Laws of Media-The Tetrad [Cosmos Café 2022-02-03]

McLuhan Tetrad - Global Village

Reading / Watching / Listening

Laws of Media Chapter 4 “Tetrad” and 5 “Media Poetics”
McLuhan_Marshall_McLuhan_Eric_Laws_of_Media_The_New_Science.pdf (3.9 MB)

Seed Questions

  • Q1
  • Q2

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


LOVE IS WAR. The source elements of the metaphor are indicated by numbers. The target domains are indicated by letters. Which numbered element matches with which lettered element?

  1. the battles in war
  2. the belligerents in war
  3. the damage in the war to belligerents
  4. the strategies for the war actions
  5. the victories of a belligerent
  6. to surrender to a belligerent

(a) the damage in love to the lovers
(b) to allow the partner to take control
(c) the dominance of a partner
(d) the events of the love relationship
(e) the lovers in the love relationship
(f) the plans for the love relationship

After you have mapped across from the source to the target domain, please consider the following statements.

" What does it mean when we know a metaphor? It means to know the systematic mappings between a source and a target. Not any element of B can be mapped onto A." -Zoltan Kovesces

“The tetrad form is verbal in nature, consisting, Iike metaphor and
like every word, of two conformal situations, two figures and two grounds…
The tetrads are verbal structures and poetic science in one. The elements of the
tetrad are proportional, using the analogical ratios of A is to B as c is to D (and
the complementary ones, A is to c as B is to D , and the reverse of both) That
is why they must be presented and studied in the appositional form.” p. 224 McLuhan

Do the above statements make sense to you? If not, why not?

And having performed the LOVE IS WAR exercise, practice flipping the Necker Cube figure.

And is there a relationship between conceptual metaphor and the perceptual ambiguities of the Necker Cube figure?

And is there anything else you know, now, about tetrads and metaphors, figures and grounds, acoustic and visual space?

And where do those knowings come from?



“When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast… The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time. Purity is on the edge of evil, they say.” ―Ursula K. Le Guin

Hands & Thinking they Dance,Make Love,Fight & Touch this Gift of Being


Musical Response to today’s Cafe & the Vibration that landed on this
Participant of Diverse Experience “And Yet” a Enriching Sharing!!!


Well, I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there
Well on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
There’s so much left to know and I’m on the road to find out

Well, in the end I’ll know, but on the way I wonder
Through descending snow, and through the frost and thunder
I listen to the wind come howl, telling me I have to hurry
I listen to the robin’s song saying not to worry
So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out

Ooooh oooooh
Ooooh oooooh

And I found myself alone,
Hoping that someone would miss me
Thinking about my home,
And the last woman to kiss me
Sometimes you have to moan
When nothing seems to suit you
But nevertheless you know
You’re locked towards the future
So, on and on I go
The seconds tick the time out
There’s so much left to know
And I’m on the road to find out

Then I found my head one day when I wasn’t even trying ooooh oooooh
Here I have to say, ‘cause there is no use in lying ooooh oooooh
Well the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now
Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin and pick up, pick up a good book now
Yes the answer lies within, why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now!

Ooooh oooooh
Ooooh oooooh


Applying McLuhan’s Tetrad Model to 70s New York Undergound Pop Culture 2/5/22

And what does Blondie enhance?

Sexy ideas

And what does Blondie retrieve?

Left brained detacment from conventional romantic narratives. The great whore of Babylon. The feminine male. The Divine Androgyne. Bisexual chic.

And what does Blondie flip into?

Urban decay. A female robot. Cocaine and zombie sex. The AIDS epidemic.

And what does Blondie get rid of?

An ethereal 50s surburban Mom, apple pie, the girl next door. The tye -dye hippie chick, the earth mother.

And is there anything else?

