Quora answer: How can the idea put forward by Gregory Bateson be explained in simple terms, that if mind be supposed immanent in the body, then it must be transcendent, and if transcendent, it must be immanent?

Jul 23 2011

Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson in the chapter “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’: A Theory of Alcoholism”.


Here are the relevant passages from the essay . . .

“Thus, in no system which shows mental characteristics can any part have unilateral control over the whole. In other words, the mental characteristics of the system are immanent, not in some part, but in the system as a whole.”

“Similarly, we may say that “mind” is immanent in those circuits of the brain which are complete within the brain. Or that mind is immanent in circuits which are complete within the system, brain plus body. Or, finally, that mind is immanent in the larger system—man plus environment.”

“The total self-corrective unit which processes information, or, as I say, “thinks” and “acts” and “decides,” is a system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or of what is popularly called the “self” or “consciousness”; and it is important to notice that there are multiple differences between the thinking system and the “self” as popularly conceived:

(1) The system is not a transcendent entity as the “self” is commonly supposed to be.
(2) The ideas are immanent in a network of causal pathways along which transforms of difference are conducted. The “ideas” of the system are in all cases at least binary in structure. They are not “impulses” but “information.”
(3) This network of pathways is not bounded with consciousness but extends to include the pathways of all unconscious mentation—both autonomic and repressed,neural and hormonal.
(4) The network is not bounded by the skin but includes all external pathways along which information can travel. It also includes those effective differences which are immanent in the “objects” of such information. It includes the path ways of sound and light along which travel transforms of differences originally immanent in things and other people—and especially in our own actions.”
“The so-called “Body-Mind” problem is wrongly posed in terms which force the argument toward paradox: if mind be supposed immanent in the body, then it must be transcendent. If transcendent, it must be immanent. And so on.”

The idea of Bateson is that the Self is more than just the body but a cybernetic circuit that reaches beyond the body into the environment. Because of that the mind/body duality is a misconception that produces the transcendent/immanent duality, and that what is really going on is an interchange in a cybernetic circuit that reaches beyond us and is neither immanent or transcendent.

Basically he is saying that the mind/body duality which takes the body’s boundary as the limit of our self creates a double bind which does not allow us to actually assign transcendent nor immanent without them cycling between each other in an oscillation. G. Spencer Brown makes a similar point with regard to circuits in electronics from which he derives his boundary logic. N. Hellerstein in Delta and Diamond logics. Hellerstien shows that there are two limiting paradoxes in the G. Spencer-Brown logic, and in DELTA he reduces these to one. But knowing that paradoxes come naturally in pairs in DIAMOND logic helps, because we can see that two contradictions give us a paradox and two paradoxes give us an absurdity. So let us say we see the body as the locus of Mind rather than a circuit of information feedback with the environment. Then according to Bateson we are trapping the mind within this locus without giving it any possibility of explanation. The mind suddenly is the dual of the body and must be transcendental because we cannot find it anywhere. On the other hand if we see the mind as Immanent in the body, then it is unclear how it can be just in the brain because our mind indwells in our whole body. So either the mind is a transcendental as Descartes thought which is outside extension as the Cogito, or it is within the body in which it is locatable only in the brain and thus it does not explain our experience as beings in the world as Heidegger would say. But if we see the self as going beyond the body out into the environment or the ego being an interconnection with the whole body and not just a mind trapped in a brain, then this larger conception of information flow breaks the paradox of dualism that results in Brain/Mind, or Body/Mind dualisms that generate paradoxes within our tradition, because there is no grounding for these dualisms and they collapse together when taken to be absolute.

So for instance in Kant there are three transcendentals, Ego, God, Object. God keeps in sync the subject’s experiences and the noumena. Ego and Object as transcendentals are the extremes of the subject/object dichotomy. And the only way we can think that they are kept in sync is by the activity of God as deus ex machina. When the transcendentals are separated from each other in this way radically then it is impossible to see how to get them together again. This problem appears in Husserl as his idea of Bracketing. And it was only later that he realized that one could take the world as the ultimate horizon and solve the problem of solipsism and the noumena in one fell swoop and which Heidegger took advantage of in Being and Time with the idea of Dasein as pre-objective and pre-subjective projector of apriori synthesis as being-in-the-world embedded always already in the Mitsein (They).

