As I understand it, you have asked me for an honest, introspective —personal— account of how I think about anthropological material, and if I am to be honest and personal about my thinking, then I must be impersonal about the results of that thinking. Even if I can banish both pride and shame for half an hour, honesty will still be difficult.
Let me try to build up. a picture of how I think by giving you an autobiographical account of how I have acquired my kit of conceptual tools and intellectual habits. I do not mean an academic biography or a list of what subjects I have studied, but something more significant than that—a list rather of the motifs of thought in various scientific subjects which left so deep an impression on my mind that when I came to work on anthropological material, I naturally used those borrowed motifs to guide my approach to this new material.
I owe the greatest part of this kit of tools to my father, William Bateson, who was a geneticist. In schools and universities they do very little to give one an idea of the basic principles of scientific thinking, and what I learned of this came in very large measure from my father's conversation and perhaps especially from the overtones of his talk. He himself was inarticulate about philosophy and mathematics and logic, and he was articulately distrustful of such subjects, but still, in spite of himself, I think, he passed on to me something of these matters.
The attitudes which I got from him were especially those which he had denied in himself. In his early—and as I think he knew—his best work he posed the problems of animal symmetry, segmentation, serial repetition of parts, patterns, etc. Later he turned away from this field into Mendelism, to which he devoted the remainder of his life. But he had always a hankering after the problems of pattern and symmetry, and it was this hankering and the mysticism that in-spired it that I picked up and which, for better or worse, I called "science."
I picked up a vague mystical feeling that we must look for the same sort of processes in all fields of natural phenomena—that we might expect to find the same sort of laws at work in the structure of a crystal as in the structure of society, or that the segmentation of an earthworm might really be comparable to the process by which basalt pillars are formed.
I should not preach this mystical faith in quite those terms today but would say rather that I believe that the types of mental operation which are useful in analyzing one field may be equally useful in another — that the framework (the eidos) of science, rather than the framework of Nature, is the same in all fields. But the more mystical phrasing of the matter was what I vaguely learnt, and it was of paramount importance. It lent a certain dignity to any scientific investigation, implying that
* This paper was given at the Seventh Conference on Methods in Philosophy and the Sciences, held at the New School for Social Research, April 28, 1940. It is here -reprinted from Philosophy of Science, Vol. 8, No. 1, copyright 1941, The Williams & Wilkins Co. Reproduced by permission.
when I was analyzing the pat-terns of partridges' feathers, I might really get an answer or a bit of an answer to the whole puzzling business of pattern and regularity in nature. And further, this bit of mysticism was important because it gave me freedom to use my scientific background, the ways of thought that I had picked up in biology and elementary physics and chemistry; it encouraged me to expect these ways of thought to fit in with very different fields of observation. It enabled me to regard all my training as potentially useful rather than utterly irrelevant to anthropology.
When I came into anthropology there was a considerable reaction taking place against the use of loose analogies, especially against the Spencerian analogy between the Organism and Society. Thanks to this mystical belief in the pervading unity of the phenomena of the world, I avoided a great deal of intellectual waste. I never had any doubt that this analogy was fundamentally sound; since to doubt would have been emotionally expensive. Nowadays, of course, the emphasis has shifted. Few would seriously doubt that the ways of analysis which have been found useful in analyzing one complex functioning system are likely to be of use in analyzing any other similar system. But the mystical prop was useful then, though its phrasing was bad.
There is another way, too, in which that mysticism has helped—a way which is especially relevant to my thesis. I want to emphasize that whenever we pride ourselves upon finding a newer, stricter way of thought or exposition; when-ever we start insisting too hard upon "operationalism" or symbolic logic or any other of these very essential systems of tramlines, we lose something of the ability to think new thoughts. And equally, of course, whenever we rebel against the sterile rigidity of formal thought and exposition and let our ideas run wild, we likewise lose. As I see it, the advances in scientific thought come from a combination of loose and strict thinking, and this combination is the most precious tool of science.
My mystical view of phenomena contributed specifically to build up this double habit of mind—it led me into wild "hunches" and, at the same time, compelled more formal thinking about those hunches. It encouraged looseness of thought and then immediately insisted that that looseness be measured up against a rigid concreteness. The point is that the first hunch from analogy is wild, and then, the moment I begin to work out the analogy, I am brought up against the rigid formulations which have been devised in the field from which I borrow the analogy.
