Gregory Bateson

From Academic Kids

Gregory Bateson (9 May 19044 July 1980) was a British anthropologist, social scientist, linguist and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields. Some of his most noted writings are to be found in his books, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972, and Mind and Nature, 1980.

Bateson was the son of the distinguished geneticist William Bateson.

Bateson is most famous for developing the "Double Bind" theory of schizophrenia, and for being Margaret Mead's husband. In academic circles he is something of 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 is 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 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 reward careful reading. He has been a very important inspiration in the field of family therapy.

One of the threads that connects Bateson's work is an interest in systems theory and cybernetics. Bateson's take on these fields is idiosyncratic and centers upon their relationship to epistemology. Peculiar take or not, these central interests of Bateson’s provide 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.


Epigrams coined by or referred to by Bateson

  • 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"

Terms used by Bateson

  • Creatura & Pleroma. Coined by Carl Gustav Jung in "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 world undifferentiated by subjectivity; Creatura for the perceived world, subject to 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 a 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 withdrawall of love. The double bind was originally presented (probably mainly under the influence of Batesons psychiatric co-workers) as an explanation of part of the etiology of schizophrenia; today it is more important as an example of Batesons approach to the complexities of communication.

Related topics

External links

pl:Gregory Bateson fi:Gregory Bateson


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