Re: [pcp-discuss:] Fwd: Criticisms of Bateson

From: Shann Turnbull (
Date: Thu Jan 25 2001 - 11:42:54 GMT

  • Next message: Francis Heylighen: "[pcp-discuss:] Fwd: Criticisms of Bateson - my twopence ha'penny worth"

    My I ask members of this list if they agree with the view of Norbert Wiener
    quoted below that it is impossible to apply cybernetics to social science?

    I would argue that cybernetics can be used in the social science by using
    what I described a Transaction Byte Analysis. TBA is grounded in the
    physical limitations of humans to receive, store, process and transmit
    bytes/data/information/knowledge/wisdom. As all co-ordination between
    people depends upon the transaction of bytes through sense organs and all
    sense organs have physical limits on their ability to transacts bytes, this
    approach can identify the limits of human co-ordination and so establish
    design criteria to mitigate such limits. In other words, TBA and
    cybernetic principles of transmitting, storing and processing information
    can be used to design the architecture of social institutions. One example
    of the limited ability of humans to transact bytes is illustrated by the
    limited "span of control" in organizations. To avoid information overload
    control spans may typically be limited to half a dozen people forcing large
    hierarchical organizations to have many levels. TBA and cybernetic
    principles can be used to identify the competitive advantages of firms with
    non-hierarchical organizations as illustrated in my working paper

    Does this, or some other approach, provide a basis for refuting the views
    quoted below of Wiener?


    Shann Turnbull

    At 08:27 AM 25/1/2001, you wrote:
    >I do agree with Alex about the superficial reading of Bateson by Breton,
    >albeit his
    >book counts among the best written upon information revolution illusion.
    >I do not trust a lot Stengers' analysis who doesn't seem to me an important
    >epistemologist, hiding herself behind Prygogine reputation.
    >About Wiener, I wonder if he was so reluctant for applying conclusions of
    >to social sciences. Wiener dream was that information transparency would
    >secrecy, political plots, and would guarantee a perfect information of
    >and, as a consequence, peace....
    >Wiener remains trustfull as a scientist, not a a social scientist.
    >Bateson remains trustfull along time.
    >I wonder why Bateson never refers to Karl Popper's works.
    >Does anybody on the list knows something about this point?
    > >
    > >Alexander Bard wrote:
    > >First, I would like to see more Bateson criticisms, since it would at
    > >least prove he is read. Mostly I find him largely ignored. anyway, there
    > >are some criticisms, which I may divide in "serious" ones or "unserious
    > >ones".
    >First, I will not deal here about an important criticism written by a
    >disciple of the "conspiracist" Lyndon Larouche somewhere on the Net:
    > >Gregory Bateson was in fact a CIA agent who created the Grateful Dead
    > >in order to pervert the american youth (!). How cannot I love this man?
    > >
    > >Now let's get serious.
    > >Criticism against Bateson strangely put him in two radically different
    > >categories, and therefore come from two different, almost opposite,
    > >ideological camps. For some, Bateson is a kind of "new age writer",
    > >claiming the necessity of the "sacred" and choosing to live the last
    > >days of his life in the new age headquarters of Esalen. For others, he
    > >is exactly the contrary: the representative of an ugly "technocracy" which
    > >want to, put human beings in "equations" and consider them as just a
    > >little more than robots.
    > >What is the source of misunderstanding?
    > >It is true that Bateson's idea led him toward a reevaluation of the
    > >sacred (I think he wrote somewhere that all his work was in fact about
    > >"religion". His favorite expression, "the pattern which connects", is
    > >BTW reminiscent of the etymological root of the word "religion"
    > >religare: "connecting") and a criticism of vulgar utilitarianism and
    > >manipulative technology,but Bateson's religion has always been
    > >something very austere, rejecting all forms of supernaturalism, always
    > >grounded in his theories about biology and logic. the most sophisticated
    > >New Age thinkers, such as Ken Wilber (who remains a new age thinker and
    > >a supernaturalist in disguise,despite his own claims of the contrary)
    > >didn't make the mistakes: Wilber confessed in an interview that he disliked
    > >and mind", finding the book very "flat-earth", which, in Wilber's jargon,
    > >mean desperately reductionist and materialistic.
    > >On the other hand, we have on the contrary the criticism of
    > >ultra-scientism and technocracy.This criticism comes not only from
    > >"spiritualist" people but also from various intellectuals. an example is
    > >Philippe Breton, who wrote a book which is about the influence of what
    > he calls a
    >"cybernetic ideology" on various
    > >social practices. One may think that there should be a lengthy analysis
    > >of Bateson. Was he not the guy who apply the principles of cybernetics
    > >to social sciences? But in fact, Bateson is "analyzed" (executed would
    > >be a better word) in less than a page. Bateson, says Breton, completely
    > >forgets the body, the flesh, reducing the man as a bunch of equation
    > >inside a network.
    > >All these contradictory criticisms come, IMHO, in the "unserious" kind.
    > >They are caused by a very superficial reading, and an attempt to
    > >pigeonhole Bateson precisely in the categories he tried to go beyond.
    > >
    > >Now, let's see serious criticism. the more interesting came from
    > >Isabelle Stengers, in "Bateson, Premier etat d'un héritage".Her text is
    > >very dense, I hope I will not misinterpret her.
    > >Roughly, she questions the core of the batesonian project: the desire to
    > >build, for the science of the living, a collection of "core concepts"
    > >which would not be influenced by the research in "material sciences",
    > such as
    > >physics. Bateson think there is indeed an epistemological closure
    > >between the "physical" where communication and meaning is absent, and
    > >the living world, where it is everywhere. This is the distinction he
    > makes between
    > >Pleroma (the world of physical laws) and Creatura (the living world).
    > >Stengers questions the value of this closure, and I must admit she has
    > >some good arguments. She also reports an interesting anecdote, that
    > >Bateson and Mead tried to "pressure" Norbert Wiener for applying
    > >cybernetics to social sciences, and that Wiener didn't share their
    > >enthusiasm, because of his knowledge of physics. He thought that some
    > >research in physics, especially gas theories, which imply the use of
    > >statistics, demonstrated the impossibility for a "simple" model such as
    > >cybernetics to be used in the complex context of human societies or
    > >ecosystems.
    > >Stengers writes that Batesonian cybernetics, by trying to define a field
    > >*against* physics, has simply misunderstood the complexity of physical
    > >world and its value as a positive source of inspiration for thinking
    > >living systems.
    > >
    > >Remi
    >Posting to from Francis Heylighen <>
    >-- *************************************************************
    > /////
    > \\ - - //
    > ( @ @ )
    > Claude ROCHET
    >Professeur associé, Université Paris XIII,
    >Site personnel,
    >Tel: D: 01 48 72 75 05
    > T : 01 42 75 82 78
    >Posting to from Claude Rochet <>

    Shann Turnbull
    P.O. Box 266 Woollahra, Sydney, Australia, 1350
    Ph: +612 9328 7466 office; +612 9327 8487 home; Fax: +612 9327 1497;
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