Yeah, when I arrived in New York in 1976 I lived in the East Village. Blondie ( Debbie Harry) lived in a loft a few blocks away. I went to the Pyramid, CBGBs, sex clubs,developed a persona, etc. Queer Punk was the back ground from which I was trying to differentiate myself. We came out at night. We slept till noon. We wore motorcycle jackets, combat boots, sunglasses, torn jeans. We were dirt poor, had fun, explored the aesthetics of the urban under class, performed weird plays, got into photography, modeling, dance, hypnosis, and studied the occult. It was very beautiful. I didn’t pay much attention to Blondie then but now she seems to capture a tacit knowing, a certain sci fi mood that was in the air, a feeling of anarchy, cruising through Babylon, a free range pre-Aids noctournal emission. In the 80s the plague sent us into a death spiral. Those of us who could embrace that impasse, detoxed, cold turkeyed, organized politically, went vegan. Many didn’t make it. The East Village that I so loved became a graveyard. The Wall Street corporation dominated, the suburban shopping mall arose, the Bloomberg gentrification program took over, rents soared, the arts died. Those of us who survived that deconstruction and reconstruction phase, are currently embracing the Covid Pandemic. Both of these social upheavals (AIDS/Covid) feel like they share a hidden resonant structure that vibrates from a backroom with a floating disco ball , floating omni like, unbounded, from the back of my mind. The agent of change is not the virus but the host who has flirted with the unknown guest so that we may co-evolve into a more intelligent future. The future (you may recall) is already here.

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind

Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind

In between
What I find is pleasing and I’m feeling fine
Love is so confusing, there’s no peace of mind
If I fear I’m losing you it’s just no good
You teasing like you do

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind

Lost inside
Adorable illusion and I cannot hide
I’m the one you’re using, please don’t push me aside
We coulda made it cruising, yeah

La, da, da, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
La, da, da, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
La, da, da, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
Yeah, riding high on love’s true bluish light

Ooh, oh, ooh, oh
Ooh, oh, ooh, oh

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass
Seemed like the real thing only to find
Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind

Ooh, oh, ooh, oh
Ooh, oh, ooh, oh


Thanks, everyone, for that talk. I really enjoyed it, and I mean that. What a fascinating tool the tetrad provides. I particularly appreciated the collective takes on VR, AI, COVID…

I also watched this talk by McLuhan, which seemed to encapsulte the thesis of his book pretty well:

It also shows some of the humor, wit, and flow-state that McLuhan was so capable of that @PureMemory referred to. I find it funny that he seems be standing in front of a folding bleachers that remind my of my high school gymnasium. Now there’s a retrieval.

One thing I’ve wondered, in terms of the flow of media transformations through enhancement, retrieval, and so on, and particularly into the phase of reversal, is whether that maps to Gebser’s notion of how a consciousness passes through phases of efficiency and deficiency, so the reversal happens as a consequence of pushing harder in a particular direction while experiencing diminishing returns?

And the Café itself? At its best, what might it enhance? I say, collective intelligence. A sense of play, wonder. The Cloud of Unknowing. Obsolece? The talking head. The lecture. The expert. Retrieve? The monologue, the jazz ensemble, the sandbox, show and tell. Reverse into??? How about… subjectivity… nostalgia…. embracing the death space?

I for one find the reversal zone one of the most interesting places to be. What does the death space enhance? Perhaps freedom, the present moment, the poignancy of time. What does it get rid of? Innocence. Transcendence. Meaning. What does it retreive? The unborn, the unmanifest, pure possibility. What does it reverse into? I would say: eros, ignorance, energy, repetition. (As a child goes down the playground slide: Again!)


Just a quick “coincidence.” I started the conversation about the tetrad using the example of Virtual Reality, and afterwards “stumbled” upon the TV show called Kiss Me First, on Netflix, which involves a bunch of teenagers negotiating real reality and virtual reality. I never quite understood the draw of virtual reality, but I guess it is because I always had Nature to retreat to, whether it was finding tadpoles in the ditch across the street, or hanging out in the tree house my brother and I built. Not all kids have that luxury.


