Our customary perception tells us that we live in a world made up of separate things. We have been trained to see reality as a collection of objects. Hence we use the word ‘everything’ to signify the totality of what is. So you can see that this view of a world made up of separate thins is built right into the structure of language. We have learned about different categories of things. There are physical objects like trees and automobiles, mental objects like memories and idea, and social objects like marriages and countries.
The brilliant twentieth century anthropologist and philosopher Gregory Bateson taught that all of the lines that divide the seemingly separate objects of our world are merely lines of human convenience. Have you ever been in a conversation when you realized that you were making a distinction because it was helpful to your purposes even though you knew it wasn’t ultimately real. We often do this when trying to generalize people into categories. We say there are X kind of people and Y kind of people, but we feel compelled to add that we know that know one is either all X or all Y. We are making a distinction because it is helpful for whatever point we are trying to convey and yet we acknowledge it is not ultimately a real line of separation.
Bateson was simply saying that all of the lines that dive things in the world are lines created for human convenience. They are not ultimately real lines of division, but for some reason or other it is useful to think in terms of them. In truth, beneath all of these imagined divisions, everything is connected and even more everything is part of one continuous whole. Bateson believed that all of the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way we think and the way the world works. As long as we think in terms of a world of separation then we are constantly acting in ways that break the very real continuity that sustains existence.
When we treat an ecosystem as a collection of parts we find ourselves destroying elements of it without realizing that in doing so we are damaging and ultimately damaging the whole. It would be like thinking that a finger is separate from the body and not realizing what affect that will have on the body, not to mention the person whose body it is. This is one way to understand the ultimate challenge that we face as a civilization. We have been operating with a consciousness designed to understand by chopping reality up into identifiable pieces when in fact we live in a reality that is one continuous whole. It is critical at this point in our history that we embrace a new way of thinking that can embrace wholeness and continuity.
Jeff, this blog is the best Christmas present ever.. reading your post does make me think of the difference between the left and right brain. I have a book about drawing, which shows that children learn at the age of 8 to see everything in concepts. When we want to draw an eye, we see a concept of it. You need to trick your brain to get out of these concepts. When you copy a face, you should place it up-side-down in front of you, you will be surprised how much better it looks: that is because you then use… Read more »
Hello Jeff (and Liesbeth), It seems that you are conflating distinctions created for the purposes of discussion and explanation with distinctions that actually do exist in the physical, material world. Individual organisms — centers of experience if you will — interact in ecosystems where each has an agenda, a unique history, a constellation of instincts, and a set of sensing capabilities. Organisms admittedly have porous boundaries through which they interact with the external world. This is because inter-relations are fundamental to who (or what) the organism actually is. Yet the ultimate distinctions between organisms, thought never sharply defined, are clearly… Read more »
Hi Philip, this is really interesting; it is more for Jeff to respond to, but I immediately had to think about the way Wilber is talking about Holons as a miracle in nature, pointing Whitehead: Whitehead was struck by the fact that there is something here, that WE ARE HERE, he mentions three characteristics of ultimate reality: the one, the many and the creative advancement to novelty. The one and the many are intimately united, in the manifest world the many are ones that are part of other ones, or holons. Whitehead: The many become one and are increased by… Read more »
Amazing comments above, Liesbeth and Philip! Today I saw a rain soaked flower on the ground. I describe it as a flower, but really don’t know what it is! This not knowing of the flower object closes the gap of separation I have with it and I am free! Love your blog, Jeff. Thanks
Hey Jeff love it any time Bateson is brought forth, but your spellcheck program is outwitting you though now without wit: Par. 1 Ln 4 separate thins Ln 6 memories and idea Par. 2 Ln 7 know one Par.3 Ln 1 lines that dive things Last Par. ?? We are damaging and ultimately damaging the whole not sure how to understand this? Christopher in Australia and Danielle Castronis and I have been working with your Morton podcasts last couple months very beneficially. Thanks much. Happy New Year lmj From: Philosophy Is Not A Luxury Reply-To: Philosophy Is Not A Luxury… Read more »
Rereading the post, I saw that I missed the point of what it is about. I started responding to parts of it, without seeing the whole, which proves how true Bateson is. To go back to the left- en right side of the brain: As soon as I saw connections, I totally jumped in it, described what should be done (seeing the whole), but doing exactly wrong (seeing the parts), that is how tricky the mind is.
Interesting reading: The immortal mind of Erwin Laszlo: Chapter: Integrality and wholeness beyond space-time: The holographic hypothesis claims that the entangled three-dimensional events that emerge in space-time are not ultimate realities, but projections of holographic codes at a deeper level of reality (…) The Akasha deep-dimension: is an integral whole, a holographic totality without space and time, it is the unitary logos of the cosmos. Just as particles and systems of particles in space-time are projections of codes and relations in the Akashic deep dimension, so the consciousness associated with living organisms is a manifestation -a holographic projection- of the… Read more »
When a surgeon at the operating table asks the nurse for a scapel–is that human convenience? Does the nurse give the doctor a sponge or tongs? Is not the name of a thing tied to a piece of reality? Feelings of emotion? Are they not separate things, in and of themselves? I think what Bateson misses is commonsense. A scapel, a sponge, hate and love are not human conveniences. They are not made by the human consciousness. Does a hunter go into the woods, and shoot a leave off a tree thinking that is just as good to feed his… Read more »