men are grass.

1. The language of description is a language of materialism. It is incredibly difficult to ditch this, though in order to understand the processes that explain Reflection, we may have to. Or try, at least, for inevitably we may fail.

2. Ideas are not “things”.  They have zero mass, zero energy, zero dimensions. There are no “things” inside ideas, only ideas of things. Bateson writes “This lands you in a world which is totally strange. I find myself running screaming from its contemplation, and essentially running back to a world of materialism, which seems to be what everyone else does, limited only by their amount of discipline.” (p. 237)

3. The retreat to the world of a language of “things” creates a division that is, in one sense, not a real one. The split between “mind” and “matter” is a good example. So when we describe Reflection as a mental process we have to careful because the langauge of science (even social science) will want us to draw explanations of cause and effect that assume linearity.

4.  The “Barbara” syllogism

Men Die / Socrates is a man. / Socrates will die.

requires that there be such a “thing” as the invention of the concept of a subject (e.g. Socrates) in order for the logic of the proposition to mean anything. These were not invented until about 100,00 years ago, says Bateson, and though it may look like the only way of making sense, this logic cannot be the logic of the vast period of natural history and biological process. In the Socrates syllogism,  it’s equality membership of a class or set that is crucial. To many, the alternative equality, that of predicates which the Grass syllogism (Grass Dies / Men die. / Men are grass. ) uses is simply wrong and very much to be avoided in explaining anything except, perhaps, poetry, art, humour, games, fantasy, dreams and (controversially) mental conditions such as schizophrenia. For Bateson, this was, partly, we all have such a problem, as it cuts us off from a greater understanding of the mystery of natural process in living things.

5. According to Bateson that process got along just fine, messages were understood, and our best shot at understanding this is by the metaphor summed up in the Grass syllogism. We are quite used to the “idea” of metaphor as expressed consciously and linguistically, but for humans the questions may be “can metaphor also be unconscious or subconscious?” In fact, is this how metaphor operates, and if it is then what is the consequence for us in practice (or in research)?

Metaphor becomes the “organizing glue of this world of mental process” (p 241).

Reference:

Bateson, G. (1991) “Men are Grass: Metaphor and the World of Mental Process”, in “A Sacred Unity: further steps to an ecology of mind.” A Cornelia and Michael Bessie Book, pp 235 -242

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2 thoughts on “men are grass.

  1. jen

    This was SO serendipitously timed. The Speculative Realists, materials all, have a hold over me….. some of them insist of concepts as things (bc they can be geographically located; bc, (I am inferring this) because they take material form/s and morph in the translation.

    Now Rorty’s pragmatism is inspiring me; if you have any thoughts…… 😀 But we need to speak soon!

    Reply
  2. nutshell Post author

    i used to love rorty’s stuff and, even though i can’t really remember, i think he’s made a big impression, along with his other pragmatist friends 😉
    yes, speak soon or i’ll explode 😉
    love to you j!!!xx

    Reply

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