I had similar connections to Gebser emerging as I was reading McLuhan. I think it would be fruitful to draw them out more. In fact was thinking about doing that for the next Gebser conference. Anybody interested in joining me in this endeavor???


I agee, Marco, that our group participation enhances collective intelligence. And I would nuance that and claim what “we” practice at our best is collaborative intelligence. I will, in the spirit of Mcluhan, add a gloss to the my application of the Tetrad to our Cafe society. The good news is that we can all have differences about the Cafe without conflicts.

And when the Cafe is at our best, we enhance collaborative intelligence, take personal responsibility for management of the"I" for the welfare of the group’s functioning, and share a skilled meta- attention. At our best, we create support for gestalt shifts between figure and ground, and cultivate the capacity to re-center during ambiguous multi-sensoried communiques from the field(s) of all possibility. We protect our participants from scapegoating and gaslighting, creating a safe container for novel ideas. We encourage the love of the Stranger.

And when at our best, what retrieve?

The Invisible College. A network of visionary-activists, concrete utopians, who live between worlds. We are awake to opportunites to co-sponsor those who are lost in the field and may have been traumatized by the fear of violence, and the schooling imposed by the Military Industrial Infotainment Complex. We can touch the psychic wounds of the sacred Other without flinching and also simultaneously renew contact with ecstatic communion through the arts. As the current regimes destabilze further, we can re-direct attention and bring forth different kinds of gestalt shifts that support human flourishing and bring heaven closer to earth. We speak( write) from the Integral.

And at our worst, what does the Cafe flip into?

Another talking heads, manipulated, sloppy, postmodern, chat fest. The archetype becomes a cliche. The figure detached from ground. The antidote for this tendency towards decoherence is to engage in gentle movement, breath work, drawing, chanting, and a re-centering within the central channel experienced within the core of the human body/mind. When centered the group is better able to open to the field as vision and purpose are openly shared and freely communicated with an emphasis upon the analogical, thus minimizing effects of hidden agendas and exposing shadow forces.

And finally what do we get rid of?

We obscelesce the dominant metaphor of war. We release the attachment to the Father, Mother, Child dynamic and embrace the return of a Queer Christ ( the Divine Androgyne) and the Electric Buddha,and attune to the other futures and pasts that made the first Axial Age possible. Continuing to transmit to us through the vibrant pulse of the Invisible College, we are re-incarnating potentials during our current civilizational collapse. A new form is arising from the ashes , with new biosocial geometries emerging.


I have much to share, Lisa, about your invitation. I had a dream about this but I will press the pause button and wait patiently for the appropriate time/space coordinations. Thanks!


Hi Lisa, I would like at the very least to talk about McLuhan and Gebser, and see what comes of it. I noticed a couple places where McLuhan (or a commentator/collaborator, in the case of the preface to The Global Village) links the tetrad with “integral awareness”; another connection to the integral concept is that the four-fold structure of the tetrad has some formal correspondence with the “four quadrants” of Ken Wilber’s integral theory. It also recalls the later Heidegger’s “fourfold” of earth, sky, gods, and mortals. And, as has been mentioned, Aristotle’s fourfold causes.

I would be particularly interested, however, in studying and going deeper into the last chapter of Laws of Media, on “Media Poetics.” I think McLuhan is bringing attention to a similar yet different kind of grammar than Gebser did in his study on the “grammatical mirror” of the integral mutations in poetry he was aware of. The tetrad seems to offer a “key” of sorts to deciphering the grammatical structure (or how the syntax flows) of the whole realm of human creations, if we grant that the things we make are “words” in this meta-language of the things themselves.

That said, I think it is interesting that McLuhan explicitly excludes the Quadrivium from his approach—he does not do mathematics, astronomy, geometry, or music. He is all about grammar, rhetoric, dialectic (which I have always seen as “logic”). Susanne Langer], whom we just previously studied, her Philosophy in a New Key, is more sensitive to the musical dimensions of the transformation of what she calls symbols. I imagine that we could calls McLuhan’s “words” symbols too.

