tag: Religion

Aug 2006

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

We may joke about the way misplaced concreteness abounds in every word of psychoanalytic writing – but in spite of all the muddled thinking that Freud started, psychoanalysis remains as the outstanding contribution, almost the only contribution to our understanding of the family – a monument to the importance and value of loose thinking.

Experiments in Thinking About Observed Ethnological Material | Gregory Bateson

There’s a collection of Bateson’s papers and essays which I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on this blog. It’s called Steps to an Ecology of Mind and I recommend you track it down with all haste, dear reader. It ranks up there with Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions as one of the most important collections of writings of the 20th century.

Like Ideas and Opinions, Bateson’s papers are sometimes far from the cutting edge of the subject they address (the earliest being over 70 years old now). But he writes with a similar piercing clarity and wisdom to Einstein and so provides a deep yet rounded understanding of his subject. He demonstrates methodologies and ways of thinking, rather than merely providing information.

For instance, the article Cybernetic Explanation cleared up a rather abstract area of confusion that had bugged me since university – but that I’d never been able to elucidate – regarding proof by reductio ad absurdum. And while his essay Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art may not contain the most up-to-date theories on primitive art (being almost 40 years old), it nonetheless forced me to re-evaluate some of my beliefs about the nature of consciousness and of human psychology.

No mean feat for an essay about cave paintings.

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

And it’s fair to say that it’s my views on psychology that have been most influenced by Bateson. Probably the most mind-blowing essay – for me – is Morale and National Character. In it Bateson very clearly presents the reasons why it’s not only legitimate to view and analyse nations using the tools of psychology, but why those tools are actually far better suited to that task than they are to the task of analysing the individual.

This was like an explosion going off in my mind. For years I’ve been of the opinion that what cognitive theorist Douglas Hostadter (dunno if he coined the phrase, but he’s where I first read it) calls “emergent intelligence” plays a far more significant role in the behaviour of corporations, institutions and nations… any large, organised group of people in fact… than is acknowledged.

Not only that, but I’ve always felt that although the tools of modern psychoanalysis are often too blunt to deal with the absurd complexity of individual human consciousness, that they actually have great relevance when examining the motivations and behaviour of the infintely simpler consciousnesses of groups of people.

Incidentally, there may be those who are a little puzzled by the idea that an individual human consciousness would be significantly more complex than a consciousness consisting of multiples of those individuals. It seems vaguely counter-intuitive. But actually the complexity of a consciousness is primarily (though not entirely) a factor of the number of constituent members (or “neurons”). The internal complexity of each individual neuron is a far smaller factor, though conversely it is a far larger factor in the likelihood of systemic failure (mental illness).

All of this seemed to make perfect sense to me… and whenever I applied my theory to the world, it appeared to work. The larger the organisation, the more prone to irrationality and dysfunction it becomes as the collective instabilities in the constituent members get amplified. Two perfect examples being, of course, globalised capitalism and modern China which have both descended into extreme psychosis… in the sense that they are unable to function sustainably in the environment in which they find themselves; the real world.

However, I’ve long become suspicious of assuming that just because something made perfect sense to me, that it did – in fact – make perfect sense. Too often have I been greeted with blank incomprehension as I explained why something obviously had to be a certain way. So it’s a joy to read an essay like Morale and National Character and discover that not only is someone thinking about the world in exactly the same way as you (albeit drawing different conclusions on occasion), but they can explain succinctly just why this way of thinking about the world is so very informative and so very valuable.

Anyways, I didn’t want to write a traditional review of this book as it’s far from a traditional book. I thought instead I’d explain just why it’s so important to me, and why I think anyone interested in anthropology, psychiatry, psychology, evolution, the history and function of art, epistemology or what it means to be human should read this important collection.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » Book reviews

May 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "Letters From Iran"

I’m fascinated by the news that the Iranian president (religious mentalist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) has sent an 18-page letter to the American president (religious mentalist, George Bush). As yet the letter hasn’t been published publicly, but the leaks make it sound just as weird as I could have imagined. Of course all the leaks are coming from the US end of things, but in these days of internets and whatnot, it’ll be easy enough for the Iranians to disseminate an accurate copy should fabrications begin to appear…

I got hold of what Reuters are calling “an abridged version”. Make of it what you will:

Dear George (or may I call you “Dubya”),

America has been a force for evil in the world. For years you have blundered about the globe meddling in the affairs of everyone else. In 1979 we decided to have nothing more to do with you and have had no official contact since then. Sadly that is no longer possible now that you have flattened and invaded half our neighbours, called us part of “the axis of evil” and your administration has begun pointedly denying that an invasion is planned every time they’re asked about bombing Iran. This has us all a bit worried here in Tehran.

