Gregory Bateson

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Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Thu Oct 17, 2013 6:01 pm

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Been thinking a lot about some of Bateson's ideas recently, especially about Double Binds, and this powerful & moving account of his passing seems as good a way as any to start a thread about him. Written by his daughter in 1980.


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Six days of dying

by Mary Catherine Bateson

Just as the intimacies of childbirth and early mothering have gradually been restored, first with natural childbirth and rooming in and most recently with childbirth in the home, so there is a growing effort to meet death more intimately and simply. The logical end of this development is that people die at home or in an environment as close to home as possible. The depressions which used to afflict mothers after childbirth are probably related to interruptions in the early intimacy between mother and child which plays a biological role in the establishment of parental love and care.

Similarly, the shadows of guilt and anger which so often complicate grief may also be related to interruptions in the process of caring, and they may be lightened by the experience of tending someone we love with our own hands, so that much that seems externally repellent and painful is transmuted by tenderness.

Death is surely more variable than birth. Where experiences are difficult to predict or compare, the specific is more useful than vague generalization. This is an account of period from the 2nd. to the 7th of July of 1980, the period in which I experienced the death of my father, Gregory Bateson. I can only describe events as I perceived them; other members of the family or close friends may find my perceptions bizarrely at odds with their own. Nevertheless, I think all of us agreed that the fact that we were with my father at the guesthouse of San Francisco Zen Center where he spent his last days and was laid out after death, gave us the privilege of a rare and blessed participation. We felt that we gained a new understanding of some of the things that my father taught, and also of the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Trying to make experience explicit in words is not typical of Zen, but it was something my father cared about. Lois Bateson, his wife, commented that Gregory had been a teacher all his life and that he continued to teach in the manner of his death. The privilege we experienced can only partly be shared. Still, the attempt at description may be helpful, for it is at moments of birth and death that it is easy to become timid and to be cowed into an acceptance of standard institutional forms.

My father’s final illness began in mid-spring and I came to California to be near him in June, arriving one day before he was hospitalised . While he was in the hospital I had to be away for about a week, to keep a previous commitment, and I returned to San Francisco on July 2 to find that he was out of the hospital and being cared for at Zen Center where I too went to stay. Two days before I had left, we had been talking, with some sense of realism, about where he might be able to convalesce, but even as I departed that had come to seem unrealistic. Lois felt the gradual change in the quality of the nurses’ care as, with implicit triage, they shifted from the effort of healing to courtesy to the dying. Towards the end of the week, Lois made the decision to discontinue intravenous feeding - he was eating and drinking a little, and was receiving no medication through the I.V. - and then to bring him to Zen Center and nurse him there, knowing that he would probably die there.

Gregory had entered the hospital of June 10th because of a respiratory crisis that proved to be pneumonia and an unexplained pain in his side. Everyone assumed that the pain was related to the lung cancer he had in 1978 which was expected to be terminal and then went into remission. He himself felt that the pain might be a local nervous disorder related to his earlier surgery, and went back to a term used by his old friend the neurophysiologist and systems theorist, Warren McCulloch, who had described how a group of nerves, regenerating after surgery, might get into a self-reinforcing cycle of resonating pain, but McCulloch’s term, causalgia, proved to be unacceptable in current parlance and was treated as fantasy in the context of the cancer. The pain had driven him to his bed in late May where pneumonia had followed in lungs long handicapped by emphysema and the cancer episode. He had been living at Esalen Institute in Big Sur since the cancer, and friends there came and went with counsels spun from different epistemologies, the multiple holisms of an unfocused new age. He had dutifully done a session of imaging and was told that perhaps indeed he did not want to live. He had by his bedside an array of megadoses of various vitamins and microdoses of homeopathic medicines, wheat grass juice available in any quantities he would accept it, and at the same time he was told he was too preoccupied with the physical and should be concerned with the spiritual, this being available in various traditional and syncretic forms.

When we left Esalen, heading for San Francisco in a VW van with a supply of emergency oxygen, we had two possible destinations, either UC Hospital or Zen Center. I do not believe Gregory was making a choice between ‘holistic’ and ‘establishment’ medicine, but a choice between multiplicity and integrity. He maintained a profound scepticism towards both the premises of the medical profession and the Buddhist epistemology, but certainty is scarce and there is a kind of relief to be found in a system that expresses the disciplined working out of a set of premises, whatever these may be. Furthermore, he wanted to be in a place where he could have more information about what was happening and where his own curiosity would be allowed to play a role, his own vitality nurtured by knowledge rather than by hope.

When we arrived at UC Hospital and got the diagnosis of pneumonia, everyone concurred that pneumonia was something that establishment medicine knew how to handle and that it made sense to stay there. Gregory was deeply tired and in need of an impersonal, matter-of-fact environment, and for several days he wanted few visitors and as much new information about his condition as non-intrusive diagnostic procedures would provide. X-rays showed no growth or spread of cancer and provided no explanation for the pain. At that point, after working carefully on the details of a will, Gregory and his doctor decided that relief from pain was what he needed most, and he had several days of relatively frequent and large doses of morphine. When Lois demanded a recess in which he could be fully conscious and able to discuss other treatment possibilities after these days, he remained somewhat blurred and disoriented and the pain was a dull ache rather than an agonising burning sensation. He was terribly weakened, partly by vomiting caused by some of his medication. He spoke of going home and came lurching out of the bed in the middle of the night, asking for scissors to cut the I.V. and oxygen tubes. Much of his talk was metaphorical and so discounted by nurses who made cheerful and soothing noises, but he remained very much himself, relating in clearly different ways to different people, compliant but skeptical. Our initial optimism in this period was a response to the decrease in pain and the improvement in pneumonia, but it was premised on a recovery of strength and will to live which did not occur.

