European Association of Psychotherapy - 9th Congress 'Tradition and Transition' in Dublin June 2000








Notes for my invited address to the 9th Congress of the European Association for Psychotherapy held at Dublin, Ireland in June 22nd – 25th, 2000.

"The logos is as here explained; but men are always incapable of understanding it, both before they hear it and when they have heard it for the first time. For though all things come into being in accordance with this logos, men seem as though they had never met with it, when they meet with words and actions such as I expound, separating each thing according to its nature and explaining how it is made. As for the rest of mankind, they are unaware of what they are doing after they wake, just as they forget what they did while asleep."

(Fr. 1) Opening fragments from Heraclitus




Title: Mirror Sights: Casting Reflections Across the Surfaces of Reflexivity


Vincent Kenny




SECTION 1 - Tradition & Transition
Take a stand
Questioning our Questioning
Bateson’s Conference Story
Short Circuits & Short Cuts
3 Examples
George Kelly’s Gardening Story

SECTION 2 - Reflexivity As An Ethos
Back To The Beginning…
The Instructional Finger – And The Originating Paradox
Paradox Lost
Paradox Of Liberation
Strange Scenes In The Garden … Evictions
George Kelly’s Reflexivity As Ethos
The Psychological Space of Dead Speech
Atomic Im-Age
Network Im-Age
Final Reflections From Heraclitus’ Bridge




Mirror Sights: Casting Reflections Across the Surfaces of Reflexivity


There is an old Reflexive puzzle embedded in the very title of this conference – ‘Tradition & Transition’ – which asks ‘What is it that stays the same so that we can later say that it (something) has changed?’

There is the necessity for the operation to refer to ‘itself’ (as unchanged) in order to be able to make the judgement that ‘it has changed’.

This is an everyday question of importance for therapists who need to justify what they are doing in their practice in terms of ‘producing results’.

The cybernetic outlook says that we must see both of these terms – Change and Invariance – as a complementary Whole, rather than as two separable choices between which we must select. Stability ‘frames’ the domain within which ‘Change’ can be located; and ‘Change’ ‘frames’ the domain within which ‘Stability’ has to establish its patterns of connectivity.

Thus these two terms are not two contrasting poles of a bipolar construct ‘Change Vs Stability’, but are to be seen as inseparable one from the other – as are the two sides of a coin. We cannot have ‘heads’ without the reassuring presence of ‘harps’ on the other side. (On the Irish coinage we have a Harp on one side)

This is one of the central reflexive puzzles for all people involved in the area of psychotherapy. A classic version is provided by the riddle of Theseus’ ship.


Is This a Beginning…?

So here I am, ‘taking the stand’ in order to ‘take a stand’ (to take up a position) – on an epistemological platform which says there IS NO PLACE TO STAND.*

(*Note for the troubled translators – Here I am using 3 different meanings of ‘take a stand’ – 
firstly meaning to go to the podium to make a speech 
secondly meaning to take up an ideological position
thirdly meaning having no ‘foundations’ or theoretical basis upon which to make philosophical claims)

This is REFLEXIVITY in action.

There is an old one-liner joke that represents how this feels and which says –


- ‘ Once I was uncertain, but now, well… I’m not so sure!!’

This one-liner is a REFLEXIVE joke because it plays with ‘self-reference’. The ‘content’ or message level tells us about UNCERTAINTY. But also at the ‘meta-message- level – the superordinate level which contextualises the ‘content’ – there is another story about UNCERTAINTY. Usually we use this second phrase as a comment on a previous position we have taken (‘I used to believe in Santa Clause but now I’m not too sure if I do so any longer’). Here it is used to EXEMPLIFY and AMPLIFY the notion of ‘uncertainty’ – I am UNCERTAIN about whether or not I am still UNCERTAIN. But of course, this is funny because I am manifesting the fact that I AM STILL uncertain in my very act of bringing into question the idea of whether or not I am still uncertain.

So, I find this amusing because it is an example of Reflexivity being used to loop back with an expression of Uncertainty upon another previous expression of uncertainty.

This reflexive looping is less funny when people in therapy use the same mechanism to transform the emergent ‘solutions’ into another form of their ‘problem’ – such as ‘obsessively trying to resolve their obsessivity’; or. ‘manipulating themselves out of their manipulative social behaviours’, and so on.



From my point of view, an important part of Reflexivity is about Questioning our Questioning - Bringing into Question any or all of our ongoing assumptions about ourselves and the worlds that we make for ourselves – and how we go about this world-making.

One of my own ongoing questions is how Reflexivity can help my on a daily basis to go on learning and laughing – and how on the other hand it can help me to avoid things that I don’t like, such as too much repetition, too little creativity, too much boringly predictable conversations and meetings, and, generally speaking, contexts that are DEADENING.

My experience of society is that we give far too much space to ‘Tradition’ and far too little to live experimentation and triggering ‘Transitions’ – every therapy session is a reminder of this. Or to put this better – society teaches us to separate these two social processes as if they were indeed separable, and does not encourage us to perceive the patterns that connect together these two reciprocally specifying processes. Much wasted time could be avoided in psychotherapy if therapists learned to see more clearly how it is that their clients or impatients must change themselves in order to remain recognisable the same decent person.