Frankly we think it’s about time you pissed off out of the middle east and central asia. No seriously. You’ve no business being here, and we think it’s about time you left. Your unwavering support for unelected dictatorships and royal families in the name of democracy whilst you napalm villages in the name of peace was embarrassing to watch while you were doing it to other countries. Now that you seem to be looking at us with those war-room eyes, I felt it was time to contact you directly and ask whether you’ve completely taken leave of your senses?

Look, so long as you’re willing to pay the market price (in euros), we here in the middle east don’t mind sending shipfuls of our oil across the oceans to be burnt in American cars. We’ll sell as long as you can afford to buy. We just don’t like the idea of you stealing the stuff by setting up client governments all over the place.

So in the interests of stability – something you seem to value so much – we feel it’d be a good idea to get rid of the majority of the weapons and bombs currently in the region. We’ve done a lot of consultation, focus groups and research and discovered that everyone would feel a lot less twitchy around here if you, therefore, took all your soldiers and tanks and guns and planes home to America. Or go save the Sudanese maybe? We honestly don’t care just as long as you’re moving in a direction that is “away” from us. And they do seem to genuinely need assistance.

Oh another thing… and I know this is a bit of a touchy subject, but this being our first chance to chat in 27 years, I’d be a fool if I didn’t take the opportunity… would you mind taking Israel back home with you? Yes, yes, I know all that stuff about them being the chosen people and God giving them that piece of land. But here’s the thing… we don’t actually believe that, and there’s no hard evidence to support it. So from where we stand, it looks like – far from being God-given – the modern state of Israel was actually created by a bunch of colonial powers stealing Palestinian land under pressure from Zionist terrorism in order to assuage their feelings of guilt about the holocaust.

Frankly – despite the bad press I get over in the West – I don’t have a problem with a homeland for the jewish people. But we in Iran do have to wonder why the Palestinians should pay for the atrocities of the Germans. Would it not make more sense to give, say, Bavaria to the jewish people? Or if you Americans are really that concerned, well you’ve got plenty of land. Give them North Dakota. Who’d notice?

I know, that’s probably a bit much to expect. But honestly, it’s difficult to see how better to improve stability than by removing US and Israeli influence from the region.

Oh and listen up George. You going around calling yourself a “Man of God” is starting to give us genuine “Men of God” a bad name. Either shape up, or ship out. Hear what I’m saying? America’s “separation of church and state” tells us all we need to know about how much a Man of God you are. Right? And let that be a warning to you by the way. Saddam Hussein was a secular dictator. Of course God chose your side in that war. But if you try to take us on, well… you’ll be cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and no mistake.

This is a religious state for crying out loud! We’ve got clerics who can kick me out of office if they want. That’s proper “Man of God” stuff let me tell you. Whose side do you think God would be on if it came to a straight choice between you and me? Eh? Seriously George, I’d think twice before pissing off Allah The Most Merciful. He can be a right ruthless bastid when He gets going.

Anyways, I’ve got more to say but I’ve just noticed the time and Buffy is on in 10 minutes and I want to catch the last post before it comes on (they’re repeating Season 5 on satellite. Glory is a fantastic ‘Big Bad’, but I still think I like The Mayor best). I hope I hear back from you soon; particularly re: the whole pulling your military out of the region thing that I mentioned. Love to Laura and the kids.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

PS: That whole nuke issue? We’ve decided to continue enrichment. Bye now.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2006


It’s Holy Week here in the Catholic world. Preparing to commemorate the murder and resurrection of God made man. Easter dontchaknow. Catholicism isn’t really my thing. In fact, the whole dogmatic religion thing – particularly when based upon the political writing of mystics from another civilisation – simply makes no sense to me. I’d go further… it repels me somewhat.

Albert Einstein once said that “morality is of the highest importance – but for us, not for God”. And I believe that to be true. Allowing the long-dead prophets of dead societies write our rules of Right and Wrong is a heinous crime against ourselves. By shirking responsibility for our own moral system, we fail to engage in some of the most important debates that human beings should be having. And by tying our morality to books filled with superstition, we run the danger of losing all sense of moral responsibility when those superstitions cease to hold the minds of the people.

None of which means I won’t be taking advantage of the opportunity for a few days holiday. I’ll be visiting my folks down in West Cork for a long weekend. I’m spending most of tomorrow travelling; then eating lovely food and enjoying the idyllic clifftop setting until Sunday and finally spending most of Monday travelling back. Which means it’s possible I won’t post again until Tuesday. So until then… stay groovy.

9 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion