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Bateson

Gregory Bateson.

Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904 – 4 July 1980) was a British anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. He was an interdisciplinary scientist at a time when science was becoming increasingly specialized. Some of his most noted writings are to be found in his books, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972), Mind and Nature (1980), and Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred (1988), the last published posthumously and co-authored with his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson).

BiographyEdit

Bateson was the son of the distinguished geneticist William Bateson.

Bateson is known for the "Double Bind" theory of schizophrenia and for being Margaret Mead's third husband. His most important work was in laying the foundations of a more inclusive vision for science--a meta-science, what he called epistemology. In academic circles he is considered by some to be a cult figure whose appeal includes his obscurity, eccentricity and diversity of accomplishment. Still, the rise of interest in holism, systems, and cybernetics have naturally led educators and students to Bateson's published work.

By his own admission Bateson was widely misunderstood, and the unconventionality of his style might be largely at fault. Bateson did not have much respect for contemporary academic scientific standards of writing, his works have often the form of an essay rather than a scientific paper, he used a lot of metaphors and his choice of sources tended to be unusual (for example citing old poets and ignoring recent scientific sources). At the same time, he wrote on a very abstract level. However, many scholars consider his works to contain a great deal of original thought and to reward careful reading. He has been a very important inspiration in the field of family therapy, and Neuro Linguistic Programming, having served as a mentor to both Richard Bandler and John Grinder and introducing them to medical hypnotist Milton Erickson.

Bateson was dismayed at the lack of contemporary science's knowledge of the fundamentals of science (see Intro to Steps) and the lack of understanding of complex systems theory. In his efforts to make the connections between related concepts in disparate fields his works often take the form of an essay rather than a scientific paper, he used metaphors and humor and his choice of sources tended to be unusual (for example citing old poets and ignoring recent scientific sources). At the same time, he wrote on a very abstract level. However, many scholars consider his works to contain a great deal of original thought and to reward careful reading. He has been an important influence in the development of family therapy, and Neuro Linguistic Programming, having served as a mentor to both Richard Bandler and John Grinder and introducing them to medical hypnotist Milton Erickson.

The thread that connects Bateson's work is systems theory/cybernetics, a science he helped to develop as one of the original members of the core group of the Macy Conferences. Bateson saw these paradigms in biology and math had an application in the social/behavioral sciences. He spent his last years seeking a unified definition as a metascience in epistemology, and this central interest provides the undercurrents of his thought. His association with the editor and author Stewart Brand was part of a process by which Bateson’s influence widened — for from the 1970s until Bateson’s last years, a broader audience of university students and educated people working in many fields came not only to know his name but also into contact (to varying degrees) with his thought.

In 1956, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Personal life Edit

Bateson's life, according to Lipset (1982), was greatly affected by the death of his two brothers. John Bateson (1898–1918), the eldest of the three, was killed in World War I. Martin Bateson (1900–1922), the second brother, was then expected to follow in his father's footsteps as a scientist, but came into conflict with William over his ambition to become a poet and playwright. The resulting stress, combined with a disappointment in love, resulted in Martin's public suicide by gunshot under the statue of Anteros in Piccadilly Circus on 22 April 1922, which was John's birthday. After this event, which transformed a private family tragedy into public scandal, all William and Beatrice's ambitious expectations fell on Gregory Bateson, their only surviving son.[1]

Bateson's first marriage, in 1936, was to American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.[2] Bateson and Mead had a daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson (born 1939), who also became an anthropologist.[3]

Bateson decided to separate from Mead in 1947, and they were formally divorced in 1950.[4] In 1951 Bateson married his second wife Elizabeth "Betty" Sumner (1919–1992), who was the daughter of the Episcopalian Bishop of Chicago, Walter Taylor Sumner.[5] They had a son, John Sumner Bateson (born 1952), as well as twins who died in infancy. Bateson and Sumner were divorced in 1957, after which Bateson married his third wife, therapist and social worker Lois Cammack (born 1928), in 1961. They had one daughter, Nora Bateson (born 1969).[5]

