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Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979)

de Gregory Bateson

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666525,898 (4.01)4
A re-issue of Gregory Bateson's classic work. It summarizes Bateson's thinking on the subject of the patterns that connect living beings to each other and to their environment.

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Mind and Nature is Bateson's last book, although two followed it posthumously, and in the colloquy with his daughter that closes Mind and Nature he discusses his ambition to write a volume called Where Angels Fear to Tread that would more directly treat concerns about consciousness, aesthetics, and the sacred. Mind and Nature is preliminary to that latter book (which became Angels Fear), laying out the epistemology and notions of organization and change that would underlie it.

This book treats the features that human thought (i.e. perception, ideation, logic, and explanation) has in common with biological change in individuals and populations (adaptation and evolution). Bateson characterizes these two fields (the "mind" and "nature" of the title) as the "Great Stochastic Processes." Beginning with an emphasis on "the pattern that connects," he introduces a kit of ideas with putatively universal application in what he calls -- taking a cue from Jung's usage in Septem Sermones ad Mortuos -- the Creatura. He uses contemporary biology for his understanding of nature, but he uses philosophical materials and cybernetic theories in preference to the products of academic psychology.

I found this book a fast read, but it is not for the intellectually lazy. Although there is a glossary of particular words Bateson felt his readers might find alien, his general lexicon pulls no punches. He makes great hay out of Russell's theory of logical types, metaphorically expanding its application to the whole panoply of hierarchical phenomena and systems. Most of the text is organized into long chapters containing sets of numbered theses, each treated in a few pages of discussion and example.

In some respects, the part of the book that most excited me on this re-read was the appendix "Time Is Out of Joint," a memorandum circulated to the University of California Regents (of whom Bateson was one). In less than seven pages, Bateson sums up his most important arguments from Mind and Nature and applies them to the difficulties of governing an educational institution. The result is startlingly similar in content, if not in form, to Aleister Crowley's early essay "Thien Tao: Or, the Synagogue of Satan." Bateson and Crowley alike try to communicate the need for human striving to comprehend complementary poles, in order to progress by dialectical transcendence. It is a matter of enantiodromia, rather than compromise: not to say, "Light -- Darkness -- I am the Reconciler between them" like the officers of a Golden Dawn Equinox ceremony, but rather to say, "I am Light, and I am Darkness, and I am that which is beyond them" like the Crowned and Conquering Child in the utmost aire of LIL.
5 vote paradoxosalpha | Mar 5, 2012 |
In previous readings of Bateson, not only Mind and Nature, I was left with an impression similar to that from primers on non-Euclidean geometries: fabulist structures from simple premises, but despite the simplicity, oddly difficult to hang onto just days or weeks after reading. As though I was so bounded, my thinking so determined by Euclidean shapes and logic, that I'd revert to them despite having been persuaded the non-Euclidean alternatives were at least equally valid, if not superior. An anecdote I've always recalled somewhere in my reading of Bateson is his claim that at some point, he no longer saw five fingers when looking at his own hand, but four spaces between digits. I wanted to evaluate that stance: is it better than the conventional view of five fingers? If so, how can I begin to see that way, perpetually, and not only while reading his book?


I speculate that Mind and Nature is a good foundation for reading Bateson, and Angels Fear inspirational recapitulation. The remaining titles, I think, serve as deep explorations of details and evidence.

Outline of Batesonian cybernetics:

Evolution and Learning each fit a general pattern: Bateson identifies this pattern (or system) as Mind. In elaborating upon this insight, Bateson simultaneously explores the common-sense meaning of mind, expands its scope beyond that of human consciousness, and eliminates illusions / misconceptions / superstitions surrounding mind and matter.

Characteristics or criteria of mind:
- made of parts themselves not mental, mind is immanent in certain sorts of organisation of parts
- parts triggered by events in time; if differences in the external world are static, individual can trigger an event by moving relative to an object (bifocal vision)
- the event may provide no energy, but the respondent may utilise its own (collateral) energy, usually supplied by metabolism (Cybernetic causality as contrasted with Newtonian causality)
- then causes-and-effects form into circular (or more complex) chains
- all messages are coded
- logical typing governs the meaning of messages, and the control of a system possible thereby
- mind is a system of double-description adhering to the above criteria

Bateson provides considerable detail on the system of double-description for biological evolution: two stochastic systems (epigenesis and Darwinian selection), linked together in a recursive chain. The logical structure & limits which result are complex, but suggests a solution to many delusions and confusions through history (including the Chain of Being and Lamarckian inheritance). Bateson spends less time detailing the parallels for learning, I expect as an editorial decision for the book, and not for lack of evidence. He does cite relevant articles from his other books which seem to fill in some of these gaps.


Re-reading Mind and Nature, I'm firmly convinced Bateson will be read 100 years from now as a seminal source of widely-accepted thinking on the ways social order links to ecology, to basic physical structure (biology, chemistry, physics), and to values. And yet, if that doesn't come to pass, if Batesonion cybernetics ends up a scientific dead-end, I suspect it'll prove to be no less an accomplishment: a scenario in which individual observations and postulates, each irrefutable or uncontroversial when taken alone, are put together coherently and yet ... “wrong”. I'm not sure which scenario I'd find more interesting.


This reading completed June 2011, at least my second reading and perhaps even fourth. Mind and Nature retains its essential punch: I'm as astounded and excited as ever by the ideas and Bateson's illustrations of them.

Memorable ideas and illustrations from my readings of Bateson documented in Comments; expand as I re-read other Bateson works. ( )
3 vote elenchus | Jul 4, 2011 |
A good book but Bateson was a Romantic humanist, and tended to flights of fantasy. ( )
  BraveKelso | Dec 20, 2009 |
Gregory Bateson is to be sipped, not devoured. The years to come will find his thoughts catalyzing the common human consciousness up over the precipice to its next plateau. Read Bateson for the meat he adds to your soup. Just read him and enjoy the twist to your knowledge base and little realizations encountered with conversations yet to be.
2 vote plutarch | Feb 6, 2009 |
Um livro fundamental traduzido em português pela D. Quixote, para quem não teve oportunidade de ler "Steps to an Ecology of Mind", que só conheci através da tradução francesa é uma excelente introdução a um homem que sabia pensar depois o que pensava.
O autor, que ao saber em 1978, depois de uma operação delicada, que poderia restar-lhe pouco tempo de vida, resolveu deixar-nos esta carta testemunho, que atravessa a antropologia e a psicanálise com um discurso de contador de histórias.
Se ainda puderem ainda encontrar também nesta Feira do Livro, os "Metadiálogos", traduzido pela Gravida, garanto-lhes que os sete textos são tão bons como os do Dalai Lama! ( )
  Fokas | Jan 18, 2008 |
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Gregory Batesonautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
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[I]t seemed to me that both evolution and learning must fit the same formal regularities or so-called laws. [4]
The pattern which connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect. [11]
I hold to the presupposition 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 [e.g. religions] which agreed upon the fundamental unity. [18]
In what is offered in this book, the hierarchic structure of thought, which Bertrand Russell called logical typing, will take the place of the Great Chain of Being* and an attempt will be made to propose a sacred unity of the biosphere that will contain fewer epistemological errors than the versions of that sacred unity which the various religions of history have offered. [19]

* Postulating existence proceeds deductively, from perfect to less-than-perfect, implying nothing more perfect may derive from anything less perfect (see Lovejoy)
Those who lack all idea that it is possible to be wrong can learn nothing except know-how. [26]
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A re-issue of Gregory Bateson's classic work. It summarizes Bateson's thinking on the subject of the patterns that connect living beings to each other and to their environment.

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