of. One question is enough to decide between two things; and two questions will decide between four things—and so on.

D: I don’t like arithmetic, Daddy.

F: Yes, I know. The working it out is dull, but some of the ideas in it are amusing. Anyhow, you wanted to know how to measure knowledge, and if you start measuring things that always leads to arithmetic.

D: We haven’t measured any knowledge yet.

F: No. I know. But we have made a step or two toward knowing how we would measure it if we wanted to. And that means we are a little nearer to knowing what knowledge is.

D: That would be a funny sort of knowledge, Daddy. I mean knowing about knowledge—would we measure that sort of knowing the same way?

F: Wait a minute—I don’t know—that’s really the $64 Question on this subject. Because—well, let’s go back to the game of Twenty Questions. The point that we never mentioned is that those questions have to be in a certain order. First the wide general question and then the detailed question. And it’s only from answers to the wide questions that I know which detailed questions to ask. But we counted them all alike. I don’t know. But now you ask me if knowing about knowledge would be measured the same way as other knowledge. And the answer must surely be no. You see, if the early questions in the game tell me what questions to ask later, then they must be partly questions about knowing. They’re exploring the business of knowing.

D: Daddy—has anybody ever measured how much anybody knew.

F: Oh yes. Often. But I don’t quite know what the answers meant. They do it with examinations and tests and quizzes, but it’s like trying to find out how big a piece of paper is by throwing stones at it.

D: How do you mean?

F: I mean—if you throw stones at two pieces of paper from the same distance and you find that you hit one piece more often than the other, then probably the one that you hit most will be bigger than the other. In the same way, in an examination you throw a lot of questions at the students, and if you find that you hit more pieces of knowledge in one student than in the others, then you think that student must know more. That’s the idea.

D: But could one measure a piece of paper that way?

F: Surely one could. It might even be quite a good way of doing it. We do measure a lot of things that way. For example, we judge how strong a cup of coffee is by looking to see how black it is—that is, we look to see how much light is stopped. We throw light waves at it instead of stones, it’s the same idea.

D: Oh.

* * *

D: But then—why shouldn’t we measure knowledge that way?

F: How? By quizzes? No—God forbid. The trouble is that that sort of measuring leaves out your point—that there are different sorts of knowledge—and that there’s knowing about knowledge. And ought one to give higher marks to the student who can answer the widest question? Or perhaps there should be a different sort of marks for each different sort of question.

D: Well, all right. Let’s do that and then add the marks together and then…

F: No—we couldn’t add them together. We might multiply or divide one sort of marks by another sort but we couldn’t add them.

D: Why not, Daddy?

F: Because—because we couldn’t. No wonder you don’t like arithmetic if they don’t tell you that sort of thing at school—What do they tell you? Golly—I wonder what the teachers think arithmetic is about.

D: What is it about, Daddy?

F: No. Let’s stick to the question of how to measure knowledge—Arithmetic is a set of tricks for thinking clearly and the only fun in it is just its clarity. And the first thing about being clear is not to mix up ideas which are really different from each other. The idea of two oranges is really different from the idea of two miles. Because if you add them together you only get fog in your head.

D: But, Daddy, I can’t keep ideas separate. Ought I to do that?

F: No— No— Of course not. Combine them. But don’t add them. That’s all. I mean— if the ideas are numbers and you want to combine two different sorts, the thing to do is to multiply them by each other. Or divide them by each other. And then you’ll get some new sort of idea, a new sort of quantity. If you have miles in your head, and you have hours in your head, and you divide the miles by the hours, you get “miles per hour”—that’s a speed.

D: Yes, Daddy. What would I get if I multiplied them?

F: Oh—er—I suppose you’d get mile-hours. Yes. I know what they are. I mean, what a mile-hour is. It’s what you pay a taxi driver. His meter measures miles and he has a clock which measures hours, and the meter and the clock work together and multiply the hours by the miles and then it multiplies the milehours by something else which makes mile-hours into dollars.

D: I did an experiment once.

F: Yes?

D: I wanted to find out if I could think two thoughts at the same time. So I thought “It’s summer” and I thought “It’s winter.” And then I tried to think the two thoughts together.

F: Yes?

D: But I found I wasn’t having two thoughts. I was only having one thought about having two thoughts.

F: Sure, that’s just it. You can’t mix thoughts, you can only combine them. And in the end, that means you can’t count them. Because counting is really only adding things together. And you mostly can’t do that.

D: Then really do we only have one big thought which has lots of branches and lots and lots of branches?

F: Yes. I think so. I don’t know. Anyhow I think that is a clearer way of saying it. I mean it’s clearer than talking about bits of knowledge and trying to count them.

* * *

D: Daddy, why don’t you use the other three-quarters of your brain?

F: Oh, yes—that—you see the trouble is that I had school-teachers too. And they filled up about a quarter of my brain with fog. And then I read newspapers and listened to what other people said, and that filled up another quarter with fog.

D: And the other quarter, Daddy?

F: Oh—that’s fog that I made for myself when I was trying to think.

Metalogue: Why Do Things Have Outlines? [5]

Daughter: Daddy, why do things have outlines?

Father: Do they? I don’t know. What sort of things do you mean?

D: I mean when I draw things, why do they have outlines?

F: Well, what about other sorts of things—a flock of sheep? or a conversation? Do they have outlines?

D: Don’t be silly. I can’t draw a conversation. I mean things.

F: Yes—I was trying to find out just what you meant. Do you mean “Why do we give things outlines when we draw them?” or do you mean that the things have outlines whether we draw them or not?

D: I don’t know, Daddy. You tell me. Which do I mean?

F: I don’t know, my dear. There was a very angry artist once who scribbled all sorts of things down, and after he was dead they looked in his books and in one place they found he’d written “Wise men see outlines and therefore they draw them” but in another place he’d written “Mad men see outlines and therefore they draw them.”

D: But which does he mean? I don’t understand.

F: Well, William Blake—that was his name—was a great artist and a very angry man. And sometimes he rolled up his ideas into little spitballs so that he could throw them at people.

D: But what was he mad about, Daddy?

F: But what was he mad about? Oh, I see—you mean “angry.” We have to keep those two meanings of “mad” clear if we are going to talk about Blake. Because a lot of people thought he was mad—really mad—crazy. And that was one of the things he was mad-angry about. And then he was mad-angry, too, about some artists who painted pictures as though things didn’t have outlines. He called them “the slobbering school.”

D: He wasn’t very tolerant, was he, Daddy?

F: Tolerant? Oh, God. Yes, I know—that’s what they drum into you at school. No, Blake was not very tolerant. He didn’t even think tolerance was a good thing. It was just more slobbering. He thought it blurred all the outlines and muddled everything—that it made all cats gray. So that nobody would be able to see anything clearly and sharply.

D: Yes, Daddy.

F: No, that’s not the answer. I mean “Yes, Daddy” is not the answer. All that says is that you don’t know what your opinion is—and you don’t give a damn what I say or what Blake says and that the school has so befuddled you with talk about tolerance that you cannot tell the difference between anything and anything else.

D: (Weeps.)

F: Oh, God. I’m sorry, but I was angry. But not really angry with you. Just angry at the general mushiness of how people act and think—and how they preach muddle and call it tolerance.

D: But, Daddy

F: Yes?

D: I don’t know. I don’t seem able to think very well. It’s all in a muddle.

F: I’m sorry. I suppose I muddled you by starting to let off steam.

* * *

D: Daddy?

F: Yes?

D: Why is that something to get angry about?

F: Is what something to get angry about?

D: I mean—about whether things have outlines. You said William Blake got angry about it. And then you get angry about it. Why is that, Daddy?

F: Yes, in a way I think it is. I think it matters. Perhaps in a way, is the thing that matters. And other things only matter because they are part of this.

D: What do you mean, Daddy?

F: I mean, well, let’s talk about tolerance. When Gentiles want to bully Jews because they killed Christ, I get intolerant. I think the Gentiles are being muddle-headed and are blurring all the outlines. Because the Jews didn’t kill Christ, the Italians did it.

D: Did they, Daddy?

F: Yes, only the ones who did are called Romans today, and we have another word for their descendants. We call them Italians. You see there are two muddles and I was making the second muddle on purpose so we could catch it. First there’s the muddle of getting the history wrong and saying the Jews did it, and then there’s the muddle of saying that the descendants should be responsible for what their ancestors didn’t do. It’s all slovenly.

D: Yes, Daddy.

F: All right, I’ll try not to get angry again. All I’m trying to say is that muddle is something to get angry about. D: Daddy?

F: Yes?

D: We were talking about muddle the other day. Are we really talking about the same thing now?

F: Yes. Of course we are. That’s why it’s important—what we said the other day.

D: And you said that getting things clear was what Science was about.

F: Yes, that’s the same thing again.

* * *

D: I don’t seem to understand it all very well. Everything seems to be everything else, and I get lost in it.

F: Yes, I know it’s difficult. The point is that our conversations do have an outline, somehow—if only one could see it clearly.

* * *

F: Let’s think about a real concrete out-and-out muddle, for a change, and see if that will help. Do you remember the game of croquet in Alice in Wonderland?

D: Yes—with flamingos?

F: That’s right.

D: And porcupines for balls?

F: No, hedgehogs. They were hedgehogs. They don’t have porcupines in England.

D: Oh. Was it in England, Daddy? I didn’t know.

F: Of course it was in England. You don’t have duchesses in America either.

D: But there’s the Duchess of Windsor, Daddy.

F: Yes, but she doesn’t have quills, not like a real porcupine.

D: Go on about Alice and don’t be silly, Daddy.

F: Yes, we were talking about flamingos. The point is that the man who wrote Alice was thinking about the same things that we are. And he amused himself with little Alice by imagining a game of croquet that would be all muddle, just absolute muddle. So he said they should use flamingos as mallets because the flamingos would bend their necks so the player wouldn’t know even whether his mallet would hit the ball or how it would hit the ball.

D: Anyhow the ball might walk away of its own accord because it was a hedgehog.

F: That’s right. So that it’s all so muddled that nobody can tell at all what’s going to happen.

D: And the hoops walked around, too, because they were soldiers.

F: That’s right—everything could move and nobody could tell how it would move.

D: Did everything have to be alive so as to make a complete muddle?

F: No—he could have made it a muddle by… no, I suppose you’re right. That’s interesting. Yes, it had to be that way. Wait a minute. It’s curious but you’re right. Because if he’d muddled things any other way, the players could have learned how to deal with the muddling details. I mean, suppose the croquet lawn was bumpy, or the balls were a funny shape, or the heads of the mallets just wobbly instead of being alive, then the people could still learn and the game would only be more difficult—it wouldn’t be impossible. But once you bring live things into it, it becomes impossible. I wouldn’t have expected that.

D: Wouldn’t you, Daddy? I would have. That seems natural to me.

F: Natural? Sure—natural enough. But I would not have expected it to work that way.

D: Why not? That’s what I would have expected.

F: Yes. But this is the thing that I would not have expected. That animals, which are themselves able to see things ahead and act on what they think is going to happen—a cat can catch a mouse by jumping to land where the mouse will probably be when she has completed her jump—but it’s just the fact that animals are capable of seeing ahead and learning that makes them the only really unpredictable things in the world. To think that we try to make laws as though people were quite regular and predictable.

D: Or do they make the laws just because people are not predictable, and the people who make the laws wish the other people were predictable?

F: Yes, I suppose so.

* * *

D: What were we talking about?

F: I don’t quite know—not yet. But you started a new line by asking if the game of croquet could be made into a real muddle only by having all the things in it alive. And I went chasing after that question, and I don’t think I’ve caught up with it yet. There is something funny about that point.

D: What?

F: I don’t quite know—not yet. Something about living things and the difference between them and the things that are not alive—machines, stones, so on. Horses don’t fit in a world of automobiles. And that’s part of the same point. They’re unpredictable, like flamingos in the game of croquet.

D: What about people, Daddy?

F: What about them?

D: Well, they’re alive. Do they fit? I mean on the streets?

F: No, I suppose they don’t really fit—or only by working pretty hard to protect themselves and make themselves fit. Yes, they have to make themselves predictable, because otherwise the machines get angry and kill them.

D: Don’t be silly. If the machines can get angry, then they would ,not be predictable. They’d be like you, Daddy. You can’t predict when you’re angry, can you?

F: No, I suppose not.

D: But, Daddy, I’d rather have you unpredictable—sometimes.

* * *

D: What did you mean by a conversation having an outline? Has this conversation had an outline?

F: Oh, surely, yes. But we cannot see it yet because the conversation isn’t finished. You cannot ever see it while you’re in the middle of it. Because if you could see it, you would be predictable—like the machine. And I would be predictable—and the two of us together would be predictable.

D: But I don’t understand. You say it is important to be clear about things. And you get angry about people who blur the outlines. And yet we think it’s better to be unpredictable and not to be like a machine. And you say that we cannot see the outlines of our conversation till it’s over. Then it doesn’t matter whether we’re clear or not. Because we cannot do anything about it then.

F: Yes, I know—and I don’t understand it myself…. But anyway, who wants to do anything about it?

Metalogue: Why a Swan? [6]

Daughter: Why a swan?

Father: Yes—and why a puppet in Petroushka?

D: No—that’s different. After all a puppet is sort of human—and that particular puppet is very human.

F: More human than the people?

D: Yes.

F: But still only sort of human? And after all the swan is also sort of human.

D: Yes.

* * *

D: But what about the dancer? Is she human? Of course she really is, but, on the stage, she seems inhuman or impersonal—perhaps superhuman. I don’t know.

F: You mean—that while the swan is only a sort of swan and has no webbing between her toes, the dancer seems only sort of human.

D: I don’t know—perhaps it’s something like that.

* * *

F: No—I get confused when I speak of the “swan” and the dancer as two different things. I would rather say that the thing I see on the stage—the swan figure—is both “sort of” human and “sort of” swan.

D: But then you would be using the word “sort of” in two senses.

F: Yes, that’s so. But anyhow, when I say that the swan figure is “sort of” human, I don’t mean that it (or she) is a member of that species or sort which we call human. D: No, of course not.

F: Rather that she (or it) is a member of another subdivision of a larger group which would include Petroushka puppets and ballet swans and people.

D: No, it’s not like genera and species. Does your larger group include geese?


F: All right. Then I evidently do not know what the word “sort of” means. But I do know that the whole of fantasy, poetry, ballet, and art in general owes its meaning and importance to the relationship which I refer to when I say that the swan figure is a “sort of” swan—or a “pretend” swan.

D: Then we shall never know why the dancer is a swan or a puppet or whatever, and shall never be able to say what art or poetry is until someone says what is really meant by “sort of.”

F: Yes.


F: But we don’t have to avoid puns. In French the phrase espece de (literally “sort of”) carries a special sort of punch. If one man calls another “a camel” the insult may be a friendly one. But if he calls him an espece de chameau—a sort of camel—that’s bad. It’s still worse to call a man an espece d’espece—a sort of a sort.

D: A sort of a sort of what?

F: No—just a sort of a sort. On the other hand, if you say of a man that he is a true camel, the insult carries a flavor of grudging admiration.

D: But when a Frenchman calls a man a sort of camel, is he using the phrase sort of in anything like the same way as I, when I say the swan is sort of human?

* * *

F: It’s like—there’s a passage in Macbeth. Macbeth is talking to the murderers whom he is sending out to kill Banquo. They claim to be men, and he tells them they are sort of men.

Ay—in the catalogue ye go for men. as hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves are clept all by the name of dogs. (Macbeth, Act III, Scene 1)

D: No—that’s what you said just now. What was it? “Another subdivision of a larger group?” I don’t think that’s it at all.

F: No, it’s not only that. Macbeth, after all, uses dogs in his simile. And “dogs” means either noble hounds or scavengers. It would not be the same if he had used the domestic varieties of cats—or the subspecies of wild roses.

D: All right, all right. But what is the answer to my question? When a Frenchman calls a man a “sort of” camel, and I say that the swan is “sort of” human, do we both mean the same thing by “sort of”?

* * *

F: All right, let’s try to analyze what “sort of” means. Let’s take a single sentence and examine it. If I say “the puppet Petroushka is sort of human,” I state a relationship.

D: Between what and what?

F: Between ideas, I think.

D: Not between a puppet and people?

F: No. Between some ideas that I have about a puppet and some ideas that I have about people.

D: Oh.

