G R E G O R Y   B A T E S O N

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

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Asked by his daughter, anthropologist and author Mary Catherine, if it might be a multi-dimensional sphere, Bateson, noting “There has to be a reason why these questions have never been answered” and refusing to “rush in” with a “vulgar answer to an oversimplified question” ended Mind and Nature with the resolution that his next book, which he didn’t live long enough to write, “Will start from a map of the region where angels fear to tread.”

 

Quoted from Martha Sengers paper

AESTHETIC PHASE SHIFT:

 

A Separation of Spheres
Following Max Weber’s notion that modernity, in its separation of spheres - the becoming autonomous of truth, beauty, and goodness – brought about the loss of the metaphysical totalities of the pre-modern age, the challenge, as J. M. Bernstein suggests in The Fate of Art, “is to think though what truth, morality and beauty (or its primary instance: art) are when what is denied is their categorical separation from one another…It is the entwinement of art and truth, the experience of art as somehow cognitive and of truth as sensuous and particular, and not the substitution of one for the other within a stable metaphysical hierarchy, that constitutes the challenge.”

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson would agree. He viewed the modernist separation of spheres of knowing as a disastrous, schismogenic break in the cosmic ecology of mind – the conjunction of the body and the world in which we permeate the world in the recognition that we are continuous with it rather than “confront” it as existing independently from ourselves. As he wrote in Mind and Nature, “I hold to the
pre-supposition that our loss of the sense of aesthetic unity was, quite simply, an epistemological mistake. I believe that that mistake may be more serious than all the minor insanities that characterize those older epistemologies which agreed upon the fundamental unity.”

Gregory Bateson’s Metapattern That Connects
Defining ‘aesthetic’ as “responsive to the pattern which connects,” Bateson’s epistemology, like the larger mind of the cosmos, relinks primary unconscious processes, i.e, mimetic-poetic thought and feelings, with secondary conscious, analytic processes in a self-correcting circuit structure; a metapattern that’s connected, as he often emphasized, by beauty.

 

Thus Bateson’s epistemology overcomes the “Kantian cleavage.” For while Kant held beauty to be the sensus communis shared by all humanity, he declared that it, and the freeplay of the aesthetic, formative imagination, existed exclusively in the noumenal sphere; a transcendental domain that was categorically separate from and without access to the phenomenal world – the physical domain that Kant, following Newton, believed followed its own mechanical laws; i.e, the deterministic laws of a clockwork universe. Thus was art – and aesthetics – not only restricted to an auto-nomous, transcendentally free sphere but at the same time disconnected from truth and from power to effect the world!

Bateson’s revolutionary overcoming of this cleavage demonstrated instead that the formative imagination is not limited to the subjective sphere but is in fact the transformative matrix of an interdimensional reality; a recursive ‘loop’ structuring that flows continuously between subject and object, self and world, order and chaos, in rhythmically cohering and complexifying patterns.

As Bateson put it, “Conscious purpose is now empowered to upset the balances of the body, of society, and of the biological world around us. A pathology – a loss of balance – is threatened…Purposive consciousness pulls out, from the total mind, sequences which do not have the loop structure which is characteristic of the whole systemic structure.”

It will also be noted that today’s cybernetics (which Bateson helped found) with its emphasis on conscious, digital processing, cuts the circuit with unconscious analogue processes and thus isn’t capable of bringing about the shift in logical typing his model of psychological evolution called for and hence has deepened rather than healed the split.

 

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“A Map Where Angels Fear To Tread”
Until the time of his death Bateson hoped to discover the topology of this process, imagining it could serve as “a map where angels fear to tread.”

Intuiting such a figure in the spiral - that in retaining its shape and proportion satisfies the “formal demands made by growth” - he noted the key words to be associated with spiral growth are ‘Fibonacci series’ and ‘golden section’.

Recent geometrical insights - particularly the ‘twistor’ structure of Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose - now provide the topology Bateson sought. A golden mean geometry that unites relativity and quantum mechanics through quantum gravity - whose curvature Penrose relates to aesthetic judgment and analogue measurement - this elegant form not only confirms Bateson’s epistemology but provides it with ontological status. Illustrated at the beginning of this paper, the G2 Institute has adopted it as an iconic logo.

