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about Gregory Bateson

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Gregory Bateson associates key concepts books on this website internet
Gregory Bateson was one of the most influential systems thinkers of the twentieth century. His work ranges from the analysis of schizophrenia to the understanding of single-loop and double-loop (deutero-) learning. Collaborators and co-authors included Jay Haley and Paul Watzlawick, as well as his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson

Bateson is a profound influence on many management thinkers, including Chris Argyris and Peter Senge.

[Adaptation] [Double Bind] [Caprice] [Change] [Communication] [Evolution] [Information] [Learning] [Metacommunication] [Schismogenesis] [Schizophrenia] Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology by Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherine Bateson
buy from amazon
buy from amazon UK


Mind and Nature is good, but seems to be unavailable at present.  Other books to look out for are Angels Fear and Further Steps.

Fallacies

Number

NLP (Reframing)

del.icio.us links
Oikos Website
(Note: I've had difficulty accessing this useful website recently.)

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Bateson on Adaptation

veryard projects > people > bateson > adaptation

‘If we are to compute the probability of survival for a given organism which at this moment is prospering in a given environment, we must include in our computation some factor which shall represent the ability of the organism to survive under change and possibly adverse conditions. But we do not know what changes or what adverse difficulties the organism should be prepared for.’

Gregory Bateson, 'The New Conceptual Frames for Behavioural Research' Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Psychiatric Institute (Princeton NJ: New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, September 17, 1958) reprinted in G. Bateson, A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind (edited R.E. Donaldson, New York: Harper Collins, 1991) pp 93-110


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Bateson on Caprice

veryard projects > people > bateson > caprice

The word ‘caprice’ is used by Bateson to describe the tricks of Nature. It applies to the competitive environment of commercial enterprises, as well as other classes of system discussed on this website. An enterprise is ‘encouraged’ to rely on some characteristic of the competitive environment, and then the rules of the game are changed. For example, as the result of some unanticipated political activity by a competitor. This is ‘not fair’.
Gregory Bateson, 'The New Conceptual Frames for Behavioural Research' Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Psychiatric Institute (Princeton NJ: New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, September 17, 1958) reprinted in G. Bateson, A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind (edited R.E. Donaldson, New York: Harper Collins, 1991) pp 93-110
 
Veryard Project Papers The Nature and Nurture of Flexibility

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Bateson on Change

veryard projects > people > bateson > change


Bateson writes: ‘By change I mean a ceasing to be true of some little chip or big chunk of descriptive material. … I started to study change on the assumption that there was something called "not change", and I arrived in a world in which the only thing that is ever reported to me is change, which either goes on independently of me or is created by my movement - change in relationship to me.’
Gregory Bateson, 'Orders of Change' Loka II: A Journal from Naropa Institute (ed Rick Fields, Boulder CO: Nalanda Foundation / Naropa Institute, 1976) reprinted in G. Bateson, A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind (edited R.E. Donaldson, New York: Harper Collins, 1991) pp 93-110


Thus change is a property of descriptions rather than of any underlying reality. Other concepts, such as adaptability and flexibility are defined in terms of change. Does this mean that flexibility is subjective? What does this question mean?
 
more Demanding Change


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Bateson on Communication and Metacommunication

veryard projects > people > bateson > communication

For ten years (1952-1962), Bateson was director of a wide-ranging research project on communication, paying particular attention to logical paradoxes and Russell's Theory of Types. Bateson and his associates pioneered the concept of metacommunication - something that means different (often contradictory) things at different levels. Metacommunication is a characteristic feature of complex systems.
 
Modes of communication ventriloquism, humour, ...
Communication systems animal training, film, family systems, ...
Modes of mental disorder schizophrenia, neurosis, ...
Types of therapy hypnosis, psychotherapy, family therapy, ...

Among other things, this project established the double-bind theory of schizophrenia. It also laid much of the groundwork for NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP).
 
more Complexity
Metacommunication
NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP)


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Bateson on Evolution

veryard projects > people > bateson > evolution


Darwinian evolution is often expressed as the survival of the fittest. But as Bateson pointed out, it is more accurate to speak of the survival of the fit. This phrase is deliberately ambiguous: it could mean either the survival of fit individuals and species, or the survival of the fitness relationship between the entity and its environment - in other words, it is the fitness relationship itself that is preserved, while the species itself may change almost beyond recognition.
 
 
more Evolution

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Bateson on Information

veryard projects > people > bateson > information


Bateson defines information as "a difference that makes a difference".

