5 Jun 2009

Bateson, Dynamic Stability, in Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity

by Corry Shores
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Dynamic Stability

Gregory Bateson

Mind and Nature:

A Necessary Unity

Ch. II

Every Schoolboy Knows

16. ‘Stability’ and ‘Change’ Describe Parts of our Descriptions

If we start to investigate what lies behind this use of stability, we shall find a wide range of mechanisms. At the simplest level, we have simple physical hardness of viscosity, qualities descriptive of relations of impact between the stable object and some other. At more complex levels, the whole mass of interlocking processes called life may be involved in keeping our object in a state of change that can maintain some necessary constants, such as body temperature, blood circulation, blood sugar, or even life itself.

The acrobat on the high wire maintains his stability by continual correction of his imbalance.

These more complex examples suggest that when we use stability in talking about living things or self-corrective circuits, we should follow the example of the entities about which we are talking. For the acrobat on the high wire, his or her so-called ‘balance’ is important; so, for the mammalian body, is its ‘temperature’. The changing state of these important variables from moment to moment is reported in the communication networks of the body. To follow the example of the entity, we should define ‘stability’ always by reference to the ongoing truth of some descriptive proposition. The statement ‘The acrobat is on the high wire’ continues to be true under impact of small breezes and vibrations of the wire. This ‘stability’ is the result of continual changes in descriptions of the acrobat’s posture and the position of his or her balancing pole.

It follows that when we talk about living entities, statements about ‘stability’ should always be labeled by reference to some descriptive proposition so that the typing of the word, stable, may be clear. (74a.d)

Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. London: Wildwood House, 1979.

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