So from this point of view Reflexivity is an assault on Certainty – but, I wouldn’t want to be too certain about this definition!




Today I am talking about the NEED for REFLEXIVITY in psychology and in understanding what CHANGE is about especially in the terms of Networks of Conversations for Conservation & Change.

This conference can be considered in these terms as being a series of Networks of Conversations for Conservation & Change ABOUT these issues of Conservation & Change (or Tradition & Transition).

Gregory Bateson used to tell a story about what happened at a conference of conference organizers – people who were experts at running conferences. Being professionals they were familiar with the way that conferences tend to unfold over the 3 or 4 day period. For the first half of the conference they knew that people generally wasted time on various activities (searching for old friends, trying to make business contacts, trying out the local golf course or fishing, or making ego-trips or making a fool of themselves by getting into futile arguments in various conference activities, establishing status positions, etc. etc.). At about half-way through people begin to realise that they are not getting anywhere and they begin to work seriously.

These professional conference-makers knew all this and so were not worried that the first half of their conference was wasted. They assumed that they would begin to work seriously later on.

However, Bateson recounts that at this conference they went on speaking nonsense right until the very end and never DID start to do serious work. Why did this happen? Because it is a necessary condition to ‘get worried’ about the fact of not working in the first half of the conference if you are to be productive later on in the second half. But because they never ‘got worried’ – being reflexively aware of the conference processes – they were never in a condition to ‘start work’.

This is a typical Bateson story about the dangers of ‘unaided consciousness’. We do not necessarily become ‘WISE’ merely because we derive some conscious knowledge about the recursive nature of our ecosystems. Too often we use our partial knowledge to reduce the complexity of the system to a partial map which leaves out the more encompassing whole circuits of which we are selecting only a small arc or segment. In other words we replace a SHORT-CIRCUIT for a WHOLE CIRCUIT.

Making SHORT-CIRCUITS or taking SHORT-CUTS can be dangerous and toxic-making where - by repeatedly using the perceived ‘short-cut’ - we ignore all that is happening in the larger circuits that we have CUT AWAY from our awareness or interest. There is an ever-larger accumulation in our Domain of Ignorance.

A Short-Cut can get me from A to Z quickly, but I miss out on the connectivity from B through to Y as I use my short cut.

Bateson’s story is a good example of REFLEXIVITY because there is the self-referring mirroring at different levels - a Conference of People who Organise Conferences.

It also illustrates a second important feature of our Reflexivity - that is, the trouble we get into when we try to AVOID it, or USE it in a (self-) manipulative manner. This is Bateson’s sin of unilateral CONSCIOUS PURPOSE

This story is about the dangers of ‘Short-Cuts’ – in that they have the collateral effect of cutting up the social network spaces into unusable segments – unusable especially by anyone else once we have finished pursuing our own interests.


THE MORAL OF THE STORY – is that becoming ‘reflexively aware’ of what happens in our networks of conversations is not a guarantee that we will act wisely as a result.

Among other things we see in this story -


Short Circuits & Short Cuts

Short-Cuts have the appeal of ‘speeding things up’ or ‘making things easier’ BUT they also have the negative collateral effect of CUTTING UP the social, collective space in ways that often render it UNUSABLE to other people - and also eventually to ourselves when we come to be in the position of the ‘others’.

Common examples are to be seen everyday with the problem of environmental pollution (traffic / industrial pollution) and in our networks of conversations which – at work, at home – can come to be CUT UP in disorienting and disabling ways – where there is no longer a viable network location in which to position ourselves or in which to find others.



1. THE TRAFFIC SHORT-CUT – easily seen when you take a short cut in your car through a housing estate where children live and play. The effects of avoiding traffic lights & traffic jams on the main roads by doing this are well known. The living and playing spaces of the inhabitants – and especially kids – are cut up in such a way by the speeding cars rushing through them that these spaces are no longer viable for playing. The death of a child is usually necessary before the local authorities install speed-breaking ramps and other obstacles which are meant to reduce the advantages of the ‘short-cut’ by making it ‘longer’ again, i.e. by slowing down the car etc. However, the damage to the living space is already irrevocably done because it is CUT UP or cleaved forth in this way – even though the residents install these methods of ‘giving feedback’ to the speeding car, and make the driver face the responsibility for the consequences of what they are creating for the residents. The local authorities usually call these feedback procedures something like ‘Traffic Calming Projects’, as if this short-circuiting was a mad and agitated beast that needs to be ‘calmed down’ and redirected to its proper place in the scheme of things. I think Bateson would agree that all short cuts are a form of human madness – which in the end becomes another form of auto-destructiveness.

2. THE FACTORY SHORT CUT – A factory usually takes in its water supply from a river upstream and dumps its toxic waste products into the river downstream of the factory. This guarantees a toxic pollution effect because the factory does not have to deal with the end products discharged into the water – these simply float downstream to become someone else’s problem. The essential ‘short-cut’ here is to avoid responsibility for what you are producing.

