Double Vision

[...] relationship is always a product of double description.

It is correct [...] to begin to think of the two parties to the interaction as two eyes, each giving a monocular view of what goes on and, together, giving a binocular view in depth.

This double view is the relationship.

Relationship is not internal to the single person. It is nonsense to talk about 'dependency' or 'aggresiveness' or 'pride', and so on. All such words have their roots in what happens between persons, not in some something-or-other inside a person.

Only if you hold on tight to the primacy and priority of relationship can you avoid dormitive explanations. The opium does not contain a dormitive principle, and the man does not contain an aggressive instinct.

[I came to understand] that I will get nowhere by explaining prideful behaviour, for example, by referring to an individual's 'pride'. Nor can you explain aggression by referring to instinctive (or even learned) 'aggressiveness'.

Such an explanation, which shifts attention from the interpersonal field to a factitious inner tendency, principle, instinct, or whatnot, is, I suggest, very great nonsense which only hides the real questions.

If you want to talk about, say, 'pride', you must talk about two persons or two groups and what happens between them. 

The same is true of 'dependency', 'courage', 'passive-aggressive behaviour', 'fatalism', and the like. All characterlogical adjectives are to be reduced or expanded to derive their definitions from patterns of interchange, i.e., from combinations of double description.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 146-7


Related posts:-
Everything is Connected
Small Mind/Large Mind
Small Part/Large System
Addiction: the Long and Short of it
"Laziness" (and other fictions)

Making a difference

Eric Dale: Do you know I built a bridge once?

Will Emerson: Sorry?

Eric Dale: A bridge.

Will Emerson: No, I didn't know that.

Eric Dale: I was an engineer by trade.

Will Emerson: Hmmm... hmmm

 Eric Dale: It went from Dilles Bottom, Ohio to Moundsville, West Virginia. It spanned nine hundred and twelve feet above the Ohio River.

Twelve thousand people used this thing a day. And it cut out thirty-five miles of driving each way between Wheeling and New Martinsville.

That's a combined 847,000 miles of driving a day. Or 25,410,000 miles a month. And 304,920,000 miles a year. Saved.

Now I completed that project in 1986, that's twenty-two years ago. So over the life of that one bridge, that's 6,708,240,000 miles that haven't had to be driven. At, what, let's say fifty miles an hour. So that's, what, 134,165,800 hours, or 559,020 days.

So that one little bridge has saved the people of those communities a combined 1,531 years of their lives not wasted in a fucking car. One thousand five hundred and thirty-one years.

Dialogue from 'Margin Call'

Deep / Shallow

Deep                     -                  Shallow
Vertical                -                   Horizontal
Professional          -                  Amateur
Engineer              -                   Artist
Diligent                -                   Dilettante
Specific                -                   General
Defined                -                   Undefined
Narrow                 -                   Wide
Mono                    -                   Poly
Tied                       -                   Untied
Closed                   -                   Open
Perfect                   -                   Flawed
Solid                     -                   Liquid
Apollo                   -                   Hermes

There is nothing as conservative as a deep expert!

[Dave Snowden]
'Managing for Serendipity or why we should lay off "best practice" in KM'

We summarize these two 'zones' of characteristic as the diligent and the dilettante.

Diligence refers to the focused, assiduous character of the entrepreneur, driven by a single-minded passion and purpose. Dilettante refers to the impulsive, intuitive and opportunistic aspects of entrepreneurship. Importantly, it is the transition from dilettante to diligent which converts innovative ideas into entrepreneurial applications.

It follows that the effective entrepreneur or entrepreneurial enterprise must be at once flighty, amateurish, naive, flitting from idea to project without fixing for too long and drifting on free of commitment; until, when they happen upon and recognize something of particular interest, they become attentive, assiduous and persevering.

The contrast between breadth of references and depth of attention recalls Edward De Bono's distinction between 'lateral' and 'vertical' thinking, and the contrast between 'divergent' and convergent' creative processes [...] Hence, the diligent-dilettante dichotomy is rooted in creativity theory.

Arthur Koestler emphasized that creativity requires 'mental cross-fertilisation.' Howard Gruber describes creativity operating across a 'network of enterprises', while Sawyer notes a creative capacity to switch between fields or domains. Through these multiple contacts, creative connections can be made and new ideas emerge. Creative 'field-switching' fits with our description of the 'dilettante' above.

At the same time, creativity theory also emphasizes the importance of domain-specific expertise, a laboriously acquired repertoire of craft, experience and knowledge which allows creative impulses to take root and allows creative people to polish and refine their ideas into a completed form.

[...] The dilettante must also be diligent - and creative connections between fields must be channelled into expertise and knowledge within a designated field.

[...] work within a domain, but also think outside of it.

[...] becoming too diligent or too dilettante [...] can lead to limiting characteristics: turning recognizers into dreamers, developers into tinkerers, and so on.

[Chris Bilton & Stephen Cummings]
Creative Strategy: Reconnecting Business and Innovation, p. 121-23

The dilettante is adept at taking everything out of context. This can be productive certainly, when the contexts are false. But it is impossible for the dilettante to form new concepts from mere fragments.

[Florian Havemann, as quoted by Karl Heinz Bohrer]
'The Three Cultures' in Observations on "the Spiritual Situation of the Age", p. 149

To derive sustained pleasure from consumption, diversity is essential. Diversity, on the other hand, is an obstacle to successful self-realization, as it prevents one from getting into the later and more rewarding stages.

