Comment on Part II

Since World War II, it has been fashionable to engage in "interdisciplinary" research, and this usually means, for example, that an ecologist will need a geologist to tell him about the rocks and soils of the particular terrain which he is investigating. But there is another sense in which scientific work may claim to be interdisciplinary.

The man who studies the arrangement of leaves and branches in the growth of a flowering plant may note an analogy between the formal relations between stems, leaves, and buds, and the formal relations that obtain between different sorts of words in a sentence. He will think of a "leaf" not as something flat and green but as something related in a particular way to the stem from which it grows and to the secondary stem (or bud) which is formed in the angle between leaf and primary stem. Similarly the modern linguist thinks of a "noun" not as the "name of a person, place, or thing," but as a member of a class of words de-fined by their relationship in sentence structure to "verbs" and other parts.

Those who think first of the "things" which are related (the "relata") will dismiss any analogy between grammar and the anatomy of plants as far-fetched. After all, a leaf and a noun do not at all resemble each other in outward appearance. But if we think first of the relationships and consider the relata as defined solely by their relationships, then we begin to wonder. Is there a profound analogy between grammar and anatomy? Is there an interdisciplinary science which should concern itself with such analogies? What would such a science claim as its subject matter? And why should we expect such far-flung analogies to have significance?

In dealing with any analogy, it is important to define exactly what is claimed when we say that the analogy is meaningful. In the present example, it is not claimed that a noun should look like a leaf. It is not even claimed that the relation between leaf and stem is the same as the relation between noun and verb. What is claimed is, first, that in both anatomy and grammar the parts are to be classified according to the relations between them. In both fields, the relations are to be thought of as somehow primary, the relata as secondary. Beyond this, it is claimed that the relations are of the sort generated by processes of information ex-change.

In other words, the mysterious and polymorphic relation between context and content obtains in both anatomy and linguistics; and evolutionists of the nineteenth century, preoccupied with what were called "homologies," were, in fact, studying precisely the contextual structures of biological development.

All of this speculation becomes almost platitude when we realize that both grammar and biological structure are products of communicational and organizational process. The anatomy of the plant is a complex transform of genotypic instructions, and the "language" of the genes, like any other language, must of necessity have contextual structure. More-over, in all communication, there must be a relevance between the contextual structure of the message and some structuring of the recipient. The tissues of the plant could not "read" the genotypic instructions carried in the chromosomes of every cell unless cell and tissue exist, at that given moment, in a contextual structure.

What has been said above will serve as sufficient definition of what is here meant by "form and pattern." The focus of discussion was upon form rather than content, upon context rather than upon what occurs "in" the given con-text, upon relationship rather than upon the related per-sons or phenomena.

The essays included range from a discussion of "schismogenesis" (1935) to two essays written after the birth of cybernetics.

In 1935, I certainly had not clearly grasped the central importance of "context." I thought that the processes of schismogenesis were important and nontrivial because in them I seemed to see evolution at work: if interaction between persons could undergo progressive qualitative change as in-tensity increased, then surely this could be the very stuff of cultural evolution. It followed that all directional change, even in biological evolution and phylogeny, might—or must —be due to progressive interaction between organisms. Under natural selection, such change in relationships would favor progressive change in anatomy and physiology.

The progressive increase in size and armament of the dinosaurs was, as I saw it, simply an interactive armaments race—a schismogenic process. But I could not then see that the evolution of the horse from Eohip pus was not a one-sided adjustment to life on grassy plains. Surely the grassy plains themselves were evolved pari passe with the evolution of the teeth and hooves of the horses and other ungulates. Turf was the evolving response of the vegetation to the evolution of the horse. It is the context which evolves.

The classification of schismogenic process into "symmetrical" and "complementary" was already a classification of con-texts of behavior; and, already in this essay, there is a proposal to exmine the possible combinations of themes in complementary behavior. By 1942, I had completely for-gotten this old proposal, but I attempted to do precisely what I had proposed seven years previously. In 1942 many of us were interested in "national character" and the con-, trast between England and America fortunately brought into focus the fact that "spectatorship" is in England a filial characteristic, linked with dependency and submission, while in America spectatorship is a parental characteristic linked with dominance and succoring.

This hypothesis, which I called "end-linkage," marked a turning point in my thinking. From that time on, I have consciously focused upon the qualitative structure of con-texts rather than upon intensity of interaction. Above all, the phenomena of end-linkage showed that contextual structures could themselves be messages — an important point which is not made in the 1942 article. An Englishman when he is applauding another is indicating or signaling potential submission and/or dependency; when he shows off or demands spectatorship, he is signaling. dominance or superiority; and so on. Every Englishman who writes a book must be guilty of this. For the American, the converse must hold. His boasting is but a bid for quasiparental approval.

The notion of context reappears in the essay "Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art," but here the idea of context has evolved to meet the related ideas of "redundancy," "pattern," and "meaning."

4 Part III: Form and Pathology in Relationship

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Supreme Sobriety

Supreme Sobriety

How to Maintain Your Resolution to Be Sober. Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At Sobriety. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Turning Your Love For Cooking Into A Money Maker.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment