AUM Conference Transcript - Session Three

Tuesday Morning, March 20, 1973

SPENCER BROWN: I was asked if I would deal with certain technical points yesterday. I said that I would, but I feel that it would not be in order for me to do so because it does seem talking to a very few people--just one or two--who are interested in specific, narrow questions of research; and I do feel that this is more in order if, in fact, the audience was oSethe same kind of peoples and then we could talk about whatever technicality may be in order and required.

Also, in respect to certain technicalities, I do like to prepare myself for them. I once went before an audience during a course of 20 lectures, and I had to prove a theorem which I thought I knew so well I didn't need notes; but I started on the proof and I couldn't remember it, and so I asked for help from the audience and they were helpless. And I spent the whole lecture trying to find the proof, and they were trying to help me, and in the end it was wasted. That was the only time I have ever done that, and as soon as I got book home, of course? I remembered the proof.

I don't think any of the technical points are as technical as that, but I do like to be prepared and I do like to give a technical exposition to a wholly technical audience; because, if there are others who are not specifically interested in the technical question or haven't sufficient training to understand it, I think it would be a little unfair to them to have to listen to something which doesn't mean very much as far as they are concerned--even though they may be very obvious points to someone with mathematical training.

There was a mathematical lecturer, a professor at Cambridge in my college, Trinity, who was giving a lecture... and he was just coming to the end, he was just rounding off and saying "It is obvious that--" "But sir,- I don't see that it is obvious. n So he had a look at the blackboard formulae and did a few calculations, and time for the ~ lecture was finished and everyone got up and went away. And this student who had asked the question still staged on. And he tried something else, and then said, "Excuse me just one moment, I must go back to my room and look up some books. And so he went back to his room, And then five hours later he walked back into the lecture room and there was the student, still waiting. And he got up triumphantly onto the platform and said "Yes, it is obvious." that is what is obvious in mathematics--the more obvious it is, the longer it takes to find it.

No 'Not' Sense

BATESON: To take off from yesterday's turtle, somewhat--

SPENCER BROWN: The turtle, the tortoise--oh, yes.

BATESON: My interest, if there is anybody who will go along with it-if it's a nuisance to them, would they say so --is in, amongst other things, animal communications. And what goes on between animals is evidently characterized by, amongst other things, the absence of 'not'--the absence of a simple negative. While they can forbid each other-say "don't--they can in general not deny a message which they themselves have emitted. They cannot negate,

Now, the messages which they emit tend to go in the form of intentional groups, or something which is part action, and part stands as a name for the whole, in some sense. So their showing of a fang is a mentioning of battle. Not necessarily the beginning of a battle; possibly a challenge, possibly a mentioning with a question mark-- I mean, "Are we here to fight each other?"

It's sort of in the hope, that I am here, that your Laws of Form calculus might be the sense on which to map this sort of sound. We have a two-legged language which is very unsuitable for mapping what goes on between animals. Indeed, it is unsuitable for mapping what goes on between people.

SPENCER BROWN: Before I answer that, I should have to explain that Prof. Bateson has written most lucidly on this theme, particularly in a little metalog, in the form of a duolog, isn't it, between a father and his daughter.

BATESON: It's merely a dialog, yes.

SPENCER BROWN: --about instinct and about the language of animals compared with the language of us. This is, I believe, now published, and the title is Steps to an Ecology of Mind.

There is this delightful little duolog in that book. When I first read it, some years ago in London, I found it contained very profound observations on communication and-excluding, really, in terms of animals like whales and dolphins which do seem to have a form of communication, which, if you could divine it--I hope I am right, John--is at least as efficient as ours and probably something like it and maybe better. I think that this causes something-possibly the same problems that they have. Although they may have something superior to Laws of Form, in fact, having got something that ignore important, or more fundamental, than notLaws of Form comes effectively from the licensing of the not operator in logic. What is of interest in Gregory Bateson's account of the animals is that they don't so much communicate as commune with us and with each other. And I would like to make this distinction.

Communication and Communion

Amongst the other distinctions that are not commonly made, or, if they are made, are not made consistently, is -the distinction between communication and communion. Communication happens according to physical existence, in some physically detachable sense, and the characteristic of communication is that what goes on goes on at the same level. One can take at the level of physical existence, nervous events ordered by sound waves. For example, wireless waves, or what have you, all detectable in physical existence, followed by a perceptor of information, etc. etc. etc.

Now, it is my thesis that communication is superficial to communion, and Without communion, there is no communication, really, at all. That is to say, if there were no communion, which I will now define as a fitting on another level between the communicants--if there is no communions as indeed there sometimes is not, then what is communicated, when it reaches the other end, it not understood.

* * *

The more perfect the fit on the communion level, the less needs to be communicated, the more that can be crossed from one being to another in fewer actual communicated acts. In Laws of Form, this is expressed in these two laws--or at least there are pictures of it in the two laws early on, in the canon of contraction of reference [1], whereby, as people get to know each other better--a gang of kids go about and one word or even half a word is used to express a whole community between them. Whereas when people do not know each other, this has to be expressed in a whole book. But between people who do know one another, however, there is no need for a book, it can all go in half a syllable.

Now when one is communicating, for example, with one's cat, that doesn't have the sort of language we have, or if it does, we don't know it, then it is done in this kind of way. It is done because you know each other. And when my cat says "Meouw," I sometimes say, "What do you mean, 'meouwt"' But this is a game, because if I consider it, there is never a time when my cat says "Meouw" that I don't know exactly what he means. Why I sometimes say, "What do you mean, 'meouw'?" is because I can't Unbothered to get up and give it the fish or open the door or pet it. If I am honest with myself, there is never any doubt whatever. Although it says "Meouw n it makes it quite plain to me, by the context in which it says it, exactly what it means. And if I pretend that I don't understand, it knows perfectly well that I am being awkward.

* * *

So, to put it on the positive side, if one doesn't make this pretending game and say "Really, the cat ought to be talking like we are, n but goes on the level to how it can respond, the communication between a man and the animal can be so complete as to be almost unbelievable. The understanding can be very much greater than between two human beings.

Now, with this question of how is it-- I am going a little beyond what Prof. Bateson says in his duolog, where he raises this point. The question of how people get into fights, when, in fact, this is a mistake, they got into one by mistake, through one or the other--people or animals taking what-- You see, for example, if I tease my cat and it begins to think "this is enough, n then it comes round and gives me a little nip. Now this is not nearly as hard as it can do it. The nip is the same, when it is a warning nip, as when it is a completely playing nip. knd where I have seen things go wrong, then--to get on the subject of where things go wrong--you may have an entirely neurotic animal who does not distinguish between the gradations of nip. Because when an animal has been made neurotic, what it's lost is its capacity to distinguish. And what has happened in its place, it's been devastated in some way; and it either is completely anaesthetized to what is going on, or if it perceives it, it perceives it fully. It perceives a nip of a certain strength as complete war.

BATESON: It's not a problem of your initial thing and the token of it?

SPENCER BROWN: Well, I am going to that.

* * *

I am trying to treat it, first of all, getting into the open, as you are doing with metalogic--getting into the form of extremely simplified and get extremely sensitive communication of animals.- The cat has not a great many modulations of its voice and still fewer twistings of its tongue to make what comes out different.

WOMAN: It has the widest range Or sounds of any animal.

SPENCER BROWN: It has a wide range, yes, but it doesn't have words like we do. For a lot of things, it says the same thing, but in a different context, looking a different way, or what have you, which can mean in one case "play with me," in another case "feed me," in another case "open the door for me," and so on. Now it does not have any problem with other cats unless they are neurotic, unless they have been in some sense devastated, in which case it may get into a fight mistakenly. And it has more difficulty with humans, because humans tend to be more neurotic. But it doesn't have the problem with a human being who understands the gradations the cat does, and is sensitive to them.

Now, having gone that far, let Us consider something -which Gregory Bateson posits, and I tend to agree with him: The one thing that a human being has in his language, which other animals, if they have a similar language, don't yet have * * *is a word or an expression having the effect of not. Now just as human flesh can accommodate cuts and bruises better than burns-it doesn't seem to know that so well--so the human mind can accommodate to positive sentences much better than to the same sentence-with "not" stuck on there somewhere. "Note appears to be a recent acquiry in language. In fact, if this is so, it would be that we-were least adapted to it, most unreliable with it, and we do agree that we-- Indeed, it is well known in business when one has to get something done, that you have to be very careful to put what you want doing in positive terms. Don't put it--like I'm putting it.

My professor of anatomy, J. D. Boyd, didn't appear to understand this. Because he was a very good lecturer--he had if anything one fault. When he was describing some part of the human anatomy, he would make a list always of the common mistakes that students made as to where a nerve went, of whatever it may be, you see. It doesn't go there, he would always write, and it doesn't go there, and this doesn't happen and that doesn't happen like that. And then he would--this would come out in his lectures and he would say "I cannot understand this," he would say, "I told my students exactly the mistakes they should avoid, and these are the very mistakes they always make."

LILLY: They were following directions.

SPENCER BROWN: They were following directions. And whether the directions have "not" tanked on somewhere or not, is something which they forget. And indeed, this is so obvious that there are ways Of maligning people-for example, a picture of somebody in the paper and the caption underneath--"Denies Cuddling Policewoman."