* * *

D: Well then, what sort of a relationship?

F: I don’t know. A metaphoric relationship?

* * *

F: And then there is that other relationship which is emphatically not “sort of.” Many men have gone to the stake for the proposition that the bread and wine are not “sort of” the body and blood.

D: But is that the same thing? I mean—is the swan ballet a sacrament?

F: Yes—I think so—at least for some people. In Protestant language we might say that the swanlike costume and movements of the dancer are “outward and visible signs of some inward and spiritual grace” of woman. But in Catholic language that would make the ballet into a mere metaphor and not a sacrament.

D: But you said that for some people it is a sacrament. You mean for Protestants?

F: No, no. I mean that if for some people the bread and wine are only a metaphor, while for others—Catholics —the bread and wine are a sacrament; then, if there be some for whom the ballet is a metaphor, there may be others for whom it is emphatically more than a metaphor—but rather a sacrament.

D: In the Catholic sense?

F: Yes.

* * *

F: I mean that if we could say clearly what is meant by the proposition “the bread and wine is not `sort of’ the body and blood”; then we should know more about what we mean when we say either that the swan is “sort of” human or that the ballet is a sacrament.

D: Well—how do you tell the difference?

F: Which difference?

D: Between a sacrament and a metaphor.

* * *

F: Wait a minute. We are, after all, talking about the performer or the artist or the poet, or a given member of the audience. You ask me how I tell the difference between a sacrament and a metaphor. But my answer must deal with the person and not the message. You ask me how I would decide whether a certain dance on a certain day is or is not sacramental for the particular dancer.

D: All right—but get on with it.

F: Well—I think it’s a sort of a secret.

D: You mean you won’t tell me?

F: No—it’s not that sort of secret. It’s not something that one must not tell. It’s something that one cannot tell.

D: What do you mean? Why not?

F: Let us suppose I asked the dancer, “Miss X, tell me, that dance which you perform—is it for you a sacrament or a mere metaphor?” And let us imagine that I can make this question intelligible. She will perhaps put me off by saying, “You saw it—it is for you to decide, if you want to, whether or not it is sacramental for you.” Or she might say, “Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.” Or “How was I, last night?” But in any case she can have no direct control over the matter.

* * *

D: Do you mean that anybody who knew this secret would have it in their power to be a great dancer or a great poet?

F: No, no, no. It isn’t like that at all. I mean first that great art and religion and all the rest of it is about this secret; but knowing the secret in an ordinary conscious way would not give the knower control.

* * *

D: Daddy, what has happened? We were trying to find out what “sort of” means when we say that the swan is “sort of” human. I said that there must be two senses of “sort of.” One in the phrase “the swan figure is a `sort of’ swan, and another in the phrase “the swan figure is `sort of’ human.” And now you are talking about mysterious secrets and control.

F: All right. I’ll start again. The swan figure is not a real swan but a pretend swan. It is also a pretend-not human being. It is also “really” a young lady wearing a white dress. And a real swan would resemble a young lady in certain ways.

D: But which of these is sacramental?

F: Oh Lord, here we go again. I can only say this: that it is not one of these statements but their combination which constitutes a sacrament. The “pretend” and the “pretend-not” and the “really” somehow get fused together into a single meaning.

D: But we ought to keep them separate.

F: Yes. That is what the logicians and the scientists try to do. But they do not create ballets that way—nor sacraments.
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Postby admin » Fri Dec 11, 2015 5:00 am

Part 2 of 2

Metaloque: What Is an Instinct? [7]

Daughter: Daddy, what is an instinct?

Father: An instinct, my dear, is a explanatory principle.

D: But what does it explain?

F: Anything—almost anything at all. Anything you want it to explain.

D: Don’t be silly. It doesn’t explain gravity.

F: No. But that is because nobody wants “instinct” to explain gravity. f they did, it would explain it. We could simply say that the moon has an instinct whose strength varies inversely as the square of the distance…

D: But that’s nonsense, Daddy.

F: Yes, surely. But it was you who mentioned “instinct,” not I.

D: All right—but then what does explain gravity?

F: Nothing, my dear, because gravity is an explanatory principle.

D: Oh.


D: Do you mean that you cannot use one explanatory principle to explain another? Never?

F: Hmm… hardly ever. That is what Newton meant when he said, “hypotheses non fingo.”

D: And what does that mean? Please.

F: Well, you know what “hypotheses” are. Any statement linking together two descriptive statements is an hypothesis. If you say that there was a full moon on February 1st and another on March 1st; and then you link these two observations together in any way, the statement which links them is an hypothesis.

D: Yes—and I know what non means. But what’s fingo?

F: Well—fingo is a late Latin word for “make.” It forms a verbal noun fictio from which we get the word “fiction.”

D: Daddy, do you mean that Sir Isaac Newton thought that all hypotheses were just made up like stories?

F: Yes—precisely that.

D: But didn’t he discover gravity? With the apple?

F: No, dear. He invented it.

D: Oh…. Daddy, who invented instinct?

F: I don’t know. Probably biblical.

D: But if the idea of gravity links together two descriptive statements, it must be an hypothesis.

F: That’s right.

D: Then Newton did fingo an hypothesis after all.

F: Yes—indeed he did. He was a very great scientist.

D: Oh.


D: Daddy, is an explanatory principle the same thing as an hypothesis?

F: Nearly, but not quite. You see, an hypothesis tries to explain some particular something but an explanatory principle—like “gravity” or “instinct”—really explains nothing. It’s a sort of conventional agreement between scientists to stop trying to explain things at a certain point.

D: Then is that what Newton meant? If “gravity” explains nothing but is only a sort of full stop at the end of a line of explanation, then inventing gravity was not the same as inventing an hypothesis, and he could say he did not fingo any hypotheses.

F: That’s right. There’s no explanation of an explanatory principle. It’s like a black box.

D: Oh.


D: Daddy, what’s a black box?

F: A “black box” is a conventional agreement between scientists to stop trying to explain things at a certain point. I guess it’s usually a temporary agreement.

D: But that doesn’t sound like a black box.

F: No—but that’s what it’s called. Things often don’t sound like their names.

D: No.

F: It’s a word that comes from the engineers. When they draw a diagram of a complicated machine, they use a sort of shorthand. Instead of drawing all the details, they put a box to stand for a whole bunch of parts and label the box with what that bunch of parts is supposed to do.

D: So a “black box” is a label for what a bunch of things are supposed to do….

F: That’s right. But it’s not an explanation of how the bunch works.

D: And gravity?

F: Is a label for what gravity is supposed to do. It’s not an explanation of how it does it.

D: Oh.


D: Daddy, what is an instinct?

F: It’s a label for what a certain black box is supposed to do.

D: But what’s it supposed to do?

F: Hm. That is a very difficult question…

D: Go on.

F: Well. It’s supposed to control—partly control—what an organism does.

D: Do plants have instincts?

F: No. If a botanist used the word “instinct,” when talking about plants, he would be accused of zoomorphism.

D: Is that bad?

F: Yes. Very bad for botanists. For a botanist to be guilty of zoomorphism is as bad as for a zoologist to be guilty of anthropomorphism. Very bad, indeed.

D: Oh. I see.


D: What did you mean by “partly control”?

F: Well. If an animal falls down a cliff, its falling is con-trolled by gravity. But if it wiggles while falling, that might be due to instinct.

D: Self-preservative instinct?

F: I suppose so.

D: What is a self, Daddy? Does a dog know it has a self?

F: I don’t know. But if the dog does know it has a self, and it wiggles in order to preserve that self, then its wiggling is rational, not instinctive.

D: Oh. Then a “self-preservative instinct” is a contradiction. F: Well, it’s a sort of halfway house on the road to anthropomorphism.

D: Oh. That’s bad.

F: But the dog might know it had a self and not know that that self should be preserved. It would then be rational to not wiggle. So if the dog still wiggles, this would be instinctive. But if it learned to wiggle, then it would not be instinctive.

D: Oh.


D: What would not be instinctive, Daddy? The learning or the wiggling?

F: No—just the wiggling.

D: And the learning would be instinctive?

F: Well… yes. Unless the dog had to learn to learn.

D : Oh.


D: But, Daddy, what is instinct supposed to explain?

F: I keep trying to avoid that question. You see, instincts were invented before anybody knew anything about genetics, and most of modern genetics was discovered before anybody knew anything about communication theory. So it is doubly difficult to translate “instinct” into modern terms and ideas.

D: Yes, go on.

F: Well, you know that in the chromosomes, there are genes; and that the genes are some sort of messages which have to do with how the organism develops and with how it behaves.

D: Is developing different from behaving, Daddy? What’s the difference? And which is learning? Is it “developing” or “behaving?”

F: No! No! Not so fast. Let’s avoid those questions by putting developing-learningbehavior all together in one basket. A single spectrum of phenomena. Now let’s try to say how instinct contributes to explaining this spectrum.

D: But is it a spectrum?

F: No—that’s only a loose way of talking.

D: Oh.


D: But isn’t instinct all on the behavior end of that “spectrum”? And isn’t learning all determined by environment and not chromosomes?

F: Let’s get this clear—that there is no behavior and no anatomy and no learning in the chromosomes them-selves.

D: Don’t they have their own anatomy?

F: Yes, of course. And their own physiology. But the anatomy and physiology of the genes and chromosomes is not the anatomy and physiology of the whole animal.

D: Of course not.

F: But it is about the anatomy and physiology of the whole animal.

D: Anatomy about anatomy?

F: Yes, just as letters and words have their own forms and shapes and those shapes are parts of words or sentences and so on—which may be about anything.

D: Oh.


D: Daddy, is the anatomy of the genes and chromosomes about the anatomy of the whole animal? And the physiology of the genes and chromosomes about the physiology of the whole animal?

F: No, no. There is no reason to expect that. It’s not like that. Anatomy and physiology are not separate in that way.

D: Daddy, are you going to put anatomy and physiology together in one basket, like you did developing-learning-behavior?

F: Yes. Certainly.

D: Oh.


D: The same basket?

F: Why not? I think developing is right in the middle of that basket. Right smack in the middle.

D: Oh.

D: If chromosomes and genes have anatomy and physiology, they must have development.

F: Yes. That follows.

D: Do you think their development could be about the development of the whole organism?

F: I don’t even know what that question would mean.

D: I do. It means that the chromosomes and genes would be changing or developing somehow while the baby is developing, and the changes in the chromosomes would be about the changes in the baby. Controlling them or partly controlling them.

F: No. I don’t think so.

D: Oh.


D: Do chromosomes learn?

F: I don’t know.

D: They do sound rather like black boxes.

F: Yes, but if chromosomes or genes can learn, then they are much more complicated black boxes than anybody at present believes. Scientists are always assuming or hoping that things are simple, and then discovering that they are not.

D: Yes, Daddy.


D: Daddy, is that an instinct?

F: Is what an instinct?

D: Assuming that things are simple.

F: No. Of course not. Scientists have to be taught to do that.

D: But I thought no organism could be taught to be wrong every time.

F: Young lady, you are being disrespectful and wrong. In the first place, scientists are not wrong every time they assume that things are simple. Quite often they are right or partly right and still more often, they think they are right and tell each other so. And that is enough reinforcement. And, anyhow you are wrong in saying that no organism can be taught to be wrong every time.


D: When people say that something is “instinctive,” are they trying to make things simple? F: Yes, indeed.

D: And are they wrong?

F: I don’t know. It depends on what they mean.

D: Oh.

D: When do they do it?

F: Yes, that’s a better way of asking the question. They do it when they see a creature do something, and they are sure: first, that the creature did not learn how to do that something and, second, that the creature is too stupid to understand why it should do that.

D: Any other time?

F: Yes. When they see that all members of the species do the same things under the same circumstances; and when they see the animal repeating the same action even when the circumstances are changed so that the action fails.

D: So there are four ways of knowing that it’s instinctive.

F: No. Four conditions under which scientists talk about instinct.

D: But what if one condition isn’t there? An instinct sounds rather like a habit or a custom.

F: But habits are learned.

D: Yes.


D: Are habits always twice learned?

F: What do you mean?

D: I mean—when I learn a set of chords on the guitar, first I learn them or find them; and then later when I practice, I get the habit of playing them that way. And sometimes I get bad habits.

F: Learning to be wrong every time?

D: Oh—all right. But what about that twice-over business? Would both parts of learning be not there if guitar playing were instinctive?

F: Yes. If both parts of learning were clearly not there, scientists might say that guitar playing is instinctive.

D: But what if only one part of learning was missing?

F: Then, logically, the missing part could be explained by “instinct.”

D: Could either part be missing?

F: I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows.

D: Oh.

D: Do birds practice their songs?

F: Yes. Some birds are said to practice.

D: I guess instinct gives them the first part of singing, but they have to work on the second part.

F: Perhaps.


D: Could practicing be instinctive?

F: I suppose it could be—but I am not sure what the word “instinct” is coming to mean in this conversation.

D: It’s an explanatory principle, Daddy, just like you said… There’s one thing I don’t understand.

F: Yes?

D: Is there a whole lot of instinct? Or are there lots of instincts?

F: Yes. That’s a good question, and scientists have talked a great deal about it, making lists of separate instincts and then lumping them together again.

D: But what’s the answer?

F: Well. It’s not quite clear. But one thing is certain: That explanatory principles must be not multiplied beyond necessity.

D: And that means? Please?

F: It’s the idea behind monotheism—that the idea of one big God is to be preferred to the idea of two little gods.

D: Is God an explanatory principle?

F: Oh, yes—a very big one. You shouldn’t use two black boxes—or two instincts—to explain what one black box would explain…

D: If it were big enough.

F: No. It means…

D: Are there big instincts and little instincts?

F: Well—as a matter of fact, scientists do talk as if there were. But they call the little instincts by other names —”reflexes,” “innate releasing mechanisms,” “fixed action patterns,” and so on.

D: I see—like having one big God to explain the universe and lots of little “imps” or “goblins” to explain the small things that happen.

F: Well, yes. Rather like that.

D: But, Daddy, how do they lump things together to make the big instincts?

F: Well, for example, they don’t say that the dog has one instinct which makes it wiggle when it falls down the cliff and another which makes it run away from fire.

D: You mean those would both be explained by a self-preservative instinct?

F: Something like that. Yes.

D: But if you put those different acts together under one instinct, then you cannot get away from saying that the dog has the use of the notion of “self.”

F: No, perhaps not.

D: What would you do about the instinct for the song and the instinct for practicing the song?

F: Well—depending on what the song is used for. Both song and practice might be under a territorial instinct or a sexual instinct.

D: I wouldn’t put them together.

F: No?

D: Because what if the bird also practiced picking up seed or something? You’d have to multiply the instincts —what is it?—beyond necessity.

F: What do you mean?

D: I mean a food-getting instinct to explain the practicing picking up seed, and a territory instinct for practicing song. Why not have a practicing instinct for both? That saves one black box.

F: But then you would throw away the idea of lumping together under the same instinct actions which have the same purpose.

D: Yes—because if the practicing is for a purpose—I mean, if the bird has a purpose—then the practicing is rational and not instinctive. Didn’t you say something like that?

F: Yes, I did say something like that.


D: Could we do without the idea of “instinct”?

F: How would you explain things then?

D: Well. I’d just look at the little things: When some-thing goes “pop,” the dog jumps. When the ground is not under his feet, he wiggles. And so on.

F: You mean—all the imps but no gods?

D: Yes, something like that.

F: Well. There are scientists who try to talk that way, and it’s becoming quite fashionable. They say it is more objective.

D: And is it?

F: Oh, yes.


D: What does “objective” mean?

F: Well. It means that you look very hard at those things which you choose to look at.

D: That sounds right. But how do the objective people choose which things they will be objective about?


F: Well. They choose those things about which it is easy to be objective.

D: You mean easy for them?

F: Yes.

D: But how do they know that those are the easy things?

F: I suppose they try different things and find out by experience.

D: So it’s a subjective choice?

F: Oh, yes. All experience is subjective.

D: But it’s human and subjective. They decide which bits of animal behavior to be objective about by consulting human subjective experience. Didn’t you say that anthropomorphism is a bad thing?

F: Yes—but they do try to be not human.


D: Which things do they leave out?

F: What do you mean?

D: I mean—subjective experience shows them which things it is easy to be objective about. So, they go and study those things. But which things does their experience show are difficult? So that they avoid those things. Which are the things they avoid?

