02 December 2008

What of 3 and 7? Ostrich Eggs and Number Patterns

So, I’m reading this wonderful book called Mind and Nature by Gregory Bateson (smart, smart man) and I came across a particularly beautiful statement (though I find his writing quite beautiful at times overall) that said: “The reader may find pleasure in collecting cases of rigidly controlled or patterned numbers in nature.” And I had to stop for a moment and smile, because I began to see this cute image unfold of Bateson, out in a field somewhere, bending low to study the lines on blades of grass. And the image of this anthropologist/psychologist/philosopher/son of a geneticist taking the time to closely observe the numerical patterns in nature just sent me over the edge of some pleasure hill, rolling down, giggling till my sides split open. How I wish I could be there with him, asking him questions about the exact difference between number and quantity, how the matrix variations alter the tautology of a system, and so on. Alas, I am confined to his words, his “metacommunication," via the symbols of the ink on the page. “The naming of a thing does not describe the thing” and “nothing will come of nothing.” Nothing, nothing, nothing. Nothing without context.

He goes on to explain that “For some reason, the larger numbers seem to be confined to linear series of segments, such as the vertebrae of mammals, the abdominal segments of insects, and the anterior segmentation of earthworms…[and an organism] will repeat that number in other parts. A lily has three sepals and then three petals and then six stamens and a trilocular ovary”

And I go off on this wandering imagining that perhaps Mr. Bateson gathered numbers in his head like finely painted ostrich eggs. As though his living room was full of imported and gorgeously detailed ostrich eggs. Where this comes from, I have no idea. But then I begin to focus on the eggs, their design, their pattern (keep in mind these are simply figments of my imagination) and I begin to see a correlation between Mr. Bateson’s imagined eggs and the lines on the leaves of grass. And then I see this as a prime example of metacommunication that he discussed in a previous chapter. Messages within text, within ideas themselves, presenting their information differently, tailored to each individual. Why, particularly, ostrich eggs became the venue through which I begin to see his personal ideas unfold, I have no clue. What neuron station held these masterpieces within their shop windows, I haven’t the slightest idea, but I am beginning to see just how complex, yet simple, not only my mind is but nature and the act of communications.

And so back to the patterns and that little field. Nothing without context. A map is not a territory. My ostrich eggs are not the content of his messages but inside their finely painted shells is the “pearl” of his message…

And then my mind sparks up again and I imagine rattling pearls within those gorgeous, delicate eggs.

I think to myself “what pearls of knowledge threaten to break my perceptions, and if so, when, and if not when, then how, and if not how, then why not?” And the answer?

Simply open doors. Simply observe. Simply take the time to bend down and see what others trample and ignore.

Because within the universal “truths” of science—the solidity of 7 and 3 is 10 and always will be, there is the imagination that dares to say: but what of 3 and 7? Gorgeous.

******** 7 AM--post posting:

Something bothered me as I woke up this morning. The whole "pearl inside the egg" image. Cliche?

What's the difference between staying true to the real image and altering it to avoid "cliche"? What's one to do to avoid, to actually TRAIN your brain, rewire, re-learn...to undo cliche...so that when you think, your don't think in cliche?

So let's say it wasn't a "pearl" in the egg...let's say I, instead, imagined an atom uranium. Because, as it splits, it gives off nuetrons that could smash together and cause fission, and perhaps this is a better analogy for the "explosiveness" of learning new ideas. This is a much more intense "breaking" of the "egg."

But it's less cliche, right?

Fuck it. I saw a pearl, not uranium atoms....

But perhaps I can retrain my brain to avoid cliche analogies.

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