Dear Lou,

"The fusion of thought with itself is the place from which we can
understand the fusion of ourselves with Nature in a unity that
precedes the apparent distinctions that we take for granted."

This is a powerful thought!

It looks like a statement of Husserlian phenomenology - it
transcendentalises thought. We might ask, What does "understand" mean
here? Where does "acting" fit? Where are "real people" with bodies and
emotions? Of course, these issues can be addressed, but to think like
this is a path which is chosen, rather than being a statement of fact.

The point in my post concerns politics rather than phenomenology.
Human dignity and freedom are at the heart of politics. I'd once
thought that there was little politics in Bateson - only epistemology.
Now I think this was wrong (double-binds are political aren't they?).
Bateson's distinguishing the way people think from the way nature
works is a critical (political) point. It's also a choice.

I've been thinking about the different choices which might be made
with regard to the relationship between nature and thought - and where
each might lead. Within them are different approaches to

1. The elision of thought and nature and transcendentalising thought:
we have to be careful with statements like "thought is part of nature"
or that it is inseparable from nature. Lack of precision in such
statements is easily manipulated to excuse bad things, or to decry
empirical observations.

2. Separating thought from nature (as Bateson appears to do) and
transcendentalising constraint. Where does this choice lead? I think
Ashby's epistemology maintained something like this: it leads to the
pursuit of error, and the exposure of the limits which nature bears
upon thought, and thought on nature. It's a different kind of

3. to transcendentalise nature. This leads to a classical empiricist
epistemology - the methodical investigation of event regularities in
experiments, and the construction of knowledge about possible causes.

Each "choice" has value. Each seeks to subsume the others within its
scheme. Each is defined in relation to the others. How to choose? With
what criteria?

Furthermore, each choice is 'personal': individuals have particular
reasons for adhering to one approach and disliking others.

Is this resolvable?