F: Well, you mentioned earlier something called “practice.” That’s a difficult thing to be objective about. And there are other things that are difficult in the same sort of way. Play, for example. And exploration. It’s difficult to be objective about whether a rat is really exploring or really playing. So they don’t investigate those things. And then there’s love. And, of course, hate.

D: I see. Those are the sorts of things that I wanted to invent separate instincts for. F: Yes—those things. And don’t forget humor.


D: Daddy—are animals objective?

F: I don’t know—probably not. I don’t think they are subjective either. I don’t think they are split that way.


D: Isn’t it true that people have a special difficulty about being objective about the more animal parts of their nature?

F: I guess so. Anyhow Freud said so, and I think he was right. Why do you ask?

D: Because, oh dear, those poor people. They try to study animals. And they specialize in those things that they can study objectively. And they can only be objective about those things in which they themselves are least like animals. It must be difficult for them.

F: No—that does not necessarily follow. It is still possible for people to be objective about some things in their animal nature. You haven’t shown that the whole of animal behavior is within the set of things that people cannot be objective about.

D: No?


D: What are the really big differences between people and animals?

F: Well—intellect, language, tools. Things like that.

D: And it is easy for people to be intellectually objective in language and about tools?

F: That’s right.

D: But that must mean that in people there is a whole set of ideas or whatnot which are all tied together. A sort of second creature within the whole person, and that second creature must have a quite different way of thinking about everything. An objective way.

F: Yes. The royal road to consciousness and objectivity is through language and tools.

D: But what happens when this creature looks at all those parts of the person about which it is difficult for people to be objective? Does it just look? Or does it meddle?

F: It meddles.

D: And what happens?

F: That’s a very terrible question.

D: Go on. If we are going to study animals, we must face that question.

F: Well… The poets and artists know the answer better than the scientists. Let me read you a piece:

Thought chang’d the infinite to a serpent, that which pitieth To a devouring flame; and man fled from its face and hid In forests of night: then all the eternal forests were’ divided Into earths rolling in circles of space, that like an ocean rush’d And overwhelmed all except this finite wall of flesh. Then was the serpent temple form’d, image of infinite Shut up in finite revolutions; and man became an Angel, Heaven a mighty circle turning, God a tyrant crown’d. [8]

D: I don’t understand it. It sounds terrible, but what does it mean?

F: Well. It’s not an objective statement, because it is talking about the effect of objectivity—what the poet calls here “thought” upon the whole person or the whole of life. “Thought” should remain a part of the whole but instead spreads itself and meddles with the rest.

D: Go on.

F: Well. It slices everything to bits.

D: I don’t understand.

F: Well, the first slice is between the objective thing and the rest. And then inside the creature that’s made in the model of intellect, language, and tools, it is natural that purpose will evolve. Tools are for purposes and anything which blocks purpose is a hindrance. The world of the objective creature gets split into “helpful” things and “hindering” things.

D: Yes. I see that.

F: All right. Then the creature applies that split to the world of the whole person, and “helpful” and “hindering” become Good and Evil, and the world is then split between God and the Serpent. And after that, more and more splits follow because the intellect is always classifying and dividing things up.

D: Multiplying explanatory principles beyond necessity?

F: That’s right.

D: So, inevitably, when the objective creature looks at animals, it splits things up and makes the animals look like human beings after their intellects have invaded their souls.

F: Exactly. It’s a sort of inhuman anthropomorphism.

D: And that is why the objective people study all the little imps instead of the larger things?

F: Yes. It’s called S-R psychology. It’s easy to be objective about sex but not about love.

D: Daddy, we’ve talked about two ways of studying animals—the big instinct way and the S-R way, and neither way seemed very sound. What do we do now?

F: I don’t know.

D: Didn’t you say that the royal road to objectivity and consciousness is language and tools? What’s the royal road to the other half?

F: Freud said dreams.

D: Oh.


D: What are dreams? How are they put together?

F: Well—dreams are bits and pieces of the stuff of which we are made. The nonobjective stuff.

D: But how are they put together?

F: Look. Aren’t we getting rather far from the question of explaining animal behavior?

D: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. It looks as if we are going to be anthropomorphic in one way or another, whatever we do. And it is obviously wrong to build our anthropomorphism on that side of man’s nature in which he is most unlike the animals. So let’s try the other side. You say dreams are the royal road to the other side. So…

F: I didn’t. Freud said it. Or something like it.

D: All right. But how are dreams put together?

F: Do you mean how are two dreams related to each other?

D: No. Because, as you said, they are only bits and pieces. What I mean is: How is a dream put together inside itself? Could animal behavior be put together in the same sort of way?


F: I don’t know where to begin.

D: Well. Do dreams go by opposites?

F: Oh Lord! The old folk idea. No. They don’t predict the future. Dreams are sort of suspended in time. They don’t have any tenses.

D: But if a person is afraid of something which he knows will happen tomorrow, he might dream about it to-night?

F: Certainly. Or about something in his past. Or about both past and present. But the dream contains no label to tell him what it is “about” in this sense. It just is.

D: Do you mean it’s as if the dream had no title page?

F: Yes. It’s like an old manuscript or a letter that has lost its beginning and end, and the historian has to guess what it’s all about and who wrote it and when—from what’s inside it.

D: Then we’re going to have to be objective, too?

F: Yes indeed. But we know that we have to be careful about it. We have to watch that we don’t force the concepts of the creature that deals in language and tools upon the dream material.

D: How do you mean?

F: Well. For example: if dreams somehow have not tenses and are somehow suspended in time, then it would be forcing the wrong sort of objectivity to say that a dream “predicts” something. And equally wrong to say it is a statement about the past. It’s not history.

D: Only propaganda?

F: What do you mean?

D: I mean—is it like the sort of stories that propagandists write which they say are history but which are really only fables?

F: All right. Yes. Dreams are in many ways like myths and fables. But not consciously made up by a propagandist. Not planned.

D: Does a dream always have a moral?

F: I don’t know about always. But often, yes. But the moral is not stated in the dream. The psychoanalyst tries to get the patient to find the moral. Really the whole dream is the moral.

D: What does that mean?

F: I don’t quite know.


D: Well. Do dreams go by opposites? Is the moral the opposite of what the dream seems to say?

F: Oh yes. Often. Dreams often have an ironic or sarcastic twist. A sort of reductio ad absurdum.

D: For example?

F: All right. A friend of mine was a fighter pilot in World War II. After the war he became a psychologist and had to sit for his Ph. D. oral exam. He began to be terrified of the oral, but, the night before the exam, he had a nightmare in which he experienced again being in a plane which had been shot down. Next day he went into the examination without fear.

D: Why?

F: Because it was silly for a fighter pilot to be afraid of a bunch of university professors who couldn’t really shoot him down.

D: But how did he know that? The dream could have been telling him that the professors would shoot him down. How did he know it was ironic?

F: Hmm. The answer is he didn’t know. The dream doesn’t have a label on it to say it is ironic. And when people are being ironic in waking conversation, they often don’t tell you they are being ironic.

D: No. That’s true. I always think it’s sort of cruel.

F: Yes. It often is.


D: Daddy, are animals ever ironic or sarcastic?

F: No. I guess not. But I am not sure that those are quite the words we should use. “Ironic” and “sarcastic” are words for the analysis of message material in language. And animals don’t have language. It’s perhaps part of the wrong sort of objectivity.

D: All right. Then do animals deal in opposites?

F: Well, yes. As a matter of fact, they do. But I’m not sure it’s the same thing…

D: Go on. How do they? And when?

F: Well. You know how a puppy lies on his back and presents his belly to a bigger dog. That’s sort of inviting the bigger dog to attack. But it works in the opposite way. It stops the bigger dog from attacking.

D: Yes. I see. It is a sort of use of opposites. But do they know that?

F: You mean does the big dog know that the little dog is saying the opposite of what he means? And does the little dog know that that is the way to stop the big dog?

D: Yes.

F: I don’t know. I sometimes think the little dog knows a little more about it than the big dog. Anyhow, the little dog does not give any signals to show that he knows. He obviously couldn’t do that.

D: Then it’s like the dreams. There’s no label to say that the dream is dealing in opposites.

F: That’s right.

D: I think we’re getting somewhere. Dreams deal in opposites, and animals deal in opposites, and neither carries labels to say when they are dealing in opposites.

F: Hmm.


D: Why do animals fight?

F: Oh, for many reasons. Territory, sex, food…

D: Daddy, you’re talking like instinct theory. I thought we agreed not to do that.

F: All right. But what sort of an answer do you want to the question, why animals fight?

D: Well. Do they deal in opposites?

F: Oh. Yes. A lot of fighting ends up in some sort of peace-making. And certainly playful fighting is partly a way of affirming friendship. Or discovering or rediscovering friendship.

D: I thought so….


D: But why are the labels missing? Is it for the same reason in both animals and dreams?

F: I don’t know. But, you know, dreams do not always deal in opposites.

D: Does a dream always have a moral?

F: I don’t know about always. But often, yes. But the moral is not stated in the dream. The psychoanalyst tries to get the patient to find the moral. Really the whole dream is the moral.

D: What does that mean?

F: I don’t quite know.

D: Well. Do dreams go by opposites? Is the moral the opposite of what the dream seems to say?

F: Oh yes. Often. Dreams often have an ironic or sarcastic twist. A sort of reductio ad absurdum.

D: For example?

F: All right. A friend of mine was a fighter pilot in World War II. After the war he became a psychologist and had to sit for his Ph. D. oral exam. He began to be terrified of the oral, but, the night before the exam, he had a nightmare in which he experienced again being in a plane which had been shot down. Next day he went into the examination without fear.

D: Why?

F: Because it was silly for a fighter pilot to be afraid of a bunch of university professors who couldn’t really shoot him down.

D: But how did he know that? The dream could have been telling him that the professors would shoot him down. How did he know it was ironic?

F: Hmm. The answer is he didn’t know. The dream doesn’t have a label on it to say it is ironic. And when people are being ironic in waking conversation, they often don’t tell you they are being ironic.

D: No. That’s true. I always think it’s sort of cruel.

F: Yes. It often is.

D: Daddy, are animals ever ironic or sarcastic?

F: No. I guess not. But I am not sure that those are quite the words we should use. “Ironic” and “sarcastic” are words for the analysis of message material in language. And animals don’t have language. It’s perhaps part of the wrong sort of objectivity.

D: All right. Then do animals deal in opposites?

F: Well, yes. As a matter of fact, they do. But I’m not sure it’s the same thing…

D: Go on. How do they? And when?

F: Well. You know how a puppy lies on his back and presents his belly to a bigger dog. That’s sort of inviting the bigger dog to attack. But it works in the opposite way. It stops the bigger dog from attacking.

D: Yes. I see. It is a sort of use of opposites. But do they know that?

F: You mean does the big dog know that the little dog is saying the opposite of what he means? And does the little dog know that that is the way to stop the big dog?

D: Yes.

F: I don’t know. I sometimes think the little dog knows a little more about it than the big dog. Anyhow, the little dog does not give any signals to show that he knows. He obviously couldn’t do that.

D: Then it’s like the dreams. There’s no label to say that the dream is dealing in opposites.

F: That’s right.

D: I think we’re getting somewhere. Dreams deal in opposites, and animals deal in opposites, and neither carries labels to say when they are dealing in opposites.

F: Hmm.

D: Why do animals fight?

F: Oh, for many reasons. Territory, sex, food…

D: Daddy, you’re talking like instinct theory. I thought we agreed not to do that.

F: All right. But what sort of an answer do you want to the question, why animals fight?

D: Well. Do they deal in opposites?

F: Oh. Yes. A lot of fighting ends up in some sort of peace-making. And certainly playful fighting is partly a way of affirming friendship. Or discovering or rediscovering friendship.

D: I thought so….

D: But why are the labels missing? Is it for the same reason in both animals and dreams?

F: I don’t know. But, you know, dreams do not always deal in opposites.

D: No—of course not—nor do animals.

F: All right then.

D: Let’s go back to that dream. Its total effect on the man was the same as if somebody had said to him, “ `you in a fighter plane’ is not equal to `you in an oral exam.’ “

F: Yes. But the dream didn’t spell that out. It only says, “you in a fighter plane. It leaves out the “not,” and it leaves out the instruction to compare the dream with something else and it doesn’t say what he should compare it with.

D: All right. Let’s take the “not” first. Is there any “not” in animal behavior?

F: How could there be?

D: I mean can an animal say by its actions, “I will not bite you”?

F: Well, to begin with. Communication by actions cannot possibly have tenses. They are only possible in language.

D: Didn’t you say that dreams have no tenses?

F: Hmm. Yes, I did.

D: Okay. But what about “not”. Can the animal say, “I am not biting you”?

F: That still has a tense in it. But never mind. If the animal is not biting the other, he’s not biting it, and that’s it.

D: But he might be not doing all sorts of other things, sleeping, eating, running, and so on. How can he say, “It’s biting that I’m not doing”?

F: He can only do that if biting has somehow been mentioned.

D: Do you mean that he could say, “I am not biting you” by first showing his fangs and then not biting?

F: Yes. Something like that.

D: But what about two animals? They’d both have to show their fangs.

F: Yes.

D: And, it seems to me, they might misunderstand each other, and get into a fight.

F: Yes. There is always that danger when you deal in opposites and do not or cannot say what you are doing, especially when you do not know what you are doing. D: But the animals would know that they bared their fangs in order to say, “I won’t bite you.”

F: I doubt whether they would know. Certainly neither animal knows it about the other. The dreamer doesn’t know at the beginning of the dream how the dream is going to end.

D: Then it’s a sort of experiment….

F: Yes.

D: So they might get into a fight in order to find out whether fighting was what they had to do.

F: Yes—but I’d rather put it less purposively—that the fight shows them what sort of relationship they have, after it. It’s not planned.

D: Then “not” is really not there when the animals show their fangs?

F: I guess not. Or often not. Perhaps old friends might engage in playful fighting and know at the beginning what they are doing.


D: All right. Then the “not” is absent in animal behavior because “not” is part of verbal language, and there can-not be any action signal for, “not.” And because there is no “not,” the only way to agree on a negative is to act out the whole reductio ad absurdum. You have to act out the battle to prove it isn’t one, and then you have to act out the submission to prove that the other won’t eat you.

F: Yes.

D: Did the animals have to think that out?

F: No. Because it’s all necessarily true. And that which is necessarily true will govern what you do regardless of whether you know that it is necessarily true. If you put two apples with three apples you will get five apples—even though you cannot count. It’s another way of “explaining” things.

D : Oh.


D: But, then, why does the dream leave out the “not”?

F: I think really for a rather similar reason. Dreams are mostly made of images and feelings, and if you are going to communicate in images and feelings and such, you again are governed by the fact that there is no image for “not.”

D: But you could dream of a “Stop” sign with a line through it, which would mean “No Stopping.”

F: Yes. But that’s halfway toward language. And the deleting line isn’t the word “not.” It’s the word “don’t.” “Don’t” can be conveyed in action language—if the other person makes a move to mention what you want to forbid. You can even dream in words, and the word “not” might be among them. But I doubt if you can dream a “not” which is about the dream. I mean a “not” which means “This dream is not to be taken literally.” Sometimes, in very light sleep, one knows that one is dreaming.


D: But, Daddy, you still haven’t answered the question about how dreams are put together.

F: I think really I have answered it. But let me try again. A dream is a metaphor or a tangle of metaphors. Do you know what a metaphor is?

D: Yes. If I say you are like a pig that is a simile. But if I say you are a pig, that is a metaphor.

F: Approximately, yes. When a metaphor is labeled as a metaphor it becomes a simile.

D: And it’s that labeling that a dream leaves out.

F: That’s right. A metaphor compares things without spelling out the comparison. It takes what is true of one group of things and applies it to another. When we say a nation “decays,” we are using a metaphor, suggesting that some changes in a nation are like changes which bacteria produce in fruit. But we don’t stop to mention the fruit or the bacteria.

D: And a dream is like that?

F: No. It’s the other way around. The dream would mention the fruit and possibly the bacteria but would not mention the nation. The dream elaborates on the relationship but does not identify the things that are related.

D: Daddy, could you make a dream for me?

F: You mean, on this recipe? No. Let’s take the piece of verse which I read you just now and turn it into a dream. It’s almost dream material the way it stands. For most of it, you have only to substitute images for the words. And the words are vivid enough. But the whole string of metaphors or images is pegged down, which would not be so in a dream.