Batesonian epistemology also coincides with other nonlinear sciences that deny a separation of domains and recognize a complementarity between order and chaos. And as nanobiologist Salvatore Santoli’s research has also revealed, this patterned ordering of the whole is not computable but can be accessed only through aesthetic perception. Thus postmodern recognition of nonlinear, holarchic patterning is beginning to spread throughout the disciplines in a historic integration of moderism’s separately categorized parts.

But as Bateson and others have stressed, this integration is blocked at the cultural level by fragmented conscious thinking that continues to split subject from object, thought from feeling, and form from life – the dualistic epistemology Bateson feared would lead,
if not corrected, to “an evolutionary cul-de-sac.”

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Gregory Bateson & Margaret Mead

“Pattern Precedes Particles”
As Mary Catherine Bateson recalled in About Bateson, “…a keystone of Gregory’s use of cybernetics is that among the translations and analogical mappings it makes possible is a restatement of the lucid computations of the heart.” This agrees with ‘second-generation cybernetics’ that’s coming to understand the evolutionary importance of pattern recognition in giving rise to emergent domains – an aesthetic mode of cognition that arises from the body. As Bateson had said earlier, “Pattern precedes particles.”

For as cognitive scientist Francisco Varelo remarked in Gaia 2: Emergence – The New Science of Becoming, “we think with our entire body, not just our minds.” Varelo also stressed the epistemological necessity for “networks with metadynamics – when they come together give rise to something that pops up in the middle, in a distributive way,” adding “it is only in the enactment of the totality working together that you have mind.”

In the same book, cultural historian William Irwin Thompson said he didn’t think we could appreciate this ‘metadynamics’ without a new geometrical imagination. As he explained - “Imagination is the phase-space of perception. Each of the senses provides one dimension of meaning, but the dynamic that integrates the meanings and brings forth
a coherent world is the faculty of the imagination.”

In Steps Toward An Ecology of Mind, Bateson described psychological evolution in terms of the following types or levels: Learning I being habituated learning that occurs in a repeatable context of reward and avoidance with changes in specificity of response by correction of errors within a set of alternatives; Learning II as change in the process of Learning I, that is, a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made, or a change in how the sequence of experience is punctuated; with Learning III evolving as a change in the process of Learning II, that is, a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made – or as Bateson expressed it, a learning of the contexts of the preceding contexts; while Learning IV would be change in Learning III but probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth.”

In Hegel: Complementarity, History and the Unconscious, Arkady Plotnitsky made this observation: “According to Bateson, the highest levels of knowledge would contain a great deal of the unconscious, or rather of unconscious knowing, those “reasons of the heart, which reason does not know” of which Pascal speaks. He also describes Level III as “a kind of poetic knowledge such as in Blake though it would be unconscious…and only complementarity of knowledge – or un-knowledge –no matter what Hegel or Blake would want or claim.”

It is Learning III, the higher level aesthetic cognition that evolves through “learning the contexts of the preceding contexts” – that our series explores.

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Bateson’s “The Pattern That Conncts is Beauty”

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson hoped to reconnect what he considered to be ‘primary’ nonconscious cognition with ‘secondary’ conscious cognition in a ‘circuit structure,’ a conjunction of the body and the world in which we ‘permeate’ the world; recognizing that we’re continuous with it rather than ’confront’ it as existing independently from ourselves. Arguing that ‘pattern precedes particle’ and declaring “the pattern that connects is beauty” he viewed the modernist separation of the spheres of knowing as a disastrous, schismogenic break in what he saw as ‘the cosmic ecology of mind’. As he wrote in Mind and Nature “I hold to the pre-supposition that our loss of the sense of aesthetic unity was, quite simply, an epistemological mistake.”

Batesonian epistemology also coincides with other nonlinear sciences that deny a separation of domain and recognize a complementarity between order and chaos. Thus postmodern recognition of nonlinear, holarchic patterning is beginning to spread throughout the disciplines in a historic integration of modernism’s separately categorized parts. But as Bateson and others have stressed, this integration is blocked at the cultural level by fragmented conscious thinking that continues to split subject from object, thought from feeling, and form from life – the dualistic epistemology Bateson feared would lead, if not corrected to “an evolutionary cul-de-sac.”

