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Adaptation, acclimation, addiction, remedy, etc.
Gregory Bateson (Edited by Nora Bateson)
Abstract
Purpose – This piece seeks to reflect upon the nature of adaptation and our usage of it with relation to design, addiction, and final cause. Design/methodology/approach – This previously unpublished document was found amongst the manuscript papers for Mind and Nature in the Bateson Archives at the University of Santa Cruz Library Special Collections. Findings – It appears that “adaptation” was a concept generated by lineal thinking and that as we move forward into a world of causal circuits, i.e. of mental process as that notion is here defined, we discover that “adaptation” is only another face of addiction. Originality/value – It reflects on the issue of adaptation from a very different angle than in the usual scientific discourse. Keywords Cybernetics, Evolution, Design, Adaptability, Addiction Paper type Conceptual paper

Adaptation, acclimation, addiction 855

Like all abstractions these words are human creations. They stand for ways in which men have divided up the world of classes of human experience. Cutting up the cake is not necessarily the only, or best way of dissecting the particular phenomena. Such dissection is, notably, done differently in every culture and even science has no monopoly on the “right” way of doing it. From epoch to epoch, great thinkers and religious leaders have seen the problems of purpose, adaptation, and design in different ways. Is it even possible for both men and women to have precisely similar views of human or biological purpose? I doubt it. . . In recognizing this diversity and ambiguity of the concepts which lie behind such words as adaptation, addiction, etc. as used in Occidental daily life, we shall do well to look carefully at the history of how the same words came to be used as landmarks in evolutionary theory. It seems that these notions and especially the idea of design in nature were brought into the field of modern science rather late. Aristotle had wrestled with problems of “final” cause and had suggested that teleological explanation surely permeated the phenomenal world. But there was, I think, no locking of horns between science and purpose till the eighteenth century. The teleology of the Greeks was seen by them as a sort of necessity, not as an expression of the ingenuity of a creator. This latter view was however the chosen battle cry of Christian theology in the eighteenth century and its protagonist in England was William Paley, who was
q Estate of Gregory Bateson. Published with the kind permission of the Institute for Intercultural Studies: www.interculturalstudies.org and Mary Catherine Bateson. For permissions, correspond with Mary Catherine Bateson, President of IIS: mcatb@attglobal.net
Kybernetes Vol. 36 No. 7/8, 2007 pp. 855-858 Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0368-492X DOI 10.1108/03684920710777379

and this was to be explained – could be explained only – by the fact that they were created by a divine designer. and Darwin (Origin of Species 1859) each successively fell into the assumption that the problem par excellence which a theory of evolution must solve was the problem of design in nature. This type of explanation was regarded as totally invalid by European scientists. of ´ lo6” could be a “cause” in course. Thus.K 36. Chambers (Vestiges of Creation of the Natural History 1844). For me. Back in the eighteenth century. a product of “co-evolution”. it happened that Lamarck (Philosophie Zoologique 1809). at least from the Renaissance onward. It was this final production that in some sense explained. It was a rather vigorous attempt to find out how adaptation could occur in the norms of a New Guinea culture. in modern jargon. This conflict itself was. Above all. He told his readers to examine a watch and note that it was designed to tell the time of day in a cycle of 24 h. “Design” was or became a problem by being a focus of controversy. This instance of purpose was to be explained by the fact that the watch was indeed designed by a human designer. and it is this ´ lo6” sequence that gives a name to this species of explanations. the sequence which had preceded it. we shall ask about related phenomena – “acclimation” “addiction” “remedy” “learning” and so on. It was asserted that never could a later event be regarded as cause of some earlier event. Naven was written within the premises of that taboo. (It was not. at all clear that the Greeks had thought that “t1 any modern sense of that word!) In the 1930s this taboo on teleological explanation was still compelling and my first book. The writing of that book was a valuable discipline and the book itself is an example of the creative use of William Blake’s “contraries” he says “Without Contraries is no Progression” (Blake. We start by the classical approach to relate “adaptation” to time. So we ask precisely what it is that is called “adaptation” and whether there is really a problem of adaptation which demands an explanation. The reader was then invited to consider such biological phenomena as a crab’s claw or a human hand and to note that these too were designed to fulfill a purpose. His argument was very simple. however. for Greek thought. I had been trained as a zoologist and therefore accepted the taboo on teleology in its strongest form as a taboo on invoking mind even in the explanation of human behavior. . and. I drove myself to the very edge of what later became “cybernetics”. then appeal to a supernatural designer was expectable. 1795). chafing against the limitations. The Greek word “t1 means “end” and the notion of teleology was that the end of some sequence of events would be the exemplification of a pattern or form or immanent Idea. as the nature of what is called “adaptation” begins to emerge. Today it behooves us to be a little more careful. Paley‘s Natural Theology was published in 1802 but he had been lecturing in Cambridge in defense of the Biblical story of the creation 20 years before that. the philosophic denial of final causes set the stage for Paley’s argument – and for Darwin’s rebuttal of it. If the observed phenomena looked as if they were determined by some “final cause” and if immanent “final cause” was disallowed. even Paley’s watch was not to be explained by invocation of “design”. defending Genesis from the encyclopedists. It was the temporal sequence of events which characterized Greek teleology.7/8 856 defending Christian theology from evolutionary ideas almost a century before the Origin of Species.

