G. Spencer Brown AUM Conference
Transcript Session Three
Tuesday Morning, March 20, 1973


Original Transcript: http://www.lawsofform.org/aum/session3.html

No 'Not' Sense
BATESON: To take off from yesterday's turtle, somewhat--
SPENCER BROWN: The turtle, the tortoise--oh, yes.
BATESON: My interest, if there is anybody who will go along with it - if it's a nuisance to them, would they say so -- is in, amongst other things,
animal communications.
And what goes on between animals is evidently characterized by, amongst other things, the absence of 'not'--the absence of a simple negative. While they can forbid each other-say "don't--they can in general not deny a message which they themselves have emitted. They cannot negate,

Now, the messages which they emit tend to go in the form of intentional groups, or something which is part action, and part stands as a name for the whole, in some sense. So their showing of a fang is a mentioning of battle. Not necessarily the beginning of a battle; possibly a challenge, possibly a mentioning with a question mark-- I mean, "Are we here to fight each other?"

It's sort of in the hope, that I am here, that your Laws of Form calculus might be the sense on which to map this sort of sound. We have a two-legged language which is very unsuitable for mapping what goes on between animals. Indeed, it is unsuitable for mapping what goes on between people.

SPENCER BROWN: Before I answer that, I should have to explain that Prof. Bateson has written most lucidly on this theme, particularly in a little metalog, in the form of a duolog, isn't it, between a father and his daughter.

BATESON: It's merely a dialog, yes.

SPENCER BROWN: --about instinct and about the language of animals compared with the language of us. This is, I believe, now published, and the title is Steps to an Ecology of Mind.

There is this delightful little duolog in that book. When I first read it, some years ago in London, I found it contained very profound observations on communication and-excluding, really, in terms of animals like whales and dolphins which do seem to have a form of communication, which, if you could divine it--is at least as efficient as ours and probably something like it and maybe better.

I think that this causes something-possibly the same problems that they have. Although they may have something superior to Laws of Form, in fact, having got something that ignore important, or more fundamental, than not.

Laws of Form comes effectively from the licensing of the not operator in logic. What is of interest in Gregory Bateson's account of the animals is that they don't so much communicate as commune with us and with each other. And I would like to make this distinction. Amongst the other distinctions that are not commonly made, or, if they are made, are not made consistently, is - the
distinction between communication and communion.

Communication happens according to physical existence, in some physically detachable sense, and the characteristic of communication is that what goes on goes on at the same level. One can take at the level of physical existence, nervous events ordered by sound waves. For example, wireless waves, or what have you, all detectable in physical existence, followed by a perceptor of information, etc. etc. etc.

Now, it is my thesis that communication is superficial to communion, and Without communion, there is no communication, really, at all.
That is to say, if there were no communion, which I will now define as a fitting on another level between the communicants--if there is no communions as indeed there sometimes is not, then what is communicated, when it reaches the other end, it not understood.

The more perfect the fit on the communion level, the less needs to be communicated, the more that can be crossed from one being to another in fewer actual communicated acts.

In Laws of Form, this is expressed in these two laws--or at least there are pictures of it in the two laws early on, in the canon of contraction of reference [1], whereby, as people get to know each other better--a gang of kids go about and one word or even half a word is used to express a whole community between them. Whereas when people do not know each other, this has to be expressed in a whole book. But between people who do know one another, however, there is no need for a book, it can all go in half a syllable.

Now when one is communicating, for example, with one's cat, that doesn't have the sort of language we have, or if it does, we don't know it, then it is done in this kind of way. It is done because you know each other. And when my cat says "Meouw," I sometimes say, "What do you mean, 'meouwt"' But this is a game, because if I consider it, there is never a time when my cat says "Meouw" that I don't know exactly what he means. Why I sometimes say, "What do you mean, 'meouw'?" is because I can't be bothered to get up and give it the fish or open the door or get it. If I am honest with myself, there is never any doubt whatever. Although it says "Meouw n it makes it quite plain to me, by the context in which it says it, exactly what it means. And if I pretend that I don't understand, it knows perfectly well that I am being awkward.

So, to put it on the positive side, if one doesn't make this pretending game and say "Really, the cat ought to be talking like we are, but goes on the level to how it can respond, the communication between a man and the animal can be so complete as to be almost unbelievable. The understanding can be very much greater than between two human beings.

Now, with this question of how is it-- I am going a little beyond what Prof. Bateson says in his duolog, where he raises this point.

The question of how people get into fights, when, in fact, this is a mistake, they got into one by mistake, through one or the other--people or animals taking what-- You see, for example, if I tease my cat and it begins to think "this is enough, and then it comes round and gives me a little nip. Now this is not nearly as hard as it can do it. The nip is the same, when it is a warning nip, as when it is a completely playing nip. knd where I have seen things go wrong, then--to get on the subject of where things go wrong--you may have an entirely neurotic animal who does not distinguish between the gradations of nip. Because when an animal has been made neurotic, what it's lost is its capacity to distinguish. And what has happened in its place, it's been devastated in some way; and it either is completely anaesthetized to what is going on, or if it perceives it, it perceives it fully. It perceives a nip of a certain strength as complete war.

BATESON: It's not a problem of your initial thing and the token of it?
SPENCER BROWN: Well, I am going to that.

I am trying to treat it, first of all, getting into the open, as you are doing with metalogic--getting into the form of extremely simplified and get extremely sensitive communication of animals.- The cat has not a great many modulations of its voice and still fewer twistings of its tongue to make what comes out different.

WOMAN: It has the widest range or sounds of any animal.