D: What do you mean by “pegged down”?

F: I mean by the first word: “Thought.” That word the writer is using literally, and that one word tells you what all the rest is about.

D: And in a dream?

F: That word, too, would have been metaphoric. Then the whole poem would have been much more difficult.

D: All right—change it then.

F: What about “Barbara changed the infinite…” and so on.

D: But why? Who is she?

F: Well, she’s barbarous, and she’s female, and she is the mnemonic name of a syllogistic mood. I thought she would do rather well as a monstrous symbol for “Thought.” I can see her now with a pair of calipers, pinching her own brain to change her universe.

D: Stop it.

F: All right. But you see what I mean by saying that in dreams the metaphors are not pegged down.


D: Do animals peg down their metaphors?

F: No. They don’t have to. You see, when a grown-up bird makes like a baby bird in approaching a member of the opposite sex, he’s using a metaphor taken from the relationship between child and parent. But he doesn’t have to peg down whose relationship he is talking about. It’s obviously the relationship between him-self and the other bird. They’re both of them present.

D: But don’t they ever use metaphors—act out metaphors —about something other than their own relationships?

F: I don’t think so. No—not mammals. And I don’t think birds do either. Bees— perhaps. And, of course, people.


D: There’s one thing I don’t understand.

F: Yes?

D: We’ve found a whole lot of things in common between dreams and animal behavior. They both deal in opposites, and they both have no tenses, and they both have no “not,” and they both work by metaphor, and neither of them pegs the metaphors down. But what I don’t understand is—why, when the animals do these things, it makes sense. I mean for them to work in opposites. And they don’t have to peg down their metaphors—but I don’t see why dreams should be like that, too.

F: Nor do I.

D: And there’s another thing.

F: Yes?

D: You talked about genes and chromosomes carrying messages about development. Do they talk like animals and dreams? I mean in metaphors and with no “nots”? Or do they talk like us?

F: I don’t know. But I am sure their message system contains no simple transform of Instinct Theory.



1. Written in 1948; not previously published.

2. This metalogue is reprinted from Impulse 1951, an annual of contemporary dance, by permission of Impulse Publications, Inc. It has also appeared in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. X, 1953.

3. This metalogue is reprinted by permission from ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. X, 1953.

4. This metalogue is reprinted by permission from ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. X, 1953. 91

5. Reprinted by permission from ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. XI, 1953.

6. This metalogue appeared in Impulse 1954 and is re-printed by permission of Impulse Publications, Inc.

7. This metalogue is reprinted by permission of Mouton & Co. from Approaches to Animal Communication, edited by Thomas A. Sebeok, 1969

8. Blake, W., 1794, Europe a Prophecy, printed and published by the author. (Italics added.)
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Part 1 of 4

Part II: Form and Pattern in Anthropology

Culture Contact and Schismogenesis [1]

The Memorandum written by a Committee of the Social Sciences Research Council (Man, 1935, 162) has stimulated me to put forward a point of view which differs considerably from theirs; and, though the beginning of this article may appear to be critical of their Memorandum, I wish to make it clear from the outset that I regard as a real contribution any serious attempt to devise categories for the study of culture contact. Moreover, since there are several passages in the Memorandum (among them the Definition) which I do not perfectly understand, my criticisms are offered with some hesitation, and are directed not so much against the Committee as against certain errors prevalent among anthropologists.

(1) The uses of such systems of categories. In general it is unwise to construct systems of this sort until the problems which they are designed to elucidate have been clearly formulated; and so far as I can see, the categories drawn up by the Committee have been constructed not in reference to any specifically defined problems, but to throw a general light on “the problem” of acculturation, while the problem itself remains vague.

(2) From this it follows that our immediate need is not so much the construction of a set of categories which will throw a light on all the problems, but rather the schematic formulation of the problems in such a way that they may be separately investigable.

(3) Although the Committee leave their problems undefined, we may from a careful reading of the categories gather roughly what questions they are asking of the material. It seems that the Committee have, as a matter of fact, been influenced by the sort of questions which administrators ask of anthropologists—”Is it a good thing to use force in culture contacts?” “How can we make a given people accept a certain sort of trait?” and so on. In response to this type of question we find in the definition of acculturation an emphasis upon difference in culture between the groups in contact and upon the resulting changes; and such dichotomies as that between “elements forced upon a people or received voluntarily by them” [2] may likewise be regarded as symptomatic of this thinking in terms of administrative problems. The same may be said of the categories V, A, B, and C, “acceptance,” “adaptation” and “reaction.”

(4) We may agree that answers are badly needed to these questions of administration and, further, that a study of culture contacts is likely to give these answers, But it is almost certain that the scientific formulation of the problems of contact will not follow these lines. It is as if in the construction of categories for the study of criminology we started with a dichotomy of individuals into criminal and noncriminal —and, indeed, that curious science was hampered for a long while by this very attempt to define a “criminal type.”

(5) The Memorandum is based upon a fallacy: that we can classify the traits of a culture under such headings as economic, religious, etc. We are asked, for example, to classify traits into three classes, presented respectively because of: (a) economic profit or political dominance; (b) desirability of bringing about conformity to values of donor group; and (c) ethical and religious considerations. This idea, that each trait has either a single function or at least some one function which overtops the rest, leads by extension to the idea that a culture can be subdivided into “institutions” where the bundle of traits which make up one institution are alike in their major functions. The weakness of this method of subdividing a culture has been conclusively demonstrated by Malinowski and his pupils, who have shown that almost the whole of a culture may be seen variously as a mechanism for modifying and satisfying the sexual needs of the individuals, or for the enforcement of the norms of behavior, or for supplying the individuals with food. [3] From this exhaustive demonstration we must expect that any single trait of a culture will prove on examination to be not simply economic or religious or structural, but to partake of all these qualities according to the point of view from which we look at it. If this be true of a culture seen in synchronic section, then it must also apply to the diachronic processes of culture contact and change; and we must expect that for the offering, acceptance or refusal of every trait that are simultaneous causes of an economic, structural, sexual, and religious nature.

(6) From this it follows that our categories “religious,” “economic,” etc., are not real subdivisions which are present in the cultures which we study, but are merely abstractions which we make for our own convenience when we set out to describe cultures in words. They are not phenomena present in culture, but are labels for various points of view which we adopt in our studies. In handling such abstractions we must be careful to avoid Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” a fallacy into which, for example, the Marxian historians fall when they maintain that economic “phenomena” are “primary.”

With this preamble, we may now consider an alternative scheme for the study of contact phenomena.

(7) Scope of the inquiry I suggest that we should consider under the head of “culture contact” not only those cases in which the contact occurs between two communities with different cultures and results in profound disturbance of the culture of one or both groups; but also cases of contact within a single community. In these cases the contact is between differentiated groups of individuals, e.g., between the sexes, between old and young, between aristocracy and plebs, between clans, etc., groups which live together in approximate equilibrium. I would even extend the idea of “contact” so widely as to include those processes whereby a child is molded and trained to fit the culture into which he was born, [4] but for the present we may confine ourselves to contacts between groups of individuals, with different cultural norms of behavior in each group.

(8) If we consider the possible end of the drastic disturbances which follow contacts between profoundly different communities, we see that the changes must theoretically result in one or other of the following patterns:

(a) the complete fusion of the originally different groups

(b) the elimination of one or both groups

(c) the persistence of both groups in dynamic equilibrium within one major community

(9) My purpose in extending the idea of contact to cover the conditions of differentiation inside a single culture is to use our knowledge of these quiescent states to throw light upon the factors which are at work in states of disequilibrium. It may be easy to obtain a knowledge of the factors from their quiet working, but impossible to isolate them when they are violent. The laws of gravity cannot conveniently be studied by observation of houses collapsing in an earthquake.

(10) Complete fusion Since this is one of the possible ends of the process we must know what factors are present in a group of individuals with consistent homogeneous patterns of behavior in all members of the group. An approach to such conditions may be found in any community which is in a state of approximate equilibrium but, unfortunately, our own communities in Europe are in a state of such flux that these conditions scarcely occur. Moreover, even in primitive communities. the conditions are usually complicated by differentiation, so that we must be content with studies of such homogeneous groups as can be observed within the major differentiated communities.

Our first task will be to ascertain what sorts of unity obtain within such groups, or rather—bearing in mind that we are concerned with aspects and not classes of phenomena—what aspects of the unity of the body of traits we must describe in order to get a whole view of the situation. I submit that the material, to be fully understood, must be examined in, at least, the following five separable aspects:

(a) A structural aspect of unity The behavior of any one individual in any one context is, in some sense, cognitively consistent with the behavior of all the other individuals in all other contexts. Here we must be prepared to find that the inherent logic of one culture differs profoundly from that of others. From this point of view we shall see, for example, that when individual A gives a drink to individual B, that behavior is consistent with other norms of behavior obtaining within the group which contains A and B.

This aspect of the unity of the body of behavior patterns may be restated in terms of a standardization of the cognitive aspects of the personalities of the individuals. We may say that the patterns of thought of the individuals are so standardized that their behavior appears to them logical.

(b) Affective aspects of unity In studying the culture from this point of view, we are concerned to show the emotional setting of all the details of behavior. We shall see the whole body of behavior as a concerted mechanism oriented toward affective satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the individuals.

This aspect of a culture may also be described in terms of a standardization of affective aspects of the personalities of the individuals, which are so modified by their culture that their behavior is to them emotionally consistent.

(c) Economic unity Here we shall see the whole body of behavior as a mechanism oriented toward the production and distribution of material objects.

(d) Chronological and spatial unity Here we shall see the behavior patterns as schematically ordered according to time and place. We shall see A as giving the drink to B “because it is Saturday evening in the Blue Boar.”

(e) Sociological unity Here we shall see the behavior of the individuals as oriented toward the integration and disintegration of the major unit, the Group as a whole. We shall see the giving of drinks as a factor which promotes the solidarity of the group.

(11) In addition to studying the behavior of members of the homogeneous group from all these points of view, we must examine a number of such groups to discover the effects of standardization of these various points of view in the people we are studying. We have stated above that every bit of behavior must be regarded as probably relevant to all these viewpoints, but the fact remains that some peoples are more inclined than others to see and phrase their own behavior as “logical” or “for the good of the State.”

(12) With this knowledge of the conditions which obtain in homogeneous groups, we shall be in a position to examine the processes of fusion of two diverse groups into one. We may even be able to prescribe measures which will either promote or retard such fusion, and predict that a trait which fits the five aspects of unity can be added to a culture without other changes. If it does not fit, then we can search for appropriate modifications either of the culture or of the trait.

(13) The elimination of one or both groups This end result is perhaps scarcely worth studying, but we should at least examine any material that is available, to determine what sort of effects such hostile activity has upon the culture of the survivors. It is possible, for example, that the patterns of behavior associated with elimination of other groups may be assimilated into their culture so that they are impelled to eliminate more and more.

(14) Persistence of both groups in dynamic equilibrium This is probably the most instructive of the possible end results of contact, since the factors active in the dynamic equilibrium are likely to be identical or analogous with those which, in disequilibrium, are active in cultural change. Our first task is to study the relationships obtaining between groups of individuals with differentiated behavior patterns, and later to consider what light these relationships throw upon what are more usually called “contacts.” Every anthropologist who has been in the field has had opportunity of studying such differentiated groups.

(15) The possibilities of differentiation of groups are by no means infinite, but fall clearly into two categories (a) cases in which the relationship is chiefly symmetrical, e.g., in the differentiation of moieties, clans, villages and the nations of Europe; and (b) cases in which the relationship is complementary, e.g., in the differentiation of social strata, classes, castes, age grades, and, in some cases, the cultural differentiation between the sexes. [5] Both these types of differentiation contain dynamic elements, such that when certain restraining factors are removed the differentiation or split between the groups increases progressively toward either breakdown or a new equilibrium.

(16) Symmetrical differentiation To this category may be referred all those cases in which the individuals in two groups A and B have the same aspirations and the same behavior patterns, but are differentiated in the orientation of these patterns. Thus members of group A exhibit behavior patterns A,B,C in their dealings with each other, but adopt the patterns X,Y,Z in their dealings with members of group B. Similarly, group B adopt the patterns A,B,C among themselves, but exhibit X,Y,Z in dealing with group A. Thus a position is set up in which the behavior X,Y,Z is the standard reply to X,Y,Z. This position contains elements which may lead to progressive differentiation or schismogenesis along the same lines. If, for example, the patterns X,Y,Z include boasting, we shall see that there is a Iikelihood, if boasting is the reply to boasting, that each group will drive the other into excessive emphasis of the pattern, a process which if not restrained can only lead to more and more extreme rivalry and ultimately to hostility and the breakdown of the whole system.

(17) Complementary differentiation To this category we may refer all those cases in which the behavior and aspirations of the members of the two groups are fundamentally different. Thus members of group A treat each other with patterns L,M,N, and exhibit the patterns O,P,Q in dealings with group B. In reply to O,P,Q, the members of group B exhibit the patterns U,V,W, but among themselves they adopt patterns R,S,T. Thus it comes about that O,P,Q is the reply to U,V,W, and vice versa. This differentiation may become progressive. If, for example, the series, O,P,Q includes patterns culturally regarded as assertive, while U,V,W includes cultural submissiveness, it is likely that submissiveness will promote further assertiveness which in turn will promote further submissiveness. This schismogenesis, unless it is restrained, leads to a progressive unilateral distortion of the personalities of the members of both groups, which results in mutual hostility between them and must end in the breakdown of the system.

(18) Reciprocity Though relationships between groups can broadly be classified into two categories, symmetrical and complementary, this subdivision is to some extent blurred by another type of differentiation which we may describe as reciprocal. In this type the behavior patterns X and Y are adopted by members of each group in their dealings with the other group, but instead of the symmetrical system whereby X is the reply to X and Y is the reply to Y, we find here that X is the reply to Y. Thus in every single instance the behavior is asymmetrical, but symmetry is regained over a large number of instances since sometimes group A exhibit X to which group B reply with Y, and sometimes group A exhibit Y and group B reply with X. Cases in which group A sometimes sell sago to group B and the latter sometimes sell the same commodity to A, may be regarded as reciprocal; but if group A habitually sell sago to B while the latter habitually sell fish to A, we must, I think, regard the pattern as complementary. The reciprocal pattern, it may be noted, is compensated and balanced within itself and therefore does not tend toward schismogenesis.

(19) Points for investigation:

(a) We need a proper survey of the types of behavior which can lead to schismogeneses of the symmetrical type. At present it is only possible to point to boasting and commercial rivalry, but no doubt there are many other patterns which will be found to be accompanied by the same type of effect.

(b) We need a survey of the types of behavior which are mutually complementary and lead to schismogeneses of the second type. Here we can at present only cite assertiveness versus submissiveness, exhibitionism versus admiration, fostering versus expressions of feebleness and, in addition, the various possible combinations of these pairs.

(c) We need verification of the general law assumed above, that when two groups exhibit complementary behavior to each other, the internal behavior between members of group A must necessarily differ from the internal behavior between members of group B.

(d) We need a systematic examination of schismogeneses of both types from the various points of view outlined in paragraph 10. At present I have only looked at the matter from the ethological and structural points of view (paragraph 10, aspects a and b). In addition to this, the Marxian historians have given us a picture of the economic aspect of complementary schismogenesis in Western Europe. It is likely, however, that they themselves have been influenced unduly by the schismogenesis which they studied and have been thereby prompted into exaggeration.

(e) We need to know something about the occurrence of reciprocal behavior in relationships which are preponderantly either symmetrical or complementary.

(20) Restraining factors But, more important than any of the problems in the previous paragraph, we need a study of the factors which restrain both types of schismogenesis. At the present moment, the nations of Europe are far advanced in symmetrical schismogenesis and are ready to fly at each other’s throats; while within each nation are to be observed growing hostilities between the various social strata, symptoms of complementary schismogenesis. Equally, in the countries ruled by new dictatorships we may observe early stages of complementary schismogenesis, the behavior of his associates pushing the dictator into ever greater pride and assertiveness.

