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Impossible choices: Gregory Bateson saw the creative potential of paradox (aeon.co)
45 points by benbreen 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 4 comments





> Faced with an impossible choice – a ‘koan’ as Zen Buddhists call it

A koan is not an impossible choice. That's the whole point of a koan, realizing the illusion of the impossibility.

A koan highlights the inappropriateness of (written/spoken) language to describe the ineffable experiences that life is really made of.

Funny thing is pretty much all written/spoken language are in a way koans. Making an analogy with formal logic, language itself is an inconsistent knowledge base, as it allows for (seemingly) opposites to be expressed simultaneously. For example the phrase: "Absolutes don't exist", is a statement that implies absolutism itself, while at the same time stating absolutes don't exist, thus it contradicts itself. However reality is not inconsistent, it can never "contradict" itself, reality just is. So our words fail us in accurately conveying what we mean.

So, depending on your own interpretations and point of view, I might be completely wrong about all of this too.

PS: I was expecting the article to focus more on the meaning and potential use of paradoxes, however the word is used only once in the whole text. Despite that, loved Bateson’s remarks about dualism and overcoming our fear of death.


Great context on one of my favorite thinkers. I learned something I hadn't seen in other profiles, his views on family therapy/double bind theory were influenced by losing a sibling to suicide. Makes perfect sense.

I wish Bateson hadn't been so averse to getting involved in the controversy over double bind/family therapy. I admire the high-mindedness and invitation to systemic change, but unfortunately without his advocacy his ideas have gotten largely ignored by the mainstream psychiatric community.

This is a great quote:

> To one accusation that he was not taking the organic aspect of the disease seriously, Bateson replied:

I will concede that schizophrenia is as much a ‘disease’ of the ‘brain’ as it is a ‘disease’ of the ‘family’, if Dr Stevens will concede that humour and religion, art and poetry are likewise diseases of the brain or of the family or both.


In re: cybernetic psychology, Bateson said of the NLP† people "they have succeeded at what I attempted." (I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of his statement.) I believe he was talking specifically about the material that became the content of "Structure of Magic" vols. I & II.

†Neurolinguistic Programming not Natural Language Processing.


It's amazing to read this. I can't help but think about the trajectory of discourse today in the context this quote:

"An arms race leading to a war was schismo­genesis on a grand scale, with no correcting feedback"

This feels familiar to the trajectory of discourse in some social media societies. The 'correcting feedback' are just mirrored tactics used to widen divides.

A newly politically awakened individual peruses the tenet listicals of two parties. He finds he likes 6 tenets from one and 3 from another. He wraps up his opinions in a bindle and sets off to join the conversation. If he brings up any of his traitorous opinions to his new community, he's met with a surprisingly concentrated method of "debate".

Support for any tenet claimed by the opposition proves you directly support the opposition's atrocities. Modus Tollens, QED.

Having a mixed plate at the political buffet is a recipe for being called things like 'racist', 'lazy', 'authoritarian' maybe 'baby murderer'. What he's called depends on where he's talking and what shade of grey he's discussing. No neurons are rubbed together about the specifics of your transgression. They don't need to be! By my radicalization conjecture, if we can associate your opinions or ideas with the opposition, then they are horrible anathema. It's not about context or meaning, it's about flavor!

Few would be cowed by this immediately.

"No, I do not support the wholesale slaughter of all baby giraffes because I like going to the zoo. You must be a rare internet denizen to draw such an extreme conclusion!" The proof is then repeated to you in different words, probably by a different person.

Didn't you hear us? Support for any tenet claimed by the opposition proves you directly support the opposition's atrocities; it's almost worse -- really. Modus Tollens, QED.

There's two ways out of this cycle, be cowed in mentioning unsavory things you support, eschew the whole game all together.

If you signal that you're eschewing, you're greeted with "the world is political, it affects your life, you can't escapeee" and other bright "corrections". Also, the politically disenfranchised are responsible for <opposition atrocities>. The only people who aren't responsible for the destruction of freedom, happiness, and rainbows are people who aren't in this list:

1. The opposition 2. Centrists, moderates etc 3. The disenfranchised

Who remains? Hmm.

I wonder what x% who participate in those koan factories, naively thinking it's a discussion, would be driven to violence after a few months of having <flavor> = <pure evil> drilled into you. It's like chinese water torture, but people participate of their own volition!

It's nice to read something new that corroborates and simplifies a hard to articulate uneasy feeling I've had for the last 10 years.




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