During the last week in the hospital, there was a recurrence of the pneumonia, necessitating another round of antibiotics, and finally an explanation of the pain, when an eruption around his side provided the identification of Herpes zoster [shingles]. This form of herpes is a virus which attacks the nervous system, causing acute unilateral pain, especially in the elderly, and eventually a skin eruption. It is almost impossible to diagnose before the rash, and in Gregory’s case the location of the pain on one side of his body was all too easy to connect with the cancer. No one dies of shingles, but the pain may continue indefinitely; it does seem reasonable to say that Gregory died by withdrawals from unexplained pain, and that the explanation came too late to save him.

The six days of the title are the three days from my return to the moment when his breathing ceased, approximately at noon on July 4th, followed by the three days until his cremation. Thus, not all of the punctuation comes from the natural process of death, but it serves to frame a period instead of focusing on a single moment. During those six days we were at San Francisco Zen Center, with most of the family and a few close friends sharing in the nursing and the Zen community providing practical help and a context of coherent tranquillity.

On the morning of July 2, Gregory asked his son to kill him. The asking was not a fully conscious request for practical steps - he suggested getting a stick and hitting him over the head with it, as if by brutal overstatement to achieve the opposite of euphemism - but it was a demanding paternal honesty. When I arrived, Lois suggested that John and her son, Eric, and I meet with Michael, Gregory’s friend and physician, hoping that we could accept as a group what she has already accepted in the decision to leave the hospital. Michael talked about the fact that there were various aggressive forms of treatment that could be taken to keep Gregory alive, and about his sense, having observed Gregory during the earlier crisis and in the intervening period, that Gregory had been turning toward death and that such interventions would be inappropriate and ultimately futile. All of us felt that mentally at least Gregory’s withdrawal was probably irreversible, whatever the mechanism involved, and that his wishes should be respected as far as they could be. What this meant was giving up the pressure on him to suffer those things that might prolong his life - sitting up for a few minutes, respiratory therapy or an oxygen tube at his nostrils, another spoonful of custard, another sip of broth - while making each of these available if in any way he seemed to want them, or doing anything else we could to make him more comfortable. The more deeply one rejects the separation of mind and body, the more difficult it is to treat the processes of disease and death as mechanical and alien to the self. Even as one gives up the image of an external enemy, of death personified as the Grim Reaper or reified in the name of a killing disease, the problem which lives in most people’s unconscious becomes conscious, the feeling that the death of those we love is a betrayal. We tend to feel that someone who is dying has an implicit obligation to stay alive: to accept treatment, to make an unflagging effort, and indeed to think thoughts that would support the effort at life rather than the drift towards death, not because to do so is comforting but because it may be a real factor in what happens.

We went back into the room where a hospital bed had been brought for Gregory, and we shared some sherry and stilton cheese. Gregory accepted a mouthful of each. We sat in a half-circle open towards the bed, and a student and friend of Gregory’s, Steve, played the violin, while Lois accompanied him with chords on the tambour and those who could harmonised their voices, weaving a wandering chant in the darkening room for what seemed a very long time. During the music Gregory, half dozing, brushed the tube that was supplying oxygen away from his nostrils, and each of us, I suppose, struggled with the impulse to get up and replace it. Some of us were crying quietly. The music was gentle mourning, uniting the various terms to which each of us had come in the acceptance of death into a single covenant. When the music ended we sat for a while, listening to his laboured, drowning breathing. After a time, lights were lit, Gregory stirred himself to eat and drink a little more, a few mouthfuls, the night watches were shared out, and one of the Zen students entering the room restored the oxygen tube. After that it was put back or offered several times, but eventually each time he rejected it. Within the rhythm of our day, one of a small group was always with him: Lois, or Kathleen, a friend and nurse who had come with the family from Esalen, or I, or John and Eric, or Robert, the Zen priest who manages the guest house. Each evening different Zen students, some of them friends and others unnamed, would come and sit in the room also, erect and immobile unless they were needed, for Baker Roshi, in touch every day by telephone from across the country, wanted the students to approach the suchness of dying and to give their quiet support to Gregory and to us. He instructed them to deepen their empathy by breathing in unison with Gregory, supporting and sharing. Those of us staying in the house slept at different hours and slipped out briefly to join the meditations in the Zendo or to chant or join in the Eucharist at a convent around the corner. Others came and went. We felt that for Gregory the process of dying proceeded gradually but without even a clear distinction between sleeping and walking.

On July 3 Gregory spoke occasionally, making gestures of affection and recognition, but much of what he said was blurred and unintelligible. He also spoke to others he seemed to see around the bed and once or twice asked whether a particular person was indeed present or only a dream. It was often necessary to move his big ungainly body for he had become almost completely incontinent. This more than anything was reminiscent of the care of an infant, but moving him to clean or change pads or to guard against bed sores became especially difficult on that day because although he was not able to help at all, there was a sort of recalcitrance in his body against these indignities. He gave an impression of deep concentration.

Jerry Brown came in on the evening of the 3rd and Gregory recognised him and stretched out his hand to greet him, calling him by name. As Jerry left and we settled down for the night, Gregory’s laboured breathing has slowed to the point where sometimes the interval between breaths left room for a momentary doubt of whether another breath would follow. We shared the certainty that less than a day remained. Gregory was dying as people die in books, gradually sinking towards death in a self-reinforcing process. Intravenous feeding and continuous oxygen could drag that process out, interfering with the choice of mind and body not to sustain life, and another counter attack might have been possible on the pneumonia which we could hear in Gregory’s breathing. But pneumonia has long been called the "old man’s friend". I never thought of my father as an old man until he was dying.

During the late night and the morning hours of the 4th of July, each of us had time alone with him . He still smiled and responded to a hand-clasp, or would draw a hand to his lips. Touching seemed important, and the hospital bed enforced an isolation that had to be bridged. I found I wanted to give him the sound of a voice, so I read aloud the final chapters of the Book of Job. I held up a flower from one of the vases, not as something sweet and pretty but as a symbol of the order of truth to which he had been most true, the grace and intricacy of mental phenomena underlying the patterns of the biological world, and wondered whether a flower could still evoke that allegiance as, for someone else, a lifted cross could evoke a whole life lived in the Christian context. He would have been able to call the flower by name.

