Wednesday, 4 February 2004

MIND AND NATURE by Gregory Bateson Chapter II

The thinking of Gregory Bateson would have no problem with the changes that are happening in the media. For him, there would be no newsmakers and newsgatherers, but living agents engaged in the exchange of information. Indeed, this exchange would be, in his revisioning of life processes, one of the main things that makes them alive in the first place, a key behaviour of a living system.

"In fact, wherever information – or comparison – is of the essence of our explanation, there, for me, is mental process. Information can be defined as a difference that makes a difference (my emphasis). A sensory end organ is a comparator, a device which responds to difference. Of course, the sensory end organ is material, but it is this responsiveness to difference that we shall use to distinguish its functioning as "mental." Similarly, the ink on this page is material, but the ink is not my thought. Even at the most elementary level, the ink is not signal or message. The difference between paper and ink is the signal.

It is, of course, true that our explanations, our textbooks dealing with nonliving matter, are full of information. But this information is all ours; it is part of our life processes. The world of nonliving matter, the Pleroma, which is described by the laws of physics and chemistry, itself contains no description. A stone does not respond to information and does not use injunctions or information or trial and error in its internal organization. To respond in a behavioral sense, the stone would have to use energy contained within itself, as organisms do. It would cease to be a stone. The stone is affected by "forces" and "impacts," but not by differences.

I can describe the stone, but it can describe nothing. I can use the stone as a signal – perhaps as a landmark. But it is not the landmark.

I can give the stone a name; I can distinguish it from other stones. But it is not its name, and it cannot distinguish.

It uses and contains no information.

"It" is not even an it, except insofar as I distinguish it from the remainder of inanimate matter.

What happens to the stone and what it does when nobody is around is not part of the mental process of any living thing. For that it must somehow make and receive news."

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