PhilosophyEdit

Where others might see a set of inexplicable details, Bateson perceived simple relationships.[6] In "From Versailles to Cybernetics," Bateson argues that the history of the twentieth century can be perceived as the history of a malfunctioning relationship. In his view, the Treaty of Versailles exemplifies a whole pattern of human relationships based on betrayal and hate. He therefore claims that the treaty of Versailles and the development of cybernetics—which for him represented the possibility of improved relationships—are the only two anthropologically important events of the twentieth century.[7]

Work Edit

Early Work Edit

Bateson’s beginning years as an anthropologist were spent floundering, lost without a specific objective in mind. He began first with a trip to New Guinea, spurred by mentor A. C. Haddon.[8] His goal, as suggested by Haddon, was to explore the effects of contact between the Sepik natives and whites. Unfortunately for Bateson, his time spent with the Baining of New Guinea was halted and difficult. The Baining turned out to be secretive and excluded him from many aspects of their society. On more than one occasion Bateson was tricked into missing communal activities, and held out on their religion.[8] Bateson left them, frustrated. He next studied the Sulka, another native population of New Guinea. Although the Sulka were dramatically different from the Baining, and their culture much more “visible” to the observer, Bateson felt their culture was dying, which left him feeling dispirited and discouraged.[8]

He experienced more success with the Iatmul, another native people of the Sepik River region of New Guinea. Bateson would always return to the idea of communications and relations or interactions between and among people. The observations he made of the Iatmul allowed him to develop his term “schismogenesis.” Bateson studied the “naven,” an Iatmul ceremony in which the gender roles were reversed and exaggerated; men dressed in the women’s work skirts, and women dressed up in the clothing of the men.[8] The point of this ceremonial ritual was to applaud a child for having completed an adult act for the first time. The mother’s brother (of the child) would dress in a woman’s skirts and simulate copulation, as a woman.[8] Bateson suggested the influence of a circular system of causation, and proposed that:

Women watched for the spectacular performances of the men, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the presence of an audience is a very important factor in shaping the men's behavior. In fact, it is probable that the men are more exhibitionistic because the women admire their performances. Conversely, there can be no doubt that the spectacular behavior is a stimulus which summons the audience together, promoting in the women the appropriate behavior.[8]

In short, the behavior of person X affects person Y, and the reaction of person Y to person X’s behavior will then affect person X’s behavior, which in turn will affect person Y, and so on. Bateson called this the “vicious circle”.[8] He then discerned two models of schismogenesis: symmetrical and complementary.[8] Symmetrical relationships are those in which the two parties are equals, competitors, such as in sports. Complementary relationships feature an unequal balance, such as dominance-submission (parent-child), or exhibitionism-spectatorship (performer-audience). Bateson’s experiences with the Iatmul led him to write a book titled chronicling the Iatmul’s ceremonial rituals and discussing the structure and function of their culture.

He next traveled to Bali with his new wife Margaret Mead. They studied the people of the Balinese village Bajoeng Gede. Here, Lipset states, “in the short history of ethnographic fieldwork, film was used both on a large scale and as the primary research tool”.[8] Indeed, Bateson took 25,000 photographs of their Balinese subjects.[9]

Bateson discovered that the people of Bajoeng Gede raised their children very unlike children raised in Western societies. Instead of attention being paid to a child who was displaying a climax of emotion (love or anger), Balinese mothers would ignore them. Bateson notes, “The child responds to [a mother’s] advances with either affection or temper, but the response falls into a vacuum. In Western cultures, such sequences lead to small climaxes of love or anger, but not so in Bali. At the moment when a child throws its arms around the mother’s neck or bursts into tears, the mother’s attention wanders”.[8] This model of stimulation and refusal was also seen in other areas of the culture. Bateson later described the style of Balinese relations as stasis instead of schismogenesis. Their interactions were “muted” and did not follow the schismogenetic process because they did not often escalate competition, dominance, or submission.[8]

File:SOCyberntics.png
Bateson's encounter with Mead on the Sepik river (Chapter 16) and their life together in Bali (Chapter 17) is described in Mead's autobiography "Blackberry Winter – My Earlier Years" (Angus and Robertson. London. 1973). Catherine's birth in New York on December 8, 1939 is recounted in Chapter 18.