By mid-morning he was unable to drink, and we put tiny amounts of water in his dry mouth to give some moisture, afraid that he would choke on any more, unable to swallow. His breathing was laborious and slow. Lois noticed a pattern of blotches on his chest which at first we thought was a further eruption of the Herpes and then realised was a result of a change in circulation. A short time later, Roger, a friend from Esalen, saw the pupils of his eyes dilate as his mind encountered the dark. So we gathered around the bed, some six of us who had been caring for him most closely, hardly breathing ourselves as we waited from breath to breath, the time stretching beyond the possible, and yet again and again followed by a gasping reflexive inhalation, and then again the lengthening pause. I kept praying that he would be free from each next compulsive effort, let go, rest, and when after a time no further breath followed, we still stood, slowly relaxing with the faintest sighs, barely able to return to a flow of time not shaped by that breathing. Lois reached forward, after her office, and gently closed his eyes.

We did not at that time pause to mourn but slowly found our way into the expression of continuing care. After, Lois, in my turn, I reached out and began to straighten his arms, then folding his hands. Someone lowered the bed to the flat and dropped the sides. I thought briefly of those cultures in which the bodies of loved ones are transmuted at the moment of death into something impure, polluting those who touch them. During my lifetime few Americans have tended their dead, just as few have tended their dying, and we had to grope our way, following clues from other times or other cultures. For Lois the available model was the Balinese one, in which the bodies of men are washed by men, and those of women by women, but for me the model was the Western one where women have received the newly born and the newly dead into their care.

In the end we all worked together, removing the soiled pads, cleaning away the final traces of excrement, lifting and turning and washing each limb, shifting from side to side this beloved body from which all tension and recalcitrance were drained so that he suffered our care with a curious innocence. The blotches on his skin had faded.

Roshi had instructed that all traces of the sick room be removed, and Gregory was lifted and carried to the double bed at the other side of the room, dressed in a bathrobe and covered with the sheet and spread. He was still a little too long for any bed. With half a dozen Zen folk joining in , the hospital bed and table were dismantled and carried out, the linens and the clothes and basin we had used to wash him were removed. Consulting each other in muted voices, we bound a kerchief around his chin, experimenting with the angle until we were able to close his mouth, collecting and composing ourselves even as Gregory’s body and the room were made serene in composure. As the work was completed, Robert surveyed the scene and then went and straightened the folds of the bed cover so they fell in sculptured order to the floor. Then he set up a small altar, a table with an incense burner at the foot of the bed, and said that now he would show us how to offer incense to Gregory: bow (the bow whose name is "asking"), touch a few grains of incense to the third eye in the center of the forehead, place them on the burning charcoal, add a few more grains, bow. It seemed to me well to perform an act which was both alien and completely formal, combining affection and courtesy with total estrangement. From that time, incense burned constantly in the room, and two or more of the Zen folk sat and watched. Gregory was not a Buddhist, but Zen mindfulness and decorum were for him an affirmation of the intricate order of mind. We sat for awhile, and soon I went and slept in another room of the guest house.

When I woke up and returned to my father’s bedside it was late afternoon. His body was cold now when I touched his hands, and the tracery of red blood vessels in his cheeks drained of colour. Someone had removed the kerchief and combed his hair. As his body had settled gradually into the rigor of death, his face assumed a gentle, just slightly mischievous smile, and with the wisdom of mothers who refuse to believe that their infants’ first smiles are caused by gas, we felt we could recognise the carrying over of irony into peace. As he had weakened and had been able to express less and less, the final attribute distilled from the others was sweetness, so this was the natural form into which his features settled, unfalsified by cosmetics and the skilful artifices of morticians who teach the dead to lie to the living about what they meet at journey’s end.

Downstairs we drank sherry and ate the stilton cheese that Gregory loved with other members of the immediate circle who had not been present at noon, in undefined shared sacrament. Through the next two nights and days, a new pattern developed an echo of the rhythm of Gregory’s last days. The Zen students came and went, keeping their vigil and we also took turns being by Gregory’s side, watching the continuing changes as death increasingly and more deeply asserted itself. The window was kept open to the cool San Francisco weather, and in the morning he seemed to me a thousand miles more distant, his skin pale as wax, his hand still and very cold. As a child I believed that the dead became such strangers immediately, not realising that there is a maturation in death. Having offered incense once, I found I preferred to enter the room informally and sit close by his side touching his hand in greeting and farewell.

Our Buddhist guides told of their belief that the soul lingers near the body for up to three day before it finally departs, so that cremation should not occur for three days and the body should be attended, especially during the first two days, and they encouraged us and other visitors to read out loud or to address Gregory. At the same time, all of us had limited experience and we were shy of the physical complications of keeping a body for too long a period of time, so the decision was made to send the body to the crematorium on the 6th.That morning the Zen students withdrew, leaving the watch with Gregory to the family. My sister Nora and I went in together, sitting for a time on either side of the big bed as she explored the quality of death, feeling his hands, asking about the mechanism of rigor, wondering at the absence of the familiar bulk. Reb, one of the Zen teachers, spoke of him as being like a beached whale, but at the end he was strangely diminished. Then the Neptune Society van came, and Gregory was wrapped in a sheet that someone had carefully ironed that morning, strapped to a stretcher, and finally his face was covered with a dark green wrapper. The Zen Guest House is an old and gracious building, with stairs wide enough for one to make a final departure on a stretcher or in a coffin, and probably Gregory was not the first person to leave it so.