Or one could even go further to the well-known joke of the king who wanted to be able to turn lead into gold; and who-- He put an advertisement in the local paper for a magician who could do this. And the conditions were that if the recipe failed, the magician would have his head cut Off. Well, lots of magicians came for the pleasure Of having their heads cut off--there is one born every minute. And finally a very good magician came and-- Well, he would get oil and bring it to a boil, and put in a toad's liver, as an experiment; then you put your lead in and count to 15 and then you add a pinch of salt. You do all these things, you see--this, that, and the other, and so on.

Having finished the recipe--the king was writing it down--he was just about to be taken off to where he would have his head cut off if the thing doesn't work. And just as he is about to be taken off, he says "One moment, your Majesty, one moment. There are just two more instructions thigh are necessary to this recipe. One is that it must be done bylgcur Majesty himself--you may not delegate. And one more thing, your Majesty, one more thing, you must not think of a hippopotamus while you are doing this."

He kept his head. We are least adapted to "not." "Not" is the worst order to give anybody, the most confusing order, and the most unlikely to be carried out properly. I do think that, apart from possible animals who have a language as evolved as ours, I do think that it does make for a very different wag of seeing the world; or, to put it more accurately, it does make for a very different world. The world waxes or wanes as a whole. The world of the happy is totally different from the world of the unhappy [2].

Manifesting the Form

So one can either say, "there are various ways of seeing 'the world, ¥n or one could say, "There are various worlds," which means the same thing. How could there be a difference between these two. As soon as we have not, we have a kind of world that no animal without not ever sees. And since, in Laws of Form, the Laws of Form can be described as coming from granting a license to not, it is, therefore, this universe of the not-speaking animal that this particular form is about. The form itself manifests in as many wags as there are ways of distinction. As in the Tao Be Ching, we start with the first proposition, "The way, as told in this book, is not the eternal wag, which may not be told." The eternal wag may not be told [3] because it is not susceptible to telling. It is too real for that. It manifests in as many different wags or different expressions as there are differences in the beings to which it manifests. So that * * * I speak of "The form," that is never the form that is spoken. The form which is spoken is the form as it is manifest to us, as the particular beings we are, with our particular not culture, our particular not language, and our particular conventions of life.

And when one looks at a cow in a field and somebody says "What's it doing?" well, I say, "Well, I thank it is contemplating reality." And they say "Don't be ridiculous, how can a cow contemplate reality? "Why not?" I say. "What else does it have to do all day? What else has it to do?" The thing is contemplating reality, what else could it be doing? But the form as it is apparent to a cow--although it is the same form, it is the Wag without a Name-- How it manifests to a cow is not how it manifests to me. How it is expressed to a cow is not how it is expressed to me.

BATESON: Could one have identified self, without a not?

SPENCER BROWN: Well * * * that's where you return to the tortoise--because of the game we play, where we have defined there is a "me" inside --nag body" and the "world outside," and we don't even wink when we are doing it. We take it dead seriously. And what we have, you see, to make all this so dead serious, is we take so dead seriously the not boundary. And to us the form of the fiction is a boundary with not--not one side or not the other.

Now to recapitulate, how of course can there be any space, where would there be for it to be? How of course can there be any time, when would it exist? The world being the appearance of what would appear if it could, if the impossible were able to come about. Now if the impossible comes about, or appears to come about, in as many different wags as it can, according to the form. And in this particular existence, we have the privilege, if you put it that way the privilege of actually viewing from the apparent outside, other points of view, like tortoises, which are other wags in which the impossible would manifest if it could.

MAN: Do you distinguish between "appearance" and "is"?

SPENCER BROWN: Not at the moment. I would do it if it was needed.

MAN: The reason I ask is that to me the primitive is not but is, and the distinction between animal communication--and I got this from Gregory, standing on his shoulders as it were, looking either down or up, depending on how you interpret my interpretation--it seems to me that the is, the Dizziness of communication is what is particularly human. An animal just--

VON MEIER: No, it's only peculiar to a-language. Russian has no copula. Chinese doesn't use the verb "to be"--doesn't articulate being with a special verb in the language. It sets things bedside one another, which is a sense of the Greek word paradigm."

WATTS: Chinese indicates "is" with "that."

VON MEIER: To translate English?

MAN: To me, I can distinguish between just pointing, saying "Lois," and saying "that is Lois, she is Lois."

WATTS: There's a statement in Buddhist literature, "Void is form. Now the "is" word is not our "is" word. It's "Void that form.