SPENCER BROWN: It has a wide range, yes, but it doesn't have words like we do. For a lot of things, it says the same thing, but in a different context, looking a different way, or what have you, which can mean in one case "play with me," in another case "feed me," in another case "open the door for me," and so on. Now it does not have any problem with other cats unless they are neurotic, unless they have been in some sense devastated, in which case it may get into a fight mistakenly. And it has more difficulty with humans, because humans tend to be more neurotic. But it doesn't have the problem with a human being who understands the gradations the cat does, and is sensitive to them.

Now, having gone that far, let us consider something -which Gregory Bateson posits, and I tend to agree with him: The one thing that a human being has in his language, which other animals, if they have a similar language, don't yet have is a word or an expression having the effect of not.

Now just as human flesh can accommodate cuts and bruises better than burns-it doesn't seem to know that so well--so the human mind can accommodate to positive sentences much better than to the same sentence-with "not" stuck on there somewhere.

"Not” appears to be a recent acquiry in language. In fact, if this is so, it would be that we were least adapted to it, most unreliable with it, and we do agree that we-- Indeed, it is well known in business when one has to get something done, that you have to be very careful to put what you want doing in positive terms. Don't put it--like I'm putting it.

We are least adapted to "not." "Not" is the worst order to give anybody, the most confusing order, and the most unlikely to be carried out properly. I do think that, apart from possible animals who have a language as evolved as ours, I do think that it does make for a very different way of seeing the world; or, to put it more accurately, it does make for a very different world. The world waxes or wanes as a whole. The world of the happy is totally different from the world of the unhappy [2].

So one can either say, "there are various ways of seeing 'the world, or one could say, "There are various worlds," which means the same thing. How could there be a difference between these two. As soon as we have not, we have a kind of world that no animal without not ever sees.

And since, in Laws of Form, the Laws of Form can be described as coming from granting a license to not, it is, therefore, this universe of the not-speaking animal that this particular form is about.

The form itself manifests in as many ways as there are ways of distinction. As in the Tao Be Ching, we start with the first proposition, "The way, as told in this book, is not the eternal way, which may not be told." The eternal way may not be told [3] because it is not susceptible to telling. It is too real for that. It manifests in as many different wags or different expressions as there are differences in the beings to which it manifests. So that I speak of "The form," that is never the form that is spoken.

The form which is spoken is the form as it is manifest to us, as the particular beings we are, with our particular not culture, our particular not language, and our particular conventions of life.

And when one looks at a cow in a field and somebody says "What's it doing?" well, I say, "Well, I thank it is contemplating reality." And they say "Don't be ridiculous, how can a cow contemplate reality? "Why not?" I say. "What else does it have to do all day? What else has it to do?" The thing is contemplating reality, what else could it be doing? But the form as it is apparent to a cow--although it is the same form, it is the Way without a Name-- How it manifests to a cow is not how it manifests to me. How it is expressed to a cow is not how it is expressed to me.

BATESON: Could one have identified self, without a not?

SPENCER BROWN: Well that's where you return to the tortoise--because of the game we play, where we have defined there is a "me" inside the body" and the "world outside," and we don't even wink when we are doing it. We take it dead seriously. And what we have, you see, to make all this so dead serious, is we take so dead seriously the not boundary. And to us the form of the fiction is a boundary with not--not one side or not the other.

Now to recapitulate, how of course can there be any space, where would there be for it to be? How of course can there be any time, when would it exist? The world being the appearance of what would appear if it could, if the impossible were able to come about. Now if the impossible comes about, or appears to come about, in as many different ways as it can, according to the form. And in this particular existence, we have the privilege, if you put it that way the privilege of actually viewing from the apparent outside, other points of view, like tortoises, which are other ways in which the impossible would manifest if it could.

MAN: Do you distinguish between "appearance" and "is"?
SPENCER BROWN: Not at the moment. I would do it if it was needed.

MAN: The reason I ask is that to me the primitive is not but is, and the distinction between animal communication--and I got this from Gregory, standing on his shoulders as it were, looking either down or up, depending on how you interpret my interpretation--it seems to me that the is, the Dizziness of communication is what is particularly human. An animal just--

VON MEIER: No, it's only peculiar to a-language. Russian has no copula. Chinese doesn't use the verb "to be"--doesn't articulate being with a special verb in the language. It sets things bedside one another, which is a sense of the Greek word paradigm."

WATTS: Chinese indicates "is" with "that."

VON MEIER: To translate English?

MAN: To me, I can distinguish between just pointing, saying "Lois," and saying "that is Lois, she is Lois."

WATTS: There's a statement in Buddhist literature, "Void is form. Now the "is" word is not our "is" word. It's "Void that form”.

SPENCER BROWN: Well, one must distinguish between being and- existence, being being deeper than existence. existence is less important than being. However, even being is not the most important.

As to existence, well, there is a whole world that be, which don't even exist, and the world that don't exist is far more real than the world that do [4].
(4. "...to experience the world clearly, we must abandon existence to truth, truth to indication, indication to form, and form to void." p.101, Laws of Form. See also discussion of five eternal levels, below, p.102).

We have an astronomer who talks on the television, and he answers questions--he gives a monthly program and then he also reads his letters. And the letters are usually, "Well, what happens in the center of the sun?" Or "Is the Andromeda nebula a spiral? What colors come out of it?" and so on and so forth. And he was answering the questions in one program and the final question was from a lady who asked on a postcard, asked a short question: "What I would like to know is none of these specific questions-what I would like to know is, why the universe exists at all? And he put on his most Satanic expression, and just before the fade out he replied, "Does it?"

Spencer Brown


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