So you think you know the answer?

McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, E. (1992). “Tetrads.” In Laws of media: The new science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Concepts: barbaric state (first nature), civilized state (second nature), artifacts, tetrads, enhancements as amputations, no single truth.


1. “In other words, the crucial study that remains is that of working out in precise detail the relations between second and first natures: which organs or faculties are extend or stressed or numbed and in which pattern or degree by each one of our artifacts.” (p. 117)

2. “There is no right way to read a tetrad, as the arts are simultaneous” (p. 129)

3. “In every fixed definition there is obsolescence or failed insight” (p. 100)


Enhancements are amputations that create new environments while simultaneously restructuring old environments. Artifacts, translations of us being neither neutral nor passive, are examined within our savage first-nature and our civilized second-nature. His tetrad reflects the dynamics of: Enhancement, Regression, Recreation, and Obsolesce where there is no single truth.


McLuhan continues to explore the juxtaposition of extension and amputation. He asks us to explore the body of artifacts as “translations of us” (p. 116). He claims the evidence is empirical that each media must be considered with no “hierarchy or orderly sequence” (p. 116) in its relation to both our barbaric first nature and that of our more civil second nature.

By applying the scientific method of a tetrad, he accurately calls attention to the resulting confluence and power struggle of man’s ongoing journey from the first nature to the second and his additional challenges of overlaying new artifacts onto the existing. Leveraging McLuhan we can explain man’s reluctance to embrace new artifacts; his primal barbaric self fells more at home with the mechanical club than the android likeness of himself. Our barbaric nature may be stronger than our drive towards our civilized nature. For example, if we could shed our innate primitiveness we could apply left hemisphere artifacts to build a civilized well-fed, well-educated peaceful global society. I wonder would McLuhan claim man or artifact to be the gating factor?

We make significant advancements via left hemisphere artifacts and yet we posses an unending need to walk backwards into the future. In many cases we missed opportunity for human growth that should accompany the electronic extension of the conscious and unconscious. What causes the backwards walking? McLuhan suggests tetrads provide a basis for prediction — I wonder if the only thing predictable is the ongoing imbalance of the first and second nature of man within the tetrad. Why is he never ready to fully shed the trappings of the past and mindfully explore the untamed possibilities of the future even when the new artifact sits before him? I contend it is the application of our artifacts, like the artifacts themselves, that is translations of us. For all our advancements the only single truth is the struggle between the first nature and the second nature of man and our existence in the tetrad of “Enhancement, Regression, Recreation, and Obsolesce” (p.99).


Last night many heard the ongoing battle for the Presidency. In seeing this I was made to ponder what McLuhan would say about how we are using left hemisphere electronic media as right brain “club” extensions of their forearms/fists. Politics, one of the last bastions of rhetoric and decorum, uses this electronic nervous system extension to recede backwards to a barbaric pre-enlightened version of Nature noted by Aristotle. In this case, what did the artifacts of television and Twitter make obsolete? Was it man’s sense of reason all together? How does the application of this artifact define us?

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