The purpose of the present article is to suggest problems and lines of investigation rather than to state the answers, but, tentatively, suggestions may be offered as to the factors controlling schismogenesis:

(a) It is possible that, actually, no healthy equilibrated relationship between groups is either purely symmetrical or purely complementary, but that every such relationship contains elements of the other type. It is true that it is easy to classify relationships into one or the other category according to their predominant emphases, but it is possible that a very small admixture of complementary behavior in a symmetrical relationship, or a very small admixture of symmetrical behavior in a complementary relationship, may go a long way toward stabilizing the position. Examples of this type of stabilization are perhaps common. The squire is in a predominantly complementary and not always comfortable relationship with his villagers, but if he participate in village cricket (a symmetrical rivalry) but once a year, this may have a curiously disproportionate effect upon his relationship with them.

(b) It is certain that, as. in the case quoted above in which group A sell sago to B while the latter sell fish to A, complementary patterns may sometimes have a real stabilizing effect by promoting a mutual dependence between the groups.

(c) It is possible that the presence of a number of truly reciprocal elements in a relationship may tend to stabilize it, preventing the schismogenesis which otherwise might result either from symmetrical or complementary elements. But this would seem to be at best a very weak defense: on the one hand, if we consider the effects of symmetrical schismogenesis upon the reciprocal behavior patterns, we see that the latter tend to be less and less exhibited. Thus, as the individuals composing the nations of Europe become more and more involved in their symmetrical international rivalries, they gradually leave off behaving in a reciprocal manner, deliberately reducing to a minimum their former reciprocal commercial behavior. [6] On the other hand, if we consider the effects of complementary schismogenesis upon the reciprocal behavior patterns, we see that one-half of the reciprocal pattern is liable to lapse. Where formerly both groups exhibited both X and Y, a system gradually evolves in which one of the groups exhibits only X, while the other exhibits only Y. In fact, behavior which was formerly reciprocal is reduced to a typical complementary pattern and is likely after that to contribute to the complementary schismogenesis.

(d) It is certain that either type of schismogenesis between two groups can be checked by factors which unite the two groups either in loyalty or opposition to some outside element. Such an outside element may be either a symbolic individual, an enemy people or some quite impersonal circumstance—the lion will lie down with the lamb if only it rain hard enough. But it must be noted that where the outside element is a person or group of persons, the relationship of the combined groups A and B to the outside group will always be itself a potentially schismogenic relationship of one or the other type. Examination of multiple systems of this kind is badly needed and especially we need to know more about the systems (e.g., military hierarchies) in which the distortion of personality is modified in the middle groups of the hierarchy by permitting the individuals to exhibit respect and submission in dealings with higher groups while they exhibit assertiveness and pride in dealing with the lower.

(e) In the case of the European situation, there is one other possibility—a special case of control by diversion of attention to outside circumstances. It is possible that those responsible for the policy of classes and nations might become conscious of the processes with which they are playing and cooperate in an attempt to solve the difficulties. This, however, is not very likely to occur since anthropology and social psychology lack the prestige necessary to advise; and, without such advice, governments will continue to react to each other’s reactions rather than pay attention to circumstances.

(21) In conclusion, we may turn to the problems of the administrator faced with a black-white culture contact. His first task is to decide which of the end results outlined in paragraph 8 is desirable and possible of attainment. This decision he must make without hypocrisy. If he chooses fusion, then he must endeavor to contrive every step so as to promote the conditions of consistency which are outlined (as problems for investigation) in paragraph 10. If he chooses that both groups shall persist in some form of dynamic equilibrium, then he must contrive to establish a system in which the possibilities of schismogenesis are properly compensated or balanced against each other. But at every step in the scheme which I have outlined there are problems which must be studied by trained students and which when solved will contribute, not only to applied sociology, but to the very basis of our understanding of human beings in society.

Experiments in Thinking about Observed Ethnological Material [7]

As I understand it, you have asked me for an honest, introspective—personal— account of how I think about anthropological material, and if I am to be honest and personal about my thinking, then I must be impersonal about the results of that thinking. Even if I can banish both pride and shame for half an hour, honesty will still be difficult.

Let me try to build up. a picture of how I think by giving you an autobiographical account of how I have acquired my kit of conceptual tools and intellectual habits. I do not mean an academic biography or a list of what subjects I have studied, but something more significant than that—a list rather of the motifs of thought in various scientific subjects which left so deep an impression on my mind that when I came to work on anthropological material, I naturally used those borrowed motifs to guide my approach to this new material.

I owe the greatest part of this kit of tools to my father, William Bateson, who was a geneticist. In schools and universities they do very little to give one an idea of the basic principles of scientific thinking, and what I learned of this came in very large measure from my father’s conversation and perhaps especially from the overtones of his talk. He himself was inarticulate about philosophy and mathematics and logic, and he was articulately distrustful of such subjects, but still, in spite of himself, I think, he passed on to me something of these matters.

The attitudes which I got from him were especially those which he had denied in himself. In his early—and as I think he knew—his best work he posed the problems of animal symmetry, segmentation, serial repetition of parts, patterns, etc. Later he turned away from this field into Mendelism, to which he devoted the remainder of his life. But he had always a hankering after the problems of pattern and symmetry, and it was this hankering and the mysticism that inspired it that I picked up and which, for better or worse, I called “science.”

I picked up a vague mystical feeling that we must look for the same sort of processes in all fields of natural phenomena—that we might expect to find the same sort of laws at work in the structure of a crystal as in the structure of society, or that the segmentation of an earthworm might really be comparable to the process by which basalt pillars are formed.

I should not preach this mystical faith in quite those terms today but would say rather that I believe that the types of mental operation which are useful in analyzing one field may be equally useful in another—that the framework (the eidos) of science, rather than the framework of Nature, is the same in all fields. But the more mystical phrasing of the matter was what I vaguely learnt, and it was of paramount importance. It lent a certain dignity to any scientific investigation, implying that when I was analyzing the patterns of partridges’ feathers, I might really get an answer or a bit of an answer to the whole puzzling business of pattern and regularity in nature. And further, this bit of mysticism was important because it gave me freedom to use my scientific background, the ways of thought that I had picked up in biology and elementary physics and chemistry; it encouraged me to expect these ways of thought to fit in with very different fields of observation. It enabled me to regard all my training as potentially useful rather than utterly irrelevant to anthropology.

When I came into anthropology there was a considerable reaction taking place against the use of loose analogies, especially against the Spencerian analogy between the Organism and Society. Thanks to this mystical belief in the pervading unity of the phenomena of the world, I avoided a great deal of intellectual waste. I never had any doubt that this analogy was fundamentally sound; since to doubt would have been emotionally expensive. Nowadays, of course, the emphasis has shifted. Few would seriously doubt that the ways of analysis which have been found useful in analyzing one complex functioning system are likely to be of use in analyzing any other similar system. But the mystical prop was useful then, though its phrasing was bad.

There is another way, too, in which that mysticism has helped—a way which is especially relevant to my thesis. I want to emphasize that whenever we pride ourselves upon finding a newer, stricter way of thought or exposition; whenever we start insisting too hard upon “operationalism” or symbolic logic or any other of these very essential systems of tramlines, we lose something of the ability to think new thoughts. And equally, of course, whenever we rebel against the sterile rigidity of formal thought and exposition and let our ideas run wild, we likewise lose. As I see it, the advances in scientific thought come from a combination of loose and strict thinking, and this combination is the most precious tool of science.

My mystical view of phenomena contributed specifically to build up this double habit of mind—it led me into wild “hunches” and, at the same time, compelled more formal thinking about those hunches. It encouraged looseness of thought and then immediately insisted that that looseness be measured up against a rigid concreteness. The point is that the first hunch from analogy is wild, and then, the moment I begin to work out the analogy, I am brought up against the rigid formulations which have been devised in the field from which I borrow the analogy.

Perhaps it is worth giving an example of this; it was a matter of formulating the social organization of a New Guinea tribe,—the Iatmul. The Iatmul social system differs from ours in one very essential point. Their society completely lacks any sort of chieftainship, and I phrased this matter loosely by saying that the control of the individual was achieved by what I called “lateral” sanctions rather than by “sanctions from above.” Going over my material, I found further that in general the subdivisions of the society—the clans, moieties, etc.—had virtually no means of punishing their own members. I had a case in which a ceremonial house owned by a particular junior age grade had been defiled, and though the other members of the grade were very angry with the defiler, they could do nothing about it. I asked whether they would kill one of his pigs or take any of his property, and they replied “No, of course not. He is a member of their own initiatory grade.” If the same thing had happened in the big senior ceremonial house which belongs to several grades, then the defiler would be punished. His own grade would defend him but the others would start a brawl. [8]

I then began looking for more concrete cases which could be compared with the contrast between this system and our own. I said, “It’s like the difference between the radially symmetrical animals (jellyfish, sea anemones, etc.) and the animals which have transverse segmentation (earthworms, lobsters, man, etc.).”

Now in the field of animal segmentation we know very little about the mechanisms concerned, but at least the problems are more concrete than in the social field. When we compare a social problem with a problem of animal differentiation, we are at once provided with a visual diagram, in terms of which we may be able to talk a little more precisely. And for the transversely segmented animals, at least, we have something more than a merely anatomical diagram. Thanks to the work that has been done on experimental embryology and axial gradients, we have some idea of the dynamics of the system. We know that some sort of asymmetrical relation obtains between the successive segments, that each segment would, if it could (I speak loosely) form a head, but that the next anterior segment prevents this. Further, this dynamic asymmetry in the relations between successive segments is reflected morphologically; we find in most such animals a serial difference—what is called metameric differentiation—between the. successive segments.

Their appendages, though they can be shown to conform to a single basic structure, differ one from another as we go down the series. (The legs of the lobster provide a familiar example of the sort of thing I mean.)

In contrast with this, in the radially symmetrical animals, the segments, arranged around the center like sectors of a circle, are usually all alike.

As I say, we do not know much about the segmentation of animals, but at least here was enough for me to take back to the problem of Iatmul social organization. My “hunch” had provided me with a set of stricter words and diagrams, in terms of which I could try to be more precise in my thinking about the Iatmul problem. I could now look again at the Iatmul material to determine whether the relationship between the clans was really in some sense symmetrical and to determine whether there was anything that could be compared with the lack of metameric differentiation. I found that the “hunch” worked. I found that so far as opposition, control, etc. between the clans was concerned, the relations between them were reasonably symmetrical, and further, as to the question of differentiation between them, it could be shown that, though there were considerable differences, these followed no serial pattern. Additionally, I found that there was a strong tendency for clans to imitate each other, to steal bits of each other’s mythological history and to incorporate these into their own past—a sort of fraudulent heraldry, each clan copying the others so that the whole system tended to diminish the differentiation between them. (The system perhaps also contained tendencies in an opposite direction, but this question I need not discuss now.)

I followed up the analogy in another direction. Impressed by the phenomena of metameric differentiation, I made the point that in our society with its hierarchical systems (comparable to the earthworm or the lobster), when a group secedes from the parent society, it is usual to find that the line of fission, the division between the new group and the old, marks a differentiation of mores. The Pilgrim Fathers wander off in order to be different. But among the Iatmul, when two groups in a village quarrel, and one half goes off and founds a new community, the mores of the two groups remain identical. In our society, fission tends to be heretical (a following after other doctrines or mores), but in Iatmul, fission is rather schismatic (a following after other leaders without change of dogma).

You will note that. here I overrode my analogy at one point and that this matter is still not perfectly clear. When a transverse fission or a lateral budding occurs in a transversely segmented animal, the products of that bud or fission are identical, the posterior half which was held in check by the anterior is relieved of this control and develops into a normal, complete animal. I am therefore not in step with my analogy when I regard the differentiation which accompanies fission in a hierarchical society as comparable with that which exists before fission in a transversely segmented animal. This divergence from the analogy will surely be worth investigation; it will take us into a more precise study of the asymmetrical relations which obtain between the units in the two cases and raise questions about the reactions of the subordinate member to its position in the asymmetry. This aspect of the matter I have not yet examined.

Having got some sort of conceptual frame within which to describe the interrelations between clans, I went on from this to consider the interrelations between the various age grades in terms of this same frame. Here, if anywhere, where age might be expected to provide a basis for serial differentiation, we ought to expect to find some analogue of the transverse segmentation with asymmetrical relations between the successive grades—and to a certain extent the age-grade system fitted this picture. Each grade has its ceremonies and its secrets of initiation into that grade; and in these ceremonies and secrets it was perfectly easy to trace a metameric differentiation. Ceremonies which are fully developed at the top of the system are still recognizable in their basic form in the lower levels—but more rudimentary at each level as we go down the series.

But the initiatory system contains one very interesting element which was brought into sharp relief when my point of view was defined in terms of animal segmentation. The grades alternate, so that the whole system consists of two opposed groups, one group made up of grades 3, 5, 7, etc. (the odd numbers), and the other made up of 2, 4, 6, etc.; and these two groups maintain the type of relationship which I had already described as “symmetrical”—each providing sanctions by quarreling with the other when their rights are infringed.

Thus even where we might expect the most definite hierarchy, the Iatmul have substituted for it a headless system in which one side is symmetrically opposed to the other.

From this conclusion my enquiry, influenced by many other types of material, will go on to look at the matter from other points of view—especially the psychological problems of whether a preference for symmetrical rather than asymmetrical relationships can be implanted in the individual, and what the mechanisms of such character formation may be. But we need not go into that now.

Enough has been said to bring out the methodological theme—that a vague “hunch” derived from some other science leads into the precise formulations of that other science in terms of which it is possible to think more fruitfully about our own material.

You will have noticed that the form in which I used the biological findings was really rather different from that in which a zoologist would talk about his material. Where the zoologist might talk of axial gradients, I talked about “asymmetrical relationships between successive segments,” and in my phrasing I was prepared to attach to the word “successive” two simultaneous meanings—in referring to the animal material it meant a morphological series in a three-dimensional concrete organism, while in referring to the anthropological material the word “successive” meant some abstracted property of a hierarchy.

I think it would be fair to say that I use the analogies in some curiously abstract form—that, as for “axial gradients” I substitute “asymmetrical relationships,” so also I endow the word “successive” with some abstract meaning which makes it applicable to both sorts of cases.

This brings us to another very important motif in my thinking—a habit of constructing abstractions which refer to terms of comparison between entities; and to illustrate this I can clearly remember the first occasion on which I was guilty of such an abstraction. It was in my Zoological Tripos examination at Cambridge, and the examiner had tried to compel me to answer at least one question on each branch of the subject. Comparative anatomy I had always regarded as a waste of time, but I found myself face to face with it in the examnation and had not the necessary detailed knowledge. I was asked to compare the urinogenital system of the amphibia with that of the mammalia, and I did not know much about it.

Necessity was the mother of invention. I decided that I ought to be able to defend the position that comparative anatomy was a muddled waste of time, and so I set to work to attack the whole emphasis on homology in zoological theory. As you probably will know, zoologists conventionally deal in two sorts of comparability between organs—homology and analogy. Organs are said to be “homologous” when it can be shown that they have similar structure or bear similar structural relations to other organs, e.g., the trunk of the elephant is homologous with the nose and lip of a man because it has the same formal relation to other parts—eyes, etc.; but the trunk of an elephant is analogous to the hand of a man because both have the same uses. Fifteen years ago comparative anatomy revolved endlessly around these two sorts of comparability, which incidentally are good examples of what I mean by “abstractions which define the terms of a comparison between entities.”

My attack on the system was to suggest that there might be other sorts of comparability and that these would confuse the issue to such a degree that mere morphological analysis would not suffice. I argued that the bilateral fins of a fish would conventionally be regarded as homologous with the bilateral limbs of a mammal, but that the tail of a fish, a median organ, would conventionally be regarded a “different from” or at most only “analogous to” the fins. But what about the double-tailed Japanese goldfish? In this animal the factors causing an anomaly of the tail also cause the same anomaly in the bilateral fins; therefore there was here another sort of comparability, an equivalence in terms of processes and laws of growth. Well, I don’t know what mark I got for my answer. I found out much later that, as a matter of fact, the lateral fins of the goldfish are scarcely, if at all, affected by the factors which cause the anomaly in the tail, but I doubt if the examiner caught me in my bluff; and I found also that, curiously, Haekel in 1854 had actually coined the word “homonomy” for the very type of equivalence that I was inventing. The word is, so far as I know, obsolete, and was obsolete when I wrote my answer.

So far as I was concerned, however, the idea was new and I had thought of it myself. I felt that I had discovered how to think. That was in 1926, and this same old clue—recipe, if you like—has remained with me ever since. I did not realize that I had a recipe; and it was not until ten years later that I fully grasped the significance of this analogy-homology-homonomy business.

