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4. The morphological study of pattern

I will now return to the cultural morphology aspect of Günther 's work and draw up a sketch of the morphological or Gestalt method as it originated in the thought of Goethe and filtered through the work of researchers like Frobenius , Spengler , Günther, Riedl (1987a), Ruth Benedict 's "patterns of culture" (1934: 49-56), and Bateson's work on pattern. The important aspect is that of the predominance of form over {content / matter / substance}. As opposed to models of substance (ontology), the Gestalt method is a cognitive model of epistemology. One of the best known examples demonstrating the Gestalt effect is the Boring women picture, shown here.


Boring women, Gestalt picture

We notice that the picture we perceive is different from the "mere" pattern of sensory inputs that impinges on our neuronal system. Because we perceive two essentially different motives in the picture, either a beautiful young woman, seen from behind, or an ugly old woman seen up front [39]. Our nervous system spontaneously performs this cognitive flip for us, which is apparently triggered by neuronal filters that are activated by our cultural expectations of what the patterns of the picture (are supposed to) mean. This Gestalt picture exemplifies and demonstrates well the fundamental tenets of constructivism, as proposed by Glasersfeld, v. Foerster, Watzlawick, and Roth, that are discussed by Ziemke (xxxx) [40] and Klagenfurt (1995: 27, 41-48, 68-71, 100-111). Since one and the same input of stimuli lets us perceive such essentially different views, this proves that the world of our perceptions is dependent on the disposition of our nervous system, and our Weltbildapparat (Riedl , below) is not just a device to reflect an independently existing world, as the classical position maintains.

4.1. The structural principle of the Gestalt method

The structural and systemic principles of the Gestalt method are described by Laughlin and Severi :
Laughlin (1974: 5): As generally formulated, structures are viewed as naive systems. That is, structures are comprised of elements of some sort and the rules of their combination. Structures thus form configurations, the meaning or total impact of which cannot be understood apart from the set of relationships between elements. This is really a restatement of philosophical holism present in Bergson (1907), Whitehead (1929) [41], and later perfected in the general system theory of Bertalanffy (1956-1971, cg. 1968). In this immediate sense the structuralist-functionalist controversy that was waged in anthropology during the first half of this century was also a very lively topic in ancient Greece - Plato 's Timaeus certainly may be considered a structuralist document.

The structural principle as formulated by Laughlin (1974) above, serves to illustrate the role of Whitehead 's work in the context of general systems theory, as has been formulated since Bertalanffy (1956-1971). Salthe 's works (1985-1993), elaborate further on this principle.

Severi (1993: 312): Struktur ist ein aus interdependenten Faktoren gebildetes Ganzes. Jeder dieser Faktoren hängt von den anderen ab und kann, was er ist, nur durch seine Beziehung mit ihnen sein.

As Severi (1993: 311-315) points out in his paper on the origin of the structural view, the morphological work of Goethe had been influential on the concept of structure as used by Trubezkoi and Jakobson, as well as on the works of Levi-Strauss, Wittgenstein, G. Bateson (1968, 1972, 1979), Piaget, and Frobenius.

4.2. Morphology: a cognitive approach to the general study of pattern

Morphology derives from the Greek term morphae: form, gesture, position, pattern. (Rost 1862: 98). Its philosophical implications derive largely from the Aristotelic hylemorphism, and in its scholastic usage by Thomas Aquinas as materia and forma (Hoffmeister 1955: 310-311). There exists also a mythological connection to the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. Mental images of waking life and dreams were considered by the ancient Greeks as productions coming from the same source. Hamilton (1942: 107).

(Encarta : Morpheus): Morpheus, in Greek mythology, god of dreams, the son of Somnus, god of sleep. Morpheus formed the dreams that came to those asleep. He also represented human beings in dreams.

The term morphology is used in slightly different meanings by different schools of thought. In linguistics, morphology is the study of morphemes -- the minimum meaning-bearing constituents of words.

(Encarta : Linguistics): Morphology is concerned with the units, called morphemes, that carry meaning in a language. These may be word roots (as the English cran-, in cranberry) or individual words (in English, bird, ask, charm); word endings (as the English -s for plural: birds, -ed for past tense: asked, -ing for present participle: charming); prefixes and suffixes (e.g., English pre- , as in preadmission, or -ness, in openness); and even internal alterations indicating such grammatical categories as tense (English sing-sang), number (English mouse-mice), or case.