Why do dualisms generate paradoxes? This is because dualisms are extreme artificial differences, that are not really differences, which are nihilistic. The extremes collapse together making a mixture that cannot be separated out again. This is why the limit for thought in our tradition is contradiction, paradox or absurdity. This is the limit of the Divided line on the side of Doxa. What we forget is that there is the other limit on the side of Ratio which is the Supra-Rational. The Supra-Rational is when two things are not mixed but occur at the same time without mixing. The Supra-Rational is made up of non-nihilistic distinctions, like the distinctions that Plato makes between the source-forms. Dualism is when there are two artificial extreme opposites that tend to collapse together and mix and there is nothing that keeps them apart in a grounded fashion, nothing that is like Plato says that allows us to cut through the joint rather than the bone. In dualism there is a struggle between these artificial extreme opposites that are nihilistic where one tries to become dominate over the other and destroy it utterly.

A good example of this is the ideologies that fought it out in the last century. Capitalism won this battle with the two extremes of Fascism and Communism. But Capitalism was transformed in the process. And so now we have globalization because these other ideologies are no longer a threat to world stability. Fascism and Communism were both totalitarian systems based on mass movements, and this is why western intellectuals are so suspicious of the masses, and mass movements (cf Cannetti, Crowds and Power). Totalitarian Mass movements are a danger to the individualization of Capitalism. In capitalism the mass is a market. Both Fascism and Communism attempted to produce a society based on either the proletariat, the mass of workers who should own them means of production, or the Volk which is a nationalist image of the folk of a country to produce a kind of socialism where the wealth is shared by he people based on their race and their connection to the fatherland. One source of the mass is the production capability of the workers and the other is the language and culture and history of a people. Capitalism attempts to atomize individuals with private property laws, and then treat them as a mass as they interact with the commodity market. Baudrillard in his book Mirror of Production shows that communism and capitalism share the same assumption that people are made to be productive, and life without productivity is seen as empty and worthless. Fascism bases socialism on the genetic roots of the people and attempts to get rid of anyone who is not of those same genetic roots.

“Nazism promoted an economic Third Position; a managed economy that was neither capitalist nor communist. The Nazis accused communism and capitalism of being associated with Jewish influences and interests.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism

From the point of view of the Nazis it was capitalism and communism that were the nihilistic opposites because the real basis of judgement for them was race.

From the point of view of the Communists both the Nazis and the Capitalists believed in private property and exploitation of the working class.

From the point of view of the Capitalists Nazism and Communism were ideological extremes and Capitalism saw itself as Non-Ideological and supporting Freedom and Liberty from Totalitarianism.

Each of the three ideologies, which in Orwell’s 1984 were portrayed as continually at war with each other continually changing sides saw itself as the middle between the other two. As the winners of this century long conquest we can now portray the fascists and communists as the nihilistic opposites but it was not always this clear when the world was still up for grabs. But what Fasicsm and Communism shared was Totalitarianism in which everyone was in thrall to a supreme leader (Hitler, Stalin) and there was no rule of law, and in fact it was a Napoleonic type of regime of secular sovereignty where the oligarchic party rules, like in China today.

Now we are in a situation where our economy is being shaped by our interaction with China as it has been shaped by our interaction with the Middle East dictatorships. This is seen in the relation of China to Walmart. China is pure capitalism unchecked. In communism the owner of production is the state. China is keeping up its GNP by constructing cities that stand empty after construction. This is maintained by a kind of petrol-dollar arrangement where we borrow money to buy Chinese goods and then they buy US bonds with it and thus finance our debt. But the Chinese cannot go on building cities that no one lives in, and we cannot go on creating greater and greater debt. Eventually something catastrophic will happen in the global markets probably far worse than the Financial crisis based on packaging and reselling sub-prime loans. But this situation that now exists with our major global competitor which is rapidly becoming a technological and economic power house is of course nihilistic. And what Bateson is suggesting is that it is in the Petrol-Dollars and the Walmart Dollars and this virtuous circulation that in both cases undermines our economy, that the self lies, not in the individuals partaking in the exchange, but in the exchange circuit itself. So there is no transcendental ideology associated with any of regimes as they claimed in the last century, nor is there the immanence of the romantic genetic source of the folk, but rather there is the global economic circulation that defines all the players in the game from Bateson’s point of view.

The nihilistic opposites collapse into each other but then produce paradoxical limits when they mix with each other. These dual paradoxes then are the basis for the generation of a new set of artificial extreme opposites that separate themselves from the paradoxes so that the paradoxes collapse back into absurdity. This is the real dialectic of history within the Western Worldview that works out as Hegel’s absolute reason in history.