Perhaps it will be of interest to recount in some detail my various brushes with these concepts and the recipe which they contained. Soon after the examination to which I have referred, I went into anthropology and for some time stopped thinking—wondering rather what could be made of this subject, but not getting anything clear except a repudiation of most of the conventional approaches which, to me, seemed meaningless. I wrote a little skit on the concept of totemism in 1930, first proving that the totemism of the Iatmul is true totemism because it contains a “high percentage” of characteristics of totemism listed in “Notes and Queries on Anthropology” issued more or less ex cathedra by the Royal Anthropological Institute, and then going on to the question, what sort of equivalence we thought we were referring to when we equate some bits of Iatmul culture with the totemism of North America, and dragging in homology-homonomy, etc.

In this discussion of “true” totemism I still had the homonomy-homology abstractions perfectly clear and was using the concepts with a clean (though inarticulate) understanding of what sort of abstractions they were—but it is interesting that I afterwards made some other comparable abstractions for the analysis of latmul material and muddled the issues through forgetting this very thing.

I was especially interested in studying what I called the “feel” of culture, and I was bored with the conventional study of the more formal details. I went out to New Guinea with that much vaguely clear—and in one of my first letters home I complained of the hopelessness of putting any sort of salt on the tail of such an imponderable concept as the “feel” of culture. I had been watching a casual group of natives chewing betel, spitting, laughing, joking, etc., and I felt acutely the tantalizing impossibility of what I wanted to do.

A year later, still in New Guinea, I read Arabia Deserta and recognized with a thrill that Doughty had in a sense done what I wanted to do. He had put salt on the tail of the very bird that I was hunting. But I realized also—sadly -- that he had used the wrong kind of salt. I was not interested in achieving a literary or artistic representation of the “feel” of the culture; I was interested in a scientific analysis of it.

On the whole I think that Doughty was an encouragement to me, and the greatest encouragement I got from him was due to a fallacious bit of thinking which he prompted. It appeared to me that it was impossible to understand the behavior of his Arabs apart from the “feel” of their culture, and from this it seemed to follow that the “feel” of the culture was in some way causative in shaping native behavior. This encouraged me to go on thinking that I was trying after something that was important—so far so good. But it also guided me into regarding the “feel” of the culture as much more concrete and causally active than I had any right to do.

This false concreteness was reinforced later by an accident of language. Radcliffe-Brown called to my attention the old word “ethos” and told me that that was what I was trying to study. Words are dangerous things, and it so happens that “ethos” is in some ways a very bad word. If I had been compelled to make up my own word for what I wanted to say, I might have done better and saved myself a great deal of confusion. I would, I hope, have put forward something like “ethonomy,” which would have reminded me that I was referring to an abstraction of the same order as homology or homonomy. The trouble with the word “ethos” is just this—that it is too short. It is a unit word, a single Greek substantive, and as such helped me to go on thinking that it referred to a unit something which I could still regard as causative. I handled the word as if it were a category of behavior or a sort of factor which shaped behavior.

We are all familiar with this loose use of words in such phrases as: “the causes of war are economic,” “economic behavior,” “he was influenced by his emotions,” “his symptoms are the result of conflict between his superego and his id.” (I am not sure how many of these fallacies are contained in that last example; at a rough count, there seem to be five with a possible sixth, but there may be more. Psychoanalysis has erred sadly in using words that are too short and therefore appear more concrete than they are.) I was guilty of just this sort of shoddy thinking in my handling of the word “ethos,” and you must excuse me if I have gathered moral support for this confession by a digression to show that at any rate others have committed the same crime.

Let us examine the stages by which I got into the fallacy and the way in which I got out of it. I think the first step toward an escape from sin was to multiply offenses—and there is a good deal to be said for this method. Vice is after all a dull business whether it be physical or intellectual, and an effective cure can sometimes be achieved by indulgence to the point at which the patient realizes this. It is a way of proving that a given line of thought or conduct will not do, by experimentally extrapolating it to infinity, when its absurdities become evident.

I multiplied my offenses by creating several more concepts of about the same degree of abstraction as “ethos”—I had “eidos,” “cultural structure,” “sociology”— and all these I handled as though they were concrete entities. I pictured the relations between ethos and cultural structure as being like the relation between a river and its banks—”The river molds the banks and the banks guide the river. Similarly, the ethos molds the cultural structure and is guided by it.” I was still looking for physical analogies, but now the position was not quite the same as when I was looking for analogies in order to get concepts which I could use in analyzing observed material. I was looking now for physical analogies which I could use in analyzing my own concepts, and that is a very much less satisfactory business. I do not mean, of course, that the other sciences can give one no help in the attempt to straighten out one’s thoughts; they surely can. For example, the theory of Dimensions in physics may be of enormous help in this field. What I mean is that when one is seeking an analogy for the elucidation of material of one sort, it is good to look at the way analogous material has been analyzed. But when one is seeking an elucidation of one’s own concepts, then one must look for analogies on an equally abstract level. However, these similes about rivers and their banks seemed pretty to me and I treated them quite seriously.

Here I must digress for a moment to describe a trick of thought and speech, which I have found useful. When I am faced with a vague concept and feel that the time is not yet ripe to bring that concept into strict expression, I coin some loose expression for referring to this concept and do not want to prejudge the issue by giving the concept too meaningful a term. I therefore dub it hastily with some brief concrete colloquial term—generally Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin—I will speak of the “stuff” of culture, or “bits” of culture, or the “feel” of culture. These brief Anglo-Saxon terms have for me a definite feeling tone which reminds me all the time that the concepts behind them are vague and await analysis. It is a trick like tying a knot in a handkerchief—but has the advantage that it still permits me, if I may so express it, to go on using the handkerchief for other purposes. I can go on using the vague concept in the valuable process of loose thinking—still continually reminded that my thoughts are loose.

But these similes about ethos being the river and the formulations of culture or “cultural structure” being its banks were not Anglo-Saxon reminders that I was leaving something for analysis at a later date. They were, as I thought, the real thing—a real contribution to our understanding of how culture works. I thought that there was one sort of phenomenon which I could call “ethos” and another sort which I could call “cultural structure” and that these two worked together—had mutual effect one on the other. All that remained for me to do was to discriminate clearly between these various sorts of phenomena so that other people could perform the same sort of analysis that I was doing.

This effort of discrimination I postponed, feeling perhaps that the problem was not quite ripe—and I went on with the cultural analysis. And did what I still think was good work. I want to emphasize this last point—that, as a matter of fact, considerable contributions to science can be made with very blunt and crooked concepts. We may joke about the way misplaced concreteness abounds in every word of psycho-analytic writing—but in spite of all the muddled thinking that Freud started, psychoanalysis remains as the outstanding contribution, almost the only contribution to our understanding of the family—a monument to the importance and value of loose thinking.

Finally I had completed my book on Iatmul culture, with the exception of the last chapter, the writing of which was to be the final testing and review of my various theoretical concepts and contributions. I planned that this chapter should contain some attempt to discriminate between the sort of thing that I called “ethos” and the sort of thing that I called “eidos,” etc.

I was in a state approximating that panic in the examination room which formerly produced the concept of homonomy. I was due to sail for my next field trip— my book had to be finished before I sailed—the book could not stand without some clear statement about the interrelations of these concepts of mine.

Here I will quote what finally appeared in the book in this last chapter:

“I began to doubt the validity of my own categories, and performed an experiment. I chose three bits of culture: (a) a wau (mother’s brother) giving food to a laua (sister’s son); a pragmatic bit, (b) a man scolding his wife; an ethological bit, and (c) a man marrying his father’s sister’s daughter; a structural bit. Then I drew a lattice of nine squares on a large piece of paper, three rows of squares with three squares in each row. I labeled the horizontal rows with my bits of culture and the vertical columns with my categories. Then I forced myself to see each bit as conceivably belonging to each category. I found that it could be done.

“I found that I could think of each bit of culture structurally; I could see it as in accordance with a consistent set of rules or formulations. Equally, I could see each bit as `pragmatic,’ either as satisfying the needs of individuals or as contributing to the integration of society. Again, I could see each bit ethologically, as an expression of emotion.

“This experiment may seem puerile, but to me it was very important, and I have recounted it at length because there may be some among my readers who tend to regard such concepts as `structure’ as concrete parts which `interact’ in culture, and who find, as I did, a difficulty in thinking of these concepts as labels merely for points of view adopted either by the scientist or by the natives. It is instructive to perform the same experiment with such concepts as economics, etc.” [9]

In fact, “ethos” and the rest were finally reduced to abstractions of the same general order as “homology,” “homonomy,” etc.; they were labels for points of view voluntarily adopted by the investigator. I was, as you may imagine, enormously excited at getting this tangle straightened out—but I was also worried because I thought I should be compelled to rewrite the whole book. But I found that this was not so. I had to tune up the definitions, check through to see that each time the technical term appeared I could substitute the new definition for it, mark the more egregious pieces of nonsense with footnotes warning the reader that these passages might be taken as a warning of how not to say things—and so on. But the body of the book was sound enough—all that it needed was new castors on its legs.

So far I have spoken of my own personal experiences with strict and loose thinking, but I think actually the story which I have narrated is typical of the whole fluctuating business of the advance of science. In my case, which is a small one and comparatively insignificant in the whole advance of science, you can see both elements of the alternating process—first the loose thinking and the building up of a structure on unsound foundations and then the correction to stricter thinking and the substitution of a new underpinning beneath the already constructed mass. And that, I believe, is a pretty fair picture of how science advances, with this exception, that usually the edifice is larger and the individuals who finally contribute the new underpinning are different people from those who did the initial loose thinking. Sometimes, as in physics, we find centuries between the first building of the edifice and the later correction of the foundations—but the process is basically the same.

And if you ask me for a recipe for speeding up this process, I would say first that we ought to accept and enjoy this dual nature of scientific thought and be willing to value the way in which the two processes work together to give us advances in understanding of the world. We ought not to frown too much on either process, or at least to frown equally on either process when it is unsupplemented by the other. There is, I think, a delay in science when we start to specialize for too long either in strict or in loose thinking. I suspect, for example, that the Freudian edifice has been allowed to grow too big before the corrective of strict thought is applied to it—and now when investigators start rephrasing the Freudian dogmas in new stricter terms there may be a lot of ill feeling, which is wasteful. (At this point I might perhaps throw out a word of comfort to the orthodox in psychoanalysis. When the formulators begin rooting about among the most basic of analytic premises and questioning the concrete reality of such concepts as the “ego” or “wishes” or the “id” or the “libido”—as indeed they are already beginning to root—there is no need to get alarmed and to start having terror dreams of chaos and storms at sea. It is certain that most of the old fabric of analysis will still be left standing after the new underpinning has been inserted. And when the concepts, postulates, and premises have been straightened out, analysts will be able to embark upon a new and still more fruitful orgy of loose thinking, until they reach a stage at which again the results of their thinking must be strictly conceptualized. I think that they ought to enjoy this alternating quality in the progress of science and not delay the progress of science by a refusal to accept this dualism.)

Further than this, besides simply not hindering progress, I think we might do something to hasten matters, and I have suggested two ways in which this might be done. One is to train scientists to look among the older sciences for wild analogies to their own material, so that their wild hunches about their own problems will land them among the strict formulations. The second method is to train them to tie knots in their handkerchiefs whenever they leave some matter unformulated—to be willing to leave the matter so for years, but still leave a warning sign in the very terminology they use, such that these terms will forever stand, not as fences hiding the unknown from future investigators, but rather as signposts which read: “UNEXPLORED BEYOND THIS POINT.”
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Part 2 of 4

Morale and National Character [10]

We shall proceed as follows: (1) We shall examine some of the criticisms which can be urged against our entertaining any concept of “national character.” (2) This examination will enable us to state certain conceptual limits within which the phrase “national character” is likely to be valid. (3) We shall then go on, within these limits, to outline what orders of difference we may expect to find among Western nations, trying, by way of illustration, to guess more concretely at some of these differences. (4) Lastly, we shall consider how the problems of morale and international relations are affected by differences of this order.

Barriers to Any Concept of “National Character”

Scientific enquiry has been diverted from questions of this type by a number of trains of thought which lead scientists to regard all such questions as unprofitable or unsound. Before we hazard any constructive opinion as to the order of differences to be expected among European populations, therefore, these diverting trains of thought must be examined.

It is, in the first place, argued that not the people but rather the circumstances under which they live differ from one community to another; that we have to deal with differences either in historical background or in current conditions, and that these factors are sufficient to account for all differences in behavior without our invoking any differences of character in the individuals concerned. Essentially this argument is an appeal to Occam’s Razor—an assertion that we ought not to multiply entities beyond necessity. The argument is that, where observable differences in circumstance exist, we ought to invoke those rather than mere inferred differences in character, which we cannot observe.

The argument may be met in part by quoting experimental data, such as Lewin’s experiments (unpublished material), which showed that there are great differences in the way in which Germans and Americans respond to failure in an experimental setting. The Americans treated failure as a challenge to increase effort; the Germans responded to the same failure with discouragement. But those who argue for the effectiveness of conditions rather than character can still reply that the experimental conditions are not, in fact, the same for both groups; that the stimulus value of any circumstance depends upon how that circumstance stands out against the background of other circumstances in the life of the subject, and that this contrast cannot be the same for both groups.

It is possible, in fact, to argue that since the same circumstances never occur for individuals of different cultural background, it is therefore unnecessary to invoke such abstractions as national character. This argument breaks down, I believe, when it is pointed out that, in stressing circumstance rather than character, we would be ignoring the known facts about learning. Perhaps the best documented generalization in the field of psychology is that, at any given moment, the behavioral characteristics of any mammal, and especially of man, depend upon the previous experience and behavior of that individual. Thus in presuming that character, as well as circumstance, must be taken into account, we are not multiplying entities beyond necessity; we know of the significance of learned character from other types of data, and it is this knowledge which compels us to consider the additional “entity.”

A second barrier to any acceptance of the notion of “national character” arises after the first has been negotiated. Those who grant that character must be considered can still doubt whether any uniformity or regularity is likely to obtain within such. a sample of human beings as constitutes a nation. Let us grant at once that uniformity obviously does not occur, and let us proceed to consider what sorts of regularity may be expected.

The criticism which we are trying to meet is likely to take five forms. (1) The critic may point to the occurrence of subcultural differentiation, to differences between the sexes, or between classes, or between occupational groups within the community. (2) He may point to the extreme heterogeneity and confusion of cultural norms which can be observed in “melting-pot” communities. (3) He may point to the accidental deviant, the individual who has undergone some “accidental” traumatic experience, not usual among those in his social environment. (4) He may point to the phenomena of cultural change, and especially to the sort of differentiation which results when one part of the community lags behind some other in rate of change. (5) Lastly, he may point to the arbitrary nature of national boundaries.

These objections are closely interrelated, and the replies to them all derive ultimately from two postulates: first, that the individual, whether from a physiological or a psychological point of view, is a single organized entity, such that all its “parts” or “aspects” are mutually modifiable and mutually interacting; and second, that a community is likewise organized in this sense.

If we look at social differentiation in a stable community—say, at sex differentiation in a New Guinea tribe [11]—we find that it is not enough to say that the habit system or the character structure of one sex is different from that of another. The significant point is that the habit system of each sex cogs into the habit system of the other; that the behavior of each promotes the habits of the other. [12] We find, for example, between the sexes, such complementary patterns as spectatorship-exhibitionism, dominance-submission, and succoring-dependence, or mixtures of these. Never do we find mutual irrelevance between such groups.

Although it is unfortunately true that we know very little about the terms of habit differentiation between classes, sexes, occupational groups, etc., in Western nations, there is, I think, no danger in applying this general conclusion to all cases of stable differentiation between groups which are living in mutual contact. It is, to me, inconceivable that two differing groups could exist side by side in a community without some sort of mutual relevance between the special characteristics of one group and those of the other. Such an occurrence would be contrary to the postulate that a community is an organized unit. We shall, therefore, presume that this generalization applies to all stable social differentiation.