Double bind Edit

Main article: double bind

In 1956 in Palo Alto Gregory Bateson and his colleagues Donald Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland[11] articulated a related theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations. The perceived symptoms and confusing statements of schizophrenics were therefore an expression of this distress, and should be valued as a cathartic and transformative experience. The double bind refers to a communication paradox described first in families with a schizophrenic member. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind Bateson cites Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, as the first place where double binds were described (but not labeled). The semi-autobiographical novel was about Victorian hypocrisy and cover-up.

Full double bind requires several conditions to be met:[citation needed]

  1. The victim of double bind receives contradictory injunctions or emotional messages on different levels of communication (for example, love is expressed by words, and hate or detachment by nonverbal behaviour; or a child is encouraged to speak freely, but criticised or silenced whenever he or she actually does so).
  2. No metacommunication is possible – for example, asking which of the two messages is valid or describing the communication as making no sense.
  3. The victim cannot leave the communication field.
  4. Failing to fulfill the contradictory injunctions is punished (for example, by withdrawal of love).

The double bind was originally presented (probably mainly under the influence of Bateson's psychiatric co-workers) as an explanation of part of the etiology of schizophrenia. Currently, it is considered to be more important as an example of Bateson's approach to the complexities of communication which is what he understood it to be.[citation needed]

Somatic Change in Evolution Edit

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary the term somatic is basically defined as the body or body cells of change distinguished from germplasm or psyche/mind. Gregory Bateson writes about how the actual physical changes in the body occur within evolutionary processes.[12] He describes this through the introduction of the concept of “economics of flexibility”.[12] In his conclusion he makes seven statements or theoretical positions which may be supported by his ideology.

The first is the idea that although environmental stresses have theoretically been believed to guide or dictate the changes in the soma (physical body), the introduction of new stresses do not automatically result in the physical changes necessary for survival, as suggested by original evolutionary theory.[12] In fact the introduction of these stresses can greatly weaken the organism. An example that he gives is the sheltering of a sick person from the weather or the fact that someone who works in an office would have a hard time working as a rock climber and vice versa. The second position states that though “the economics of flexibility has a logical structure-each successive demand upon flexibility fractioning the set of available possibilities”.[12] This means that theoretically speaking each demand or variable creates a new set of possibilities. Bateson’s third conclusion is “that the genotypic change commonly makes demand upon the adjustive ability of the soma”.[12] This, he states, is the commonly held belief among biologists although there is no evidence to support the claim. Added demands are made on the soma by sequential genotypic modifications is the fourth position. Through this he suggests the following three expectations[12]:

  1. The idea that organisms that have been through recent modifications will be delicate.
  2. The belief that these organisms will become progressively harmful or dangerous.
  3. That over time these new “breeds” will become more resistant to the stresses of the environment and change in genetic traits.

The fifth theoretical position which Bateson believes is supported by his data is that characteristics within an organism that have been modified due to environmental stresses may coincide with genetically determined attributes.[12] His sixth position is that it takes less economic flexibility to create somatic change than it does to cause a genotypic modification. The seventh and final theory he believes to be supported is the idea that in rare occasions there will be populations whose changes will not be in accordance with the thesis presented within this paper. According to Bateson, none of these positions (at the time) could be tested but he called for the creation of a test which could possibly prove or disprove the theoretical positions suggested within.[12]