Gregory Bateson: The Next Level of Abstraction/Enacting the Totality

In Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson argued that to get beyond the prevailing dualistic epistemology, ‘Creatura’ would need to break its ‘internal consistency’ and shift to the next level of abstraction, the next ‘logical type’; a ‘healing’ that “may be ruthless” and
“a process in which whole species may be exterminated.” Noting that ‘consciousness and aesthetics are the great untouched questions” he then asks “Onto what sort of surface shall “aesthetics” and “consciousness” be mapped?” adding “And don’t forget the sacred.” Finally concluding “it’s not possible to map beauty-and-ugliness onto a flat piece of paper...The question is onto what surface shall a theory of aesthetics be mapped?”

Asked by his daughter, anthropologist and author Mary Catherine, if it might be a multi-dimensional sphere, Bateson, noting “There has to be a reason why these questions have never been answered” and refusing to “rush in” with a “vulgar answer to an oversimplified question” ended Mind and Nature with the resolution that his next book, which he didn’t live long enough to write, “Will start from a map of the region where angels fear to tread.”

As Mary Catherine Bateson recalled in About Bateson, “...a keystone of Gregory’s use of cybernetics is that among the translations and analogical mappings it makes possible is a restatement of the lucid computations of the heart.” This agrees with ‘second-generation cybernetics’ that’s coming to understand the evolutionary importance of pattern recognition in giving rise to emergent domains – an aesthetic mode of cognition that rises from the body. As Bateson had said earlier, “Pattern precedes particles”. For as cognitive scientist Francisco Varela remarked in Gaia 2: Emergence – The New Science of Becoming, “we think with our entire body, not just our minds.” Varela also stressed the epistemological necessity for “networks with metadynamics – when they come together give rise to something that pops up in the middle, in a distributive way,” adding, “it is only in the enactment of the totality working together that you have mind.”

Interpreting it as a return of the feminine, portrayed in the symbols of the virgin, the mother, and the crone, an emergence that inherently implies a death or diminishing of masculine energy, Page proposes it be seen as “the completion of the hero’s journey” and a “unique opportunity to co-create’."

"Manifested in the dichotomy between postmodern irony & pastiche and tea party reaction, ever increasing political and social discord, violence, and the meltdown of the global economy, all provide the potential – if seen and seized – for re-imagining and reconstructing human life. work, and culture through the aesthetic re-writing of history and re-convergence with nature’s economical golden mean code.  In this aesthetic sublimation of a falsely objectified reality, form and life can be finally fused in the quintessential phase space of an expanded art – if we synchronize with its fractal golden mean form.
Superceding as it does the modernist geometries of the sphere, the cone, and the cube with the fractal star geometry of the vortex sphere, this new abstraction can prevent the ‘evolutionary cul-de-sac’ anthropologist Gregory Bateson saw coming if we didn’t make the shift from the present ‘dominator paradigm’ to ‘the metapattern that connects’ – the analogue pattern of the heart and art he identified with beauty.

 

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Gregory Bateson & Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture
Bali: Personality Formation

Mead and Bateson were married in 1936 in Singapore as they headed for fieldwork in Bali in the Netherlands East Indies (today Indonesia). In this pioneering work in visual anthropology, they used a variety of methods to explore the role of culture in personality formation.

They documented Balinese culture in extensive field notes and through the innovative use of still photographs and motion picture film. Collaborating with other Westerners living in Bali and with Balinese secretary-informants, Mead and Bateson produced multiple layers of documentation of such behaviors as parent-child interactions, ritual performances and ceremonies, and artists at work. In addition to other objects, they collected Balinese art from adults and children and acquired over 1200 pieces of artwork. Among the works they produced from their research in Bali are the film Trance and Dance in Bali (1952) and the book Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (1942). The latter contains a selection of 759 still photographs, arranged thematically to illustrate theoretical points about Balinese culture and character formation. For instance, they used photographs to show how children learned physical skills passively by having their bodies moved into the necessary positions by their teachers.

While this field work is still considered groundbreaking, it has been criticized, particularly for not accounting sufficiently for the role of religion in Balinese culture.

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Balinese art by Ida Bagus Rai; Beached Whale