There is a very simple way to make the factory take responsibility (that is, to arrange feedback) and that is to reverse the input – output sequence of the water pipes. That is, to take water IN from DOWNSTREAM of the factory, and to dump their waste products UPSTREAM of their own factory site. In this way they have to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY immediately for what they are dumping into the stream – because this is what they are now TAKING INTO the factory as raw material. That is, they TAKE IN and have to DEAL WITH the consequences of their activities – which are no longer dis-avowed by dumping into the river downstream. It doesn’t take too long to work out that it is cheaper to clean up their internal processes than it is to clean up the incoming raw materials before they can use them.

Once we have used SHORT CUTS we tend to have CUT UP the previously viable living spaces in such a way as to generate non-viability or toxic pollution – which is then of course difficult to ‘reverse’.

Bateson views ‘short-cuts’ as largely a BAD IDEA – even if we manage to SAVE TIME, SPEED THINGS UP. Put simply (and I hope this is not too much of a ‘shortcut’) Bateson was worried about the fact that a shortcut emerges in a context where we make an error of logical typing – where the ‘class’ is confused with a ‘member of the class’. For example a ‘uniqueness’ is treated as if it were a ‘generality’ and vice versa. The result is that we cut-up our space of social coexistences in an unusable or non viable manner. (Later we will see that paradox has the same effects.)


The ATP (ASSOCIATION OF TENNIS PROFESSIONALS) have been under a lot of pressure from their zillion dollar sponsors to change the game of tennis to make it a more exciting game to watch. Obviously they are concerned about investing a lot of money in publicity which very few people get to see – because tennis is very much a minority choice for TV audiences. One of the desperate solutions emerging from the ATP is to change the rules and form of the game from having a set of 6 games to a much shorter set of 4 games (QUICKER, SHORTER, FASTER). Why? Well they’ve noticed that such fans as there are love those points in the match where ‘everything hangs in the balance’ between the two players, where the game can shift in either direction. Now, they have also noticed that such moments tend to occur at the end of a set. Therefore, they reason, let’s make the set SHORTER so that the fans can get to the ‘exciting bits’ QUICKER. This is indeed a Short Cut, literally cutting short the process of the game.

However, this is the same error as that of the Conference Organisers where unless there is an appropriate build up of a context of interests there is little chance of there being anything to ‘hang in the balance’. No one in the audience will feel that it is ‘crucial’ or ‘important’ that one person wins or loses because there is little preliminary investment and little time to generate personally felt anticipations and preferences about what is going on. These felt anticipations cannot be short-circuited if they are to be experienced.



Reflexivity as Understanding Vs Obedience


George Kelly recounts that -

"A long time ago, so the story goes, man made a fateful decision. He choose to live his life by understanding, rather than obedience. This was doing it the hard way. The outcome as most of you know from the story - if not from making such a decision yourselves - was not a particularly happy one. Because the story didn't have a happy ending, a good many people, including the theologians who regard him as better off before the so-called fall from Grace, think Adam bungled any case, man, the poor fellow chose the toil and confusion of knowledge instead of the pleasant and obvious rewards of unquestioning obedience."

Kelly’s story about what when on in the Garden of Eden is about the need to put Self-Reflexive understandings first in our priorities – with all the implications of taking our own responsibilities for our reflexive undertakings. This is counterposed against a choice of living a life of comatose obedience.

Here we can see that Reflexivity is generated as part of a choice for pursuing a psychology of understandings, while Reflexivity is unlikely to appear as a component of the context of unquestioning obedience. In effect, maintaining the tradition of unquestioning obedience usually means installing a surveillance system for detecting and extirpating people’s capacities for any reflexive questioning of the context itself. (Bentham’s Panopticon)

We can be reasonably clear about the character of whatever network of conversation we find ourselves in, in terms of whether it is configured primarily for OBEDIENCE or, alternatively, for UNDERSTANDINGS. This is clear from how people are able to talk and interact with one another.

The configuration of a network of conversation is also an ethical selection, where we choose to implement a different type of languaging environment within which there is a privileging of the striving for understanding, even where we run up against the limits of our language. As Bateson quipped – ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a meta-for’. In other words, we should strive to go beyond where we are and who we are. Kelly’s version of this was to say that ‘to be yourself is not enough’.

IN SUM - From the above introductory remarks it is clear that one of my main themes today is the ways in which we agree to cleave out a conversational space to enable meaningful usage, involvement and participation for as many people as possible – in contrast to cutting up spaces so that they become closed-down in ways that render the space UNUSABLE or TOXIC for most people. Many people’s experience of their WORKSPACE is unfortunately one where their networks of conversations are configured as so much closed down, collapsed or pre-empted space – where very little of personal significance can be realised – where involvement and participation is minimised and alienation is maximised.

The relevance of Short-Cuts for Reflexivity is this:-

Reflexivity emerges in the contexts of taking into consideration a more ample, complex or systemic vision of the effects of one’s actions upon the choices of others. The less I am reflexive the more short-cuts I will take. The more short-cuts I take, the more my consequences cut up the collective space in unusable segments for others participation.