The musical dimension is the temporal dimension—it is about how formal transformations, with specific shapes and sounds (which are symbolic, according to Langer), flow in time and we feel something. McLuhan focuses of the logical transformations of the patterns he discerns in all human productions. That is another difference from Gebser as well, who I think describes a variety of qualities of the integral mutation, from aesthetics to grammar to its dimensionality, without reducing the field to a particular four aspects or effects.

I like your nuance here, John, and prefer “collaborative” to “collective” too actually, since the former preserves the sense of individuals in community, as well as a sense of “labor” (as in, we must labor to be beautiful… excellent… at our best), whereas collective erases the individual somewhat. I love all the rest you have to say, too. Much to smile about. Yours is an omni-perspectival, open-ended, reflexive and suggestive statement that I would like to return to, retrieve, carry forward.


I can sense, Marco, the shadow of your smile. I’m smiling, too, as I feel the labor to be beautiful is too big an agenda for anyone to carry forward alone. Though I’m very glad you spent some time at the beach, and we perservered without your presence in the zoom calls, I felt we had to rush the last chapter, due to my desire to sieze the day. I feel so many day slipping away, and it takes a perseverence to re-direct attention. So, the Cafe rewards us as individuals, too.

I have wanted for a long time to create conditions towards a “poetics turn” and McLuhan was testing the waters. The struggle with the Tetrads is gift that keeps on giving. Many other cultural artifacts ( is a dream a human artefact?) have been held more lightly since our study and that is good. I imagine if we could have another Cafe we could make more McLuhan/Gebser connections and create conditions for a collaborative research project. Maybe we could organize a zoom event for that purpose?

This study has also helped me to re-orient myself around a previous writing project that I have put on hold to deal with the new realities spawned by the pandemic. What I glean from McLuhan is that the forces that would isolate us and turn our data into profits for the few will not succeed as technology has a mind of its own that will by pass such efforts. That the Metaverse has just had the worst loss in recorded economic history is a " sign." Because new media alters the ratios of our senses they can’t be taught to perform for the corporations any better than they perform for the average user. New categories and new forms emerging can wipe out the future Zuckerberg planned to cash in on, by manipulating our traumatized attentions. And the CDC forcing large groups of humanity to submit to medicalization regimes as if we were GMO products is starting to reverse, too. It is my belief that studying Blake, Whitman and Milton has been an antidote to these efforts to reduce us, and I expect that we can amplify, retrieve, reverse, and obsolesce even better. Let’s keep it organic.


I had the feeling that there could be some interesting unturned stones in that direction. Focusing on the “Media Poetics” of Laws of Media, and bringing in Gebser, could be a good way to practice reading and rearranging the signs that present themselves to aperspectival awareness. We could also devote some time to thinking about the conference that @Lisa mentioned, and explore collaborative potentials. I still feel like I need some more practice with the Tetrad.

For example, we could think about “integral consciousness,” and what does it enhance, obsolesce, retrieve, reverse into? I’m on my way out the door at the moment, so don’t have a quick take. But I would like to do some more reading, and give it some real thought over the next couple weeks. Maybe we could schedule something for early March…


Maybe we can do a practicum for the current Cafe series? Seth and I have worked with Clean Language and the Tetrads and I would like to share some of that collaboration.

There is also the problem of scale which we are in the midst of learning about the hard way. Is there an easier way? Yes, it is called the Imaginal Way and humanity has barely scratched the surface. And it takes more than a village of virtual reality goggle mask users to create this kind of Supramental contact. With the shared desired outcome(s) to use the tech while staying in rapport with the rhythmic flows of earth and sky with bare feet in the dirt, we could create unheard of wonders. A little bird told me.