We will now proceed to develop the study of cultural pattern, the morphology. The important aspect will be that of the form over content or matter. We are deriving this usage from Goethe's concept of morphology as used by Riedl (1987a), Ruth Benedict 's "patterns of culture" (1934: 49-56), and Bateson's work on pattern. The cognitive model of of pattern is that of relation and interconnectedness as described in the section on paticca samuppada. This has been described by Bateson (1979: 18) as "a pattern that connects", referring to Goethe (p. 17).

Bateson (1979: 18): We could have been told something about the pattern which connects: that all communication necessitates context, that without context, there is no meaning, and that contexts confer meaning because there is classification of contexts...
So we come back to the patterns of connection and the more abstract, more general (and most empty) proposition that, indeed, there is a pattern of patterns of connection.

Now "a pattern that connects" is strictly speaking, a tautology, because there is nothing else to a pattern than its connectivity in the neuronal action of the cognitive system of the observer. Tyler Volk (1995: vii) has derived from Bateson's "pattern of patterns of connection" the term metapattern, and the logics of the formation of metapatterns is called morphology in the present context.

Stafford Beer (in Sieveking 1974 , preface): What after all is order, or something systematic? I suppose it is a pattern, and a pattern has no objective existence anyway. A pattern is a pattern because someone declares a concatenation of items to be meaningful or cohesive. The onus for detecting systems, and for deciding how to describe them, is very much on ourselves. I do not think we can adequately regard a system as a fact of nature, truths about which can be gradually revealed by patient analytical research. A viable system is something we detect and understand when it is mapped into our brains, and I suppose the inevitable result is that our brains themselves actually impose a structure on reality.

It is true that a pattern as Gestalt has no separate reality in the physical world apart from a set of stimuli. That is cogently demonstrated by the Boring flip picture [42] where exactly the same set of physical visual stimuli is perceived in two very different ways. Thus the Gestalt must be a production of the cognitive system. But if these Gestalten have no reality in the physical world, they have so much more of a presence in the world of relations, the SEMsphere. We may not be able to call this presence a reality in some physical objectivist sense [43], and it should be necessary to find a different suitable term. They certainly have an effect. Bateson makes a definition of context (1979: 15) "as a pattern through time". This will be taken as essential platform for the present systematics of the cultural pattern. Patterns persist in time, and in communication, and we wouldn't be able to communicate about patterns (or about anything) if we were not constantly and self-speakingly apply our ability to perceive and understand the patterns of our voiced and written communications (ie. react to them in an intersubjectively coherent manner). This has already been treated in the discussion of the SEMsphere. The best known cultural pattern by which context arises, is called language, but it is not the only one, and perhaps it is not the most fundamental one. The SEMsphere is the present term for the most encompassing, the all-embracing, of patterns that generate context. [44] So, the world of intersubjective communication, the SEMsphere, is created by the structural coupling of cognitive systems, and ensures that everything we tell each other is not just a chaotic mumbo-jumbo, but it is meaningful, and if there were no intersubjective constancy, there were no communication.

4.3. Goethe's morphology

In the present context, morphology is used in the sense of Goethe, Bateson, and Benedict, which we might call the Gestalt tradition of morphology. It goes back to Goethe, although it is also possible to find it in the thought Herder and Vico. (Straube 1990: 168), (Herder 1975: XVI-XVII), Berg (1990: 61). Severi's (1993: 309, 311-315) description of Goethe's idea of morphology shows the similarity with the paticca samuppada principle of Macy , and later on p. 315, he describes how Bateson took up Goethe's idea. Further, on p. 318, he shows how Goethe's work "Farbenlehre" pioneered the application of the Gestalt principle to higher cognitive forms of perception.