This form of conference presentation is too near to being part of a Dead Speech network – in that I can speak at you for an hour and you can’t easily stop me. It is unilateral, unidirectional, and monopolistic. It cuts up the USABLE SPACE in ways that most people can’t actually DO anything with – even in question time. The best I can do is to create a context for reflections which may allow you to actively work towards some novel ideas of your own – or failing that to not speak so loudly as to interrupt you if you are sleeping happily after a nice lunch.

How on earth did we get into this mess?

To answer this question we need to go right back to the beginning.






To understand more about Reflexivity we need to have a look at where it came from, and to do this we have to go back again to the beginning …





The story of the Creation of Adam can help us grasp where reflexivity originated – and why.



This is another fine mess you’ve got me into …

In this story we have humans being created in the likeness of God – our maker – and we also have some interesting puzzles packed inside this story. Michelangelo, by a reasonable reverse logic (that is, if He made us like Him, then He must look like some of us!), portrays God as a heavyweight - obviously very fond of his pizza, pasta and beer – who is at the same time able to defy the laws (his own laws) of gravity (achieving this with the supporting help of a cast of thousands to hold him up there, to sustain him in his ‘evenly hovering attention’ and various feats of ‘levitation’ - which as you will recall means ‘making light of heavy work’).

So, in the beginning, life was simple because we had (invented) God in his heavens who had created human-kind in His own image. As long as we remain within this world-view everything goes along swimmingly – apart from the odd religious wars or ethnic cleansing or pogrom or Inquisition arising logically out of the CONVICTION & CERTAINTY that your view on life is God-given, True, Just, Right, Real, Good and Necessary. And that EVERYONE must see things the same way.

The model of the Creation is a fairly one-sided affair – or a unilateral game as Bateson might see it. God might not be playing dice with the universe – but he does play with ‘loaded dice’. Exactly how he has fixed the game can be seen from the next slide.




Here we see the Instructional Finger of God. This type of interaction is what I call the ‘original sin’ or better, the Originating Paradox of a Creator –

Who specifies you – but tells you that you are ‘free’ !
Who incites curiosity – but forbids you to look and see and know !
Who declares for democratisation – but orders you to participate in it !

The model of the Creation is presented along the lines of what Maturana calls Instructional Interactions. God specifies humanity in his own likeness.

So this is the moment of Instructional Interactions - where God specified us in our humanness.

Later this model starts to unravel because it gets us into paradoxical trouble in terms of reflexive doubts like - if we are specified in His image, how come we don’t have powers to specify others, powers of levitation, and more importantly, immediate access to the best restaurants?

There is also a long history of debate about many of the mixed messages presented in this story – not least there are some deep suspicions about how it is possible to ‘specify’ someone as ‘free’, and at the same time to create a situation of ‘curiosity’ which one must not show curiosity about.

Once you are told NOT to do something, or not to KNOW something there opens up an area of desire that previously did not exist. The desire to FIND OUT what is inside the box, behind the locked door, closed inside the safe, hidden under those floorboards, etc. All children understand this.

Bachelard talks of the psychology of secrecy like this: -

‘’These complex pieces (chests and caskets) that a craftsman creates are very evident witnesses of the need for secrecy, of an intuitive sense of hiding places. It is not merely a matter of keeping a possession well guarded. The lock doesn’t exist that could resist absolute violence, and all locks are an invitation to thieves. A lock is a psychological threshold. ….among the Bambaras, the center of the lock is sculpted ‘in the form of a crocodile, or a lizard, or a turtle …’. The power that opens and shuts must possess the power of life, human power, or the power of a sacred animal. ‘And among the Dogons, in the Sudan, locks are decorated with the two human figures representing the first man and first woman.’

This type of prohibition – DON’T KNOW! - is related to the area of UNCERTAINTY. Once a person tells us that there IS an area that exists, BUT that we are NOT to come to know it, we are immediately faced with the choice of either sustaining the level of ANXIETY OF NOT KNOWING, or of using that anxiety in order to come to KNOW something more. From Kelly’s point of view the experience of ‘anxiety’ is the awareness of something that lies just beyond one’s powers of construing. I know it is there, but I don’t know what it may be. Something’s going on, but I don’t know what it is.



Now what I would like to emphasise in this story is that things were bound to go badly from the start because God played this trick of ‘making secrets’ and of evoking the inevitable CURIOSITIES that we have for KNOWING something rather than knowing nothing.

However, there was another element in the way that God set up the game which is even more serious – and that is his ACT OF SPECIFYING humanity in his own ‘likeness’ – which apart from our being bequeathed an unhealthy interest in piazza and beer – meant that we were also supposed to have something called FREE WILL.

Now this is a big mess – from the reflexive point of view – because it places us right into the middle of a muddle that creates a lot of fog in the brain - to put it mildly.

Let me explain the problem in terms of THE PARADOX OF LIBERATION

In the area of international Law there is a related tangled issue called ‘SOVEREIGNTY’.