Perhaps it is worth giving an example of this; it was a matter of formulating the social organization of a New Guinea tribe, —the Iatmul. The Iatmul social system differs from ours in one very essential point. Their society completely lacks any sort of chieftainship, and I phrased this matter loosely by saying that the control of the individual was achieved by what I called "lateral" sanctions rather than by "sanctions from above." Going over my material, I found further that in general the subdivisions of the society —the clans, moieties, etc.—had virtually no means of punishing their own members. I had a case in which a ceremonial house owned by a particular junior age grade had been defiled, and though the other members of the grade were very angry with the defiler, they could do nothing about it. I asked whether they would kill one of his pigs or take any of his property, and they replied "No, of course not. He is a member of their own initiatory grade." If the same thing had happened in the big senior ceremonial house which belongs to several grades, then the defiler would be punished. His own grade would defend him but the others would start a brawl.6
I then began looking for more concrete cases which could be compared with the contrast between this system and our own. I said, "It's like the difference between the radially symmetrical animals (jellyfish, sea anemones, etc.) and the animals which have transverse segmentation (earthworms, lobsters, man, etc.)."
Now in the field of animal segmentation we know very little about the mechanisms concerned, but at least the problems are more concrete than in the social field. When we compare a social problem with a problem of animal differentiation, we are at once provided with a visual diagram, in terms of which we may be able to talk a little more precisely. And for the transversely segmented animals, at least, we have something more than a merely anatomical diagram. Thanks to the work that has been done on experimental embryology and axial gradients, we have some idea of the dynamics of the system. We know that some sort of asymmetrical relation obtains between the successive segments, that each segment would, if it could (I speak loosely) form a head, but that the next anterior segment prevents this. Further, this dynamic asymmetry in the relations between successive segments is reflected morphologically; we find in most such animals a serial difference — what is called metameric differentiation—between the. successive segments.
Their appendages, though they can be shown to conform to a single basic structure, differ one from another as we go down the series. (The legs of the lobster provide a familiar example of the sort of thing I mean.)
In contrast with this, in the radially symmetrical animals, the segments, arranged around the center like sectors of a circle, are usually all alike.
As I say, we do not know much about the segmentation of animals, but at least here was enough for me to take back to the problem of Iatmul social organization. My "hunch" had provided me with a set of stricter words and diagrams, in terms of which I could try to be more precise in my thinking about the Iatmul problem. I could now look again at the Iatmul material to determine whether the relationship between the clans was really in some sense symmetrical and to determine whether there was anything that could be compared with the lack of metameric differentiation. I found that the "hunch" worked. I found that so far as opposition, control, etc. between the clans was concerned, the relations between them were reasonably symmetrical, and further, as to the question of differentiation between them, it could be shown that, though there were considerable differences, these followed no serial pattern. Additionally, I found that there was a strong tendency for clans to imitate each other, to steal bits of each other's mythological history and to incorporate these into their own past—a sort of fraudulent heraldry, each clan copying the others so that the whole system tended to diminish the differentiation between them. (The system perhaps also contained tendencies in an opposite direction, but this question I need not discuss now.)
I followed up the analogy in another direction. Impressed by the phenomena of metameric differentiation, I made the point that in our society with its hierarchical systems (comparable to the earthworm or the lobster), when a group secedes from the parent society, it is usual to find that the line of fission, the division between the
6 For details of this and other similar incidents cfr. Naven, pp. 98-107, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1936.
new group and the old, marks a differentiation of mores. The Pilgrim Fathers wander off in order to be different. But among the Iatmul, when two groups in a village quarrel, and one half goes off and founds a new community, the mores of the two groups remain identical. In our society, fission tends to be heretical (a following after other doctrines or mores), but in Iatmul, fission is rather schismatic (a following after other leaders without change of dogma).
You will note that. here I overrode my analogy at one point and that this matter is still not perfectly clear. When a transverse fission or a lateral budding occurs in a transversely segmented animal, the products of that bud or fission are identical, the posterior half which was held in check by the anterior is relieved of this control and develops into a normal, complete animal. I am therefore not in step with my analogy when I regard the differentiation which accompanies fission in a hierarchical society as comparable with that which exists before fission in a transversely segmented animal. This divergence from the analogy will surely be worth investigation; it will take us into a more precise study of the asymmetrical relations which obtain between the units in the two cases and raise questions about the reactions of the subordinate member to its position in the asymmetry. This aspect of the matter I have not yet examined.
