Gregory Bateson: Wikis


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Gregory Bateson
Born 9 May 1904(1904-05-09)
Grantchester, UK
Died July 4, 1980 (aged 76)
San Francisco, USA
Fields anthropology, social sciences, linguistics, cybernetics, systems theory
Known for Double Bind, Ecology of mind, deuterolearning, Schismogenesis
Influenced Application of type theory in social sciences, Richard Bandler, Brief therapy, Communication theory, Gilles Deleuze, Ethnicity theory[1], Evolutionary biology, Family therapy, John Grinder, Félix Guattari, Jay Haley, Don D. Jackson, Bradford Keeney, Stephen Nachmanovitch, Neuro-linguistic programming, Systemic coaching, William Irwin Thompson, Visual anthropology, Paul Watzlawick

Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904 – 4 July 1980) was a British anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician 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) and Mind and Nature (1979). Angels Fear (published posthumously in 1987) was co-authored by his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson.



Bateson was born in Grantchester, UK on 9 May 1904, the youngest of three sons of distinguished geneticist William Bateson and his wife, [Caroline] Beatrice Durham. He attended Charterhouse School from 1917 to 1921. He obtained a BA in biology at St. John's College, Cambridge in 1925 and continued at Cambridge from 1927 to 1929. Bateson lectured in linguistics at the University of Sydney 1928. From 1931 to 1937 he was a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge[2] and then moved to the United States.

In Palo Alto, Gregory Bateson and his colleagues Donald Jackson, Jay Haley and John H. Weakland developed the double bind theory (see also Bateson Project).[3]

One of the threads that connects Bateson's work is an interest in systems theory and cybernetics, a science he helped to create as one of the original members of the core group of the Macy Conferences. Bateson's take on these fields centres 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. Bateson was a member of William Irwin Thompson's Lindisfarne Association. In the 1970s, he taught at the Humanistic Psychology Institute in San Francisco--which is now Saybrook University[4]--and also served as a lecturer and fellow of Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1978, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Bateson to the Board of Regents of the University of California, in which position he served until his death.

Personal life

Bateson's life was greatly affected by the death of his two brothers. John Bateson (1898-1918), the eldest of the three, was killed in World War I. Martin, the second brother (1900-1922), was then expected to follow in his father's footsteps as a scientist, but came into conflict with William over his ambition to become a poet and playwright. The resulting stress, combined with a disappointment in love, resulted in Martin's public suicide by gunshot under the statue of Anteros in Piccadilly Circus on April 22, 1922, which was John's birthday. After this event, which transformed a private family tragedy into public scandal, all William and Beatrice's ambitious expectations fell on Gregory, their only surviving son.[4]

Bateson's first marriage, in 1936, was to American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.[5] Bateson and Mead had a daughter Mary Catherine Bateson (b. 1939), who also became an anthropologist.

Bateson and Mead separated in 1947, and were divorced in 1950.[6] Bateson then married his second wife, Elizabeth "Betty" Sumner (1919-1992), in 1951.[7] She was the daughter of the Episcopalian Bishop of Chicago, Walter Taylor Sumner. They had a son, John Sumner Bateson (b. 1952), as well as twins who died in infancy. Bateson and Sumner were divorced in 1957, after which Bateson married therapist and social worker Lois Cammack (b. 1928) in 1961. Their daughter, Nora Bateson, was born in 1969.[8] Nora is married to drummer Dan Brubeck, son of jazz musician Dave Brubeck.


The anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead contrasted first and Second-order cybernetics with this diagram in an interview in 1973.[9]

Double bind

In 1956 in Palo Alto Gregory Bateson and his colleagues Donald Jackson, Jay Haley and John Weakland [3] articulated a related theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations. The perceived symptoms of schizophrenia were therefore an expression of this distress, and should be valued as a cathartic and transformative experience. The double bind refers to a communication paradox described first in families with a schizophrenic member.

Full double bind requires several conditions to be met:

  1. The victim of double bind receives contradictory injunctions or emotional messages on different levels of communication (for example, love is expressed by words, and hate or detachment by nonverbal behaviour; or a child is encouraged to speak freely, but criticised or silenced whenever he or she actually does so).
  2. No metacommunication is possible – for example, asking which of the two messages is valid or describing the communication as making no sense .
  3. The victim cannot leave the communication field
  4. 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. Currently it is more important as an example of Bateson's approach to the complexities of communication.