Baker Roshi’s advice was to stay as close to the process as possible, following Gregory step by step through the concrete reality, so on the 7th the family went to the crematorium with a small group of Zen monks who had also been close to Gregory. We took various things to send with him into the fire: a volume of Blake’s poetry, flowers and sweet smelling herbs, individual roses. We gave him a small crab that Eric and John had gone out with a flashlight to capture the night before, in memory of the way he had taught each of us to study tide pools and of the way he had taken a crab with him year after year to his opening classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, to open his students’ eyes to the "fearful symmetries" of organic life. Nora brought a bagel because he had once quipped at Esalen that the hole in a bagel would be reincarnated in a doughnut. There were incense and the ashes of incense from Zen Center.

We went into the backstage of the crematorium where the great ovens are, a dishevelled and unkempt region of noisy machinery. His body was on a plank on a wheeled stretcher, and when the covering was turned back we could see that rigor had passed and his mouth had fallen open, his head fallen sideways. His body seemed grey and abandoned as if finally life had fully receded.

We piled our gifts within the shroud and offered incense, and as the Zen folk chanted in Sanskrit we each whispered whatever other prayers we felt the moment needed. Reb, the Zen priest officiating, whispered in his ear before the oven door was closed. None of us felt any longer the need or desire to touch him. Reb showed Lois the button to press to start the oven, as in another age she would have set the flame to a pyre of fragrant woods. And then he suggested that we go outside to where the smoke of the crematorium was escaping into the bright sky.

This article was originally published in the CoEvolution Quarterly, 1980, Winter, No. 28, pp. 4 - 11. Many thanks to Mary Catherine Bateson for her kind permission to reproduce her article here, and also many thanks to Stewart Brand who was the editor of CoEvolution Q. for his permission.

http://www.oikos.org/batdeath.htm


Wiki on Gregory Bateson

Paul Gibney: The Double Bind Theory: Still Crazy-Making After All These Years (pdf)

Paul Tosey: Bateson’s Levels Of Learning: a Framework For Transformative Learning? (pdf)
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Thu Oct 17, 2013 8:49 pm

Bateson on ‘The Sacred’
by Jim Bliss

http://numero57.net/2010/01/09/bateson-on-the-sacred/

Everyone who knows me is aware that I can be rather evangelical about the work of Gregory Bateson, and in particular about his collected essays, Steps to an Ecology of Mind. There are two reasons for this unabashed proselytizing.

Firstly, from a purely personal standpoint, when I first began to get my head around his work it was an incredibly satisfying experience. While I was certainly learning plenty of new ideas, much of it felt more like I was having long-held suspicions confirmed. A thousand things I’d been thinking about and grappling with — for the best part of 20 years — up until Bateson, they’d been like so many fragments of paper… each hinting at something beyond it, but something still unconscious and inaccessible. Steps to an Ecology of Mind didn’t tell me what it was. It just showed me that I didn’t have a random bunch of paper fragments; I had an unsolved jigsaw.

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Gregory Bateson

The picture is almost always a little bigger than you imagine.

The second reason I spend so much time banging on about Bateson’s ideas is because I think they are incredibly important. I believe we are facing an imminent crisis arising from the unsustainable nature of our civilisation. Not only does Bateson offer us an incisive explanation of this crisis, he provides a perspective on it that I believe is invaluable should we wish to deal with it effectively.

Having said that, I often suspect I detect a tone in some of Bateson’s work that suggests he didn’t think we had a hope in hell of dealing with this crisis effectively. Not because we don’t have the necessary tools or wherewithal. But because we don’t have the vision. Our epistemology is savagely flawed.

I think my, shall we say… “Batesonian proselytizing” is an attempt to share that realisation. Or at least suggest to others that it’s there to be shared. Of course, when I thrust a copy of Steps to an Ecology of Mind into someone’s hand, I’m immediately forced to launch into a lengthy explanation of how to read the book. It’s not Finnegans Wake or anything, but nor is it the easiest text to get into. And it’s very easy to get discouraged. I started reading it three times before it finally clicked with me. Though it’s worth pointing out that I never once considered not reading it after that first abortive attempt. You only need to spend an hour or so browsing Steps to an Ecology of Mind to know that there’s something valuable there.

Earlier today, I was listening to a talk Bateson gave in 1971 on the subject of The Sacred. It’s labelled “a lecture on Consciousness and Psychopathology” though his rambling, conversational style definitely puts it under the category “talk” rather than “lecture”. About halfway through, he muses:

Gregory Bateson wrote:There are things, you know, that people do… that just give one the shivers. They will put the potted plants on the radiator… and this is just bad biology. And I guess “bad biology” is, in the end, bad Buddhism… bad Zen… and an assault on The Sacred. And that, really, is what we’re trying to do; defend The Sacred from being put on the radiator in this sort of way.


This simple metaphor (much of the talk is about the necessity of bridging the gap between the metaphorical and the literal) sums up the challenge facing humanity today. It’s the very heart of Colin Tudge’s argument in the essential So Shall We Reap, for instance. It’s at the heart of the Climate Change debate and almost all environmental activism.

If you’ve got an hour and a half to spare, why not download and listen to the talk. It barely scratches the surface of Bateson’s work, and like his books can be a little opaque in places (in the sense that he’s discussing complex subjects that are by their nature rather difficult to discuss and often inhabit that fuzzy area where language has trouble finding a firm grip). Nonetheless it’s filled with wisdom, warmth, humour and genuine insight. And there’s not much about which that can be said.

Gregory Bateson: 1971 lecture on consciousness and psychopathology (Part 1) | (Part 2)

http://numero57.net/2010/01/09/bateson-on-the-sacred/
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby cptmarginal » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:44 am

If you’ve got an hour and a half to spare, why not download and listen to the talk. It barely scratches the surface of Bateson’s work, and like his books can be a little opaque in places (in the sense that he’s discussing complex subjects that are by their nature rather difficult to discuss and often inhabit that fuzzy area where language has trouble finding a firm grip). Nonetheless it’s filled with wisdom, warmth, humour and genuine insight. And there’s not much about which that can be said.