Hold your hand perfectly still, palm upwards and resting comfortably on a table. With your other hand, drop a small coin into the palm. You will feel the impact, and if the coin is cold, you will feel the coldness of the metal. Soon however, you will feel nothing. The nerve cells don't bother repeating themselves. They will only report to the brain when something changes. Information is difference.

A lizard hunting insects operates on the same principle. The lizard's eye only reports movement to the lizard's brain. If the hunted insect settles on a leaf, the lizard literally cannot see it. But the moment the insect starts to move, whop, the lizard can see it again, and the tongue flickers out and catches it.

But there are differences and differences. Information is difference that makes a difference. You were probably aware, as you dropped the coin into your palm, your eyes told you automatically, without your brain even asking, what the value of the coin was; but you were probably not aware what date it was minted. This is because (unless you are a numismatist) the value of the coin makes a difference to you whereas its date doesn't.

What is it that makes a difference to a lizard, to a numismatist, to you? Surely not the same things. What is information for the lizard is not information for you, and what is information for you is not information for the lizard.

This is why the perspective of information is important. Perspective defines what counts as information at all, perspective defines to whom the information makes a difference.
 
 
more Identity and Difference


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Bateson on Schismogenesis

veryard projects > people > bateson > schismogenesis


Bateson definition: "A process of differentiation in the norms of individual behaviour resulting from cumulative interaction between individuals".

Therefore a progressive loss of homogeneity or cohesion, a fragmentation.


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Bateson on Being Uptight

veryard projects > people > bateson > uptight

Flexibility is achieved not by keeping your options open, but by making decisions. Keeping your options open is a form of neurosis and leads to paralysis. Bateson calls this a narrowly homeostatic system, rigidly indecisive, and identifes this as a characteristic of schizophrenic families. Meanwhile, Lacan calls it repetition or Wiederholungszwang.
 
more Paradoxes of Flexibility
Decisions, Decisions
Lacan on Indecision

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Mary Catherine Bateson

veryard projects > people > bateson > mary catherine


Daughter of Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead. Collaborated with her father on some of his books, and is a significant writer on her own account.
Like many women, and an increasing number of men, her life was disrupted by forces outside her control - what her father calls Caprice.  Her book Composing a Life puts a positive spin on this, and describes how rich her life has been in consequence. Contains many wise words on Creativity and Improvisation.
Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life (New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989)

A few years ago, the Whole Earth Review published a wonderful essay by Mary Catherine Bateson called The Revenge of the Good Fairy. In an environment where technological progress is expected to succeed magically in resolving all the world's troubles, it is of course bound to fall short of these expectations. Thus technology is like the three wishes in the fairy stories that have unforeseen and unwanted effects. This is an aspect of what we call Demanding Solutions.

Update: Thanks to everyone who told me about the web version of this essay.


Trust and Security "Can the commons exist without common decency & common sense?"
Article in Whole Earth Review, Fall '98.

more Mary Catherine Bateson's website

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Jay Haley

veryard projects > people > bateson > jay haley


Associate of Gregory Bateson and Milton Erikson.
 
Notions
Books Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapy: The psychiatric techniques of Milton H Erikson MD  (2nd ed, New York: W.W.Norton, 1986)
more Reframing

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Paul Watzlawick

veryard projects > people > bateson > paul watzlawick


Associate of Gregory Bateson, and an popular writer on change.

Notions

[Functional Commissurotomy] [Unsolved Remnant]
 
more Fallacies

Books

Paul Watzlawick, The Language of Change (New York, Basic Books, 1978) buy from amazon.combuy from amazon uk
Paul Watzlawick, Ultra-Solutions: How to Fail most successfully (New York, W.W. Norton, 1988) 

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change veryard projects > people > gregory bateson
This page last updated on October 25th, 2005
Copyright 2005 Veryard Projects Ltd
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