Having got some sort of conceptual frame within which to describe the interrelations between clans, I went on from this to consider the interrelations between the various age grades in terms of this same frame. Here, if anywhere, where age might be expected to provide a basis for serial differentiation, we ought to expect to find some analogue of the transverse segmentation with asymmetrical relations between the successive grades—and to a certain extent the age-grade system fitted this picture. Each grade has its ceremonies and its secrets of initiation into that grade; and in these ceremonies and secrets it was perfectly easy to trace a metameric differentiation. Ceremonies which are fully developed at the top of the system are still recognizable in their basic form in the lower levels—but more rudimentary at each level as we go down the series.
But the initiatory system contains one very interesting element which was brought into sharp relief when my point of view was defined in terms of animal segmentation. The grades alternate, so that the whole system consists of two opposed groups, one group made up of grades 3, 5, 7, etc. (the odd numbers), and the other made up of 2, 4, 6, etc.; and these two groups maintain the type of relationship which I had already described as "symmetrical"—each providing sanctions by quarreling with the other when their rights are infringed.
Thus even where we might expect the most definite hierarchy, the Iatmul have substituted for it a headless system in which one side is symmetrically opposed to the other.
From this conclusion my enquiry, influenced by many other types of material, will go on to look at the matter from other points of view—especially the psychological problems of whether a preference for symmetrical rather than asymmetrical relationships can be implanted in the individual, and what the mechanisms of such character formation may be. But we need not go into that now.
Enough has been said to bring out the methodological theme—that a vague "hunch" derived from some other science leads into the precise formulations of that other science in terms of which it is possible to think more fruit-fully about our own material.
You will have noticed that the form in which I used the biological findings was really rather different from that in which a zoologist would talk about his material. Where the zoologist might talk of axial gradients, I talked about "asymmetrical relationships between successive segments," and in my phrasing I was prepared to attach to the word "successive" two simultaneous meanings—in referring to the animal material it meant a morphological series in a three-dimensional concrete organism, while in referring to the anthropological material the word "successive" meant some abstracted property of a hierarchy.
I think it would be fair to say that I use the analogies in some curiously abstract form—that, as for "axial gradients" I substitute "asymmetrical relationships," so also I endow the word "successive" with some abstract meaning which makes it applicable to both sorts of cases.
This brings us to another very important motif in my thinking—a habit of constructing abstractions which refer to terms of comparison between entities; and to illustrate this I can clearly remember the first occasion on which I was guilty of such an abstraction. It was in my Zoological Tripos examination at Cambridge, and the examiner had tried to compel me to answer at least one question on each branch of the subject. Comparative anatomy I had always regarded as a waste of time, but I found myself face to face with it in the examnation and had not the necessary detailed knowledge. I was asked to compare the urinogenital system of the amphibia with that of the mammalia, and I did not know much about it.
Necessity was the mother of invention. I decided that I ought to be able to defend the position that comparative anatomy was a muddled waste of time, and so I set to work to attack the whole emphasis on homology in zoological theory. As you probably will know, zoologists conventionally deal in two sorts of comparability between organs — homology and analogy. Organs are said to be "homologous" when it can be shown that they have similar structure or bear similar structural relations to other organs, e.g., the trunk of the elephant is homologous with the nose and lip of a man be-cause it has the same formal relation to other parts — eyes, etc.; but the trunk of an elephant is analogous to the hand of a man because both have the same uses. Fifteen years ago comparative anatomy revolved endlessly around these two sorts of comparability, which incidentally are good examples of what I mean by "abstractions which define the terms of a comparison between entities."