The puzzle asks – ‘How can a sovereign release a subject from subjection?’ This is something we see with countries that once had extensive practices of colonisation of other nations.



Under the title of ‘reflexivities of sovereignty’ Peter Suber discusses the legal cases of paradox with dilemmas such as ‘can a sovereign bind itself?’, ‘self-destroying authority’, and ‘self-amendment’. His main topic is ‘sovereign or parliamentary omnipotence’, raising the question as to whether or not a parliament could – by any procedure – irrevocably limit its future ability to act? Could it abolish itself? Are law-makers above the law?

As the sovereignty of Jesus Christ is put in Corinthians 15:27 – ‘he shall put all under his feet, but he cannot put himself under his feet. ‘ –

Suber points out that the greater ‘liberty’ of nations to renounce contracts and treaties (as compared with private individuals) is in effect an INCAPACITY. An ‘incapacity to be bound by anything – whether the acts of others or of itself’.

The argument as to whether a sovereign is legitimate because it is sovereign, or is it sovereign because it is legitimate is a typical circularity. The area of self-reference is marked by the way in which we begin to enter into confusion as to what is ‘cause’ and what is ‘effect’ or consequence – in this type of chicken/egg questioning. He notes that -

‘Hence, some circularity in our concept of sovereignty seems unavoidable, just as metaphysicians have never been able to avoid concepts of self-caused causes and self-justifying first principles as the price of avoiding causal and logical infinite regresses.’

One of the questions that interests me here is whether or not a sovereign can release a subject from subjugation. The issues of self-reference here echo some of the work done on double-binding communications such as those injunctions that order us to ‘Be Spontaneous’, and ‘Stop obeying me’.

Suber asks –

‘If a parent tells a child, ‘’you are now completely free of my commands,’’ then there is a sense in which the child owes its liberty to that parental dispensation; if the parental fiat is revocable, then freedom cannot be conferred by another.’

England found an interesting problem with those nations it had invaded under its imperialist expansionary ambitions once these nations had regained their independence – by war or negotiation – from English colonialism. What was the problem? Well, the problem was the same problem as that expressed in the parental communication above – how is it possible to GIVE INDEPENDENCE to former colonies in a legally binding manner. In 1931 England adopted the Statute of Westminster which stated the intention never again to legislate for former colonies without their express consent and request. This seems clear enough, except for the fact that being a statute it could be repealed, which in turn means that the independence of former colonies could in turn be revocable by England. The legal institutions in the former colonies of course noticed this trap whereby later generations of English could take back the right to legislate for former colonies. Suber comments –

‘’Nothing that England could do, it seems, could give the colonies full legal independence, for if it were done in law, then it could be undone; and if it were not done in law, it would not be lawful. England was learning that it is paradoxical to command another to be free or even to offer another their freedom as a gift.’’

One possibility was to interpret the Statute of Westminster as irrevocable. In this way the emancipated countries would remain so – but this would mean infringing on the independence and power of the English people to make and change their own laws in their own country. For this reason the English Parliament could not irrevocably bind its own successors. So they ruled in 1935 that the Statute of Westminster could in principle be repealed. Obviously, the paradox of liberation remains. (For their part. Many former colonies have taken the steps of inserting some little ‘irregularity or procedural defect into the ritual of liberation’ in such a way as to be able to claim that their independence is due to a peaceful revolution rather than to the Statute of Westminster)

So when I call being turfed out of the garden of Eden ‘Paradox Lost’ – I am referring to the fact that we lost contact with the Authority who set up the ‘Be Free’ paradox with us in the first place. But to do this we had to go beyond the level of ‘Permissable Disobedience’ to a type of Disobedience that breaks the frame of ‘acceptable levels of disobedience’ (which is ‘justifiable’ in some way).

The inherent confusion here I call the Originating Paradox because it is the paradox that gives origin to our human conflicts, confusions, mystifications and dis-orientations – but also gives rise to the overall context out of which emerges our reflexivity. .

The Originating Paradox
~ Be Free!

° Be Spontaneus

° plus

° Stop obeying Me!


We are familiar with many examples of this Originating Paradox from the literature on the double bind. These classic binds include ‘Stop obeying me’ and ‘Be spontaneous’.

The effects of such disorienting forms of communication on networks of conversations are well documented. The person who is addressed by these ‘messages’ is rendered immobile.

Maturana pointed out that ‘Conversations for command and obedience’ take place within an emotional frame of negation. That is, by complying with commands to do as they otherwise would not do, those obeying the commands negate both themselves and the one commanding (by attributing to them a characteristic of 'superiority'). The one commanding also engages in this dual negation. It is a typical way in which the usable space of the other is cut up and closed down.

In order to develop Reflexivity in the first place we had to liberate ourselves of this relationship of Originating of Paradox. In discussing ‘codependence’ Giddens says that ‘The development of reflexive attention entails, as a basic beginning point, the recognition of choice. Choice … means an appraisal of one’s limits and the constraints to which one is subject: the reflexive moment is called by one author ‘self talk’. …. Compulsive relationships … preclude the reflexive exploration of self-identity." (1992, pp. 91 – 92)

Giddens had earlier defined ‘reflexivity’ as not merely being ‘self-consciousness’ but rather ‘the monitored character of the ongoing flow of social life.’ (1984, p. 3)



If we look at the two different readings that Kelly and Bateson make of the Eden story we can learn a bit more about our development of Reflexivity and the advantages and disadvantages of the deal.