Now, all that we know of the mechanics of character formation—especially the processes of projection, reaction formation, compensation, and the like—forces us to regard these bipolar patterns as unitary within the individual. If we know that an individual is trained in overt expression of one-half of one of these patterns, e.g., in dominance behavior, we can predict with certainty (though not in precise language) that the seeds of the other half—submission—are simultaneously sown. in his personality. We have to think of the individual, in fact, as trained in dominance-submission, not in either dominance or submission. From this it follows that where we are dealing with stable differentiation within a community, we are justified in ascribing common character to the members of that community, provided we take the precaution of describing that common character in terms of the motifs of relationship between the differentiated sections of the community.

The same sort of considerations will guide us in dealing with our second criticism—the extremes of heterogeneity, such as occur in modern “melting-pot” communities. Suppose we attempted to analyze out all the motifs of relationship between individuals and groups in such a community as New York City; if we did not end in the madhouse long before we had completed our study, we should arrive at a picture of common character that would be almost infinitely complex—certainly that would contain more fine differentiations than the human psyche is capable of resolving within itself. At this point, then, both we and the individuals whom we are studying are forced to take a short cut: to treat heterogeneity as a positive characteristic of the common environment, sui generis. When, with such an hypothesis, we begin to look for common motifs of behavior, we note the very clear tendencies toward glorying in heterogeneity for its own sake (as in the Robinson Latouche “Ballad for Americans”) and toward regarding the world as made up of an infinity of disconnected quiz-bits (like Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”).

The third objection, the case of the individual deviant, falls in the same frame of reference as that of the differentiation of stable groups. The boy on whom an English public-school education does not take, even though the original roots of his deviance were laid in some “accidental” traumatic incident, is reacting to the public-school system. The behavioral habits which he acquires may not follow the norms which the school intends to implant, but they are acquired in reaction to those very norms. He may (and often does) acquire patterns the exact opposite of the normal; but he cannot conceivably acquire irrelevant patterns. He may become a “bad” public-school Englishman, he may become insane, but still his deviant characteristics will be systematically related to the norms which he is resisting. We may describe his character, indeed, by saying that it is as systematically related to the standard public-school character as the character of Iatmul natives of one sex is systematically related to the character of the other sex. His character is oriented to the motifs and patterns of relationship in the society in which he lives.

The same frame of reference applies to the fourth consideration, that of changing communities and the sort of differentiation which occurs when one section of a community lags behind another in change. Since the direction in which a change occurs will necessarily be conditioned by the, status quo ante, the new patterns, being reactions to the old, will be systematically related to the old. As long as we confine ourselves to the terms and themes of this systematic relationship, therefore, we are entitled to expect regularity of character in the individuals. Furthermore, the expectation and experience of change may, in some cases, be so important as to become a common character-determining factor [13] sui generis, in the same sort of way that “heterogeneity” may have positive effects.

Lastly, we may consider cases of shifting national boundaries, our fifth criticism. Here, of course, we cannot expect that a diplomat’s signature on a treaty will immediately modify the characters of the individuals whose national allegiance is thereby changed. It may even happen—for example, in cases where a preliterate native population is brought for the first time in contact with Europeans—that, for some time after the shift, the two parties to such a situation will behave in an exploratory or almost random manner, each retaining its own norms and not yet developing any special adjustments to the situation of contact. During this period, we should still not expect any generalizations to apply to both groups. Very soon, however, we know that each side does develop special patterns of behavior to use in its contacts with the other. [14]At this point, it becomes meaningful to ask what systematic terms of relationship will describe the common character of the two groups; and from this point on, the degree of common character structure will increase until the two groups become related to each other just as two classes or two sexes in a stable, differentiated society. [15]

In sum, to those who argue that human communities show too great internal differentiation or contain too great a random element for any notion of common character to apply, our reply would be that we expect such an approach to be useful (a) provided we describe common character in terms of the themes of relationship between groups and individuals within the community, and (b) provided that we allow sufficient time to elapse for the community to reach some degree of equilibrium or to accept either change or heterogeneity as a characteristic of their human environment.

Differences Which We May Expect Between National Groups

The above examination of “straw men” in the case against “national character” has very stringently limited the scope of this concept. But the conclusions from this examination are by no means simply negative. To limit the scope of a concept is almost synonymous with defining it.

We have added one very important tool to our equipment —the technique of describing the common character (or the “highest common factor” of character) of individuals in a human community in terms of bipolar adjectives. Instead of despairing in face of the fact that nations are highly differentiated, we shall take the dimensions of that differentiation as our clues to the national character. No longer content to say, “Germans are submissive,” or “Englishmen are aloof,” we shall use such phrases as “dominant-submissive” when relationships of this sort can be shown to occur. Similarly, we shall not refer to “the paranoidal element in German character,” unless we can show that by “paranoidal” we mean some bipolar characteristic of German-German or German-foreign relationships. We shall not describe varieties of character by defining a given character in terms of its position on a continuum between extreme dominance and extreme submissiveness, but we shall, instead, try to use for our descriptions some such continua as “degree of interest in, or orientation toward, dominance-submission.”

So far, we have mentioned only a very short list of bipolar characteristics: dominance-submission, succoring-dependence, and exhibitionism-spectatorship. One criticism will certainly be uppermost in the reader’s mind, that, in short, all three of these characteristics are clearly present in all Western cultures. Before our method becomes useful, therefore, we must try to expand it to give us sufficient scope and discriminatory power to differentiate one Western culture from another.

As this conceptual frame develops, no doubt, many further expansions and discriminations will be introduced. The present paper will deal with only three such types of expansion.

Alternatives to Bipolarity

When we invoked bipolarity as a means of handling differentiation within society without foregoing some notion of common character structure, we considered only the possibility of simple bipolar differentiation. Certainly this pattern is very common in Western cultures; take, for instance, Republican-Democrat, political Right-Left, sex differentiation, God and the devil, and so on. These peoples even try to impose a binary pattern upon phenomena which are not dual in nature—youth versus age, labor versus capital, mind versus matter—and, in general, lack the organizational devices for handling triangular systems; the inception of any “third” party is always regarded, for example, as a threat to our political organization. This clear tendency toward dual systems ought not, however, to blind us to the occurrence of other patterns. [16]

There is, for example, a very interesting tendency in English communities toward the formation of ternary systems, such as parents-nurse-child, king-ministers-people, officers-N.C.O.’s-privates. [17]While the precise motifs of relationship in these ternary systems remain to be investigated, it is important to note that these systems, to which I refer as “ternary,” are neither “simple hierarchies” nor “triangles.” By a pure hierarchy, I should mean a serial system in which face-to-face relations do not occur between members when they are separated by some intervening member; in other words, systems in which the only communication between A and C passes through B. By a triangle I should mean a threefold system with no serial properties. The ternary system, parent-nurse-child, on the other hand, is very different from either of these other forms. It contains serial elements, but face-to-face contact does occur between the first and the third members. Essentially, the function of the middle member is to instruct and discipline the third member in the forms of behavior which he should adopt in his contacts with the first. The nurse teaches the child how to behave toward its parents, just as the N.C.O. teaches and disciplines the private in how he should behave toward officers. In psychoanalytic terminology, the process of introjection is done indirectly, not by direct impact of the parental personality upon the child. [18] The face-to-face contacts between the first and third members are, however, very important. We may refer, in this connection, to the vital daily ritual in the British Army, in which the officer of the day asks the assembled privates and N.C.O.’s whether there are any complaints.

Certainly, any full discussion of English character ought to allow for ternary, as well as bipolar patterns.

Symmetrical Motifs

So far, we have considered only what we have called “complementary” patterns of relationship, in which the behavior patterns at one end of the relationship are different from, but fit in with, the behavior patterns at the other end (dominance-submission, etc.). There exists, however, a whole category of human interpersonal behavior which does not conform to this description. In addition to the contrasting complementary patterns, we have to recognize the existence of a series of symmetrical patterns, in which people respond to what others are doing by themselves doing something similar. In particular, we have to consider those competitive [19] patterns in which individual or group A is stimulated to more of any type of behavior by perceiving more of that same type of behavior (or greater success in that type of behavior) in individual or group B.

There is a very profound contrast between such competitive systems of behavior and complementary dominance-submission systems—a highly significant contrast for any discussion of national character. In complementary striving, the stimulus which prompts A to greater efforts is the relative weakness in B; if we want to make A subside or submit, we ought to show him that B is stronger than he is. In fact, the complementary character structure may be summarized by the phrase “bully-coward,” implying the combination of these characteristics in the personality. The symmetrical competitive systems, on the other hand, are an almost precise functional opposite of the complementary. Here the stimulus which evokes greater striving in A is the vision of greater strength or greater striving in B; and, inversely, if we demonstrate to A that B is really weak, A will relax his efforts.

It is probable that these two contrasting patterns are alike available as potentialities in all human beings; but clearly, any individual who behaves in both ways at once will risk internal confusion and conflict. In the various national groups, consequently, different methods of resolving this discrepancy have developed. In England and in America, where children and adults are subjected to an almost continuous barrage of disapproval whenever they exhibit the complementary patterns, they inevitably come to accept the ethics of “fair play.” Responding to the challenge of difficulties, they cannot, without guilt, kick the underdog. [20] For British morale Dunkirk was a stimulus, not a depressant.

In Germany, on the other hand, the same cliches are apparently lacking, and the community is chiefly organized on the basis of a complementary hierarchy in terms of dominance-submission. The dominance behavior is sharply and clearly developed; yet the picture is not perfectly clear and needs further investigation. Whether a pure dominance-submission hierarchy could ever exist as a stable system is doubtful. It seems that in the case of Germany, the submission end of the pattern is masked, so that overt submissive behavior is almost as strongly tabooed as it is in America or England. In place of submission, we find a sort of parade-ground impassivity.

A hint as to the process by which the submissive role is modified and rendered tolerable comes to us out of the interviews in a recently begun study of German life histories. [21] One German subject described how different was the treatment which he, as a boy, received in his South German home, from that which his sister received. He said that much more was demanded of him; that his sister was allowed to evade discipline; that whereas he was always expected to click his heels and obey with precision, his sister was allowed much more freedom. The interviewer at once began to look for intersex sibling jealousy, but the subject declared that it was a greater honor for the boy to obey. “One doesn’t expect too much of girls,” he said. “What one felt they (boys) should accomplish and do was very serious, because they had to be prepared for life.” An interesting inversion of noblesse oblige.

Combinations of Motifs

Among the complementary motifs, we have mentioned only three—dominancesubmission, exhibitionism-spectatorship, and succorance-dependence—but these three will suffice to illustrate the sort of verifiable hypotheses at which we can arrive by describing national character in this hyphenated terminology. [22]

Since, clearly, all three of these motifs occur in all Western cultures, the possibilities for international difference are limited to the proportions and ways in which the motifs are combined. The proportions are likely to be very difficult to detect, except where the differences are very large. We may be sure ourselves that Germans are more oriented toward dominance-submission than are Americans, but to demonstrate this certainty is likely to be difficult. To estimate differences in the degree of development of exhibitionism-spectatorship or succorance-dependence in the various nations will, indeed, probably be quite impossible.

If, however, we consider the possible ways in which these motifs may be combined together, we find sharp qualitative differences which are susceptible of easy verification. Let us assume that all three of these motifs are developed in all relationships in all Western cultures, and from this assumption go on to consider which individual plays which role.

It is logically possible that in one cultural environment A will be dominant and exhibitionist, while B is submissive and spectator; while in another culture X may be dominant and spectator, while Y is submissive and exhibitionist.

Examples of this sort of contrast rather easily come to mind. Thus we may note that whereas the dominant Nazis preen themselves before the people, the czar of Russia kept his private ballet, and Stalin emerges from seclusion only to review his troops. We might perhaps present the relationship between the Nazi Party and the people thus:

Party / People
Dominance / Submission
Exhibitionism / Spectatorship

While the czar and his ballet would be represented:

Czar / Ballet
Dominance / Submission
Spectatorship / Exhibitionsim

Since these European examples are comparatively unproved, it is worthwhile at this point to demonstrate the occurrence of such differences by describing a rather striking ethnographic difference which has been documented more fully. In Europe, where we tend to associate succoring behavior with social superiority, we construct our parent symbols accordingly. Our God, or our king, is the “father” of his people. In Bali, on the other hand, the gods are the “children” of the people, and when a god speaks through the mouth of a person in trance, he addresses anyone who will listen as “father.” Similarly, the rajah is sajanganga (“spoilt” like a child) by his people. The Balinese, further, are very fond of putting children in the combined roles of god and dancer; in mythology, the perfect prince is polished and narcissistic. Thus the Balinese pattern might be summarized thus:

High Status / Low Status
Dependence / Succoring
Exhibitionism / Spectatorship

And this diagram would imply, not only that the Balinese feel dependence and exhibitionism and superior status to go naturally together, but also that a Balinese will not readily combine succoring with exhibitionism (that is, Bali completely lacks the ostentatious gift-giving characteristic of many primitive peoples) or will be embarrassed if forced by the context to attempt such a combination.

Although the analogous diagrams for our Western cultures cannot be drawn with the same certainty, it is worthwhile to attempt them for the parent-child relationships in English, American, and German cultures. One extra complication must, however, be faced; when we look at parent-child relationships instead of at relationships between princes and people, we have to make specific allowance for the changes in the pattern which occur as the child grows older. Succorance-dependence is undoubtedly a dominant motif in early childhood, but various mechanisms later modify this extreme dependence, to bring about some degree of psychological independence.

The English upper- and middle-class system would be represented diagrammatically thus:

Parents / Children
Dominance / Submission (modified by “ternary” nurse system)
Succoring / Dependence (dependence habits broken by separation—children sent to school)
Exhibitionism / Spectatorship (children listen silently at meals)

In contrast with this, the analogous American pattern seems to be:

Parents / Children
Dominance (slight) / Submission (slight)
Succoring / Dependence
Spectatorship / Exhibitionism

And this pattern differs from the English not only in the reversal of the spectatorship-exhibitionism roles, but also in the content of what is exhibited. The American child is encouraged by his parents to show off his independence. Usually the process of psychological weaning is not accomplished by sending the child away to a boarding school; instead, the child’s exhibitionism is played off against his independence, until the latter is neutralized. Later, from this beginning in the exhibition of independence, the individual may sometimes go on in adult life to show off succorance, his wife and family becoming in some degree his “exhibits.”

Though the analogous German pattern probably resembles the American in the arrangement of the paired complementary roles, certainly it differs from the American in that the father’s dominance is much stronger and much more consistent, and especially in that the content of the boy’s exhibitionism is quite different. He is, in fact, dominated into a sort of heel-clicking exhibitionism which takes the place of overt submissive behavior. Thus, while in the American character exhibitionism is encouraged by the parent as a method of psychological weaning, both its function and its content are for the German entirely different.

Differences of this order, which may be expected in all European nations, are probably the basis of many of our naive and often unkind international comments. They may, indeed, be of considerable importance in the mechanics of international relations, in as much as an understanding of them might dispel some of our misunderstandings. To an American eye, the English too often appear “arrogant,” whereas to an English eye the American appears to be “boastful.” If we could show precisely how much of truth and how much of distortion is present in these impressions, it might be a real contribution to interallied cooperation.

In terms of the diagrams above, the “arrogance” of the Englishman would be due to the combination of dominance and exhibitionism. The Englishman in a performing role (the parent at breakfast, the newspaper editor, the political spokesman, the lecturer, or what not) assumes that he is also in a dominant role—that he can decide in accordance with vague, abstract standards what sort of performance to give —and the audience can “take it or leave it.” His own arrogance he sees either as “natural” or as mitigated by his humility in face of the abstract standards. Quite unaware that his behavior could conceivably be regarded as a comment upon his audience, he is, on the contrary, aware only of behaving in the performer’s role, as he understands that role. But the American does not see it thus. To him, the “arrogant” behavior of the Englishman appears to be directed against the audience, in which case the implicit invocation of some abstract standard appears only to add insult to injury.

Similarly, the behavior which an Englishman interprets as “boastful” in an American is not aggressive, although the Englishman may feel that he is being subjected to some sort of invidious comparison. He does not know that, as a matter of fact, Americans will only behave like this to people whom they rather like and respect. According to the hypothesis above, the “boasting” pattern results from the curious linkage whereby exhibition of self-sufficiency and independence is played off against overdependence. The American, when he boasts, is looking for approval of his upstanding independence; but the naive Englishman interprets this behavior as a bid for some sort of dominance or superiority.

In this sort of way, we may suppose that the whole flavor of one national culture may differ from that of another, and that such differences may be considerable enough to lead to serious misunderstandings. It is probable, however, that these differences are not so complex in their nature as to be beyond the reach of investigation. Hypotheses of the type which we have advanced could be easily tested, and research on these lines is urgently needed.