So fascism came out of the economic plight of Germany after WWI, where reparations were too onerous. Germany was a hot bed of both Communist and Fascist activity because it was one of the most industrialized countries, Communism was a reaction to Robber Baron capitalism, and Fascism was a reaction to the disgrace of the German people after WWI and the romantic appeal to their common roots as Indo-Europeans based on Aryan racism and the Philology that studied Indo-European origins. But because both were mass movements tending toward totalitarianism they immediately faced off against each other especially after the Fascists took over Germany and the Communists took over Russia. The street battles between Fascists and Communists in Germany were now played out on a continental stage. Germany took Poland to get living room as a buffer between itself and Russia. The fascists around the world formed an Axis to prevent the spread of Communism and moved to take over Europe in a bid to prevent any of its countries from becoming communist and in an attempt to create a block that could withstand an attack from Russia with its vast resources. So although Fascism and Communism had different roots, but they were the same in terms of being totalitarian mass movements of a Napoleonic character, i.e. with secular sovereignty. So these are nihilistic opposites because they are really the same in terms of being mass ideological movements. Capitalism saw instead individualism as the ideal with private rather than state owned or directed enterprise and represented the mass as markets.

Now what happened was that the Russians became our Allies of necessity against the Fascists Axis powers. And instead of the Russians and Germans destroying one another, the Allies won which allowed Spain as a fascist state (because it remained neutral) and Russia as a communist state (because it was a necessary ally) to survive. So then after WWI the new stand off was between the Nato Allies and the Soviets. So the nihilistic opposites did not cancel as we might have expected, but instead an asymmetry was produced where the capitalists had to stand up against the Communists across the globe, after the fascists were defeated. Now since an asymmetry occurred historically the two nihilistic opposites did not cancel each other out by mutual destruction or by Monistic dominance of one over the other. So the paradoxically was also lopsided. One aspect of that was that we were allies with the Communist resistance in France, and so after the war, communism was strong in France, and in effect all the intellectuals were communist. This meant that there were communist intellectuals not under Soviet control, who could think freely since they were part of a republic recreated by the British and Americans. This prevalence of Communism within the Republic of France after the war led to a great deal of creative intellectual activity. And we have them to thank for preserving and developing further continental philosophy. But Ironically all this development took place based on the work of Heidegger who was a Nazi, who after the war was prevented from speaking and talking in public for years. Heidegger was even denounced by Jaspers who saw him as a danger even after the war. So Heidegger went on with his philosophizing in private and continued to publish enigmatic essays. So it is fascinating to me that Heidegger’s survival of the War and the Communist resistance in France combined to produce an astounding intellectual legacy. This is one of the paradoxes that communism and fascism combined to give us Continental Philosophy with its penchant for revolution as fostered by Sartre. But what we saw in Cambodia was also very telling which as a mass genocide undertaken by French trained intellectuals back in their homeland after training in France. Pol Pot was the quintessential product of the French Philosophy, just as the French Revolution was for Hegel the result of Kantian philosophy.

Bernard-Henri Lévy has an interesting take on this, he says that after Pol Pot some of the French intellectuals realized that Revolution always entailed genocide, and so the whole idea of the advocacy of revolution such as that of Sartre needs to be rethought. This is because ideologies tend to want to eliminate everyone who does not fit the stereotype that they advocate. So the French intellectuals in promoting revolution around the world and communism, even if it was not Soviet brand communism, were implicated in genocide, similar to the terror that occurred after the French Revolution. This extreme drive to purity that leads to genocide paradoxically unfolds intellectual ideas and the ideologies that are created by these nihilistic opposites into terror and death. This is more or less the inverse of the Mind/Body problem. Here the mind is producing the nihilism that leads to the suffering and death of the masses and their bodies form mass graves in the aftermath of the revolution. The interesting sign is the fact that if you had glasses you were seen as an intellectual and put to death in Cambodia even though it was intellectuals trying to produce a pure paradise who were behind the genocide which was carried out for ideological reasons. Thus the miracle of the intellectual creativity, and island of Communist activity in a capitalist sea, was directly linked to revolution and genocide in the third world, attempting to regain their sovereignty after the breakup of colonialism which is a black hole which is the extreme opposite of the miracle of intellectual ferment happening in Paris.

Now Continental Philosophy squares off against Analytical Philosophy to form another nihilistic pair, one fascinating and the other stiflingly boring, one engaged in the world and offering cultural critique like Zizek does, and the other stranded in dying philosophy departments throughout the US while English majors embrace Continental Philosophy because it helps them interpret the literature that they must write essays about. This schism is the product of the Cold War where Western intellectuals if they were to flourish had to avoid Communism and Politics in general, and had to become specialists rather than remaining generalists as philosophers should do. The Continentals took on Psychoanalysis, Global Politics, and Literature as well as many other subjects making these topics central to their critiques and studies. Analytic Philosophers stuck to boring arguments amongst themselves disconnected from culture and the lifeworld of our times and continued to play their language games. Analytic Philosophy is the result of McCarthyism and blacklists, while Continental Philosophy was the result of Marxist intellectual ferment freed from Soviet Dogma by a historical accident. But these are nihilistic opposites, just as are the philosophies of Heidegger and Wittgenstein as Stanley Rosen demonstrates.

