Beyond Systems 2: Borderless Cognition

As discussed in my last posting, the mere mention of “systems” brings to mind images of mechanistic-like dynamics. But, this sort of association with living “systems” is problematic. In the embedded video of hawks catching prey and flying through various habitats, we can think about the dynamics of what is occurring, but not so much as a system, but as something beyond a system … as complex interactions and complex, non-linear paths of information flow, and all kinds of relationships and the dynamics within these relationships.

EBS Global Documentary: Goshawk, the Soul of the Wind Spot
Posted on Facebook by: Atmaca Alemi / Sparrowhawk World Community

This is a great video to consider in terms of what we might think of as distributed, borderless cognition. If this Goshawk had to think about each maneuver and each object, he or she would not do well at all. In fact, these maneuvers would not be possible. When you look at this video, the hawk is acting as if her thinking is at the tips of her wings and the edges of the tree limbs and at the tips of her talons and the edges of the tree trunks and in her eyes and all the way along in front of her to whatever objects there are. This is what Gregory Bateson talked about as a cybernetics of cognition. The information flows from the wings to the air to the trees and back again; from the legs to the talons to the trees to the talons to the legs; from the brain to the eyes to the scene in front to the eyes to the brain; and so forth.

There is no real separation…. Just what we impose. And, that imposition is just that… “an imposition.” We impose separation. We impose mechanism. We impose parts and wholes, We impose all sorts of labels. But, they are all an imposition to seeing and understanding the reality of our living world.

The same holds true for an athlete. If a basketball player had to think about every move, he or she could not dribble or make a shot, especially in the midst of an intense game. The thinking has to be distributed and borderless.

We also can call this cognition “being present in the moment.”

About Jeff Bloom

I'm a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.
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