OK, I will listen to it. I've never actually read one of his books, only encountered his ideas secondhand (and have of course heard about the government work of both him and Margaret Mead)
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:28 am

OP was an incredible read, thank you.

While I read Steps to an Ecology of Mind, it was wholly over my head at the time, and I would imagine a significant percentage of it still is in 2013.

It is sad/funny to me to see Bateson get reduced to a central casting evil scientist in the conspiracy theory community, but turning human beings into cartoon characters is probably 90% of what conspiracy theorists do, right?
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:32 am

Wombaticus Rex » Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:28 am wrote:OP was an incredible read, thank you.


You're welcome, Wombat. I agree, it's not just "a touching tribute", it's an amazing piece of writing. I love the way she moves so effortlessly from concrete particulars to weirdly right and resonant general statements. E.g. -

he wanted to be in a place where he could have more information about what was happening and where his own curiosity would be allowed to play a role, his own vitality nurtured by knowledge rather than by hope.


In the end we all worked together, removing the soiled pads, cleaning away the final traces of excrement, lifting and turning and washing each limb, shifting from side to side this beloved body from which all tension and recalcitrance were drained so that he suffered our care with a curious innocence. The blotches on his skin had faded.


(Emphases added.)

Wombaticus Rex wrote:While I read Steps to an Ecology of Mind, it was wholly over my head at the time, and I would imagine a significant percentage of it still is in 2013.


My experience has been very similar. I first read Steps to an Ecology of Mind as an 18-year-old in my second year at uni -- it wasn't on the curriculum, but it did help me understand my unease with much of the material that was on the curriculum and on the way[s] we were expected to approach it. But it was too fragmentary to be of much practical use (it's not a "How To" book) and so I quickly abandoned it and carried on jumping through the hoops.

I think it's one of the defining characteristics of Bateson's writing that -- in a certain sense -- it's over everyone's head, nearly all the time. He wrote very little, all of it in short-essay form, and he worked in many fields and as a pioneer in most of them. It's a bit like reading someone else's private notebook - no doubt it makes perfect sense to the author (who's only left out the bits he didn't need to write down!), but it's hard for an outsider to follow his leaps of thought and make the same connections. Just as only you can be you and only I can be I, only Gregory Bateson can be Gregory Bateson. And Gregory B. is clearly a very unusual thinker whose unusualness is clearly something more than mere eccentricity or slapdashness or disorganisation. Hence the fascination and the frustration of reading him. (Jim Bliss also describes this well in the second article I posted above.)

Wombaticus Rex wrote:It is sad/funny to me to see Bateson get reduced to a central casting evil scientist in the conspiracy theory community, but turning human beings into cartoon characters is probably 90% of what conspiracy theorists do, right?


Depends what you mean by "conspiracy theorists"! [Why not just say "fools"?] See RI thread: Definition of the term "Conspiracy Theory", esp. Jamey Hecht's definitive remarks. "CT" and its cognates are terms I now avoid at all costs and object to whenever I hear them used, because they are such literal thoughtstoppers. The term "conspiracy theorist" muddies the waters unnecessarily. Or you could say: It turns human beings into cartoon characters and ideas into cartoons of ideas. I wish Bateson were still around to comment on how the use of such stock phrases affects the ecology of one's own mind and the larger ecology of the larger mind[s] we all create and participate in whenever we communicate.

- But yeah, what is that all about? He's supposed to have been a CIA torturer, or what? I find this as plausible as the idea that William Blake hated children or that Noam Chomsky is a violent drunk or that Malcolm X was in fact a white man disguised by make-up. Where's the evidence?

(Request to everyone: Please start another thread if you think those allegations are worth even talking about.)
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Fri Oct 18, 2013 11:38 am

MacCruiskeen » Fri Oct 18, 2013 10:32 am wrote:Depends what you mean by "conspiracy theorists"! [Why not just say "fools"?] It's a term I now avoid at all costs and object to whenever I hear it used because it is such a literal thoughtstopper. It muddies the waters unnecessarily.


Quite so & I appreciate the correction.

The allegations in question are not worth commentary, to me, especially when juxtaposed against how important his actual body of work was.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby coffin_dodger » Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:48 pm

Paul Gibney: The Double Bind Theory: Still Crazy-Making After All These Years (pdf)


Thanks for posting that link Mac - the double-bind is something I was subjected to myself as a child (although I didn't understand how damaging it can be - at the time). Fascinating. Could help explain why I'm nucking futs now.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby H_C_E » Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:01 pm

I read his "Mind And Nature" a few years back.

It is one of three most difficult/challenging books
I've read in my life. I need to re-read it and see if
I can crack it this time.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:08 pm

coffin_dodger » Fri Oct 18, 2013 12:48 pm wrote:
Paul Gibney: The Double Bind Theory: Still Crazy-Making After All These Years (pdf)


Thanks for posting that link Mac - the double-bind is something I was subjected to myself as a child (although I didn't understand how damaging it can be - at the time). Fascinating. Could help explain why I'm nucking futs now.


You're very welcome, Mr. Dodger, and I'm glad it helped you. Yes, the double bind is a useful idea. This is the thing, one always has this powerful impression that Bateson is really interested only in things that really matter.

I may have given a slightly distorted impression upthread. Bateson is often amazingly insightful and usually very lucid too (and never pretentious); and he is also extremely economical in the way he communicates those insights. But sometimes he is so succinct as to be pretty damn hard to follow. Really suggestive ideas just raise their heads for a line or two and he is content to wave to them while whizzing past. Essentially, I think, it comes of not wanting to waste time, neither his own nor that of his readers. And it's also a mark of his aversion to the very idea of Great Thinkers and their Great Works (in their Separate Fields). Once he had worked something out to his own satisfaction (usually in 10-20 pages or so), off he headed to the next stop on his way, whether it be a poolful of dolphins or the AA 12 Steps or a Polynesian artwork or a silent adolescent. All of which things* are related, as nodes & means of varyingly-successful communication.