The structure of the logical trap was precisely what I have called a “double bind”. and Sir Bedevere must take the sword. In order to retain “a” “b” and “d” above the forbidden premise. and throw it away into the lake. latent in extending conclusions beyond the limits of their immediate relevance. King Arthur is wounded and dying.e. yielding place to new And God fulfills himself in many ways Lest one good custom should corrupt the world . There are values (i. the values of flexibility.).e. the double bind is heroic. and an attraction. that the world was characterized by “adaptation”. that “explanation” was necessary. by causation working backwards). It looks like this: The men of science had learned at a deep epistemological level: . . The remedy too is painful and heroic. At any given moment – from moment to moment – it was “common sense” for the evolving dinosaurs to generate more armor . Adaptation. either what is true in some limited moment gets extended to all time. The tactical advantage of one nation in the armaments race may be lethal for all the nations in the war. For the thinker. (but still retained by endowing some supernatural entity with the characteristic which is disallowed at the worldly level). “c” “c” is simply pushed out of the rational world. we discover that “adaptation” is only another face of addiction. addiction 857 In this case.d. a glorious epoch is over. Tennyson tells us: The old order changed. The maneuver is itself “adaptive” in the limited sense that it saves the thinker from the pains of any thought which might disrupt deeply held opinion. there is a continual danger.e. And so on. that to invoke final cause in the explanation of phenomena was invalid and heretical. The “double binds” which characterize the history of scientific thought about “adaptation” are reflected in dilemmas which necessarily plague the evolving organism – a gain illustrating the parallelism between mental process and evolution. “What is good for general motors” may be bad for the larger context of the nation. Excalibur. . that “adaptation” was produced by “final” causes (i. . of mental process as that notion is here defined. and finally. In the fields of evolution. . the symbol of that glorious epoch. (Tennyson. Under such circumstances people skip to a higher logical type. and . n. and . and . or what is true of some item gets extended to the class of similar items. . It appears that “adaptation” was a concept generated by lineal thinking and that as we move forward into a world of causal circuits. past and future. i. These are errors in logical typing and I have set the word “addiction” alongside the word “adaptation” [in the title of this chapter] to remind the reader that all “adaptation” is double faced. survival values) in immediate adaptation but against these must be reckoned. acclimation. the double binds are masked as “specialization” and it is easy to forget that every “adaptive” step which makes the creature fit more precisely into some given niche carries with it the price of lessened capability to fit some other and perhaps more general context.

(n. the self-corrective characteristic – the homoeostasis – is always limited. W. Beyond those values.7/8 In the circuitry of a cybernetic world. can only function within the limits of certain values of its parameters. “good” or “bad” survival-promoting or lethal) of the value of the formerly adaptive feature.). Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (1795). A. Idylls of the King. Tennyson.K 36. there is a change in “logical typing” and with that change a corresponding change in the sign (plus or minus. References Blake. . 858 . .d.

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