Kelly’s version is that we got evicted for daring to know and for being disobedient. (Perhaps for breaking out of the originating binds?) (The first two students of the earth He expelled for learning something! )

In any event the result of the Originating Paradox was to generate a necessary Reflexivity in humans – provoked by the tantalizing oppositions and the collapsing spaces which these created. After this development we had a clear choice – to ‘cut and run’ (and by so doing to get out of the broken – collapsed - conversational frame) or to try to turn back (but there was no way back into the garden), to some form of comatose obedience.

Taking up reflexivity we became responsible for the world that we make and for the ways that we make ourselves in this world of ours.

Strange Scenes in the Garden ...  1

Kelly's version - 

Self-Determining vs. Being Controlled

Self-Responsibility vs. Passive Dependency 

Self-Critically aware vs. Being Manipulated



In Kelly’s Version we get thrown out of the garden but we make a Reflexive Gain – largely that of the elaboration of personal ‘agency’. This includes positioning ourselves on the side of being -

Self-Determining Vs Being Controlled (Instructed)
Self-Responsible Vs Dependency (Revealed)
Self-Critically Aware Vs Being Manipulated (Emancipated)

So Kelly’s choice is for being Self-Specifying. To refer only to ourselves as the source of self-invention or self-creation. We create our own nature since we have no ‘natural nature’, and we create the worlds that we occupy through our anticipatory choices. One can see why ‘robbing orchards’ has always been a rite of passage for kids in the past. As you all know, the story of Eden was a story probably invented to put an end to the scourge of all farmers, and the joy of all school-kids – robbing orchards, stealing apples.

Bateson’s version is that we threw God out of the garden because he was a trouble-making old goat who deserved to be sent off to a Miami retirement condominium. (After all, it may be true that He created the world, but what has He done since then? Also, his cooperative efforts have been quite limited! )

After this, we were responsible for the ‘epistemological errors’ we make with our unaided conscious purpose making its unilateral short cuts on nature.


Strange Scenes in the Garden ...  2

Bateson's version - 

Self-Aggrandising - Presumption on Unilaterality

Self-Certain - Dangers of Conscious Purpose 

Self-Interested - a Psychology of Manipulations



In Bateson’s version there is a Reflexive Loss – Losing the sense of the Sacred (of the Wholeness of the whole). This led to our taking up a position on the side of being -

Self-Aggrandising with the presumption of Unilaterality
Self-Secure or Self-Certain with the dangers of Conscious Purpose
Self-Interested with the implementation of a ‘Psychology of Manipulations’



The best way to avoid double-binding or mystifying networks of relationships is to adopt Reflexivity as an ethos which states that –

Here Reflexivity is an Ethical Position. The determination to NOT have double standards, ‘expert’ hierarchies, ‘privileged’ speakers, nor professional attitudes which dis-empower the ‘clients’ is a particular ‘stand’ taken by Kelly.

The psychology of personal constructs is a meta-theory – a theory about the ways that humans invent and use theories. This is why Kelly calls his approach ‘reflexivity’. The theory has to explain not only how humans go about generating theories, but the theory also has to explain how it itself came about or was invented. Kelly does this in a number of places especially in a chapter which he calls ‘autobiography of a theory’ (Kelly in Maher).

What is emphasised in this REFLEXIVE ethos is a Psychology of Understandings rather than a Psychology of Manipulations. It makes the requirement that any observer making explanations has to also account for his own observing explanations – in a loop which anticipated the second-order cybernetics of Bateson, von Foerster and others, who also spoke about the need for actively observing observers activities.

The roles of therapist and ‘impatient’ are framed within the model of the relationship that exists between a research student and their research supervisor. The student knows more about his chosen thesis subject matter and the supervisor has more experience in how to set up and frame a good experimental test of your hypotheses.

Reflexivity means that no one observer can know the whole story, that there is always more that can be said in any story, and said differently. Indeed, that there is no ‘one’ story to be known – but only the stories that a group of observers decide to enact as the most meaningful for them in this moment of their living.

This Reflexive – Ethical approach of Kelly helps us to design our networks of conversations as Live Speech networks as opposed to the Dead Speech networks that seem to occupy so much of our interpersonal space.

Bateson illustrated very well the severe breakdowns in human thinking, feeling and acting which result from living within a communication nexus which is paradoxical in its organisation. In this worst case scenario studied by Bateson, the essential defining features of a Dead Speech network is to render the participants ALLONOMOUS. That is, to be entirely specified by the communicational system in such a way as to be unable to make fundamental distinctions of ‘message’ and ‘meta-message’ within the flow of communications - and thus to be unable to develop any ‘individual psychological closure’ (autonomy) which is necessary if there is to be an ‘agentic presence’ of the individuals involved.

