The aim of this website is to make the crucially important thinking of Gregory Bateson accessible to a wide general audience.
Noel G. Charlton, the author, has also written the book: Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty and the Sacred Earth – published by State University of New York Press, May, 2008. This book is the first very widely accessible introduction to Bateson’s work. The first chapter can be read and the book can be ordered at: http://www.sunypress.edu/details.asp?id=61624.
My hope is that the book and this website will be used by teachers and students of courses addressing the increasingly urgent task of our human learning to live sustainably on this planet – and also that it will be widely read by people who care about the survival of all the inter-related life-forms of Earth – but who may not have found Bateson’s thought accessible at a first reading.
Email contact with the author (via this website) is possible and welcomed.
Readers may be interested to know about my own process - from puzzled incomprehension to some measure of understanding of this great man's importance in relation to our present ecological extremity. A brief account of my story – from a difficult childhood – through several different focuses of interest, experience and belated education - to my present concerns with planetary survival. If so, please read my self introduction.
The importance of Bateson’s thinking:
The thought of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980): biologist, anthropologist, systems thinker, psychologist, student of animal communication, ecologist and profound thinker, eventually drawing together science and spirituality, is now urgently, vitally important to us all.
His thought offers ways of using a new and wider understanding of mind and mental process as existing throughout the living world, of recognising our aesthetic sense of beauty as a guide to valuing of the systems of the ‘more-than-human’ world, and of learning to feel and act upon a new sense of reverence and respect for the living Earth and the vast process - the great ‘going-on’ - of the Universe.
Other texts on Bateson:
Noel Charlton has published several articles and papers on Bateson’s work and related topics in recent years. These may also provide accessible background information on the thought, life and work of Gregory Bateson and some other thinkers. Links to these texts are provided below.
Some key thoughts from Bateson:
Bateson, Minds and Mental Process:
Bateson wrote: “(In my preparatory work for Mind and Nature) …I was laying down very elementary ideas about epistemology… that is, about how we can know anything. In the pronoun ‘we’, I of course included the starfish and the redwood forest, the segmenting egg and the Senate of the United States. And in the anything which these creatures variously know, I included “how to grow into five-way symmetry,” “how to survive a forest fire,” “how to grow and still stay the same shape,” “how to learn,” “how to write a constitution,” “how to invent and drive a car,” “how to count to seven,” and so on… Above all, I included “how to evolve”, because it seemed to me that both evolution and learning must fit the same formal regularities or so-called laws.”
Bateson came to see our aesthetic ability to recognise ‘beauty’ as being a way in which we can:
Beauty: During his 1968 conference on The Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation Bateson said: “(There is) … a curious… relevant fact… that an ancient ecosystem – the primeval forest, the desert, the Everglades, the arctic tundra… is an incredibly beautiful thing. Now, there must be a reason why, to an organism who is also interested in automobiles and in the maximisation of wealth… these funny interacting masses of, you might suppose, quite irrelevant organisms, most of which you can’t even eat, should have beauty. I leave that as a question.”
Bateson G. Quoted in Bateson M. C., Our Own Metaphor, Knopf, New York, 1972,. Reprinted Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London,1991, p.260.
Bateson came to see the interconnected living systems of Earth as ‘The Sacred’:
The Sacred: “The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system. This larger mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by ‘God’ but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology… What I am saying expands mind outwards… a certain humility becomes appropriate, tempered by the dignity or joy of being part of something much bigger. A part – if you will – of God.”
“We are in extraordinary confusion at this very moment. Our beliefs are undergoing rapid change at a pace comparable to the rate things were changing in classical Greece in, say between 600 and 500 bc, or again in the beginning of the Christian Era. Ours is a strange and exciting world in which the very premises of language are in question. What is the language of the heart?…”
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