36 again one can use an imagined identification with

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36 Again, one can use an imagined identification with another person to enhance one‘s understanding of an idea or event by asking, how would so -and-so see this? The mental model of another personality works like the computer program described above one can introduce some novelty [[p_195]] and watch it ripple through the system, thinking oneself into the other person and one can do this repeatedly, playing a question through alternate filters and seeing how it is processed each time. The same thing can be done with a group, a number of people whose interactions as well as their individual styles and voices are familiar, members of a conference, say, or a committee. For a time I used my memory of the Wenner-Gren Conference in 1968 in this way, asking, can I hear Gertrude discussing that? Or Tolly? And, of course, I have done it repeatedly in working on this book. How would Gregory respond to that ? The names even become verbs in mental shorthand: Can I ―Gregory‖ this idea? This methodology made this writing feel like a series of new encounters, as I met my father saying new things. One of the most basic forms of meditation in the Christian tradition has been the effort to imagine oneself (and the dilemmas presented by one‘s life) into the person of Jesus, Imitation Christi , and other traditions propose related kinds of identification. Empathy is a discipline. One can also use one‘s self as a basis for metaphorical thinking by shifting between different modes of expression, and this may bring us closer to some of the questions involving the aesthetic. Can I , for instance, change my understanding of something by dancing it? In which case my inferences, the way in which I move from one stage of thought to another, are disciplined by the structure of my body. Or can I change mu understanding of something by thinking of dancing it ? Is that the same kind of thing as ―Gregory - ing‖ it of ―Tolly - ing‖ it or ― Gertrude- ing‖ it? And what about my limitations, the fact that I don‘t know as much mathematics as Tolly or as much biology as Gregory, and have never trained my limbs and joints up to what point does empathy get me beyond these limits an at what point is it invalidated by them? How much does it matter that Lorenz cannot fly? And how will I protect myself from glossing over the dissimilarities in each of these identifications? For each of them proposes profound misunderstanding as well as insight. Religions typically provide systems mental models that one can enter as I might try to enter the metaphor of thinking like Gregory or like a mountain or a goose. Playing something through such a mental model changes it; the outcome is different. For the believer, or for one who is willing to suspend disbelief, a religion is a rich, internally structured model that stands in metaphorical relationship to the whole of life, and therefore can be used to think with. The Australian aborigine had, in his totemic cosmology, a system that brought all natural species and [[p_196]] forces and human institutions,
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  • Fall '19
  • Gregory Bateson

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