Gregory Bateson

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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, Mind and Nature, 1980, and Angels Fear 1988, (published post-humously and co-authored by his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson).

Bateson was the son of the distinguished geneticist William Bateson.

Bateson is most famous for developing the "Double Bind" theory of schizophrenia together with one of the world's leading theoreticians in Communication theory Paul Watzlawick, his colleague at the Mental Research Institute of Palo Alto, 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 centers upon their relationship to 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.


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

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

Related topics

External links


  • Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World, New York: Bantam, 1984. An early discussion of the implications of Bateson's thought.
  • Roy C. Dudgeon, The Pattern Which Connects: Ecology, Anthropology and Postmodernity, Toronto: York University (M. A. Thesis), 1996. A discussion of the relevance of Bateson's thought to anthropological and ecological understanding.
  • Peter Harries-Jones, A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. A useful discussion of his life and Bateson

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