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Remembering Gregory Bateson
Jon Lebkowsky, 22 Nov 04
Gregory Bateson

John Brockman's Edge has a centennial remembrance of the late Gregory Bateson, a great eclectic thinker and generalist who was a tremendous influence on Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth crowd. Developer of the double bind theory of psychology, which focused on a confusion in the perception of messages communicated by parents and parental behaviors, extremes of which were thought to play a part in causing schizophrenia. Bateson was drawn to cybernetics and systems theory, and talked about the pattern that connects, a phrase that has stuck in my mind since I saw it in Bateson's writings. Brockman's Edge includes a piece he wrote about Bateson in 1974:

"Very few people have any idea of what I am talking about," Bateson says as he picks at a piece of fish in a Malibu restaurant. We are having dinner and discussing his plans for a new book concerning evolutionary theory. It is June 1973. (At the AUM Conference in March, I had been pressed into service as a literary agent.)

Bateson defies simple labeling, easy explanation. People have problems with his work. He talks of being an explorer who cannot know what he is exploring until it has been explored. His introduction to Steps states: "I found that in my work with primitive peoples, schizophrenia, biological symmetry, and in my discontent with the conventional theories of evolution and learning, I had identified a widely scattered set of bench marks as points of reference from which a new scientific territory could be defined. These bench marks I have called 'Steps' in the title of the book."

But this is where Bateson gets difficult. Just what is this new scientific territory'? Most people look for the next place, the next piece of knowledge. Instead, Bateson presents an epistemology so radical that as one climbs from step to step, the ground supporting the ladder abruptly vanishes. Not easy, this cybernetic explanation of Gregory Bateson. Not comfortable. Not supportive. Not loving. The center dissolves, and man is dead; and in his place we have the metaphysical "I". So dismiss yourself; let go: There's nothing lost.

(The Steps reference is to Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind.)

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Fortunately, Bateson's "Steps Toward an Ecology of Mind" is not out of print.

It's at Amazon and you can see it here.

Posted by: Robert Thornton on 23 Nov 04

Thanks! I amended the post.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 23 Nov 04



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