Why do humans sleep eight hours, elephants three, and mice two? How are scales, sensory ratios, and the other than human changed through direct perceptions of alternate phases of consciousnesses? Can this direct perception happen on purpose? This kind of remote perception is already accelerating. Bring it on, baby!

Although the the Tetrads are for human artefacts ( for obvious reasons) I still feel that if enough human persons could re-train themselves and tune into the invisible curriculum and make explicit gestalt shifts, we would become more coherent communicators within the field(s) that all animals are entangled within. The ratios could be altered in coherent ways. The interplay between multiple intelligences using this new curriculum could be enhanced, retrieved, flipped, obscelesced. New Laws , such as the four McLuhan has developed, could overlap with other topological projections and re-translate into the basic 3D oriented language systems. These are the kinds of ideas that I call sexy.


Not All Those Who Wander are Lost

Alan Watts Magic in every littlest act & thought

Let Bodies Move,Dance, Share & Voices Sing for Culture is a Garden to
Be Cultivated with Care…Play … & Beauty of an Open Heart (Sexy)!

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Just “throwing this out there” as good john davis is wont to bard :slight_smile:


Hi John, why don’t we set aside 10 minutes at the end of the Café this Thursday to make a plan?

  • And does the Imaginal Way… have a size or a shape?

  • And what does the Imaginal Way enhance? And what does it retrieve?

  • And whereabouts is the Imaginal Way?

  • And what does the Imaginal Way overcome? And what does it succumb to?

In the above I have obviously mixed Clean Language style questions with McLuhanesque tetrads, and have added my own twist at the end—perhaps these approaches are like ontological goggles that we can mix and match in Imaginal Reality?

This is not just like hacking the nervous system but like sensitizing it in particular ways, upgrading the core/innate perceptual system rather than (or in addition to) enhancing it with technical add-ons. I wonder if they could work together, Virtual and Imaginal, as both/and (+ neither/nor) options for the integral self?



Interesting questions. Yes, let’s plan on that at the end of our session on Strange Loops. I will dream about that.


Some meta-reflections upon the use of meta-models. You generated some interesting questions, a conceptual blending of Clean Language and the Tetrads. I take this as a ‘sign’ that ‘we’ are starting to meta-model and learning how we might learn to escape from the tyranny of structureless- ness. What follows is a response to the cluster of questions you have asked with the expectation that we can model McLuhan’s model. And to practice this I focus on a sequence from a great movie. I have offered a clip of how this scene was made and maybe we can bring together nested loops and delve into our own practices with media poetics. My desired outcome is to create conditions that will enable us to structure feedback more effectively.

And when you take a shower, all alone in the house, have you ever thought of the shower scene from Psycho?

The shower scene could be viewed as a juxtaposition of nested strange loops that map across multiple sensory modalities which create non-linear dramatic effects without the use of words. We can experience this scene as a strange, non-verbal duet, a montage of assymmetric forces of different shapes and sizes, ( that is the biggest butcher knife I have ever seen!) There is, however, a logic of dramatic action that operates as a through line which directs the audience attention, setting up a frame ( soothing, sensuous, shower) and then breaking that frame, suddenly. The scene enhances an embodied contact with different kinds of thought-forms, that scramble our sense ratios as the veil of our ignorance is lifted, and when we try to grab onto the slippery, soapy, shower curtain, we glimpe into what is behind the flimsy curtain, an immense abyss, a pre-categorical world, beyond the dashboard, the thing itself . What we don’t know can hurt us. Figure and ground flip on us in a flash. The director is hyper-conscious. Nothing is arbitrary or wasted. The director’s cool detachment heightens the horror.

The shower scene is an example of what I suggest comes from the Imaginal, very similar to but subtly different from the liminal. The Imaginal is not just a subjective state produced by an isolated sensorium, as in reverie or fantasy, but has an objective component, coming out of the human neurology that we all share. In our conversation on Hofstadter we discussed intersubjectivities and inter-objectivities and the nature of the Invisible Therapeutic Third, which acts as a benevolent egregoric force. We also discussed the weird loop of the Klein bottle ( a non-orientable 2D surface turned into a shareable projection from 4D by our kinesthetic-visual minds in overlaps).