Personally I do not like politics, and I am definitely not a historian, but Political History comes up all the time because it is such a perfect example of nihilistic opposites working themselves out in history. Even if you do not like my summary of these historical movements in the last century you can easily think up your own examples. We saw how Fascism had different roots from Communism but because they shared the quality of being Mass Totalitarian movements of the Napoleonic style they immediately faced off with each other and drew all the other nations into their conflict. But due to historical accidents they did not annihilate each other but in fact Fascism was defeated, and Soviet Russia lived on to become a new enemy of Capitalism during the Cold War where the ultimate nihilism occurred which is called Mutually Assured Destruction. But it turned out that we did not destroy each other and the Soviet empire imploded probably due to the Internet. So now we stand in symbiotic relations to China and India, and the Middle East through our policies of Globalization, which is a form of economic self-destruction due to our increasing lack of the means of production, and the continuing trends toward a purely service economy.

The basic idea of Bateson is that it is the flows of transcendentals that are immanent within the cybernetic system, and it is not body boundaries that are linked to transcendentals, but the exchange tokens and the information flows. So for instance BitCoin is a good example. This is a currency based on computation alone. It derives its value from the fact that there are only so many BitCoins in existence, but it needs no central control by financial institutions to flourish. This imaginary money is worth about $13 today. It is the ultimate computational currency where it is actually computational cycles that are the commodity that it is based upon. The Bitcoins are only given reality by their flow, and they carry the history of their transactions with them. Their value is purely transcendental to their flow of exchange, and the immanence of the computations that support that logging of the flow. Each bitcoin is a cryptographic sign, and its significance is diacritical within the plenum of all the existing bitcoins still in circulation. Bitcoins are almost better than stocks as a way to transfer value in the black and drug markets worldwide and for money laundering, because they do not depend on central banks and financial authorities for their generation or maintenance. Thus they are perhaps the first purely virtual exchange which only has value in its exchange with other currencies, which are equally fictitious but already established. Bitcoins is the perfect currency of the General Economy as defined by Bataille in Accursed Share. Restricted Economies have not realized the threat of the General Economy yet, but in actuality a Global Economy by definition has to be a General Economy. That is an economy where the currency is reified contradictions, paradoxes and absurdities of the restricted economies.

Thus we posit that the dialectic that amounts to Hegel’s Absolute Reason in history is one in which dialectical extreme artificial duals do not synthesize but fall together losing their meaning and mixing, and that this spawns dual paradoxes that fall together into Absurdity which in turn produces different Dualisms that are nihilistic which in turn again fall together and produce side effects of dual paradoxes again which again produces absurdity. The contradictions that Hegel sees overcome by Aufhebung is a lower resolution look at this dialectic which reverses it, like a film going backward as the nihilistic duals fall backward into the synthesis of the absurdity rather than arising from it. We can see the absurdity giving rise to the nihilistic opposites, and then as those mix then the twin limiting paradoxes are produced as unintended side-effect, which in turn collapse into absurdity for the cycle to start over again. Running forward we see that at first there are four contradictions that arise as a minimal system from the background of absurdity. The Greimas Square uses the logic of contraries and contradictories to maintain the difference between All, None, Some, Some not. This square has two contradictories crossing in the middle.

So that means that when the two nihilistic opposites arise from absurdity, they exist as two Greimas or Logical Squares. These are in the position of two universals that negate each other. Each dual wants to say that Every S is P or Q. And it wants to say to the other that No S is Q or P. But ultimately these contraries to each other admit the sub-alterns that Some S is P or Q, and Some S is not Q or P. This particularization that falls away from the All or universal statement and admits mixture is the means by which the two nihilistic duals mix and lose their identity in relation to each other, because they are artificial distinctions with no grounding in nature either human or otherwise. In this process the dual contraries become mixed and produce paradox when they collapse together, and then the two squares collapse together to produce the absurdity as a mass of mixture that they differentiate out of again with another conventional or normative distinction without roots that would make it non-nihilistic. And so it goes the dynamic of
Absolute Reason in Western History following the pattern of the Greimas Square derived from the Logical Square. All we have to do is add Existence, And, and Or that holds between the two opposites and we have logic as we know it.

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