OOS 53-8
Gregory Bateson’s search for the ‘pattern which connects’ ecology and mind

Wednesday, August 12, 2015: 4:00 PM
329, Baltimore Convention Center
Richard J. Borden, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME
Background/Question/Methods Gregory Bateson’s most well known written works -- Steps to an Ecology of Mind and Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity -- were prodigious attempts to bridge the chasm between the mental and environmental.  Bateson’s ideas were never explicitly tied together in a formal theory.   His intertwined arguments were presented as a collection of intellectual anecdotes and parables.  Each vignette was a heuristic step on the long circular stairway of speculation.  His examples touched every level – from embryology and ecology to anthropology, education and poetry.   Yet these often convoluted meanderings seldom strayed from an emphasis on shapes, forms and relations.  Bateson was not concerned with the specific features biologists used to classify a particular organism.  He knew them.  But his way of looking at an organism was more similar to what Goethe had done in his 1790 Metamorphosis of Plants or as may be found in Whiteheadian process philosophy.  Like Goethe and Whitehead, Bateson went beyond normal scientific thinking.  He wanted to penetrate the living sphere of creative morphology and expose the internal language of biological epistemology.  This biological language, of how an organism’s parts are held together and develop, was at the core how the world as a whole fit together for Bateson.   He was not satisfied with explanations in terms of anatomical, physiological or taxonomic definitions of what an organism is.   Instead, he was seeking to comprehend how individual life forms develop, how they change, and ultimately, the pattern through which of all living creatures are connected.  From his perspective, evolution was an ongoing process (like learning).  And to understand it, according to Bateson, we must learn to think in terms of contextual relations. Results/Conclusions Bateson’s ideas are not easy to follow.  They are simultaneous brilliant, elusive and -- as some have decried -- maddening. The beauty of Bateson’s method is not in the questions answered.  It lies in an invitation to explore new meanings -- in a venue where logical and analogical language are equally valid.  The aim of this presentation is to provide an overview of Bateson’s thinking and explore its lasting value for the future of biological and human ecology.