*He doubts that there are such things as things. Relationships are primary phenomena; contexts are never irrelevant.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:53 pm

From Versailles To Cybernetics

Gregory Bateson

April 21, 1966


I have to talk about recent history as it appears to me in my generation and to you in yours and, as I flew in this morning, words began to echo in my mind. These were phrases more thunderous than any I might be able to compose.

One of these groups of words was, The fathers have eaten bitter fruit and the children's teeth are set on edge.

Another was the statement of Joyce that History is that nightmare from which there is no awakening.

Another was, The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children even to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me.

And lastly, not so immediately relevant, but still I think relevant to the problem of social mechanism, He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer.

§ § §

We are talking about serious things. I call this lecture From Versailles to Cybernetics --- naming the two historic events of the twentieth century. The word "cybernetics" is familiar, is it not? But how many of you know what happened at Versailles in 1919?

The question is, What is going to count as important in the history of the last sixty years? I am sixty-two, and, as I began to think about what I have seen of history in my lifetime, it seemed to me that I had really only seen two moments that would rate as really important from an anthropologist's point of view. One was the events leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, and the other was the cybernetic breakthrough.

You may be surprised or shocked that I have not mentioned the A-bomb, or even World War II. I have not mentioned the spread of the automobile, nor of the radio and TV, nor many other things that have occurred in the last sixty years.

Let me state my criterion of historical importance:

Mammals in general, and we among them, care extremely, not about episodes, but about the patterns of their relationships.

When you open the refrigerator door and the cat comes up and makes certain sounds, she is not talking about liver or milk, though you may know very well that that is what she wants. You may be able to guess correctly and give her that --- if there is any in the refrigerator. What she actually says is something about the relationship between herself and you. If you translated her message into words, it would be something like, dependency, dependency, dependency. She is talking, in fact, about a rather abstract pattern within a relationship. From that assertion of a pattern, you are expected to go from the general to the specific --- to deduce milk or liver.

This is crucial. This is what mammals are about. They are concerned with patterns of relationship, with where they stand in love, hate, respect, dependency, trust, and similar abstractions, vis-à-vis somebody else. This is where it hurts us to be put in the wrong. If we trust and find that that which we have trusted was untrustworthy; or if we distrust, and find that that which we distrusted was in fact trustworthy, we feel bad. The pain that human beings and all other mammals can suffer from this type of error is extreme. If, therefore, we really want to know what are the significant points in history, we have to ask which are the moments in history when attitudes were changed. These are the moments when people are hurt because of their former "values."

Think of the house thermostat in your home. The weather changes outdoors, the temperature of the room falls, the thermometer switch in the living room goes through its business and switches on the furnace; and the furnace warms the room and when the room is hot, the thermometer switch turns it off again. The system is what is called a homeostatic circuit or a servocircuit. But there is also a little box in the living room on the wall by which you set the thermostat. If the house has been too cold for the last week, you must move it up from its present setting to make the system now oscillate around a new level. No amount of weather, heat or cold or whatever, will change that setting, which is called the "bias" of the system. The temperature of the house will oscillate, it will get hotter and cooler according to various circumstances, but the setting of the mechanism will not be changed by those changes. But when you go and you move that bias, you will change what we may call the "attitude" of the system.

Similarly, the important question about history is: Has the bias or setting been changed? The episodic working out of events under a single stationary setting is really trivial. It is with this thought in mind that I have said that the two most important historic events in my life were the Treaty of Versailles and the discovery of cybernetics.

Most of you probably hardly know how the Treaty of Versailles came into being. The story is very simple. World War I dragged on and on; the Germans were rather obviously losing. At this point, George Creel, a public relations man --- and I want you not to forget that this man was a granddaddy of modern public relations --- had an idea: the idea was that maybe the Germans would surrender if we offered them soft armistice terms. He therefore drew up a set of soft terms, according to which there would be no punitive measures. These terms were drawn up in fourteen points. These Fourteen Points he passed on to President Wilson. If you are going to deceive somebody, you had better get an honest man to carry the message. President Wilson was an almost pathologically honest man and a humanitarian. He elaborated the points in a number of speeches: there were to be "no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages..." and so on. And the Germans surrendered.

We, British and Americans --- especially the British --- continued of course to blockade Germany because we didn't want them to get uppity before the Treaty was signed. So, for another year, they continued to starve.

The Peace Conference has been vividly described by Maynard Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919).

The Treaty was finally drawn up by four men: Clemenceau, "the tiger," who wanted to crush Germany; Lloyd George, who felt it would be politically expedient to get a lot of reparations out of Germany, and some revenge; and Wilson, who had to be bamboozled along. Whenever Wilson would wonder about those Fourteen Points of his, they took him out into the war cemeteries and made him feel ashamed of not being angry with the Germans. Who was the other? Orlando was the other, an Italian.

This was one of the great sellouts in the history of our civilization. A most extraordinary event which led fairly directly and inevitably into World War II. It also led (and this is perhaps more interesting than the fact of its leading to World War II) to the total demoralization of German politics. If you promise your boy something, and renege on him, framing the whole thing on a high ethical plane, you will probably find that not only is he very angry with you, but that his moral attitudes deteriorate as long as he feels the unfair whiplash of what you are doing to him. It's not only that World War II was the appropriate response of a nation which had been treated in this particular way; what is more important is the fact that the demoralization of that nation was expectable from this sort of treatment. From the demoralization of Germany, we, too, became demoralized. This is why I say that the Treaty of Versailles was an attitudinal turning point.

