[KB] Deacon's Neo-Aristotelian Complication of Simple Action/Motion

Payne, David dpayne at usf.edu
Mon Aug 11 14:21:06 EDT 2014

As far as "elaboration of its meaning" goes, I submit Burke's own explanation  in Terministic Screens (LAS p. 53): 

I should make it clear: I am not pronouncing on the metaphysics of the controversy. Maybe we are but things in motion.  I don’t have to haggle about that possibility. I need but point out that whether or not we are just things in motion, we think of one another (and especially of those with whom we are intimate) as persons. And the difference between a thing and a person is that one moves whereas the other acts.  For the sake of the argument, I’m even willing to grant that the distinction between things moving and persons acting is but an illusion.  All I would claim is that, illusion or not, the human race could not get along with itself on the basis of any other kind of intuition.  The human animal, as we know it, emerges into personality by first mastering whatever tribal speech happens to be its particular symbolic environment. 

David Payne

From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org <kb-bounces at kbjournal.org> on behalf of Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2014 1:24 PM
To: Carrol Cox; Herbert W. Simons
Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
Subject: Re: [KB] Deacon's Neo-Aristotelian Complication of     Simple  Action/Motion


        Actually, it’s not a gloss on the blink and the wink distinction that may be called for.  It’s modification of Burke’s action/motion pair, or a needed elaboration of its meaning.

        So way back when, Jim Chesebro criticized Burke’s stinting on nonverbal motivations, and I did not, at the time, think through the full implications of that caveat.  Deacon’s tour de force points up that possible problem with a sharper differentiation between mechanistic causation and the dynamical dislocations that came with nonverbal living beings and the possibly teleological, “absential” dimensions of process they introduced to the ecology of planet earth.

        I label Deacon’s analysis “Neo-Aristotelian.”  As Burke emphasizes (Appendix A, Dramatism and Development, p. 58), “Aristotle’s concept of the entelechy . . . could be applied to any being or ‘substance,’ such as an amoeba or tree . . . .  In these pages . . . we are concerned solely with a ‘logological’ tendency intrinsic to the resources of SYMBOLIC ACTION.”

        But can we usefully and uniformly conflate the “nonsymbolic motion” of stars, planets, oceans, and atoms, on the one hand, and whatever it is living animals in the wild are capable of, on the other?  Are there some attributes these “lower” creatures share with us symbolizers that Burke’s dramatism deflects attention from, terministic screen that it is, and that Burke acknowledges (PLF, 124; LASA, 44-62).

        Burke surely hints at a chasmic difference between the “motions,” if we can still call them that, of fish, and the motions of stars, planets, and moons.  He describes fish, indeed “All Living Things,” as “critics” of their environment, capable of “the changed behavior that goes with a new meaning” (P&C, p. 5).  The “new meaning” in the experience of the fish he talks about is “’jaw-ripping food’” in the form of a fisherman’s bait.  Fish might steer clear of a lure like that after such a trauma.  Nonverbal animals can thus learn, can strive, so to speak, in a different direction than they did in the past.  The “absential feature,” Deacon’s term, the “difference” in future experience that “makes a difference,” will be some “preferred state” which will “activate the corrective response,” namely, a bite into fish food that doesn’t have the hook.

        I quote in that last sentence from Steps to an Ecology of Mind, by Gregory Bateson (Ballantine, 1972, 381).  That “difference” that “makes a difference” in generating “preference”  is “information” derived via “negative entropy,” according to Bateson, “information” an important term for Deacon in respect to the “absential feature,” or absential “functioning.”  Bateson’s “negative entropy” results, one presumes, in a “lack of predictability” of the kind that characterizes a mechanistic system (see “entropy” in the Shorter O.E.D., 6th Edition, Vol. 1).

