Bateson's Left Hand: What the Right Hand Can't Say about the Sacred

This page is authored by Elizabeth Sikes, Seattle University and Sarah Williams, Evergreen State College


The paper begins with the results of an experiment done in an Evergreen State class using yoga nidra as a form of stress reduction. When students were asked to give feedback about their experience in quantitative form using a scantron input, many refused to respond appropriately, drawing smiley faces and other doodles instead. Then we analyze this in terms of Gregory Bateson's notion of an epistemology of the sacred, an epistemology of not-knowing and taboo. An analogy is made between Williams' students' refusal to reflect on their experience in quantitative terms and Gregory Bateson's example of a tribe of Native Americans who refused to have their peyote rites filmed by an ethnographer who wanted to use the footage to argue on their behalf of for continued legal use of the drug as part of a legitimate religious ceremony. Even though this could have potentially saved the rite and their religion, they were not willing to compromise the religion in order to save it. It seems that what would have been saved would no longer have been their religion. We argue that in both cases with the introduction of the camera or the scantron evaluation, the locus of control or knowing becomes deterritorialized, shattering the integrity of meaning as this locus moves from inside the circuit to a subset outside, from internally organized and set terms of knowing to foreign ones. The role of conscious purpose and its material reification in the film camera are considered.


Bateson's Left Hand: What the Right Hand Can't Say about the Sacred (Microsoft Word 59kB Feb8 11)