I imagine that we have another couple of generations of aftereffects from that particular sellout to work through. We are, in fact, like members of the house of Atreus in Greek tragedy. First there was Thyestes' adultery, then Atreus' killing of Thyestes' three children, whom he served to Thyestes at a peace-making feast. Then the murder of Atreus' son, Agamemnon, by Thyestes' son, Aegistheus; and finally the murder of Aegistheus and Clytemnestra by Orestes. It goes on and on. The tragedy of oscillating and self-propagating distrust, hate, and destruction down the generations.

I want you to imagine that you come into the middle of one of these sequences of tragedy. How is it for the middle generation of the house of Atreus? They are living in a crazy universe. From the point of view of the people who started the mess, it's not so crazy; they know what happened and how they got there. But the people down the line, who were not there at the beginning, find themselves living in a crazy universe, and find themselves crazy, precisely because they do not know how they got that way.

To take a dose of LSD is all right, and you will have the experience of being more or less crazy, but this will make quite good sense because you know you took the dose of LSD. If, on the other hand, you took the LSD by accident, and then find yourself going crazy, not knowing how you got there, this is a terrifying and horrible experience. This is a much more serious and terrible experience, very different from the trip which you can enjoy if you know you took the LSD.

Now consider the difference between my generation and you who are under twenty-five. We all live in the same crazy universe whose hate, distrust, and hypocrisy relates back (especially at the international level) to the Fourteen Points and the Treaty of Versailles.

We older ones know how we got here. I can remember my father reading the Fourteen Points at the breakfast table and saying, "By golly, they're going to give them a decent armistice, a decent peace," or something of the kind. And I can remember, but I will not attempt to verbalize, the sort of thing he said when the Treaty of Versailles came out. It wasn't printable. So I know more or less how we got here.

But from your point of view, we are absolutely crazy, and you don't know what sort of historic event led to this craziness. The fathers have eaten bitter fruit and the children's teeth are set on edge. It's all very well for the fathers, they know what they ate. The children don't know what was eaten.

http://www.ralphmag.org/batesonP.html
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby bks » Sat Oct 19, 2013 7:37 am

reading this thread for the last 90 minutes I feel like I aged about three tyears. I do most of my aging in the early morning , when those on whom I'm dependent are sleeping, and when I sometimes steal a moment to watch them respire while the sun comes up in a window behind them.

I'm grateful for Gregory Bateson, and for the keepers of the thread and of this board.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:18 pm

Good to see you here, bks.

Here's a very long paper I've so far only glanced at (ON EDIT: I've now read it & I think it's great - so, highly recommended):

Gregory Bateson’s Notion of the Sacred: What Can it Tell Us about Living Constructively?

By Vincent Kenny

http://www.oikos.org/vinsacred.htm#2.3.


and a short Guardian article on Bateson by the novelist Tim Parks:

Everything is connected

Tim Parks

The Guardian, Saturday 13 September 2008

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/s ... litics.art
Last edited by MacCruiskeen on Sat Oct 19, 2013 5:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:44 pm

THEY THREW GOD OUT OF THE GARDEN

Letters from Gregory Bateson to Philip Wylie and Warren McCulloch

http://www.oikos.org/batesleten.htm

The following article was originally published in the CoEvolutionary Quarterly, Winter 1982, pp. 62-67. With very many thanks to Stewart Brand for his permission to reproduce it in this web page.

This is a small sampling of the voluminous correspondence of Gregory Bateson. This correspondence, along with all the rest of Bateson’s professional papers, films, and tape recordings, is in the process of being organized and catalogued, following which a volume of the correspondence will be edited for publication.

The three letters in this selection were written in 1967, during the highly fertile period which preceded the publication of Steps to an Ecology of Mind (NWEC, p. 28). At this time Bateson was increasingly turning his attention away from the dolphins with whom he had been working since 1963 and towards the thinking which reached a peak in the 1968 Wenner-Gren Conference on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation, the conference described by Mary Catherine Bateson in Our Own Metaphor (Alfred A. Knopf, 1972). These letters offer an illuminating glimpse into the evolution of ideas which preceded that meeting.

The first two letters - vintage Bateson - were written to Bateson’s neighbor and friend, the novelist-essayist Philip Wylie, stimulated by a reading of the latter’s The Magic Animal (Doubleday, 1968). Attentive readers will recognize an early, and much more colorful, version of the myth offered in ‘Conscious Purpose Versus Nature’ (Steps, pp. 434-436).

In the third letter, to neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch, Bateson expands some of the thinking in the Wylie letters to arrive at a new way of analyzing religious ideas and behavior.

- Rodney E. Donaldson


Gregory Bateson wrote:
Oceanic Institute
Memorial Day
June, 1967

Dear Phil,

I want to get this written down while I have it vivid in my head.

I have read about half of Magic Animal and these are first reactions. [...]


[...]

http://www.oikos.org/batesleten.htm



The letters are amazing.
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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Sat Oct 19, 2013 4:47 pm

1. Steps To An Ecology of Mind - the entire text as pdf - including the added Metalogues and both the older (1971) and newer (1987) prefaces (Copyright ® 1972, 1987 by Jason Aronson Inc.):

http://www.edtechpost.ca/readings/Grego ... 20Mind.pdf


2. A review of the recent film by Nora Bateson (another daughter!) that makes me really want to see it:

“When we find meaning in art, our thinking is most in sync with nature”: A Review of An Ecology of Mind - The Gregory Bateson Documentary by Jan van Boeckel:

http://www.naturearteducation.org/AnEcologyOfMind.htm

Image

^^The photo, taken by Gregory Bateson, shows the toddler Nora with one of the gibbons adopted by the family. She tells the story at the beginning of this interview:

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Re: Gregory Bateson

Postby MacCruiskeen » Sun Oct 20, 2013 4:11 pm

This is a wonderful blogpost by Hugh Palmer, on Bateson's (and Blake's) attitude to power, to rigour, and to intuition:


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Bateson as scientist and therapist: Steps towards ‘fourfold vision’

Some thoughts (due to be published and presented later this year) on Bateson and therapy....

http://hughpalmer.blogspot.de/2012/01/b ... apist.html

Image
William Blake, 1825, Job Affrighted by a Vision of his God


Bateson was a scientist, he was precise and loathed ‘muddled’ thinking but he also advocated being human with patients (he actively treated patients between 1948 and 1963) and part of what he attempted to do was ’help them find valuable patterns in their lives’.