National Character and American Morale

Using the motifs of interpersonal and intergroup relationship as our clues to national character, we have been able to indicate certain orders of regular difference which we may expect to find among the peoples who share our Western civilization. Of necessity, our statements have been theoretical rather than empirical; still, from the theoretical structure which we have built up, it is possible to extract certain formulas which may be useful to the builder of morale.

All of these formulas are based upon the general assumption that people will respond most energetically when the context is structured to appeal to their habitual patterns of reaction. It is not sensible to encourage a donkey to go up hill by offering him raw meat, nor will a lion respond to grass.

(1) Since all Western nations tend to think and behave in bipolar terms, we shall do well, in building American morale, to think of our various enemies as a single hostile entity. The distinctions and gradations which intellectuals might prefer are likely to be disturbing.

(2) Since both Americans and English respond most energetically to symmetrical stimuli, we shall be very unwise if we soft-pedal the disasters of war. If our enemies defeat us at any point, that fact ought to be used to the maximum as a challenge and a spur to further effort. When our forces have suffered some reverse, our newspapers ought to be in no hurry to tell us that “enemy advances have been checked.” Military progress is always intermittent, and the moment to strike, the moment when maximum morale is needed, occurs when the enemy is solidifying his position and preparing the next blow. At such a moment, it is not sensible to reduce the aggressive energy of our leaders and people by smug reassurance.

(3) There is, however, a superficial discrepancy between the habit of symmetrical motivation and the need for showing self-sufficiency. We have suggested that the American boy learns to stand upon his own feet through those occasions in childhood when his parents are approving spectators of his self-sufficiency. If this diagnosis is correct, it would follow that a certain bubbling up of self-appreciation is normal and healthy in Americans and is perhaps an essential ingredient of American independence and strength.

A too literal following of the formula above, therefore, a too great insistence upon disasters and difficulties, might lead to some loss of energy through the damming up of this spontaneous exuberance. A rather concentrated diet of “blood, sweat, and tears” may be good for the English; but Americans, while no less dependent upon symmetrical motivation, cannot feel their oats when fed on nothing but disaster. Our public spokesmen and newspaper editors should never softpedal the fact that we have a man-sized job on our hands, but they will do well to insist also that America is a man-sized nation. Any sort of attempt to reassure Americans by minimizing the strength of the enemy must be avoided, but frank boasts of real success are good.

(4) Because our vision of the peace is a factor in our war-making morale, it is worthwhile to ask at once what light the study of national differences may throw upon the problems of the peace table.

We have to devise a peace treaty (a) such that Americans and British will fight to achieve it, and (b) such that it will bring out the best rather than the worst characteristics of our enemies. If we approach it scientifically, such a problem is by no means beyond our skill.

The most conspicuous psychological hurdle to be negotiated, in imagining such a peace treaty, is the contrast between British and American symmetrical patterns and the German complementary pattern, with its taboo on overt submissive behavior. The allied nations are not psychologically equipped to enforce a harsh treaty; they might draw up such a treaty, but in six months they would tire of keeping the underdog down. The Germans, on the other hand, if they see their role as “submissive,” will not stay down without harsh treatment. We have seen that these considerations applied even to such a mildly punitive treaty as was devised at Versailles; the allies omitted to enforce it, and the Germans refused to accept it. It is, therefore, useless to dream of such a treaty, and worse than useless to repeat such dreams as a way of raising our morale now, when we are angry with Germany. To do that would only obscure the issues in the final settlement.

This incompatibility between complementary and symmetrical motivation means, in fact, that the treaty cannot be organized around simple dominance-submissive motifs; hence we are forced to look for alternative solutions. We must examine, for example, the motif of exhibitionism-spectatorship —what dignified role is each of the various nations best fitted to play?—and that of succoring-dependence— in the starving postwar world, what motivational patterns shall we evoke between those who give and those who receive food? And, alternative to these solutions, we have the possibility of some threefold structure, within which both the allies and Germany would submit, not to each other, but to some abstract principle.

Bali: The Value System of a Steady State [23]

“Ethos” and “Schismogenesis”

It would be an oversimplification—it would even be false —to say that science necessarily advances by the construction and empirical testing of successive working hypotheses. Among the physicists and chemists there may be some who really proceed in this oithoclox manner, but among the social scientists there is perhaps not one. Our concepts are loosely defined—a haze of chiaroscuro prefiguring sharper lines still undrawn—and our hypotheses are still so vague that rarely can we imagine any crucial instance whose investigation will test them.

The present paper is an attempt to make more precise an idea which I published in 1936 [24] and which has lain fallow since that time. The notion of ethos had proved a useful conceptual tool for me, and with it I had been able to get a sharper understanding of Iatmul culture. But this experience by no means proved that this tool would necessarily be useful in other hands or for the analysis of other cultures. The most general conclusion I could draw was of this order: that my own mental processes had certain characteristics; that the sayings, actions, and organization of the Iatmul had certain characteristics; and that the abstraction, “ethos,” performed some role—catalytic, perhaps—in easing the relation between these two specificities, my mind and the data which I myself had collected.

Immediately after completing the manuscript of Naven, I went to Bali with the intention of trying upon Balinese data this tool which had been evolved for the analysis of Iatmul. For one reason or another, however, I did not do this, partly because in Bali Margaret Mead and I were engaged in devising other tools— photographic methods of record and description—and partly because I was learning the techniques of applying genetic psychology to cultural data, but more especially because at some inarticulate level I felt that the tool was unsuitable for this new task.

It was not that ethos was in any sense disproved—indeed, a tool or a method can scarcely be proved false. It can only be shown to be not useful, and in this case there was not even a clear demonstration of uselessness. The method remained almost untried, and the most I could say was that, after that surrender to the data which is the first step in all anthropological study, ethological analysis did not seem to be the next thing to do.

It is now possible to show with Balinese data what peculiarities of that culture may have influenced me away from ethological analysis, and this demonstration will lead to a greater generalization of the abstraction; ethos. We shall in the process make certain heuristic advances which may guide us to more rigorous descriptive procedures in dealing with other cultures.

(1) The analysis of Iatmul data led to the definition of ethos as “The expression of a culturally standardized system of organization of the instincts and emotions of the individuals.” [25]

(2) Analysis of Iatmul ethos—consisting in the ordering of data so as to make evident certain recurrent “emphases” or “themes”—led to recognition of schismogenesis. It appeared that the working of latmul society involved inter alia two classes of regenerative [26] or “vicious” circles. Both of these were sequences of social interaction such that A’s acts were stimuli for B’s acts, which in turn became stimuli for more intense action on the part of A, and so on, A and B being persons acting either as individuals or as group members.

(3) These schismogenic sequences could be classified into two classes: (a) symmetrical schismogenesis, where the mutually promoting actions of A and B were essentially similar, e.g., in cases of competition, rivalry, and the like; and ( b) complementary schismogenesis, where the mutually promoting actions are essentially dissimilar but mutually appropriate, e.g., in cases of dominance-submission, succoring-dependence, exhibitionism-spectatorship, and the like.

(4) In 1939 a considerable advance was made in defining the formal relations between the concepts of symmetrical and complementary schismogenesis. This came from an attempt to state schismogenic theory in terms of Richardson’s equations for international armaments races [27]. The equations for rivalry evidently gave a first approximation to what I had called “symmetrical schismogenesis.” These equations assume that the intensity of A’s actions (the rate of his arming, in Richardson’s case) is simply proportional to the amount by which B is ahead of A. The stimulus term in fact is (B —A), and when this term is positive it is expected that A will engage in efforts to arm. Richardson’s second equation makes the same assumption mutatis mutandis about B’s actions. These equations suggested that other simply rivalrous or competitive phenomena—e.g., boasting—though not subject to such simple measurement as expenditure on armament, might yet when ultimately measured be reducible to a simply analogous set of relations.

The matter was, however, not so clear in the case of complementary schismogenesis. Richardson’s equations for “submission” evidently define a phenomenon somewhat different from a progressive complementary relationship, and the form of his equations describes the action of a factor “submissiveness” which slows down and ultimately reverses the sign of warlike effort. What was, however, required to describe complementary schismogenesis was an equational form giving. a sharp and discontinuous reversal of sign. Such an equational form is achieved by supposing A’s actions in a complementary relationship to be proportional to a stimulus term of the type (A —B). Such a form has also the advantage of automatically defining the actions of one of the participants as negative, and thus gives some mathematical analogue for the apparent psychological relatedness of domination to submission, exhibitionism to spectatorship, succoring to dependence, etc.

Notably this formulation is itself a negative of the formulation for rivalry, the stimulus term being the opposite. It had been observed that symmetrical sequences of actions tend sharply to reduce the strain of excessively complementary relationships between persons or groups. [28] It is tempting to ascribe this effect to some hypothesis which would make the two types of schismogenesis in some degree psychologically incompatible, as is done by the above formulation.

(5) It is of interest to note that all the modes associated with the erogenous zones, [29] though not clearly quantifiable, define themes for complementary relationship.

(6) The link with erogenous zones suggested in 5, above, indicates that we ought, perhaps, not to think of simple rising exponential curves of intensity limited only by factors analogous to fatigue, such as Richardson’s equations would imply; but rather that we should expect our curves to be bounded by phenomena comparable to orgasm—that the achievement of a certain degree of bodily or neural involvement or intensity may be followed by a release of schismogenic tension. Indeed, all that we know about human beings in various sorts of simple contests would seem to indicate that this is the case, and that the conscious or unconscious wish for release of this kind is an important factor which draws the participants on and prevents them from simply withdrawing from contests which would otherwise not commend themselves to “common sense.” If there be any basic human characteristic which makes man prone to struggle, it would seem to be this hope of release from tension through total involvement. In the case of war this factor is undoubtedly often potent. (The real truth—that in modern warfare only a very few of the participants achieve this climactic release—seems hardly to stand against the insidious myth of “total” war.)

(7) In 1936 it was suggested that the phenomenon of “falling in love” might be comparable to a schismogenesis with the signs reversed, and even that “if the course of true love ever ran smooth it would follow an exponential curve.” [30] Richardson [31] has since, independently, made the same point in more formal terms. Paragraph 6, above, clearly indicates that the “exponential curves” must give place to some type of curve which will not rise indefinitely but will reach a climax and then fall. For the rest, however, the obvious relationship of these interactive phenomena to climax and orgasm very much strengthens the case for regarding schismogenesis and those cumulative sequences of interaction which lead to love as often psychologically equivalent. (Witness the curious confusions between fighting and lovemaking, the symbolic identifications of orgasm with death, the recurrent use by mammals of organs of offense as ornaments of sexual attracttion, etc.)

(8) Schismogenic sequences were not found in Bali. This negative statement is of such importance and conflicts with so many theories of social opposition and Marxian determinism that, in order to achieve credibility, I must here describe schematically the process of character formation, the resulting Balinese character structure, the exceptional instances in which some sort of cumulative interaction can be recognized, and the methods by which quarrels and status differentiation are handled. (Detailed analysis of the various points and the supporting data cannot here be reproduced, but references will be given to published sources where the data can be examined.) [32]

Balinese Character

(a) The most important exception to the above generalization occurs in the relationship between adults (especially parents) and children. Typically, the mother will start a small flirtation with the child, pulling its penis or otherwise stimulating it to interpersonal activity. This will excite the child, and for a few moments cumulative interaction will occur. Then just as the child, approaching some small climax, flings its arms around the mother’s neck, her attention wanders. At this point the child will typically start an alternative cumulative interaction, building up toward temper tantrum. The mother will either play a spectator’s role, enjoying the child’s tantrum, or, if the child actually attacks her, will brush off his attack with no show of anger on her part. These sequences can be seen either as an expression of the mother’s distaste for this type of personal involvement or as context in which the child acquires a deep distrust of such involvement. The perhaps basically human tendency towards cumulative personal interaction is thus muted. [33] It is possible that some sort of continuing plateau of intensity is substituted for climax as the child becomes more fully adjusted to Balinese life. This cannot at present be clearly documented for sexual relations, but there are indications that a plateau type of sequence is characteristic for trance and for quarrels (see d, below).

(b) Similar sequences have the effect of diminishing the child’s tendencies toward competitive and rivalrous behavior. The mother will, for example, tease the child by suckling the baby of some other woman and will enjoy her own child’s efforts to push the intruder from the breast. [34]

(c) In general the lack of climax is characteristic for Balinese music, drama, and other art forms. The music typically has a progression, derived from the logic of its formal structure, and modifications of intensity determined by the duration and progress of the working out of these formal relations. It does not have the sort of rising intensity and climax structure characteristic of modern Occidental music, but rather a formal progression. [35]

(d) Balinese culture includes definite techniques for dealing with quarrels. Two men who have quarrelled will go formally to the office of the local representative of the Rajah and will there register their quarrel, agreeing that whichever speaks to the other shall pay a fine or make an offering to the gods. Later, if the quarrel terminates, this contract may be formally nullified. Smaller—but similar—avoidances (pwik) are practiced, even by small children in their quarrels. It is significant, perhaps, that this procedure is not an attempt to influence the protagonists away from hostility and toward friendship. Rather, it is a formal recognition of the state of their mutual relationship, and possibly, in some sort, a pegging of the relationship at that state. If this interpretation is correct, this method of dealing with quarrels would correspond to the substitution of a plateau for a climax.

(e) In regard to warfare, contemporary comment on the old wars between the Rajahs indicates that in the period when the comments were collected (1936–39) war was thought of as containing large elements of mutual avoidance. The village of Bajoeng Gede was surrounded by an old vallum and foss, and the people explained the functions of these fortifications in the following terms: “If you and I had a quarrel, then you would go and dig a ditch around your house. Later I would come to fight with you, but I would find the ditch and then there would be no fight”—a sort of mutual Maginot Line psychology. Similarly the boundaries between neighboring kingdoms were, in general, a deserted no-man’s land inhabited only by vagrants and exiles. (A very different psychology of warfare was no doubt developed when the kingdom of Karangasem embarked on the conquest of the neighboring island of Lombok in the beginning of the eighteenth century. The psychology of this militarism has not been investigated, but there is reason to believe that the time perspective of the Balinese colonists in Lombok is today significantly different from that of Balinese in Bali.) [36]

(f) The formal techniques of social influence—oratory and the like—are almost totally lacking in Balinese culture. To demand the continued attention of an individual or to exert emotional influence upon a group are alike distasteful and virtually impossible; because in such circumstances the attention of the victim rapidly wanders. Even such continued speech as would, in most cultures, be used for the telling of stories does not occur in Bali. The narrator will, typically, pause after a sentence or two, and wait for some member of the audience to ask him a concrete question about some detail of the plot. He will then answer the question and so resume his narration. This procedure apparently breaks the cumulative tension by irrelevant interaction.

(g) The principal hierarchical structures in the society—the caste system and the hierarchy of full citizens who are the village council—are rigid. There are no contexts in which one individual could conceivably compete with another for position in either of these systems. An individual may lose his membership in the hierarchy for various acts, but his place in it cannot be altered. Should he later return to orthodoxy and be accepted back, he will return to his original position in relation to the other members. [37]

The foregoing descriptive generalizations are all partial answers to a negative question—”Why is Balinese society nonschismogenic?”—and from the combination of these generalizations we arrive at a picture of a society differing very markedly from our own, from that of the Iatmul, from those systems of social opposition which Radcliffe-Brown has analyzed, and from any social structure postulated by Marxian analysis.

We started with the hypothesis that human beings have a tendency to involve themselves in sequences of cumulative interaction, and this hypothesis is still left virtually intact. Among the Balinese the babies, at least, evidently have such tendencies. But for sociological validity this hypothesis must now be guarded with a parenthetical clause stipulating that these tendencies are operative in the dynamics of society only if the childhood training is not such as to prevent their expression in adult life.

We have made an advance in our knowledge of the scope of human character formation in demonstrating that these tendencies toward cumulative interaction are subject to some sort of modification, deconditioning, or inhibition. [38] And this is an important advance. We know how it is that the Balinese are nonschismogenic and we know how their distaste for schismogenic patterns is expressed in various details of the social organization—the rigid hierarchies, the institutions for the handling of quarrels, etc.—but we still know nothing of the positive dynamics of the society. We have answered only the negative question.
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