Without ‘agentic presence’ the components of the network of conversations remain subjugated, colonised, specified, passive, dependent, and ‘comatose’ in relation to others in the system. They are unable to take up a viable node positioning in the network because (a) there IS no such node available in the network, and (b) they lack the minimal agentic self-specification necessary for the effective occupation of a viable node / role positioning.


The Psychological Space of Dead Speech –

In regard to Dead Speech being a configuration of conversations so that nothing new can be spoken or enacted I quote Kenneth Burke who is commenting on the theme of Death in Poe’s work ‘The Raven’: -

"Still more specifically, recall that for Poe the object of his ideal, beautifully solemn poem would be ‘supremeness, perfection.’ … note that ‘perfection’ means literally a finishedness. The ‘perfect’ is the completely done. In this sense, Death provides a quite relevant source of imagery for the idea of perfection." pp. 26-7.

From this point of view I feel it quite appropriate to use the term ‘Dead’ for these networks of conversations which are configured as a ‘finished product’ or ‘completely done’ so that the participants have ‘nothing left to say’ to one another.

Also Wittgenstein has said that –

‘Without a sense, or without the thought, a proposition would be an utterly dead and trivial thing. ….But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.’

What I want to take from this is the notion that it is in our USAGE of the conversations that render any network Dead or Alive. If we can’t experience any constructive ‘thought’ or constructive ‘sense’ in USING the given conversational elements / processes then we are in a Dead Speech Frame. In so far as we are paralysed and pre-empted from participating personally and actively in the conversations we cannot make much USE of the situation. Our ‘usage-value’ is diminished or negated.

Wittgenstein also draws attention to how we ‘enter into the picture’, or ‘live in the pages of a book’ in such a way that we LIVE in the ongoing events AS IF we were participating in them, and NOT as mere ‘observers’. In other words, we shift from the level of ‘observing’ or interpreting or explaining, to the level of experiencing, and back again. He puts it as the difference to being ‘inside the picture – feeling at home in it’ or being ‘outside’ the picture.

The opposite of ‘feeling at home in’ the picture is to feel alienated from the picture – that it is nothing to do with us or who we feel ourselves to be. The more we are placed in the role of ‘passive, uninvolved, detached observers’ of a ready made reality then it appears to us as ‘lifeless’, as meaningless, as Dead. In so far as it has ‘meaning’ it is a DEADENING meaning, a mortifying meaning. Equally, if we desire to be Live participants but cannot do so because of the ‘rules’ of the situation we will also feel Deadened, oppressed and alienated by having to BE in that situation.

Even where the network is organised with viable dimensionality, it is important to note that in order to have a positive or constructive ‘flow’ to the interactional relations (where they may generate a diversity of experiencing) we need to have ‘free spaces’ in the system of communications into which the various participants can ‘move’ thus (temporarily) shifting out of their usual CONSTITUTIVE NODE in the network. The participants need to be able to CIRCULATE through alternative positioning nodes (and also through viable Cycles of Experience! ) in order to be able to communicate alternatively. As for example in an ‘Open’ manner as opposed to a ‘pre-empted’ manner where everything that can be said or heard is ‘closed’.

Obviously, in the extreme case cited by Bateson (where the person no longer can be responsible for the metacommunicative features) there is NO SPACE into which one can ‘move’. The entire SPACE of the conversational network is contextualised by the paradoxical contradictions at the different levels of ‘messaging’.

"But wherein does the sign, the image, the sentence have its life? It is language! Language is not present as such. Rather it is the net of living references which we have at our disposal and in which the sentence has its sense." (Wittgenstein)

I am saying: that when the network of conversations is configured as a net of deadening references then everything in the context is Dead, including the persons composing the network. They are configured as Dead things.

The ‘process of intending’ on the part of the individual is absent (because it is pre-empted by the social system’s rules of control, order and surveillance) and so no one can ‘go from themselves toward things’. No individual movement towards things is permitted.

We cannot move in this space with our unique interest and intention towards anything. We can make no ‘living movement’. We can only make sense of things according to the rules for making sense provided by the ideology, by the dominant discourses. So, ‘nothing makes sense’. Nothing ‘means anything’. All the ‘things’ have been emptied out of any interesting significances. Thus we live surrounded by DEAD IMAGES of meaningless things.


(Wittgenstein said that)

(I said that)

is a dead speech network’. (I said that too!)


To help us to be able to improvise in a live speech event it is important to invent something in another language, in other images, or in other frameworks that haven’t been much thought about or used or said yet.

This is a task that attempts to transcend old assumptions embedded in metaphorical images that may have taken us as far as they can do in the old conversational spaces.

As a final example and comment on this I want to take the dominant image of the last century – the 1900’s – which lasted almost all the way through the entire 100 years. This is the image of the atom (See Kevin Kelly ). An image which represents very strong meanings and values which range from excitement about unlimited power to fears of devastating powers of annihilation. Looking at the image a bit more closely we can see that it exemplifies the following characteristic meanings –



The Image is -

We can point our instructing fingers at it and cause a whole city to disappear in an atomic haze.