My attack on the system was to suggest that there might be other sorts of comparability and that these would con-fuse the issue to such a degree that mere morphological analysis would not suffice. I argued that the bilateral fins of a fish would conventionally be regarded as homologous with the bilateral limbs of a mammal, but that the tail of a fish, a median organ, would conventionally be regarded a "different from" or at most only "analogous to" the fins. But what about the double-tailed Japanese goldfish? In this animal the factors causing an anomaly of the tail also cause the same anomaly in the bilateral fins; therefore there was here another sort of comparability, an equivalence in terms of processes and laws of growth. Well, I don't know what mark I got for my answer. I found out much later that, as a matter of fact, the lateral fins of the goldfish are scarcely, if at all, affected by the factors which cause the anomaly in the tail, but I doubt if the examiner caught me in my bluff; and I found also that, curiously, Haekel in 1854 had actually coined the word "homonomy" for the very type of equivalence that I was inventing. The word is, so far as I know, obsolete, and was obsolete when I wrote my answer.
So far as I was concerned, however, the idea was new and I had thought of it myself. I felt that I had discovered how to think. That was in 1926, and this same old clue—recipe, if you like—has remained with me ever since. I did not realize that I had a recipe; and it was not until ten years later that I fully grasped the significance of this analogyhomology-homonomy business.
Perhaps it will be of interest to recount in some detail my various brushes with these concepts and the recipe which they contained. Soon after the examination to which I have referred, I went into anthropology and for some time stopped thinking—wondering rather what could be made of this subject, but not getting anything clear except a repudiation of most of the conventional approaches which, to me, seemed meaningless. I wrote a little skit on the concept of totemism in 1930, first proving that the totemism of the Iatmul is true totemism because it contains a "high percentage" of characteristics of totemism listed in "Notes and Queries on Anthropology" issued more or less ex cathedra by the Royal Anthropological Institute, and then going on to the question, what sort of equivalence we thought we were referring to when we equate some bits of Iatmul culture with the totem-ism of North America, and dragging in homology-homonomy, etc.
In this discussion of "true" totemism I still had the homonomy-homology abstractions perfectly clear and was using the concepts with a clean (though inarticulate) understanding of what sort of abstractions they were—but it is interesting that I afterwards made some other comparable abstractions for the analysis of latmul material and muddled the issues through forgetting this very thing.
I was especially interested in studying what I called the "feel" of culture, and I was bored with the conventional study of the more formal details. I went out to New Guinea with that much vaguely clear—and in one of my first letters home I complained of the hopelessness of putting any sort of salt on the tail of such an imponderable concept as the "feel" of culture. I had been watching a casual group of natives chewing betel, spitting, laughing, joking, etc., and I felt acutely the tantalizing impossibility of what.I wanted to do.
A year later, still in New Guinea, I read Arabia Deserta and recognized with a thrill that Doughty had in a sense done what I wanted to do. He had put salt on the tail of the very bird that I was hunting. But I realized also — sadlythat he had used the wrong kind of salt. I was not interested in achieving a literary or artistic representation of the "feel" of the culture; I was interested in a scientific analysis of it.
On the whole I think that Doughty was an encouragement to me, and the greatest encouragement I got from him was due to a fallacious bit of thinking which he prompted. It appeared to me that it was impossible to understand the behavior of his Arabs apart from the "feel" of their culture, and from this it seemed to follow that the "feel" of the culture was in some way causative in shaping native behavior. This encouraged me to go on thinking that I was trying after something that was important —so far so good. But it also guided me into regarding the "feel" of the culture as much more concrete and causally active than I had any right to do.
This false concreteness was reinforced later by an accident of language. Radcliffe-Brown called to my attention the old word "ethos" and told me that that was what I was trying to study. Words are dangerous things, and it so hap-pens that "ethos" is in some ways a very bad word. If I had been compelled to make up my own word for what I wanted to say, I might have done better and saved myself a great deal of confusion. I would, I hope, have put forward something like "ethonomy," which would have reminded me that I was referring to an abstraction of the same order as homology or homonomy. The trouble with the word "ethos" is just this—that it is too short. It is a unit word, a single Greek substantive, and as such helped me to go on thinking that it referred to a unit something which I could still regard as causative. I handled the word as if it were a category of behavior or a sort of factor which shaped behavior.
We are all familiar with this loose use of words in such phrases as: "the causes of war are economic," "economic behavior," "he was influenced by his emotions," "his symptoms are the result of conflict between his superego and his id." (I am not sure how many of these fallacies are contained in that last example; at a rough count, there seem to be five with a possible sixth, but there may be more. Psychoanalysis has erred sadly in using words that are too short and there-fore appear more concrete than they are.) I was guilty of just this sort of shoddy thinking in my handling of the word "ethos," and you must excuse me if I have gathered moral support for this confession by a digression to show that at any rate others have committed the same crime.
