Monday, December 25, 2006

Bateson Learning Theory and Metalogs.


Gregory Bateson was one of the 20th centuries' great thinkers and his specialty was learning theory. He was married for a time to another great thinker, Margaret Mead, and they had a daughter who may well still teach at Harvard.

A basic explanation of learning theory turns on levels of learning. The most basic level of learning might be the way a planeria 'learns' to sense levels of heat and light and moves to the zones most useful to survival.

The next level is one we are familiar with whereby one begins to make conclusions about basic information. There are new elements such as play or pretend versions of contingent real circumstances. Squirrels do this as do we.

Level three is where we begin to derive conclusions about level two like those great 'everything I know is wrong' epiphanies that sometimes visit a life in some great break through that leads to a more dynamic participation in ones life, a shedding of baggage.

This, of course, can also be hazardous and lead to madness.

Those of you who wonder about all this are encouraged to find a copy of his "Steps Toward an Ecology of the Mind", a classic.

Now, in the winter of 2002, I ended up having a lively e mail correspondence with a brilliant Englishwoman I met through here semi scabrous naughty erotic literature web site. She is a math teacher somewhere in the midlands, an old radical who loved Gang of Four shows when she went to college in Leeds.

We became great pen pals for a time but never discussed dirty stuff. I'd explain my weird Seattle existence and share ideas so one time I told her about Bateson's meta dialogs and here is here wonderful reply. Best to you"Emily" wherever you are, (spellings are in her Brit English).

"So I was reading the Metadialogue about meta messages, and then I got it, the progression from baby to adult understanding of messaging,(and the annoying way many knuckleheaded blokes are still stuck at a child level of development)."

"1. You start off, as a child, having to be sent explicit messages - metamessages - about what your messages are going to be about:

- this is play; this is serious; this is instruction."

"2.But soon you get so reading the metamessages, that you start to play with them.

- you use teasing, irony, sarcasm, taking things literally, exaggeration, to pretend you mistook one metamessage for another."

"3. Then you get better, and you blend the message and the metamessage together,

-weaving sense and nonsense, blurring reality and fiction - is a documentary recreation documentary, or fiction?"

"4. You end up withdrawing from metamessages altogether,

-leaving just the message and letting you decide what metamessage you'd like to impose on it."

"5. Till one day you realise you don't have to impose,

- you can just let the message be and admire it from all metamessage angles."

"Soooo, what annoys me about the people who email me with that aged question, is this all real, is they haven't moved off the childish level one and I'm at level five."

"Thanks Chris, that helped a lot to answer that bug-bear."

Damn, I miss her.