Severi (1993: 314): Doch für Goethe ist jeder lebendige Organismus eine Ganzheit, die nicht auf die Summe ihrer Elemente reduziert werden kann... Diese spezifischen Formen, die das Reich des Lebendigen charakterisieren, ändern ihre Gestalten und folgen dabei einer von den Gesetzen der Physik unabhängigen Logik. Diese Logik kann nur von einer systematischen Morphologie enthüllt werden..
Nach Goethe... muß man die Idee, daß jede Ursache ihre bestimmte Wirkung hat, durch die Idee eines wechselseitigen Bedingtheitsverhältnisses mehrerer eine Ganzheit bildender Elemente ersetzen.
(315): Man muß vielmehr die Natur der Beziehungen analysieren, aufgrund derer die Elemente eine Ganzheit bilden.
(318-319): Die "Farbenlehre" ist im Grunde einer der ersten Versuche, die Beeinflussung der Wahrnehmung durch die Tätigkeit des menschlichen Geistes zu studieren... [dann] bedeutet dies für Goethe, daß der menschliche Geist auf spontane Weise eine Form der Organisation der Materie zum Ausdruck bringt. Wir können also etwa, wenn wir die Wahrnehmung einer Landschaft studieren... in dieser das Funktionieren des menschlichen Geistes wiederfinden, wenn wir dabei nur die kausale Betrachtungsweise ausschließen.

Goethe: Morphologie, cit. in Riedl (1987a: 21): Die Erfahrung muß uns vorerst die Theile lehren... und worin die Theile verschieden sind. Die Idee (die Vorstellung) muß über dem Ganzen walten und auf eine genetische (zusammenhängende Weise) das allgemeine Bild abziehen.

Riedl (1995: 114): Goethe... tried to understand the principle underlying his ability to discern pattern.

Riedl (1996c: 105): Morphology: since Goethe (1795), the methodology of comparing Gestalt and to generalize the Typus; the cognitive basis for comparative anatomy, taxonomy and phylogeny.

Riedl (1995): This year, 200 years have passed since GOETHE focused his attention on the path of discovery the mental/cognitive process which allows us to grasp synthetic concepts in morphology, comparative anatomy and taxonomy, to justify them and to estimate their probability. Since this cognitive and epistomological path has become an indispensable foundation for modern science, we hereby honour the anniversary with a translation and commentary of this treatise. Key words: GOETHE, morphology, typus, comparative anatomy, homology, epistemology. [45]

Goethe's approach was elaborated in the art theory of Wölfflin, and the Gestalt psychology movement, whose founders were Ehrenfels, Wertheimer, Koehler, and Koffka. Severi (1993: 319), Rock (1991: 68), Luchins (1975: 21-44), Koehler (1969), Ertel (1975). These early Gestalt pioneers didn't have the recent neurological knowledge available to their research, but their methods were influential to the later biological and neurological research (Pribram 1975: 161-184), and on later models of neuronal networks (Rock 1991: 75). Some basic Gestalt principles and recent neurological research in cognition are described by Roth , Pöppel , and v.Foerster .

In the biological sciences, the Gestalt morphology found a main proponent in the work of Riedl who continues the Konrad Lorenz school and its specific branch of evolutionary epistemology (EE). (Riedl 1976-1996c), specific in: Riedl (1987a: 20, 21, 126, 128) and (1995). In the present usage, Gestalt will mean the phenomenal side of a pattern perception process. [46] When a neuronal system interprets a pattern of external stimuli, the recognition configuration that it reaches, will be a Gestalt. And it needs to be noted, this Gestalt is again a pattern of neuronal excitation in the neuronal system.

4.4. The Kulturmorphologie movement

In the field of cultural studies, Goethe's approach was taken up by Frobenius, Spengler, and Gotthard Günther. Literature: Severi (1993: 312), (Haberland 1973: 15-20), Spengler (1980), (Encarta : Spengler), Straube (1990: 168).

Frobenius (cited in Haberland 1973 : 15): Cultural morphology, which endeavours to discover the meaning and the phenomena of culture as such. The data of the three other related disciplines [History, Prehistory, Ethnography] provide its raw material and its aim is to discover the correlations of the building up of human culture as a unity, according to meaning, geographical distribution and chronological order.

Even though the earlier interpretations of the cultural morphology workers were too much tied to their {biologistic / mentalistic / idealistic / romantic} conceptions and are not valid any more in the light of present CA knowledge, their method of the morphological approach still is useful.