Let us examine the stages by which I got into the fallacy and the way in which I got out of it. I think the first step toward an escape from sin was to multiply offenses—and there is a good deal to be said for this method. Vice is after all a dull business whether it be physical or intellectual, and an effective cure can sometimes be achieved by indulgence to the point at which the patient realizes this. It is a way of proving that a given line of thought or conduct will not do, by experimentally extrapolating it to infinity, when its absurdities become evident.
I multiplied my offenses by creating several more concepts of about the same degree of abstraction as "ethos" —I had "eidos," "cultural structure," "sociology" — and all these I handled as though they were concrete entities. I pictured the relations between ethos and cultural structure as being like the relation between a river and its banks —"The river molds the banks and the banks guide the river. Similarly, the ethos molds the cultural structure and is guided by it." I was still looking for physical analogies, but now the position was not quite the same as when I was looking for analogies in order to get concepts which I could use in analyzing observed material. I was looking now for physical analogies which I could use in analyzing my own concepts, and that is a very much less satisfactory business. I do not mean, of course, that the other sciences can give one no help in the attempt to straighten out one's thoughts; they surely can. For example, the theory of Dimensions in physics may be of enormous help in this field. What I mean is that when one is seeking an analogy for the elucidation of material of one sort, it is good to look at the way analogous material has been analyzed. But when one is seeking an elucidation of one's own concepts, then one must look for analogies on an equally abstract level. However, these similes about rivers and their banks seemed pretty to me and I treated them quite seriously.
Here I must digress for a moment to describe a trick of thought and speech, which I have found useful. When I am faced with a vague concept and feel that the time is not yet ripe to bring that concept into strict expression, I coin some loose expression for referring to this concept and do not want to prejudge the issue by giving the concept too meaningful a term. I therefore dub it hastily with some brief concrete colloquial term—generally Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin—I will speak of the "stuff" of culture, or "bits" of culture, or the "feel" of culture. These brief AngloSaxon terms have for me a definite feeling tone which reminds me all the time that the concepts behind them are vague and await analysis. It is a trick like tying a knot in a handkerchief—but has the advantage that it still permits me, if I may so express it, to go on using the handkerchief for other purposes. I can go on using the vague concept in the valuable process of loose thinking—still continually reminded that my thoughts are loose.
But these similes about ethos being the river and the formulations of culture or "cultural structure" being its banks were not Anglo-Saxon reminders that I was leaving some-thing for analysis at a later date. They were, as I thought, the real thing—a real contribution to our understanding of how culture works. I thought that there was one sort of phenomenon which I could call "ethos" and another sort which I could call "cultural structure" and that these two worked together—had mutual effect one on the other. All that remained for me to do was to discriminate clearly between these various sorts of phenomena so that other people could perform the same sort of analysis that I was doing.
This effort of discrimination I postponed, feeling perhaps that the problem was not quite ripe—and I went on with the cultural analysis. And did what I still think was good work. I want to emphasize this last point —that, as a matter of fact, considerable contributions to science can be made with very blunt and crooked concepts. We may joke about the way misplaced concreteness abounds in every word of psycho-analytic writing—but in spite of all the muddled thinking that Freud started, psychoanalysis remains as the outstanding contribution, almost the only contribution to our understanding of the family—a monument to the importance and value of loose thinking.
Finally I had completed my book on Iatmul culture, with the exception of the last chapter, the writing of which was to be the final testing and review of my various theoretical concepts and contributions. I planned that this chapter should contain some attempt to discriminate between the sort of thing that I called "ethos" and the sort of thing that I called "eidos," etc.
I was in a state approximating that panic in the examination room which formerly produced the concept of homonomy. I was due to sail for my next field trip — my book had to be finished before I sailed—the book could not stand without some clear statement about the interrelations of these concepts of mine.
