Information not only that there should be five

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information not only that there should be five appendages but that there are already elsewhere four or three or two or whatever the situation at a given moment may be. The situation is left obscure even when we change from saying ―five‖ or ―ten‖ to saying a pattern of five, a quincunx, say, or whatever may be appropriate. What the particular patch of growing cells or the single cell needs is both information about the total pattern and information about what the particular patch is to become in this gestalt. (Alternatively the whole embryology must be what is called mosaic. In the smaller nematodes, it is claimed that the outcome of every cell division is literally pre-scribed). The relation between pattern and quantity becomes especially important when we look at the relations between environmental impact and genotypic determinants. Another way of looking at the difference between these two sorts of explanation is that genotypic explanation commonly invokes the digital and the patterned, whereas the impacts of environment are likely to take the form of quantities, stresses, and the like. We may think, perhaps, of the soma the developing body of the individual as the arena where quantity meets pattern. And precisely because environmental determination tends to be quantitative, while genotypic determination tends to be a matter of patterns, people scientists exhibit strong preferences and are ready to guess lightheartedly at which explanation shall be applied in which case. It would seem that some people prefer quantitative explanations, while others prefer explanations by the invoking of pattern . These two states of mind, which are almost different enough to be regarded as different epistemologies , have become embodied in political doctrines. Specifically, Marxist dialectic has concerned itself with [[p_116]] the relation between quantity and quality or, as I would say, between quantity and pattern. The orthodox notion is, as I understand it, that all important social change is brought on or precipitated by quantitative ―pressures,‖ ―tensions,‖ and the like. These quantities supposedly build up to some sort of breaking point, at which point a discontinuous step occurs in the social evolution leading to a new gestalt. The existence of the matter is that it is quantity that determines this step and, by corollary, it is assumed that the necessary ingredients for the next change will always and necessarily be present when the quantity becomes sufficiently stressful.
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A model commonly cited from the physical world for this phenomenon is that of a chain which under tension will always, in the end, break at its weakest link. In case the links are equal and virtually non-discriminable, the change may go beyond its ordinary breaking point but, in the end, a weakest link will be discovered and this will be the point of fracture. Another model is the crystallization of a slowly cooling liquid. The crystallization process will always start from some particular point
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  • Fall '19
  • Gregory Bateson

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