Cetacean Communication

Bateson, Gregory 2000 [1972]. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

my previous work in the fields of antropology, animal ethology, and psychiatric theory provides a theoretical framework for the transactional analysis of behavior. The premises of this theoretical position may be briefly summarized: (1) that a relationship between two (or more) organisms is, in fact, a sequence of S-R sequences (i.e., of contexts in which proto-learning occurs); (2) that deutero-learning (i.e., learning to learn) is, in fact, the acquiring of information about the contingency patterns of the contexts in which proto-learning occurs; and (3) that the "character" of the organism is the aggregate of its deutero-learning and therefore reflects the contextual patterns of past proto-learning. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 364)
Note that his theoretical framework is "transactional" and not "interactional". The S-R sequence stuff, to my knowledge, belongs to behaviorism, which was still somewhat in vogue those days. And deutero-learning is a better term than metalearning, because there are already too many meta- terms on the market.
There premises are essentially a hierarchic structuring of learning theory along lines related to Russell's Theory of Logical Types. The premises, following teh Theory of Types, are primarily appropriate for the analysis of digital communication. To what extent they may be applicable to analogic communication or to systems that combine the digital with the analogic is problematic. I hope that the study of dolphin communication will throw light on these fundamental problems. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 365)
Russell's Theory of Logical Types is an alternative to set theory and Whitehead is somehow involved (which would explain why Bateson is a fan of it). What is relevant for my purposes is that systems that combine the digital with the analogic are almost what Jakobson called or would call syncretic systems.
I am interested in his communication, in what is called his "behavior," looked at as an aggregate of data perceptible and meaningful to other members of the same species. It is meaningful, first, in the sense that it affects a recipient animal's behavior, and, second, in the sense that perceptible failure to achieve oppropriate meaning in the first sense will affect the behavior of both animals. What I say to you may be totally ineffective, but my ineffectiveness, if perceptible, will affect both you and me. I stress this point because it must be remembered that in all relationships between man and some other animal, especially when that animal is a dolphin, a very large proportion of the behavior of both organisms is determined by this kind of ineffectiveness. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 365)
This is a neat definition of behaviour. He also seems to subscribe to a communication model wherein the "seventh element" is the most important. The ineffectiveness aspect seems to relate to his dictum that has echoed in isolation in so-called "body language" discourse, e.g. you cannot not communicate. What he actually seems to mean here is that effectiveness is a measure of communication even when the behaviour is ineffective. Or something like that. I'll have to revisit this point later when I know more about it.
He asserts or affirms the nature of the relationship between himself and the other. If we were to translate the pack leader's action into words, the words would not be "Don't do that." Rather, they would translate the metaphoric action: "I am your senior adult male, you puppy!" What I am trying to say about wolves in particular, and about preverbal mammals in general, is that their discourse is primarily about the rules and the contingencies of relationship. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 366-367)
That is to say, animals don't have morals and ethics. They have rules and relationships. This layer has not been lost in humans: time and again the study of nonverbal communication in humans proves that we, too, reinforce and affirm our relationships. Even something as simple as a greeting performs this function. To say that in humans this is merely "phatic" would be an understatement.
The cat talks in terms of pattern sand contingencies of relationship, and from this talk it is up to you to take a deductive step, guessing that it is milk that the cat wants. It is necessary for this deductive step which marks the difference between preverbal mammalian communication and both the communication of bees and the language of men. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 367)
This is very relevant for framing the "body language" discourse. The latter enforces those "in the know" (who have read the books and instructions) to take deductive steps. The problem is that the deductions are faulty and based on doubtful premises.
What was extraordinary - the great new thing - in the evolution of human language was not the discovery of abstraction or generalization, but the discovery of how to be specific about something other than relationship. Indeed, this discovery, though it has been achieved, has scarcely affected the behavior even of human beings. If A says to B, "The plane is scheduled to leave at 6.30," B rarely accepts this remark as simply and solely a statement of fact about the plane. More often he devotes a few neurons to the question, "What does A's telling me this indicate for my relationship to A?" Our mammalian ancestry is very near the surface, despite recently acquired linguistic tricks. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 367)
This is eerily familiar from Jurgen Ruesch. Specifying the relationship is one of the features of metacommunication, if I remember correctly. It is also very much the stuff of what I have called Goffman's triad. That is, my behaviour implicitly addresses my attitude towards myself, towards my communication partner and the situation at large.