Ecological Anthropology and CyberneticsEdit

In his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Bateson applied cybernetics to the field of ecological anthropology and the concept of homeostasis.[13] He saw the world as a series of systems containing those of individuals, societies and ecosystems. Within each system is found competition and dependency. Each of these systems has adaptive changes which depend upon feedback loops to control balance by changing multiple variables. Bateson believed that these self-correcting systems were conservative by controlling exponential slippage. He saw the natural ecological system as innately good as long as it was allowed to maintain homeostasis[13] and that the key unit of survival in evolution was an organism and its environment.[13]

Bateson also viewed that all three systems of the individual, society and ecosystem were all together a part of one supreme cybernetic system that controls everything instead of just interacting systems.[13] This supreme cybernetic system is beyond the self of the individual and could be equated to what many people refer to as God, though Bateson referred to it as Mind.[13] While Mind is a cybernetic system, it can only be distinguished as a whole and not parts. Bateson felt Mind was immanent in the messages and pathways of the supreme cybernetic system. He saw the root of system collapses as a result of Occidental or Western epistemology. According to Bateson consciousness is the bridge between the cybernetic networks of individual, society and ecology and that the mismatch between the systems due to improper understanding will be result in the degradation of the entire supreme cybernetic system or Mind. Bateson saw consciousness as developed through Occidental epistemology was at direct odds with Mind.[13]

At the heart of the matter is scientific hubris. Bateson argues that Occidental epistemology perpetuates a system of understanding which is purpose or means-to-an-end driven.[13] Purpose controls attention and narrows perception, thus limiting what comes into consciousness and therefore limiting the amount of wisdom that can be generated from the perception. Additionally Occidental epistemology propagates the false notion that man exists outside Mind and this leads man to believe in what Bateson calls the philosophy of control based upon false knowledge.[13]

Bateson presents Occidental epistemology as a method of thinking that leads to a mindset in which man exerts an autocratic rule over all cybernetic systems.[13] In exerting his autocratic rule man changes the environment to suit him and in doing so he unbalances the natural cybernetic system of controlled competition and mutual dependency. The purpose driven accumulation of knowledge ignores the supreme cybernetic system and leads to the eventual breakdown of the entire system. Bateson claims that man will never be able to control the whole system because it does not operate in a linear fashion and if man creates his own rules for the system, he opens himself up to becoming a slave to the self-made system due to the non-linear nature of cybernetics. Lastly, man’s technological prowess combined with his scientific hubris gives him to potential to irrevocably damage and destroy the supreme cybernetic system, instead of just disrupting the system temporally until the system can self-correct.[13]

Bateson argues for a position of humility and acceptance of the natural cybernetic system instead of scientific arrogance as a solution.[13] He believes that humility can come about by abandoning the view of operating through consciousness alone. Consciousness is only one way in which to obtain knowledge and without complete knowledge of the entire cybernetic system disaster is inevitable. The limited conscious must be combined with the unconscious in complete synthesis. Only when thought and emotion are combined in whole is man able to obtain complete knowledge. He believed that religion and art are some of the few areas in which a man is acting as a whole individual in complete consciousness. By acting with this greater wisdom of the supreme cybernetic system as a whole man can change his relationship to Mind from one of schism, in which he is endlessly tied up in constant competition, to one of complementarity. Bateson argues for a culture that promotes the most general wisdom and is able to flexibly change within the supreme cybernetic system.[13]