(Straube 1990: 168, 169): Sieht man in einer Kultur nicht nur ein Aggregat von Einzelelementen, sondern einen Organismus [wenn auch nicht notwendigerweise im strengen biologischen Sinne (A.G.)], dessen Teile in einem sinnvollen Funktionszusammenhang stehen und sich gegenseitig bedingen, so wird sich die Bedeutung einer einzelnen Kulturgestaltung nur bei Erfassung des gesamtkulturellen Zusammenhanges erschließen... Er bezeichnete dieses wissenschaftliche Bemühen, also die ganzheitliche Betrachtungsweise, die heute eine Selbstverständlichkeit ist, als Kulturmorphologie.

Ruth Benedict recurs in her "Patterns of culture" to the Gestalt psychology movement and Spengler 's work (1934: 49-56). In her discussion of Spengler, she makes clear the difference between the principles of his morphological method and his untenable and premature conclusions that derived from a falsely applied biological metaphor of culture

(p. 53): ...but Spengler's far more valuable and original analysis is that of contrasting configurations in Western civilization.
(p. 55): ... the facts of simpler cultures may make clear social facts that are otherwise baffling and not open to demonstration. This is nowhere more true than in the matter of the fundamental and distinctive cultural configurations that pattern existence and condition the thoughts and emotions of the individuals who participate in those cultures. The whole problem of the formation of the individual's habit-patterns under the influence of traditional custom can best be understood at the present time through the study of simpler peoples.

4.5. Harold Innis as cultural morphologist

Another worker whose method is related to cultural morphology is Harold Innis [47].

Innis (1972: v, Foreword): If Hegel projected a historical pattern of figures minus an existential ground, Harold Innis, in the spirit of the new age of information, sought for patterns in the very ground of history and existence. He saw media, old and new, not as mere vertices at which to direct his point of view, but as living vortices of power creating hidden environments that act abrasively and destructively on older forms of culture.

Innis (1972: vii, Foreword): Innis is unique in having been the first to apply the possibilities of pattern recognition to a wired planet burdened by information overload. Instead of despairing over the proliferation of innumerable specialisms in twentieth-century studies, he simply encompassed them. Whether by reading or by dialogue with his colleagues, he mastered all the structural innovations of thought and action as well as the knowledge of his time.

Innis (1972: ix, Foreword): That is why Innis carefully watches the changing material conditions of cultures since a reversal of figure-ground relations will put an individualist culture overnight into an extreme bureaucratic or hieratic posture.

Innis (1992: x, Introduction): This is macro-history on a broad canvas. It freely acknowledges the influence of Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, and Alfred Kroeber, scholars concerned with understanding the fate of civilizations.

4.6. Cultural pattern stability, transmission, synchrony and diachrony

Benedict (1934: 223): The three cultures of Zuñi, of Dobu, and of the Kwakiutl are not merely heterogenous assortments of acts and beliefs... They differ from one another... because they are oriented as wholes in different directions... and these ends and these means of one society cannot be judged in terms of those of another society, because essentially they are incommensurable.
(231-232): It is obvious that the sum of all individuals in Zuñi make up a culture beyond and above what those individuals have willed and created. The group is fed by tradition; it is 'time-binding'. It is quite justifiable to call it an organic whole. It is a necessary consequence of the animism embedded in our language that we speak of such a group as choosing its ends and having specific purposes... These group phenomena must be studied if we are to understand the history of human behaviour, and individual psychology cannot of itself account for the facts with which we are confronted... only history in its widest sense [diachronic extension of cultural patterns A.G.] can give an account... history is by no means a set of facts that can be discovered by introspection.

With the morphological approach and Ruth Benedict 's concept of "Patterns of culture" (1934), the theoretical basis of the cultural memory system will be further elaborated. Patterns are most generally, Gestalten that are perceived in the neuronal system of an observer. To be of cultural relevance, there must be an intersubjective stability of patterns on the side of the observer as well as on the observed. That is, if a pattern is just a subjective hallucination, then it has no intersubjective relevance. Also, the sensory inputs impinging on a neuronal system must not be just a random noise. The intersubjective stability of cultural patterns is insured by the structural coupling of organisms in social systems. This factor, their stability, is what makes the study of cultural patterns possible at all, and justifies their stystematic treatment. Stability shows as diachronic and synchronic extension. If there were no such stability or extension, then again, no observation would be possible. A quotation of Delius supplies those essential traits of observable cultural patterns. Delius (1989: 26):

