Bateson on Life
from Metalogue: Why Do Things Have Outlines by Gregory Bateson 1953.
- Yes, we were talking about flamingos. The point is that
the man who wrote Alice was thinking about the same things that we
are. And he amused himself with little Alice by imagining a game
of croquet that would be all muddle, just absolute muddle. So he
said they should use flamingos as mallets because the flamingos
would bend their necks so the player wouldn't know even whether his
mallet would hit the ball or how it would hit the ball
- Anyhow the ball might walk away of its own accord
because it was a hedgehog.
- That's right. So that it's all so muddled that nobody can tell
at all what's going to happen.
- And the hoops walked around, too, because they were soldiers.
- That's right---everything could move and nobody could tell how
it would move.
- Did everything have to be alive so as to make a complete
- No---he could have made it a muddle by . . . no, I suppose you
are right. Because if he'd muddled things any other way, the
players could have learned how to deal with the muddling details.
I mean, suppose the croquet lawn was bumpy, or the balls were a
funny shape, or the heads of the mallets just wobbly instead of
being alive, then the people could still learn and the game would
only be more difficult---it wouldn't be impossible. But once you
bring live things into it, it becomes impossible. I wouldn't have
It would also remain a game if pure noise is injected (eg rolling dice
or shuffling cards).