crossing scales, working double binds


Our central thesis may be summed up as a statement of the necessity of the paradoxes of abstraction. It is not merely bad natural history to suggest that people might or should obey the Theory of Logical Types in their communications; their failure to do this is not due to mere carelessness or ignorance. Rather, we believe that the paradoxes of abstraction must make their appearance in all communication more complex than that of mood-signals, and that without these paradoxes the evolution of communication would be at an end. Life would then be an endless interchange of stylized messages, a game with rigid rules, unrelieved by change or humor.

Gregory Bateson, “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia” (1956), in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 208.

In conversation with early cyberneticists and information theorists, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson came to deploy logical set theory as a means for understanding the contradictions, paradoxes, and double binds that inhere in any complex system of communication and meaning. Through the archiving and analysis of artefacts representing the multiple domains and scales of a complex condition like asthma or disaster—from the molecular to the global, the individual to the social, the physical to the biological to the cultural, the material to the discursive—PECE is designed to draw out the disjunctures and undecidabilities that occur when passing from one scale or domain to another.

The image here is taken from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' web pages for kids ( It's an odd set of pages, meant to inculcate a standard view of science:Research scientists must be sure that the results of their work are not "illusory" in nature. They need to accurately report what "is," rather than their general "impression" of "what is." So, many times a scientist will repeat an experiment many times, or in different laboratories, to ensure that their results were valid. Science is only "good science" when anyone can repeat the experiment and get the same results.

In other words, science as all about decidability. But in this case, if one reads "liar," then the image is telling the truth. Unless the truth is that it's a profile, in which case the image is a liar. Which it says. Truthfully.


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Contributed date

July 8, 2024 - 12:34pm

Critical Commentary

crossing scales

Cite as

Anonymous, "crossing scales, working double binds", contributed by Mike Fortun, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 July 2024, accessed 20 July 2024.