Other 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. The term was originally coined by American Philosopher/Logician Charles Sanders Peirce, who used it to refer to the process by which scientific hypotheses are generated.
  • Criteria of Mind (from Mind and Nature A Necessary Unity):[10]
  1. Mind is an aggregate of interacting parts or components.
  2. The interaction between parts of mind is triggered by difference.
  3. Mental process requires collateral energy.
  4. Mental process requires circular (or more complex) chains of determination.
  5. In mental process the effects of difference are to be regarded as transforms (that is, coded versions) of the difference which preceded them.
  6. The description and classification of these processes of transformation discloses a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.
  • Creatura and Pleroma. Borrowed from Carl Jung who applied these gnostic terms in his "Seven Sermons To the Dead".[11] 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 non-living world that is undifferentiated by subjectivity; Creatura for the living world, subject to perceptual difference, distinction, and information.
  • Deuterolearning. A term he coined in the 1940s referring to the organization of learning, or learning to learn:[12]

See also


  • Bateson, G. (1958 (1936)). Naven: A Survey of the Problems suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe drawn from Three Points of View. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-804-70520-8.  
  • Bateson, G., Mead, M. (1942). Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. New York Academy of Sciences. ISBN 0890727805.  
  • Ruesch, J., Bateson, G. (1951). Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 039302377X.  
  • Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-03905-6.  
  • Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity, and the Human Sciences). Hampton Press. ISBN 1-57273-434-5.  
  • (published posthumously), Bateson, G., Bateson, MC. (1988). Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0553345810.  
  • (published posthumously), Bateson, G., Donaldson, Rodney E. (1991). A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-250110-3.  
Articles, a selection
  • 1956, Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Jay Haley & Weakland, J., "Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia", Behavioral Science, vol.1, 1956, 251-264.
  • Bateson, G. & Jackson, D. (1964). "Some varieties of pathogenic organization. In Disorders of Communication". Research Publications (Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease) 42: 270–283.  
  • 1978, Malcolm, J., "The One-Way Mirror" (reprinted in the collection "The Purloined Clinic"). Ostensibly about family therapist Salvador Minuchin, essay digresses for several pages into a meditation on Bateson's role in the origin of family therapy, his intellectual pedigree, and the impasse he reached with Jay Haley.
Documentary film


  • Bateson is often given as the origin of the story concerning the replacement of the huge oak beams of the main hall of New College, Oxford with trees planted on college land several hundred years previously for that express purpose[15]. Although the precise facts do not entirely match the story, it is commonly cited as an admirable example of planning ahead.[16]


  1. ^ Thomas Hylland Eriksen, "Bateson and the North Sea Ethnicity paradigm" [1]
  2. ^ NNBD, Gregory Bateson, Soylent Communications, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Bateson, G.; Jackson, D. D.; Haley, J.; Weakland, J. (1956), "Toward a theory of schizophrenia", Behavioral Science 1: 251–264  
  4. ^ Schuetzenberger, Anne. The Ancestor Syndrome. New York, Routledge. 1998.
  5. ^ "Gregory Bateson." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 5 Aug. 2007
  6. ^ To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead. Margaret M. Caffey and Patricia A. Francis, eds. With foreword by Mary Catherine Bateson. New York. Basic Books. 2006.
  7. ^ Idem.
  8. ^ Idem.
  9. ^ Interview with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, in: CoEvolutionary Quarterly, June 1973.
  10. ^ Bateson, Gregory (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-03905-6.  
  11. ^ Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1961, ISBN 0-394-70268-9, p. 378
  12. ^ Visser, Max (2002). Managing knowledge and action in organizations; towards a behavioral theory of organizational learning. EURAM Conference, Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, Stockholm, Sweden.  
  13. ^ Form, Substance, and Difference, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 448-466
  14. ^ [2] [3]
  15. ^ Brand, Stewart, How Buildings Learn; what happens after they're built, Penguin, 1994, pp130-1
  16. ^;f=99;t=000102;p=1

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Gregory Bateson (9 May 1904 – 4 July 1980) was a British anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist whose work intersected that of many other fields.


  • Perhaps there is no such thing as unilateral power. After all, the man "in power" depends on receiving information all the time from outside. He responds to that information just as much as he "causes" things to is an interaction, and not a lineal situation.
    • Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)
  • But the myth of power is, of course, a very powerful myth, and probably most people in this world more or less believe in it. It is a myth, which, if everybody believes in it, becomes to that extent self-validating. But it is still epistemological lunacy and leads inevitably to various sorts of disaster.
    • Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972)
  • No organism can afford to be conscious of matters with which it could deal at unconscious levels.
    • Steps To An Ecology of Mind (1972), quoted in Two Cybernetic Frontiers
  • Logic is a poor model of cause and effect.
    • Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1980)


  • Number is different from quantity.
  • The map is not the territory (coined by Alfred Korzybski), and the name is not the thing named.
  • There are no monotone "values" in biology.
  • Language commonly stresses only one side of any interaction. Double description is better than one.
  • What is true is that the idea of power corrupts. Power corrupts most rapidly those who believe in it, and it is they who will want it most. Obviously, our democratic system tends to give power to those who hunger for it and gives every opportunity to those who don’t want power to avoid getting it. Not a very satisfactory arrangement if power corrupts those who believe in it and want it.
  • Life and 'Mind' are systemic processes.
  • The meaning of your communication is the response you get.
  • Multiple descriptions are better than one.

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