        “Let me list,” Bateson says, “what seem to me to be those essential minimal characteristics of a system, which I will accept as characteristics of mind”:
(1)     A “system” operating “with and upon DIFFERENCES.”
(2)      “Closed loops or networks of pathways” transmitting “news of a difference.”
(3)      “Many events within the system . . . energized by the respondent part,” not just the “triggering part.”
(4)      The system “showing self-correctiveness,” self-correctiveness implying “trial and error” (482).

        Borrowing terms from something Carl Jung wrote, who in turn got
these notions from the second-century Gnostic Basilides, Bateson contrasts operations in the “PLEROMA” and those in the “CREATURA.”  “The pleroma knows nothing of difference and distinction,” Bateson avers.  “It contains no ‘ideas’ in the sense I am using the word.”  “In the creatura, effects are brought about precisely by difference.  In fact, this is the same old dichotomy between mind and substance” (456).

        Now, if we’re going to credit nonverbal animals---let’s soften the blow, for the sake of argument, by referencing those on an advanced level of development in particular---if we’re going to ascribe to such nonverbals, activity motivated by a sense of a negative of some kind, we have to characterize that negative intuition differently.  Those denizens of the “creatura” are not “MORALIZED by the negative” (LASA, 9-13, 16).  Or, as I’ve put it (1993a, 1993b, 2012), nonverbal animals would have no conception of the “infinite negative,” the global negative that confers guilt and shame upon a weak and finite being that has nary a chance of measuring up to its vision of “perfection.”

        Thus, a second “dislocation” of chasmic proportions in the evolution of beings on planet earth.

        That’s enough to chew on for now, except to pose this question: Do these ruminations suggest a need for modifying Burke’s perhaps simplistic action/motion dialectic in any way?  Is some intermediate notion called for, in respect to the nonverbal “creatura”?

        I forwarded to Terrence W. Deacon some of the things I’ve posted on his book.  He has answered back.  He is interested in dialogue with us on these matters.  I have asked permission to post his reply on kb, and will do so if granted that request.  Professor Deacon is on vacation now, and, currently, mostly away from e-mail.

        Have a good day, everyone!


On Sat, 8/9/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] Deacon's Neo-Aristotelian Complication of Simple     Action/Motion
 To: "Carrol Cox" <cbcox at ilstu.edu>, "Herbert W. Simons" <hsimons at temple.edu>
 Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
 Date: Saturday, August 9, 2014, 3:48 PM


     At a Burke panel at
 ECA, Portland Maine, 1992, Jim Chesebro raised an objection
 to Burke that is possibly pertinent to the basic
 action/motion distinction Herb just reiterated, and surely
 complicated by Terrence Deacon.   A lacuna in
 dramatism is the failure to take cognizance of nonverbal
 motives, Jim offered.  At the time, I surmised that Jim
 meant the classic motion of chemical processes of the kind
 Jerome Kagan (Harvard social scientist) examined in his
 book, Galen’s Prophecy: Temperament in Human Nature
 (BasicBooks, 1994, Kagan’s research updated in a fairly
 recent NYT Magazine piece).  Kagan homed in on human
 anxiety.  It is aggravated by an excess of norepinephrine,
 a neurochemical, in the baso-lateral area of the amygdala,
 and in its projections to cortical and autonomic targets.
 From such motions of nature derive inhibition, melancholia,
 and neurosis, Kagan convincingly argues.

     I didn’t much credit Jim’s naysaying
 at the time.  Burke was a philosopher and critic of the
 human drama, that aspect of observable behavior that, in one
 way or other, cannot be reduced to the motions of nature,
 and will boldly manifest its uniqueness in anthropological
 terms (see Chapter 6 in the Primer).  Sure, an
 individual’s characteristic “drama” will be modified,
 perhaps radically, by those “chemisms,” to use Theodore
 Dreiser’s word.  Burke gives enough heed to such
 influences, thought I, in his description of the way
 different folks will react to the same stimuli, identical
 scenic pressures and circumstances (GM).  No need for
 elaborated neurochemistry, however germane in a scientific

