All quotes from Gregory Bateson’s

We are dealing not with real dimensions, but with descriptions of dimensions. And the central difficulty and the big enlightenment comes when you suddenly realize that all this stuff is descriptions.

All those creatures that we talk about themselves contain description; that the DNA are descriptive prescriptions, injunctions, for how to make a bird or a man or whatever. And these injunctions themselves contain epistemology. They contain a theory of the nature of description implicitly. And you can never get away from theories of the nature of description wherever you have descriptions. All descriptions are based upon a theory of how to make descriptions.

The world into which we are moving, the world in whose terms we have to think, is a world of patterns, is a world in which there are tautologies and logics which we can use for explaining things with, for building accurate language with, and some rigor with. But it ain’t like the language of quantities and such things. It’s a language of patterns and not an entirely simple business. We have a major problem in front of us to create the language in which we can talk about evolution, talk about—what are the other things? Epistemology. And talk about mind-body.

If we’re going to say the thing has five fingers, you may be wrong because, really, it has four gaps between fingers: four relationships. Because this is governed by relationship, not by the absolutes.

If you’re going to now face oscillating systems, you have a very curious world in which a certain degree of reality is imparted to the chunk of living matter that is a justification, of some sort, in drawing a line around it. That justification is based on the fact of that autonomy—a literal autonomy, in that the system names itself. You’ve got a system of injunctions in which the system of injunctions is auto- (“self”) -nomic: self-naming. Self-ruling, but essentially self-naming. And that is the only autonomy there is, as far as I know. It’s recursiveness.

We have if-then relations with “then” being purely temporal, being temporal, and therefore differing profoundly from classical logic. That doesn’t mean, you know, that it’s impossible to think! It means that logic is a poor simulation of cause.

We keep coming back—I keep coming back—to the assertion that what we deal with are descriptions. What we deal with are representations of how it is. How it is—we don’t know! We can’t get there. That’s the Ding an sich, which is always and inevitably out of reach. You have sense organs specially designed to keep the world out. It’s like the lining of your gut, which is specially designed to keep out foreign proteins: to break down the foreign protein before it enters—to its amino acids, or whatever. Only the amino acids are allowed through. And your sense organs—you see, which is another piece of this whole business: how you can know anything, how it is that anything knows anything.

In the end it is the meta-adaptation, the adaptation to the total adaptive system, that is going to kill us or let us live.

The point about sense organs is that they do not live (therefore you do not live), on the whole, in a world of quantities. Sense organs live in the next logical type up, which is the world of differences. If you want to know something—there is a dot on the blackboard. If I drop my finger on it, I cannot feel it. If I move my finger laterally on it, I feel it at once as a conspicuous difference in level. That is (on the whole, in general) true for all sensations of all sense organs: that what you perceive, the reports which enter your system, are not reports about magnitudes, they’re reports about differences.