Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gregory Bateson's Levels of Learning

An exciting chapter in an otherwise exciting book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, is concerned with Gregory Bateson's application of the idea of logical levels to the concept of learning. His premise is that the idea of logical levels is applicable to processes of learning, and that the ignorance of this fact leads to confusion in the behavioral and social sciences. What I want to focus on in this post is simply an overview of the different logical levels of learning. I hope in future posts to proceed from there, because this seems to be a topic worthy of exploration.

I imagine each successive logical level of learning as a process of systemic activity in which the learning (understood as specific changes in the system over time) comes to occur in ever larger parts of the system. I will begin by describing the first level.

Learning 1 is commonly understood as simple Pavlovian or operational conditioning. An organism is exposed to a specific environmental event which repeats itself, and this has the result of familiarizing the animal with the contingencies of their behavior in this instance. For example, an animal that repeatedly barks and is given a treat during one session with its owner has learned at level 1 the specific barking>treat contingency.

Learning 2 involves a more substantial type of learning. Rather than learning how to act in a specific situation, an organism that undergoes learning 2 learns to approach novel situations and act in a certain way that has been rewarded in other situations in the past. In other words, learning two is the process whereby an organism learns to act certain ways in certain types of situations, rather than just act in a certain way in a certain situation.

According to Bateson, level 2 is the general ceiling for most people's learning. Despite this, learning at level 3 is attempted with some success-and some destruction. The relationship between levels 1 and 2 is the same as between levels 2 and three. Beyond this level three is (and Bateson admits this) difficult to describe.

It helps to go back down and describe level 2 in more detail, and then scaffold off of this for level three. So, level 2 involves the development of the ability to approach a novel situation and categorize it (and then act towards it) in a certain way. Although the situation facing the organism is novel, the organism still retains its acquired ways of acting. Learning at level 2 gives the organism an intelligent basis upon which to choose a certain alternative.

In contrast, learning 3 involves learning to intelligently choose between sets of alternatives themselves. The choice of alternatives is no longer at the level of the individual situation (as it was at level 2), or at the level of the individual action (level 1). The choice that must be learned to be made intelligently occurs at the level of the sets of alternative interpretations.

So, someone who has learned at level 3 would, upon approaching a novel situation, say to themselves "what set of interpretations offers the most promise in this instance?" Once a decision has been made, the activity occurs on level 2-which interpretation within the selected set will I make-and then on level 1: what is the appropriate action to take in this context?


  1. firstly, Bateson stated that the 'Shifts' between Logical Levels (L.L) are DISCONTIGUOUS. That INFERING Function from the PROCESS of another "Lower" L.L and extrapolating that Function to a Higher Order Function will result in Errors of Logical Typing.

    In order to "Solve" the "Shift" from L.L.L 2 to L.L.L 3 one must understand LOGICAL-PARADOX.

    To "Shift" from LLL2 to LLL3, one must break the 'CLASS/MEMBER' Law.

    This is something Zen Masters have been doing for many Centuries, and is the Foundation of the concept of "Koans".

    In order to Process "Reality" at L.L.L 3, the distinction between "SELF" and "NOT-SELF" must be removed.

    eg. at L.L.L 2 the statement,
    "I think, therefore I am" is TRUE.

    This is the effect of what you state above where it is Process of the INDIVIDUAL 'IN-Context' that determines the choices between 'Sets' of alternatives..[provided BY Context.]

    At L.L.L 2 the statement,
    "I am, therefore I Think" is also TRUE.

    Both are still WITHIN the LOGICAL-ORDER of 'DUALity'.[THIS v THAT, GOOD v EVIL, etc]

    Shifting to L.L.L 3 is a DISCONTIGUOUS shift in LOGICAL-ORDERS of EXISTence.[L.O.E]

    Where the statement,
    "I AM" is TRUE.
    Guatama Siddhartha, the Shakyamuni Buddha addressed this as fundamental in waking up to what is Real..[Bodhi or Enlightenment..which is a DESCRIPTION of human Process at L.L.L 3]..

    He stated,
    "In order to attain the Buddha MIND {become a Buddha or One who has woken up to what is Real}, simply PREFER, NEITHER 'THIS', nor 'THAT'."


  2. there is more to the above, 'Pasting" seems not to be permitted....send a message to
    if your interested in the rest...