With all of that as background, I would suggest that the shower scene, when reflected upon in the clip below, by the artists who made it, reveals a shared desired outcome and the capacity to work with the laws of poetic media. As the shower scene is a human artifact, and a skillfully constructed performance, I wonder how we might enhance our study of Hofstadter by adding this film sequence to our mix of cultural artifacts that we can investigate?

And when you first saw the shower scene, was it on a TV screen, a computer screen, or a movie screen?

And are you aware of the acoustic space and the visual space as you watch?

And what difference does the technology make when you think about your experience?

And when shower scene, what happens first? (CL)

And then what happens? (CL)

And what does the shower scene enhance? (Tetrad)

And what does the shower scene retrieve? ( Tetrad)

And what does the shower scene flip into? (Tetrad)

And what does the shower scene obsolesce? ( Tetrad)

And what do we know now about the digital and the analogue that we didn’t know before? ( CL)

And will digitized AI performers be achieving this kind of performance any time soon?

The Imaginal Way, I suspect, much like Gebser’s Aperspectival, is already here and rides piggy back upon previous structures of consciousness. Janet Leigh makes a remark that has a semantic ambiguity. She speaks of the ‘cut’ the director calls out during the making of a film and the ‘cut’ of a butcher knife during a violent act. How the editor ‘cuts’ the scene can ‘cut’ the audience, an interplay of figure / ground within a coherent artistic vision, implemented by many individual talents, ironic ( working on different levels simultaneously). What is figure to the au)dience, is ground for the performers and can create a strange flip as we move through the twist in the mobius strip of the mind. Final is to Formal as Efficient is to Material. I heard that lots of people stopped taking showers, when alone in the house, after seeing this movie. Illusion or delusion?

The making of the Shower Scene in Psycho


On Media Poetics and Mutations in Perceptual Space…

I reflected on “the true life” with a recollection from Don Delillo’s Point Omega introducing the psyche of a man in the desert. That same book begins with an eerily meditative scene describing a man who is witnessing an art exhibit by Douglas Gordon titled “24 Hour Psycho,” which was a real installation that played at the MoMA, among other locations, in 2006. 24 Hour Psycho slows down the Hitchcock film so that the whole thing plays over the course of 24 hours, and it continues looping. This ends up being a very different way to experience the film, and DeLillo describes a man standing in the shadows, closely watching, as museum visitors come and go, meta-aware of the whole gestalt, the play of perspectives and shadows.

So we have an author creating dramatic fiction based on a conceptual film artist’s reframing of a legendary auteur-director’s adaptation of the an original work of fiction, which we are reflecting on the emergent totality of in this forum. One can witness how the idea transforms through the different media, and with some thinking, what each form of expression adds, subtracts, and reformats in our perceptual space. The time in which things happens—the duration—where attention lingers and where it jumps to, is significant. Where the “cuts” are made, and who directs these cuts, becomes decisive.

I thought it was significant that while the shower scene shows us an event in the dramatic action of the film, the whole creative challenge actually centered on how to make us (the audience) think we saw something that we didn’t actually see. It is akin to being in Plato’s cave. No matter what a prisoner is seeing phenomenologically, they are only really deluded if they think they are seeing a real reality. Seeing the shadows on the wall as shadows, they would not be deluded.

I probably first saw Psycho on the TV as a kid; it played occasionally on some of the old classic-movie cable channels. But a few years ago I went to see in the theater—I think it was being shown again for an anniversary with some critical retrospectives. I remember it was particularly disturbing in a way that regular movies are not. I find now that the scene is truly brutal and not something I want to see. But did I ever really see it? Or did I just think I saw it? And what if I saw it differently, at a different tempo? How might my mind fill in the gaps (resonant intervals?) differently between the film director’s cuts?