[...] the way the loss of opportunities for self-realization plays out is not through a paucity of options but a surfeit of them, all of which we feel capable of pursuing only to a shallow degree before we get frustrated or bored.

[Things that encourage a shallow level of participation may be] a symptom of some larger social refusal to embrace difficulty.

Consumerism [...] keeps us well supplied with stuff and seems to enrich our identities by allowing us to become familiar with a wide range of phenomena -  a process that the internet has accelerated immeasurably [...] But this comes at the expense of developing any sense of mastery of anything, eroding over time the sense that mastery is possible, or worth pursuing.

[...] Novelty trumps sustained focus, whose rewards are not immediately felt and may never come at all [...] if our focus is mistakenly fixed on something ultimately worthless. Rather than taking advantage of that "increasingly marginal utility" that comes with practicing something difficult, our will to dilettantism develops momentum.

[...] Dilettantism is a perfectly rational response to the hyperaccessibility of stuff available to us in the market, all of which imposes on us time constraints where there was once material scarcity. These time constraints become more itchy the more we recognize how much we are missing out on (thanks to ever more invasive marketing efforts, often blended in to the substance of the material we are gathering for self-realization).

We opt instead for “diversity,” and begin setting about to rationalize the preferability of novelty even further, abetted by the underlying message of much our culture of disposability.

Concentration takes on more of the qualities of work—it becomes a disutility rather than an end vis-a-vis the stuff we acquire. If something requires us to concentrate, it costs us more and forces us to sacrifice more of the stuff we might otherwise consume. In other words, consumerism makes the will and ability to concentrate seem a detriment to ourselves.

[Rob Horning]
'The alluring danger of dilettantism'

In direct opposition to the trend in mainstream culture toward greater specialization, we need to actively promote the generalist - the one who sees connections and makes links across different disciplines. In this regard, one of the most hopeful trends is the increasing respect for more feminine values and ways of thinking.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.189

The word ‘amateur’ owes its evil reputation to the arts. An artist must be a master or nothing, and must dedicate his life to his art, for the arts, of their very nature, demand perfection.

In scholarship, on the other hand, a man can only be a master in one particular field, namely as a specialist, and in some field he should be a specialist.

But if he is not to forfeit his capacity for taking a general view, or even his respect for general views, he should be an amateur at as many points as possible, privately at any rate, for the increase of his own knowledge and the enrichment of his possible standpoints. 

Otherwise he will remain ignorant in any field lying outside his own specialty, and perhaps, as a man, a barbarian.

But the amateur, because he loves things, may, in the course of his life, finds points at which to dig deep.

[Jacob Burckhardt]
Reflections on History (1868)

I would say that what makes an artist rather than a dilettante or poseur is the seriousness of commitment to their work, the evolution (or deepening) of their work over time, and the quality of their work relative to accepted standards of originality, formal invention, handling of material, etc.

'Microproperty in Flow World' (comments section), Click Opera

For Rorty, the most pernicious idea in that intellectual atmosphere was that technical clarity in problem solving was the chief intellectual virtue.

"That's a recipe for scholasticism if I've ever heard it," he says, shaking his head disapprovingly.

"What about imaginative virtues? If you don't allow people to be unclear, intellectual progress grinds to a halt. It's the vague people who are the pioneers."

[James Ryerson]
'The Quest for Uncertainty: Richard Rorty's pragmatic pilgrimage'

It is in the nature of generalisation that there will be many exceptions, and experts will always disagree with any generalisation, as experts should.

Fine-grained analysis is the expert's prerogative. However, the more fine-grained the expert analysis, the more difficult it may be to see an overall pattern: it cannot be other than the view from close up. This will inevitably lead some to the conclusion that no pattern exists, but I believe this to be a mistake.

One has to stand back in order to see patterns at all; there is a ‘necessary distance’ for such pattern recognition to work.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 242

Experts are narrowly focused persons who need to “tunnel.” In situations where tunnelling is safe, because Black Swans are not consequential, the expert will do well.

You cannot ignore self-delusion. The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know. Lack of knowledge and delusion about the quality of your knowledge come together - the same process that makes you know less also makes you satisfied with your knowledge.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 147

The present danger does not really lie in the loss of universality on the part of the scientist, but rather in his pretence and claim for totality […] 

What we have to deplore therefore is not so much the fact that scientists are specialising, but rather the fact that specialists are generalising.

'The true nihilism of today is reductionism […] Contemporary nihilism no longer brandishes the word nothingness; today nihilism is camouflaged as nothing-but-ness. Human phenomena are thus turned into mere epiphenomena.'

[Victor E. Frankl]
Reductionism and Nihilism

The sustained study of natural, historical or literary phenomena, doesn’t make you smarter or better at understanding the world.

As the sophistication of theory and interpretation increases, the scope of inquiry narrows, and the possibilities for self-deception and absurdity only multiply. Hence the familiar jokes, about the ridiculous ideas that only someone with a doctoral degree could propagate.

There are errors and mistaken interpretations to which low-information observers are subject, but high-information, critical thinkers also build intellectual worlds that are subject to deeper, harder errors, and these people will never be convinced they are wrong.

‘Why People Believe Wrong Things’, eugyppius: a plague chronicle

Related posts:-
The Tyranny of Novelty 
Boxed Off
The Devil is in the Details (and God is in the Generalities) 
Rooted in blood and soil 
Familiar Territory
How Simple is Too Simple?
Closed / Open
Efficient / Inefficient