Here I will quote what finally appeared in the book in this last chapter:
"I began to doubt the validity of my own categories, and performed an experiment. I chose three bits of culture: (a) a wau (mother's brother) giving food to a laua (sister's son); a pragmatic bit, (b) a man scolding his wife; an ethological bit, and (c) a man marrying his father's sister's daughter; a structural bit. Then I drew a lattice of nine squares on a large piece of paper, three rows of squares with three squares in each row. I labeled the horizontal rows with my bits of culture and the vertical columns with my categories. Then I forced myself to see each bit as conceivably belonging to each category. I found that it could be done.
"I found that I could think of each bit of culture structurally; I could see it as in accordance with a consistent set of rules or formulations. Equally, I could see each bit as "pragmatic,' either as satisfying the needs of individuals or as contributing to the integration of society. Again, I could see each bit ethologically, as an expression of emotion.
"This experiment may seem puerile, but to me it was very important, and I have recounted it at length because there may be some among my readers who tend to regard such concepts as structure' as concrete parts which "interact' in culture, and who find, as I did, a difficulty in thinking of these concepts as labels merely for points of view adopted either by the scientist or by the natives. It is instructive to perform the same experiment with such concepts as economics, etc."7
In fact, "ethos" and the rest were finally reduced to abstractions of the same general order as "homology," "homonomy," etc.; they were labels for points of view voluntarily adopted by the investigator. I was, as you may imagine, enormously excited at getting this tangle straightened out—but I was also worried because I thought I should be compelled to rewrite the whole book. But I found that this was not so. I had to tune up the definitions, check through to see that each time the technical term appeared I could substitute the new definition for it, mark the more egregious pieces of nonsense with footnotes warning the reader that these passages might be taken as a warning of how not to say things—and so on. But the body of the book was sound enough—all that it needed was new castors on its legs.
So far I have spoken of my own personal experiences with strict and loose thinking, but I think actually the story which I have narrated is typical of the whole fluctuating business of the advance of science. In my case, which is a small one and comparatively insignificant in the whole advance of science, you can see both elements of the alternating process—first the loose thinking and the building up of a structure on unsound foundations and then the correction to stricter thinking and the substitution of a new underpinning beneath the already constructed mass. And that, I believe, is a pretty fair picture of how science advances, with this exception, that usually the edifice is larger and the individuals who finally contribute the new underpinning are different people from those who did the initial loose thinking. Sometimes, as in physics, we find centuries between the first building of the edifice and the later correction of the foundations—but the process is basically the same.
And if you ask me for a recipe for speeding up this process, I would say first that we ought to accept and enjoy this dual nature of scientific thought and be willing to value the way in which the two processes work together to give us advances in understanding of the world. We ought not to frown too much on either process, or at least to frown equally on either process when it is unsupplemented by the other. There is, I think, a delay in science when we start to specialize for too long either in strict or in loose thinking. I suspect, for example, that the Freudian edifice has been al-lowed to grow too big before the corrective of strict thought is applied to it—and now when investigators start rephrasing the Freudian dogmas in new stricter terms there may be a lot of ill feeling, which is wasteful. (At this point I might perhaps throw out a word of comfort to the orthodox in psychoanalysis. When the formulators begin rooting about among the most basic of analytic premises and questioning the concrete reality of such concepts as the "ego" or "wishes" or the "id" or the "libido" — as indeed they are already be-ginning to root — there is no need to get alarmed and to start having terror dreams of chaos and storms at sea. It is certain that most of the old fabric of analysis will still be left standing after the new underpinning has been inserted. And when the concepts, postulates, and premises have been straightened out, analysts will be able to embark upon a new and still
more fruitful orgy of loose thinking, until they reach a stage at which again the results of their thinking must be strictly conceptualized. I think that they ought to enjoy this alternating quality in the progress of science and not delay the progress of science by a refusal to accept this dualism.)
Further than this, besides simply not hindering progress, I think we might do something to hasten matters, and I have suggested two ways in which this might be done. One is to train scientists to look among the older sciences for wild analogies to their own material, so that their wild hunches about their own problems will land them among the strict formulations. The second method is to train them to tie knots in their handkerchiefs whenever they leave some mat-ter unformulated—to be willing to leave the matter so for years, but still leave a warning sign in the very terminology they use, such that these terms will forever stand, not as fences hiding the unknown from future investigators, but rather as signposts which read: "UNEXPLORED BEYOND THIS POINT."
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