     Deacon, I
 believe, challenges this chink in Burke’s thought in the
 sense of how to handle, what to call, the kind of
 nonsymbolic “motion”---isn’t that what Burke calls
 it?---of what are commonly labeled the “lower”
 animals.  In what might be denominated Neo-Aristotelian
 fashion, Deacon “outline[s] . . . a theory of emergent
 dynamics that shows how dynamical processes can become
 organized around and with respect to possibilities not
 realized.  This is intended to provide the scaffolding for
 a conceptual bridge from mechanistic relationships to
 end-directed, informational, and normative relationships
 such as are found in simple life forms [and, a fortiori, in
 primates and mammals in general!].”

     Recall that in my first post on his
 book, I emphasized Deacon’s insistence on two
 “dislocations” in earth’s evolutionary history, not
 just one.   “Natural teleology,”
 “teleodynamics” to use Deacon’s neologism, would
 certainly characterize the putative transition from
 prokaryotic bacteria to eukaryotic bacteria around 2.6
 billion years ago, at the onset of the Proterozoic Eon.
 Something radically new came to planet earth:
 nuclei-possessing, oxygen-producing, photo-synthesizing
 single-celled animals that pumped that oxygen into the
 oceans and then the atmosphere, changed the color of the
 water and likely the sky, generated the life-sustaining
 qualities of sea, land, and atmosphere, including the ozone
 shield, indeed transformed earth into the “miracle”
 planet nothing we’ve discovered out there in space likely
 comes close to.  (I think of have this scenario roughly

 billion years later, after the hiatus of “Snowball
 Earth” had passed, the “Cambrian Explosion” could

     The Gaia guru
 Lovelock said it was the radically different composition of
 earth’s atmosphere---21 percent oxygen, 76 percent
 nitrogen, 3 percent all the other stuff, including the
 growing concentration of carbon dioxide---that clued him
 into his notion of a kind of living planet Earth.  Both
 Venus and Mars?  About 97 percent carbon dioxide in both
 cases, albeit with strikingly different concentrations.

     Back to Herb’s
 blink and one-eyed wink next time, with,  perhaps, a gloss
 that Deacon’s Incomplete Nature might suggest.


 On Sat, 8/9/14, Herbert W. Simons <hsimons at temple.edu>

  Subject: Re: [KB]
 (no subject)
  To: "Carrol Cox"
 <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
  Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
  Date: Saturday, August 9, 2014, 10:03 AM


 theoretical explanation provides an answer to a why
  in a thought experiment. Example:
 Gilbert Ryle asked the
  question: What's
 the difference between a wink and a

 one-eyed blink? His answer took him to the mind-brain
  distinction and could have taken KB to
 action-motion. WINKS

  On Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at
  10:46 PM, Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>

 need to click "Reply All"; otherwise it goes
  to the post's sender

  rather than to kb.)

 interested in your somewhat cryptic message because
  on another list I am

  writing on the difference between theory on
 the one hand and
  "what needs to

  be explained" on the
 other. And involved in that is a


 empirical generalization and theoretical




  From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org
  [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org]
  On Behalf

 Of de gava

  Sent: Friday,
 August 08, 2014 9:34 PM

 To: kb at kbjournal.org

  Subject: [KB] (no

  I think I can add to this
 discussion. In earlier days I
  replied to

  emails I received but
 they went to Ed so to kick off I'd
 to test

  kb at kbjournal.org
  an address to the e-list and ask if
 anyone has looked

 into the nature of 'explanations'. More to
  follow perhaps.


  KB mailing list

  KB at kbjournal.org



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  Simons, Ph.D.
 Professor of

 Dep't of  Strategic
 Weiss Hall 215

 University, Philadelphia 19122
  215 844 5969

  Academic Fellow, Center for Transformative
  Strategic Initiatives (CTSI)

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