However, it is an image that is very enslaving and hypnotising and limiting. It does not at all well represent out human daily experiencing of -

how blurred and indeterminate our relationships together can be (not Stark)
how dispersed and fragmented are the sources of influences upon us (not Centered)
how multiple and plural we feel our ‘self’ to be (not Singular)
how chronically unfinished we feel ourselves to be (not Complete)
how Interconnected and Interdependent we feel (not Independent)
how resistant to control we present ourselves as (not under Control)
how distributed we feel ourselves to be across complex spaces (not a located Nucleus), and
how unpredictable our living can be (not Simple Certainty)

In order to begin to represent to ourselves these typical human experiences listed above we need virtually the opposite of the Atomic image. An opposite type of image which will lead us to take up a very different kind of interpersonal psychological space together if we follow the reasoning of this presentation so far.

As an alternative image I would like to suggest that you consider the image of the Net or the Network, and reflect on how it is the opposite of the Atomic image. In this case we can see that the Net metaphor offers us the following characteristics for living together in an alternative form of psychological space: -



The Net Image is as if -

Think about it!





The enactivist approach is focused on the ways that we bring forth the lived world – the reality that we share together.

It is not about a view of knowledge as a ‘mirror’ of nature.

It is not about how we come to ‘represent’ a pre-given world.

Instead the world we live in is brought forth by our joint enactment of consensual activities to which we are committed by our living together in social networks of interrelationships.

Earlier I used Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘usage’ to emphasise the need for personal inter-activity in generating live speech networks. Here also the emphasis is on our collective ‘usage’ of consensual distinctions in embodied enactments, rather than with ‘representations’ of a given reality. Languaging is a coordinated activity rather than being a form of ‘description’. So there is nothing to be ‘represented’ and so nothing to be ‘reflected’. Our mind is not a ‘mirror’ of anything – especially not of ‘nature’.



Here we can see that Heraclitus’ river offers a reflection on the fact that unless we take the steps to walk our joint realities into existence, there is nowhere to go, and nothing upon which to reflect.

Heraclitus said that you can’t step into the same river twice.

Magritte offers this way across.

As you can see, the river offers a reflection of a possible future way ahead.

But to real-ise that way, we have to walk out across to where the bridge is chronically incomplete and begin to take the steps that will WALK IT INTO EXISTENCE.

In this case, the river represents our shifting future anticipations of possible worlds – but unless we enact the necessary network of coordinations of actions and emotions together, those imagined worlds will never be cleaved forth as a real-isation.

We have to put down our foot where there is, as yet, no pathway.

But doing so we will bring forth the path we desire.

And don’t worry….

If all goes wrong, you only need to remember that you cannot fall off the same Heraclitean bridge twice!


June 2000 – Vincent Kenny


Gregory Bateson (1973). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Paladin Books. Republished by - Univ of Chicago Pr (2000). ISBN: 0226039056

Gaston Bachelard (1958 / 1994). The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press: Boston. Pp.81-2) Bachelard, quoting Denise Paulme, ‘Les Sculptures de l’Afrique noire’, Presses Universitaires de France, 1956, p.35. isbn 0807064734

Kenneth Burke (1966). Language as Symbolic Action. Uni. Cal Press. ISBN 0-520-00192-3

Anthony Giddens (1984). The Constitution of Society. Polity Press.

Anthony Giddens (1992). The Transformation of Intimacy. Polity Press.

Brad Keeney [1983]. Aesthetics of Change. London : Guilford.

Kelly, G. [1955]. The Psychology of Personal Constructs. 2 Vols. New York : Norton. Republished by - Routledge, London & New York [1991]. ISBN - 0-415-03799-9

Kelly, G. [1969]. Man’s constructions of his alternatives. In: B. Maher [ed.] Clinical Psychology and Personality: The Selected Papers of George Kelly. New York : Wiley.

Kelly, G. [1977]. The Psychology of the Unknown. In: D. Bannister [ed.] New perspectives in personal construct theory. London: Academic Press.

Kevin Kelly (1994). Out of Control. Fourth Estate London.

Maturana, H. [1978]. Biology of Language: Epistemology of reality. In: G. Miller et alii [eds.] Psychology and biology of language and thought. New York : Academic Press.

Maturana, H. [1980]. Biology of Cognition. In: Maturana & Varela - Autopoiesis and Cognition. Boston : Reidel.

Maturana, H. [1988]. Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. In: Vincent Kenny [ed.] Irish Journal of Psychology, Special Issue on Radical Constructivism, Autopoiesis and Psychotherapy, Vol. 9, 1, 144-172.

Polanyi, M [1958]. Personal Knowledge. London : RKP.

Heinz von Foerster [1972]. Observing Systems, Intersystems Publications, Seaside, CA, 2nd. edition, 1984, pp. 192-204.

Ernst von Glasersfeld [1987]. The Construction of Knowledge. Seaside Cal: Intersystems.

Ernst von Glasersfeld [1995]. Radical Constructivism - A Way of Knowing & Learning. The Falmer Press : Washington

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1958). The Blue & The Brown Books. Blackwell: Oxford.

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