Other terms used by Bateson Edit

  • Abduction. Used by Bateson to refer to a third scientific methodology (along with induction and deduction) which was central to his own holistic and qualitative approach. Refers to a method of comparing patterns of relationship, and their symmetry or asymmetry (as in, for example, comparative anatomy), especially in complex organic (or mental) systems. The term was originally coined by American Philosopher/Logician Charles Sanders Peirce, who used it to refer to the process by which scientific hypotheses are generated.
  • Criteria of Mind (from Mind and Nature A Necessary Unity):[13]
  1. Mind is an aggregate of interacting parts or components.
  2. The interaction between parts of mind is triggered by difference.
  3. Mental process requires collateral energy.
  4. Mental process requires circular (or more complex) chains of determination.
  5. In mental process the effects of difference are to be regarded as transforms (that is, coded versions) of the difference which preceded them.
  6. The description and classification of these processes of transformation discloses a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.
  • Creatura and Pleroma. Borrowed from Carl Jung who applied these gnostic terms in his "Seven Sermons To the Dead".[14] Like the Hindu term maya, the basic idea captured in this distinction is that meaning and organization are projected onto the world. Pleroma refers to the non-living world that is undifferentiated by subjectivity; Creatura for the living world, subject to perceptual difference, distinction, and information.
  • Deuterolearning. A term he coined in the 1940s referring to the organization of learning, or learning to learn:[15]

Continuing extensions of Bateson's work Edit

The legacy of Gregory Bateson was reintroduced to new audiences by filmmaker and daughter Nora Bateson, with the release of An Ecology of Mind, a documentary that premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival.[19] This film was selected as the audience favourite with the Morton Marcus Documentary Feature Award at the 2011 Santa Cruz Film Festival,[20] and honoured with the 2011 John Culkin Award for Outstanding Praxis in the Field of Media Ecology by the Media Ecology Association.[21]

The Bateson Idea Group (BIG) initiated a web presence in October 2010. The group has collaborated with the American Society for Cybernetics for a joint meeting in July 2012 at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in California.


Epigrams coined by or referred to by BatesonEdit

  • Number is different from quantity.
  • The map is not the territory, and the name is not the thing named. Coined by Alfred Korzybski.
  • There are no monotone "values" in biology.
  • Logic is a poor model of cause and effect.
  • Language commonly stresses only one side of any interaction.
  • Bateson defines information as "a difference that makes a difference" [1] [2]

Terms used by BatesonEdit

  • Abduction. Used by Bateson to refer to a third scientific methodology (along with induction and deduction) which was central to his own holistic and qualitative approach. Refers to a method of comparing patterns of relationship, and their symmetry or asymmetry (as in, for example, comparative anatomy), especially in complex organic (or mental) systems.
  • Criteria of Mind:[22]
  1. Mind is an aggregate of interacting parts or components.
  2. The interaction between parts of mind is triggered by difference.
  3. Mental process requires collateral energy.
  4. Mental process requires circular (or more complex) chains of determination.
  5. In mental process the effects of difference are to be regarded as transforms (that is, coded versions) of the difference which preceded them.
  6. The description and classification of these processes of transformation discloses a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.
  • Creatura and Pleroma. Borrowed from Carl Jung who applied these Gnostic terms in his "The Seven Sermons To the Dead". Like the Hindu term maya, the basic idea captured in this distinction is that meaning and organization are projected onto the world. Pleroma refers to the non-living world that is undifferentiated by subjectivity; Creatura for the living world, subject to perceptual difference, distinction, and information.
  • The Double Bind. This refers to a communication paradox described first in families with a schizophrenic member. Full double bind requires several conditions to be met: a) The victim of double bind receives contradictory injuctions or emotional messages on different levels of communication (for example, love is expressed by words and hate or detachment by nonverbal behavior; or a child is encouraged to speak freely, but criticised or silenced whenever he or she actually does so). b) No metacommunication is possible; for example, asking which of the two messages is valid or describing the communication as making no sense c) The victim cannot leave the communication field d) Failing to fulfill the contradictory injunctions is punished, e.g. by withdrawal of love. The double bind was originally presented (probably mainly under the influence of Bateson's psychiatric co-workers) as an explanation of part of the etiology of schizophrenia; today it is more important as an example of Bateson's approach to the complexities of communication.


See alsoEdit

PublicationsEdit

BooksEdit

PapersEdit

  • Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J. & Weakland, J., 1956, Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioral Science', vol.1, 251-264.
  • Bateson, G. (1955) A theory of play and fantasy, Psychiatric Research Reports 2: 39-51.

External linksEdit


DiscussionsEdit


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