Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gregory Bateson: What is the Optimal Balance?

Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979), p. 59:

Desired substances, things, patterns, or sequences of experience that are in some sense 'good' for the organism -- items of diet, conditions of life, temperature, entertainment, sex, and so forth -- are never such that more of the something is always better than less of the something. Rather, for all objects and experiences, there is a quantity that has optimal value. Above that quantity, the variable becomes toxic. To fall below that level is to be deprived.

Food, shelter, clothing. In Haiti, millions of people are deprived and in need. But in many American households, too much quantity of food, shelter,  and clothing may lead to toxicity:  hoarding, for instance, and its paralyzing impact. 

Too hot, one wilts; too cold, one freezes.  What is the optimal balance?  Varies specifically with each person or other living being, but there is always a threshold in either direction.  

Too much money or too much too fast?  Check out the lotto winners and what happens with them over time.  Check out Amy Winehouse, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Bernie Madoff: whatever the optimal balance was for them, clearly they did not find it.

Top: Piet Mondrian, Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930), an example of optimal balance, perhaps.  Black and white image is a scanned post card picked up during travels in the 1980s: Chez Mondrian, Paris, 1926, by Hungarian-born André Kertész (1894-1985).  Again, optimal balance?  A Western example of what Buddhists style as the Middle Path or Way.  More is more up to a point, and then it becomes less; after that threshold "und minder ist oft mehr / and less is often more" (Christoph Martin Wieland, 1774) in terms of quantity vs. quality, the law of diminishing returns and the law of overdosing.  Is this true?

Today's Rune: Wholeness.   


pattinase (abbott) said...

I just saw a Mondrian in a play I saw last night at Meadowbrook Theater. I forgot how arresting his work was.

jodi said...

Erik, I am usually of a "quality-not quantity" mindset. EXCEPT when it comes to popcorn! It MUST be both! Stay warm in this fa-reezing weather.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana has been watching shows lately about hoarders in our society. I watched a couple with her. Just amazing. IN our area the commercial storage facilities are booming. They build a new one every month it seems. SO much stuff.

Johnny Yen said...

I used to read a lot of Bateson when I was younger-- I got turned on to him by the Whole Earth Catalog-- WEC founder Stewart Brand was influenced by him. Bateson was married to anthropologist Margaret Meade for a long time.

Erik Donald France said...

Hey, thanks all for the comments. Much appreciated -- with popcorn!
Hoarding is something to behold -- and run from. Johnny, didn't know the Whole Earth connection -- cool.

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