Culture will be taken to mean ... the ensemble of behavioural traits that characterize specific human groups in the sense that members of such a group at a given period of time tend to hunt with this or that technique, sow seeds in this or that way, adore this or that god, speak this or that dialect, wear this or that dress, greet in this or that manner, build this or that kind of housing, cultivate this or that kind of music, respect this or that institution and so forth. Furthermore, it will be understood that the behavioural traits that constitute a culture are passed on among the members of the population by individuals taking them over from other individuals. The transmission of cultural items occurs through learning by observation of others, by imitation, through instruction, through tradition. The transmission may be direct or may involve intermediaries such as letters, newspapers, advertisements, books, records, videotapes, radio, television. Behavioural traits that are transmitted from parents to children by biological inheritance, such as the coordination patterns of suckling, crying, smiling, sleeping and the organic bounds of perceptual, cognitive and motor capacities of individuals, are thus not part of culture... Thus culture does not include traits that are innate or that are learned individually but only those that are learned from others, directly or through media.

Culture is not inherited through genes, but the genetic endowment of the human sets the constraints to what can be acquired by learning from other human beings and what can be re- or creativly new-produced. Wilson (1978: 21):

In a sense, human genes have surrendered their primacy in human evolution to an entirely new nonbiological or superorganic agent, culture. However, it should not be forgotten that this agent is entirely dependent on the human genotype.

To be observable, and to class as cultural patterns, and not as individual idiosyncrasies, there must be a measure of constancy of reproduction of behavior instances. The factors in cultural pattern reproduction involve:
1) human memory and possibly
2) external storage, and
3) transmission.

1) Cultural pattern reproduction is done by the human agent. The prime factor for reproduction is in the structures of the human memory, and, to allow action on the environment, to make memory content intersubjectively experienceable, the human body as expressive device. This is also called the somatic aspect of cultural pattern reproduction.

2) A secondary storage factor is to be found in (some of) the material and biological elements of the cultural environment. This may be called the extrasomatic, artefacts, or technological aspect of cultural pattern reproduction.

3) Transmission of cultural patterns is effected by direct human communication and (trans-) action, and indirectly, through media and artefacts.

Mühlmann (1996: 112) [48]: Kultur ist eine Transmissionsdynamik. Merkmale werden innerhalb einer Generation und von einer Generation auf die nächste übertragen.

Clarke (1978, 84): ...every attribute on an artefact is equivalent to a fossilized action, every artefact is a solidified sequence of actions or activities, and whole assemblages of artefacts are tantamount to whole patterns of behaviour... then we can understand artefacts as simply 'solid' behavior...

The life patterns, and life habits, the behaviors, creeds, and the forms of the artefacts of peoples of specific human cultures on the planet Earth preserve a certain degree of constancy even while the generations come and go. The most remarkable and most problematic factor of the diachronic extension of cultural patterns is that many of them extend beyond the life span of individuals. This is primarily an observation problem. The diachronic extension of cultural patterns can be indefinitely large, spanning many millennia, and if we take such ancient systems as languages, can even extend throughout all the history of mankind. To objectively observe and study their diachronic extension, one would need to make very long-time observations, over many generations, and within the lifetime of one human being, only partial views of the long-time cultural pattern process are available. Therefore the recognition and classification of such patterns depends on the cultural memory itself, and cultural memory consists of cultural patterns, and so the whole task of the study of cultural pattern is self-reflexive.

[39] There might be ample opportunity for psychological ruminations as to why the front view presents us with the not-so-preferred aspect of the reality, while the back view (which hides most of the details) lets us guess at those wish-fulfilling preferences.
[40] Literature in Ziemke (xxxx: 58-59), and Glasersfeld, Maturana, Riegas (1990), Schmidt (1991), Singer (1992).
[41] In the bibliograpy referenced under the Free Press edition date (1969).
[43] The question of the logical domain of pattern needs to be further clarified but this will have to be done in another section.
[45] Rupert Riedl (1995): "Goethe and the Path of Discovery: An Anniversary".
[47] Innis (1972: 1, 3).
[48] (URL)

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