Internal context

Gregory Bateson, commenting on one of his essays in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, writes that

it extends the notion of informational control to include the field of morphogenesis and, by discussing what happens in absence of needed information, brings out the importance of the context into which information is received.…
Message material, or information, comes out of a context into a context, and in other parts of the book the focus has been on the context out of which information came. Here the focus is rather upon the internal state of the organism as a context into which the information must be received.
Of course, neither focus is sufficient by itself for our understanding of either animals or men. But it is perhaps not an accident that in these papers dealing with non-human organisms the “context” which is discussed is the obverse or complement of the “context” upon which I have focussed attention in other parts of the book.
Consider the case of the unfertilized frog’s egg for which the entry point of the spermatozoon defines the plane of bilateral symmetry of the future embryo.
The prick of a hair from a camel’s hair brush can be substituted and still carry the same message. From this it seems that the external context out of which the message comes is relatively undefined. From the entry point alone, the egg learns but little about the external world. But the internal context into which the message comes must be exceedingly complex.
The unfertilized egg, then, embodies an immanent question to which the entry point of the spermatozoon provides an answer; and this way of stating the matter is the contrary or obverse of the conventional view, which would see the external context of learning as a “question” to which the ‘right’ behavior of the organism is an answer.

— Bateson (1972, 395-6)

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