Being and Existence

SPENCER BROWN: Well, one must distinguish between being and-existence, being being deeper than existence. existence is less important than being. However, even being is not the most important. As to existence, well, there is a whole world that be, which don't even exist, and the world that don't exist is far more real than the world that do [4].

We have an astronomer who talks on the television, and he answers questions--he gives a monthly program and then he also reads his letters. And the letters are usually, "Well, what happens in the center of the sun?" Or "Is the Andromeda nebula a spiral? What colors come out of it?" and so on and so forth. And he was answering the questions in one program and the final question was from a lady who asked on a postcard, asked a short question: "What I would like to know is none of these specific questions-what I would like to know is, why the universe exists at all? And he put on his most Satanic expression, and just before the fade out he replied, "Does it?"

Intent of a Signal: What Is Not Allowed Is Forbidden

WATTS: Would you reflect briefly on the word "not" in the context "Whatever is not expressly permitted is forbidden"?

SPENCER BROWN: You mean, "What is not allowed is forbidden"? [5]


SPENCER BROWN: Well...this is the form of all documents that have to be precise. And mathematical and legal documents are the same in this respect. The point is that you cannot be precise in the expression of anything at all unless you make this rule. Bow otherwise could one, you see-- Because one would never know, if you didn't expressly allow it, what was allowed. If you let any "allows" slip through the gate, now you cannot be precise.

The reason we don't realize in ordinary speech or ordinary communications that this is the law of precision is that we have! so many unspoken conventions, which in the same society are the same for the same people. That is why, when somebody is playing a game and they suddenly realize that something new that nobody has ever done before in this game is in fact permitted by the rules, and they do it, there is a cry of "Unfair," "Taking advantage of the rules" and so on. And then sometimes the rules are changed. Since * * * it is required that it is absolutely precise what may or iby-sot be done, there must be this rule that what can be done is what is specifically allowed.

BARNEY: Can you turn it around and say whatever isn't forbidden is allowed n ? That was the rule in the Garden of Eden.

SPENCER BROWN: Yes, you can do that. What is not forbidden is allowed. Because whenever you have one law, in the next level of existence you have a reflection of it. And, in that sense, you're not talking of mathematics. In mathematics, which has to speak precisely, this is the first canon. I don't actually know that it has been expressed before in any mathematical document.

WATTS: It has been expressed politically.

SPENCER BROWN: I am talking mathematically, Yes, it may have been expressed politically. It is the most commonly broken law when people come up with false proofs; a mathematician will immediately recognize that they have done something which they haven't in their rules actually allowed. And this is how anything can be proved. It's known and it is immediately recognized that the canon is broken in mathematics, but as far as I know, it has not been expressed before as a mathematical canon.

VON MEIER: Identity elements in a group?


VON MEIER: In number series, zero?

SPENCER BROWN: No, no, this has nothing to do with the elements. This is a canon of how you begin to make your laws. And the first canon is that while you are making the system of the laws of instruction, unless you allow something, then you forbid it.

LILLY: In other words, no covert contracts.

SPENCER BROWN: Yes, no covert contracts. It's all overt, this is the game in mathematics. The whole thing is overt. That is why, whatever we do, we must allow.

WOMAN: Does this cover right or wrong?

SPENCER BROWN: No,-this is mathematical. Awe are not anywhere near right or wrong, you see. * * * The mathematician who is used to the fact that we have, in fact-- Well, it began with the covert convention, that became overt, that we are only allowed, in defining operator, to define it as operating on two variables. That's what gets Us into such trouble, you know. The Sheffer stroke, for example, it is not allowed on more than two and it is not allowed on less than two. So "not A," with a Sheffer stroke, must be done "A stroke A " In fact, if you will read the first few chapters of Laws of Form, we specifically allow the operation on more than one variable. Since we have allowed it, we may do it. And it is not relevant to refer to the forbidding of it in other calculi.

This is the difficulty of reading mathematics, one has to be able to read Just what it says, because there is nothing in it that one may assume, apart from the knowledge -of the language used and how to count...these are the only things taken as common.

(End of Session Three.)

AUM Conference Transcript - Session Four


  1. P. 8, Laws of Form: "In general, let injunctions be contracted to any degree to which they are followed." The other canon referred to may be The Hypothesis of Simplification (p. 9): "Suppose the value of an arrangement to be the value of a simple expression, to which, by taking steps, it can be changed."
  2. See Note 2, p. 133, Only Two Can Flay This Game
  3. The root of tell is IE del-, to count, Recount," (compute).
  4. " experience the world clearly, we must abandon existence to truth, truth to indication, indication to form, and form to void." p.101, Laws of Form. See also discussion of five eternal levels, below, p.102.
  5. First canon, Convention of Intention; p. 3, Laws of Form