… It is seamless, without gaps, and depends not on quantity and the amassing of discrete units such as words or numbers but on shapes, forms and textures — patterns, in fact — and patterns, of course, are built of relationships.
… The communicative gesture … under the privileged conditions of play, has acquired a … role as discourse, as a way of articulating and exploring relationships, of trying them on to see how they fit …
… If, as I have suggested, musicking is an activity by means of which we bring into existence a set of relationships that model the relationships of our world, not as they are but as we would wish them to be, and if through musicking we learn about and explore those relationships, we affirm them to ourselves and anyone else who may be paying attention, and we celebrate them, then musicking is in fact a way of knowing our world — not that pre-given physical world, divorced from human experience, that modern science claims to know but the experiential world of relationships in all its complexity — and in knowing it, we learn how to live well in it.
… What form does the information take that ties together the living world? The answer Bateson offers is that the information that is given and received by living beings is always what he calls “news of difference,” whether it be a static difference between figure and ground as the creature scans it or a dynamic change over time.
… whatever the mechanism may be that binds the various sensory stimuli into a single unified experience, image formation is an active and creative process, not mere passive reception of whatever stimuli are being presented. This is probably true, in one way or another, throughout the living world. The creature, however simple or complex it may be, works on the stimulus, the news of difference, and creates meaning from it. Even an amoeba needs to find something analogous to what we call meaning in, say, the presence of certain substances in the drop of water in which it lives in order to move toward the creature that is their source and engulf it. No information can be received unless the creature is ready to receive the raw stimuli and transform them. The receiver creates the context in which the message has meaning, and without that context there can be no communication and no meaning.
… Verbal language is discontinuous, whereas the world is continuous.
Relationships also are continuous and do not lend themselves to one-thing-at-a-time description. We have to take them all in one piece in all their complexity, and it is here that verbal languages really show their limitations. One thing at a time is just too slow and cumbersome to deal with their many-layered quicksilver nature, and when we try to articulate them in words we keep falling into the gap between description and reality.
The gestural language of biological communication, on the other hand, is continuous, as are relationships themselves, and for this reason it is much better suited to their articulation. It resists all attempts to dissect out, in parallel with verbal language, a specific vocabulary of gestures, whether visible or audible or even smellable, tastable or touchable. It has no vocabulary, no units of meaning. It is seamless, without gaps, and depends not on quantity and the amassing of discrete units such as words or numbers but on shapes, forms and textures — patterns, in fact — and patterns, of course, are built of relationships.
… The languages of bodily posture, movement and gesture, of facial expression and of vocal intonation continue to perform functions in human life that words cannot, and where they function most specifically is in the articulation and exploration of relationships.
While among simpler creatures the conventions of paralanguage [= the gestural language of biological communication] are determined entirely or mainly by instinct — which is to say, they come with the genes, hard-wired — the greater degree of flexibility that we have already noted among more complex animals, most especially the primates, means that the conventions have to be learned, not just once and for all but throughout the life of each individual.
… The communicative gesture, freed from the immediate and possibly life-and-death situation under the privileged conditions of play, has acquired a perhaps less urgent, but no less important, role as discourse, as a way of articulating and exploring relationships, of trying them on to see how they fit, not only among humans but also between humans and the larger pattern that connects. The function of the discourse is the same as it has always been, but the ancient gestures of relationship have been elaborated over the million-year history of the human race into the complex patterns of communicative gesture that we call ritual.