Best wishes,


On 4 April 2016 at 06:51, Louis H Kauffman <> wrote:
> Dear Mark,
> 1. The way we think is part of how Nature works.
> 2. Thought is not separate from our contact with Nature.
> 3. Concept arises in the integration of thought and percept.
> 4. Thought is singular in that thought can be the object of thought and this 
> becomes a place where subject and object are coalesced.
> 5. The fusion of thought with itself is the place from which we can 
> understand the fusion of ourselves with Nature in a unity that precedes
> the apparent distinctions that we take for granted.
> Best,
> Lou K.
>> On Apr 3, 2016, at 3:49 AM, Mark Johnson <> wrote:
>> Dear Soren, Lou and Loet,
>> I can appreciate that Bateson might have had it in for hypnotists and
>> missionaries, but therapists can be really useful! Had Othello had a
>> good one, Desdemona would have lived – they might have even done some
>> family therapy!
>> More deeply, Bateson’s highlighting of the difference between the way
>> we think and the way nature works is important. How can a concept of
>> information help us to think in tune with nature, rather than against
>> it?
>> Loet’s description of social systems as encoded systems of
>> expectations within which selections are made is helpful. A concept of
>> information is such a selection. But we live in a world of finite
>> resources and our expectations form within what appear to be real
>> limits: Othello saw only one Desdemona. Similarly, there appears to be
>> scarcity of food, money, shelter, safety, education, opportunity for
>> ourselves and for our children upon whose flourishing we stake our own
>> happiness. These limits may be imagined or constructed, but their
>> effects are real to the point that people will risk their lives
>> crossing oceans, fight and kill for them. This is a result of how we
>> think: it leads to hierarchy, exclusion and the production of more
>> scarcity. Nature appears not to work like this.
>> If we accept that the way we think is fundamentally different from the
>> way nature works, how might a concept of information avoid
>> exacerbating the pathologies of human existence? Wouldn’t it just turn
>> us into information bible-bashers hawking our ideas in online forums
>> (because universities are no longer interested in them!)? Would new
>> metrics help? Or would that simply create new scarcity in the form of
>> a technocratic elite? Or maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. Maybe
>> it’s not “information” at all (whatever that is) – or maybe it’s “not
>> information”.
>> I like “not information” as the study of the constraints within which
>> our crazy thinking takes place because it continually draws us back to
>> what isn't thought. Without wanting to bash any bibles, Bateson got
>> this - see for example the chapter in Steps on "A Re-examination of
>> Bateson's Rule". Good therapists get it too. I don't know Peirce well
>> enough... Which leads me to a question: “What are the criteria for a
>> good theory of information?”
>> Best wishes,
>> Mark
>> On 3 April 2016 at 07:50, Loet Leydesdorff <> wrote:
>>> Dear Soren,
>>> In my opinion, there are two issues here (again J ):
>>> 1. the issue of non-verbal (e.g., bodily) communication;
>>> 2. the meta-biological or transdisciplinary integration vs. the
>>> differentiation among the disciplines.
>>> Ad 1. Although I don’t agree with Luhmann on many things, his insistence
>>> that everything communicated among humans is culturally coded, is fully
>>> acceptable to me. “Love” is not a counter-example. Unlike animals, our
>>> behavior is regulated by codes of communication. Preparing "Love” as a
>>> passion, Luhmann spent months in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris reading
>>> the emergence of romantic love in the literature of the early 18th century.
>>> A similar intuition can be found in Giddens’ book “The Transformation of
>>> Intimacy”. Of course, one sometimes needs bodily presence; Luhmann uses here
>>> the concept of “symbiotic mechanisms”; but this is only relevant for the
>>> variation. The selection mechanisms – which impulses are to be followed –
>>> are cultural. Among human beings, this means: in terms of mutual and/or
>>> shared expectations. The realm of expecting the other to entertain
>>> expectations, shapes a “second contingency” which is otherwise absent in the
>>> animal kingdom. (If you wish, you can consider it as a function of the
>>> cortex as a symbiotic mechanism.)
>>> This special status of human society should make us resilient against using
>>> biological metaphors. Socio-biology has a terrible history since it links
>>> social processes with evolutionary ones. The rule of law, however, protects
>>> us against “survival of the fittest” as a structure of expectations. One
>>> cannot define “the fittest” without using one (coded!) vocabulary or
>>> another, and these vocabularies (discourses; Foucault) can be different; but
>>> always disciplining. The codes function as selection mechanisms different
>>> from an assumed “nature”. (Inga Ivanova used the term “fractional
>>> manifold”.) The selection mechanisms are also coordination mechanisms; their
>>> differentiation enables us to process more complexity.
>>> 2. As Krippendorff once emphasized, one should be suspicious about using the
>>> word “system” in this context because it entails a biological metaphor of
>>> integration and wholeness. Because the codes tend to differentiate and thus
>>> to generate misunderstandings (variation), the social system can process
>>> complexity by an order of magnitude more than any biological system. The
>>> notion of “system” tends to reify, whereas in sociological theorizing it is
>>> important to keep a firm eye on the second contingency of interacting
>>> expectations. The clarification of misunderstandings, for example, enables
>>> us to solve problems; sometimes one may need to invent new metaphors and
>>> words. From this perspective, the sciences can be considered as rationalized
>>> systems of expectations which operate in terms of codes retained above the
>>> individual level. (Note that this is different from belief structures – cf.
>>> the sociology of scientific knowledge of Bloor and Barnes -- because beliefs
>>> remain attributes to agents of communities of agents.)
>>> “Transdisciplinary integration” may be needed for one’s internal well-being
>>> (or soul), but it can be expected to remain a local instantiation. Since we
>>> decapitated the ointed body of the King of France, there is no center left
>>> (Lyotard). One may feel a need for integration and community. Community is
>>> another coded form of communication (religion?). I provocatively advised my
>>> students to keep that celebration for the Sunday mornings. Aren’t we
>>> celebrating our community today?
>>> Central to our community is the notion of “information”. A mathematical
>>> theory of information (e.g., Shannon) enables us to entertain models that
>>> one can use from one level to another, for testing hypothesis. These models
>>> may come from biology (e.g. Lotka-Volterra), engineering (anticipatory
>>> systems; Dubois), complex systems theory (Simon, Ashby), etc. For example:
>>> can interactions among codes be modeled using Lotka-Volterra? (Ivanova
>>> &Leydesdorff, 2014; in Scientometrics). The math is not meta, but epi
>>> because the other domains can also be considered as specific domains of
>>> communication. Maturana, for example, argues that a biology is generated
>>> whenever molecules can be communicated (as more complex than atoms exchanged
>>> in a chemistry).
>>> 3. Let me return to the theme of “love”: note the transition from “Love” as
>>> Christ, and thus the only intimate relations (17th century) to love as
>>> passion in interpersonal relations. Here, Husserl is relevant: the
>>> intersubjective is secularized. Luhmann proposed to operationalize this as
>>> communication. In later work (after 1990), Luhmann than moved from the
>>> communication of expectations to “observations”. Observations, however,
>>> serve us to update the expectations. The dynamics of expectations are the
>>> proper subject of a sociology. Observations presume observing “systems”; but
>>> it is problematic to consider evolving discourse as a “system” (see above).
>>> The codes in the communication of expectations enable us also to be
>>> surprised by observations. (In the Shannon formulas, the denominator than
>>> goes to zero and the expected information value therefore to infinity.)
>>> Let me add that I don’t wish to deny the fruitfulness of the Piercean system
>>> of analyzing signs can have fruitful applications in the information
>>> sciences. However, its status is not different from a methodology or a
>>> mathematical theory of communication.
>>> Best,
>>> Loet
>>> ________________________________
>>> Loet Leydesdorff
>>> Professor, University of Amsterdam
>>> Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)
>>> ;
>>> Honorary Professor, SPRU, University of Sussex;
>>> Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ., Hangzhou; Visiting Professor, ISTIC,
>>> Beijing;
>>> Visiting Professor, Birkbeck, University of London;
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Fis mailing list
>> --
>> Dr. Mark William Johnson
>> Institute of Learning and Teaching
>> Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
>> University of Liverpool
>> Visiting Professor
>> Far Eastern Federal University, Russia
>> Phone: 07786 064505
>> Email:
>> Blog:
>> _______________________________________________
>> Fis mailing list

Dr. Mark William Johnson
Institute of Learning and Teaching
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
University of Liverpool

Visiting Professor
Far Eastern Federal University, Russia

Phone: 07786 064505

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