Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lure of Bateson

So, another great event at the Institute of General Semantics-sponsored New Languages, New Relations, New Realities Symposium at Fordham University was the preview screening of Nora Bateson's documentary about her father, Gregory Bateson.  We had an earlier preview of the film at this past June's Media Ecology Association meeting in Maine, and I was very grateful that Nora agreed to come to New York City last month for the general semantics event.

Gregory Bateson gave the 1970 Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, and his daughter, and Nora's sister, Mary Catherine Bateson, was last year's AKMLer.  Mary Catherine is the daughter of Margaret Mead, Gregory's first wife, and Nora is the daughter of his third wife, Lois, who we were also honored to have present for Nora's screening and Deborah Tannen's Korzybski Lecture.  

So, you can check out Nora's official website for her film, An Ecology of Mind, subtitled A Daughter's Portrait of Gregory Bateson, at  It includes an homage to Bateson written by systems theorist Fritjof Capra, and here's one excerpt from that essay:

He made significant contributions to several sciences — anthropology, cybernetics, psychiatry, and, most important of all, to the new interdisciplinary field of cognitive science, which he pioneered. But perhaps even more important is the fact that he championed a new way of thinking, which is extremely relevant to our time — thinking in terms of relationships, connections, patterns, and context. As we replace the Newtonian metaphor of the world as a machine by the metaphor of the network, and as complexity becomes a principal focus in science, the kind of systemic thinking that Bateson advocated is becoming crucial.

Nora's site also includes a trailer for the film, and there's a version on YouTube with Italian subtitle's that I can embed here for you (but by all means, check out too, because there's a lot more to look at there):

And here's another excerpt found on YouTube:

Gregory Bateson's work cuts across many disciplines, and certainly adds an important dimension to general semantics, as general semantics emphasizes the relationship of the individual to the environment, whereas Bateson adds an emphasis on the relationship of one individual to another.  Along with his pioneering work in cybernetics and systems theory, he also set the stage for the study of relational communication, including family communication, through his contributions to psychiatry (e.g., the notions of codependency and enabling are derived from his work).  And his work is important for media ecology, in establishing a systems and ecological view on human thought and behavior.  


Neil Postman spoke highly of his book, Steps to An Ecology of Mind, back in the old days of the media ecology program.  And I would also recommend the follow-up volume, Mind and Nature.  Also significant in the fields of communication and psychotherapy is the volume he co-authored with Jurgen Ruesch (Bateson listed as second author), Communication:  The Social Matrix of Psychiatry.  His first two books were devoted to his anthropological research, Naven: A Survey of the Problems suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe drawn from Three Points of View, and Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis, the latter co-authored by Margaret Mead.  Two more books have been published posthumously, Angels Fear: Towards An Epistemology Of The Sacred, co-authored by Mary Catherine Bateson, and A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind, co-authored by Rodney E. Donaldson.

For a quick summary, there's always the wikipedia entry on Gregory Bateson, and the page devoted to him on the Institute for Intercultural Studies that he helped to found along with Margaret Mead.

Gregory Bateson's emblematic quote, taken from Mind and Nature, which appears on the IIS page and is highlighted in Nora's film, is

"What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?"

Patterns that connect, that's what Gregory Bateson is all about, indeed, that's what everything is all about!

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