As mammals, we are familiar with, though largely unconscious of, the habit of communicating about our relationships. Like other terrestial mammals, we do most of our communicating on this subject by means of kinesic and paralinguistic signals, such as bodily movements, involuntary tension of voluntary muscles, changes of facial expression, hesitations, shifts in tempo of speech or movement, overtones of the voice, and irregularities of respiration. If you want to know what the bark of a dog "means," you look at his lips, the hair on the back of his neck, his tail, and so on. These "expressive" parts of his body tell you at what object of the environment he is barking, and what potterns of relationship to that object he is likely to follow in the next few seconds. Above all, you look at his sense organs: his eyes, his ears, and his nose. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 370)
In humans the most expressive parts of the body seem to be the eyes, the face, hands and posture in general. It is notable that "relationships" don't signify only social or interpersonal relationships, but also relationships with objects and probably the environment.
In all mammals, the organs of sense become also organs for the transmission of messages about relationship. A blind man makes us uncomfortable, not because he cannot see - that is his problem and we are only dimly aware of it - bit because he does not transmit to us through the movement of his eyes the messages we expect and need so that we may know and be sure of the state of our relationship to him. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 370)
Again Cicero's vague wisdom precedes us: the eyes are not only the windows of the soul but also the mirrors of the soul.
To use a syntax and category system appropriate for the discussion of things that can be handled, while really discussing the patterns and contingencies of relationship, is fantastic. But that, I submit, is what is happening in this room. I stand here and talk while you listen and watch. I try to convince you, try to get you to see things my way, try to earn your respect, try to indicate my respect for you, challenge you, and so on. What is really taking place is a discussion of the patterns of our relationship, all according to the rules of a scientific conference about whales. So it is to be human. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 372)
These are also what some would call the horrors of being alive (for a human). Discussing things that can be handled seems to link up with Umberto Eco's parasynonymy. It is also the case that human language has a lot of metaphors about abstract concepts that involve the imagery of hand-ling (at least I hold this idea).
let us call this discussion of patterns of relationship the μ function of the message. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 372)
Yes, lets.
In analogic communication, however, real magnitudes are used, and they correspond to real magnitudes in the subject of discourse. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 373)
The connection between analogicity and iconicity is "likeness in size".
On teh other hand, in kinesic and paralinguistic communication, the magnitude of the gesture, the loudness of the voice, the length of the pause, the tension of the muscle, and so forth - these magnitudes commonly correspond (directly or inversely) to magnitudes in the relationship that is the subject of discourse. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 373-374)
Interesting stuff, but I don't know that anyone really studies body motion in terms of magnitudes. It'd be way too mathematical for the field. Paul Bouissac's La Mesure Des Gestes is an exception.
Man, it is true, has a few words for μ functions, words like "love," "respect," "dependency," and so on. But these words function poorly in the actual discussion of relationship between participants in the relationship. If you say to a girl, "I love you," she is likely to pay more attention to the accompanying kinesics and paralinguistics than to the words themselves. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 374)
Reinforcing the relevance of metacommunication (e.g. the Ruesch-Bateson example of mother saying "I love you" to his son but pinching his cheek to the point of producing a bruise (a conflicting signal).
We humans become very uncomfortable when somebody starts to interpret our postures and gestures by translating them into words about relationship. We much prefer that our messages on this subject remain analogic, unconscious, and involuntary. We tend to distrust the man who can simulate messages about relationship. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 374)
OMG. Nonverbal ethics! Nonverbal ethics!
But the shy individual, the traumatized female, staying almost stationary three feet below the surface while two other individuals fool around, is getting a great deal of attention just by sitting there and staying. She may not be actively transmitting, but in this business of bodily communication, you don't have to be actively transmitting in order to have your signals picked up by other people. You can just be, and just by being she attracts an enormous amount of attention from these other two individuals who come over, pass by, pause a little as they pass, and so on. She is, we would say, "withdrawn," but she is actually about as withdrawn as a schizophrenic who by being withdrawn becomes the center of gravity of the family. All other members of the group move around the fact of her withdrawal, which she nevel lets them forget. (Bateson 2000 [1972]: 376-377)
Another iteration of the you cannot not communicate maxim.


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