Whilst known more as a theorist than therapist, Bateson, in this transcript of a patient interview in 1958, revealed a disarmingly transparent way of being with others, here in a conversation with a family about why they often moved location:

Bateson. I agree with much of what you say.
Mother. Moving is just for the birds
B. Having been an old –
Father. (laughing)
M. And even birds stay in the same nest (laughs).
B. – been an old mover myself. I spend time in New Guinea, in the Dutch East Indies, and God knows what else.
M. Well –
B. But –
M. It’s all right if you’re built that way. I mean each person has to do –
F. No.
B. I don’t know.
M. The reasons have to be voluntary. Mine are involuntary, I know –
B. I was frankly running away from all sorts of things.

(Bateson, cited in Lipset 1980 p. 220-221)


Jay Haley, in a personal letter to Lipset, suggested that Bateson would ‘…stay up all night with alcoholics, to get them through…He felt that being human with people was good for them’ (Lipset, 1980 p. 215). R.D. Laing, who observed Bateson in 1962, considered that, like some of the best therapists, Bateson didn't regard himself as a ‘therapist’, suggesting that “....If I was the patient in the session, I certainly wouldn’t have felt there was anything to be frightened of...he never indicated that he thought in terms of actually actively adopting strategic, practical means to use to pry people out of the entanglement they were in...” (Lipset, 1980, p.220) According to William Fry, Bateson was like an anthropologist with families; more of an observer than clinician or therapist, and would “...Switch between that role and a sort of friendly mother’s brother...raising tantalising and significant issues...They were very intuitive and hit the nail on the head, and would do all sorts of terrible things...creating insights and stirring family patterns up”. (Lipset, 1980, p.219-20)

Bateson showed compassion and intuition in his interactions, and he often emphasised the importance of therapists and doctors ‘being human’ with their patients, but was simultaneously able to also take on a more ‘scientific observer’ position, too and seemed to shift between these different positions. Eventually, he became disillusioned with psychotherapy, in part because of Haley’s inability to fully understand epistemological issues, particularly with regard to power, and left to study dolphins.

Haley again:
Bateson didn’t like power. He didn’t even like the word...anyone who said ‘I’m going to change this person’. If they said ‘I will offer this person some ideas, and if they change, it’s up to them,’ then Gregory would have no trouble with them. But if you take responsibility for changing people, then you would have a problem...Any influence outside the person’s range is odious to him. Any indirect manipulation is [also] out of the question”. (in Lipsett, 1982, p.226)


‘Power’ is a problem because we believe in it. Bateson agreed with Haley that power is a central human concern; he just wished that us humans would stop believing in power because the pursuit of power entails epistemological errors of thinking that always cause trouble. At the very least, the extent of our power-seeking seems to be influenced by culture. Instead of thinking of power in human relationships, we would be better served by reflexive dialogue about the ‘metaphor of power’, and see ourselves as simply parts of a larger situation. (Harries-Jones, 1995)

Bateson talks of power and lineal control in the domain of scientific explanation, whereas, as therapists, when we talk of "power," are speaking in the humanist domains of experience and description. “It is profoundly different to speak of power and lineal causality in the domains of experience or description as opposed to speaking of these matters in the domain of scientific explanation”. (Dell 1989) We need to be able to move between these different positions of both punctuation and of abstraction – but how?

According to Charlton (2008), Bateson considered that psychology was evolving in two directions:
• Humanist – working with clients as one human being with another, intuitively responding from personal emotional resources to ‘act spontaneously out of his own integrity’.
• Circularistic – consciously scientific, articulate about methods and results, aiming for predictability and logical coherence.

Bateson saw a way forward as a compromise; a working together of both types of practice; between intuition and examination/description, each informing the other. Charlton adds to this:

“Humanist, scientist, artist and theoretician are all needed to form the cybernetic unity of healing” (Charlton 2008, p. 94)

In my opinion, therapy truly influenced by Bateson would involve moving between all four positions (Humanist, scientist, artist and theoretician) and having the wisdom to value them all.


Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And threefold in soft Beulah's night,
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton's sleep.

- William Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802.



A crude description of Blake’s fourfold vision might be:
• Single Vision – ‘Newton’s sleep’ - linear thinking. Knowledge. Rational. Material.
• Twofold Vision – Appreciating our connection with nature and the environment.
• Threefold Vision – Unconscious processes, memory and intuition.
• Fourfold Vision – The delight of experiencing single, twofold and threefold vision, with constant twofold visioning in daily life.

I would like to offer this version for therapists (and others who are engaged in 'people work')

Single Vision – The Scientist:

Good observation skills.
Linear descriptions:
What is the issue?
Who is involved?
When does it happen?
Where does it happen?
Consideration of non-systemic explanations
e.g. physical illness, disabilities


Twofold Vision – The Theorist:

Consciously scientific observation of patterns within the family system.
Circular causality.
Relational aspects.
Systemic theorising.
First order cybernetics.


Threefold Vision - The Humanist:

Being human.
Connecting with personal experiences and intuitions, embodied aspects of practice.
Empathy.
Self of the therapist.
Disclosure and transparency.
Second order cybernetics.



Fourfold Vision - The Artist:

The aesthetic delight of working with and between single, twofold and threefold experience.
Self of therapist and family located and theorised in wider and wider contexts.
Higher levels of abstraction.
Mystery.
Sparkling moments.


---------------------


References
Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Charlton, N. (2008) Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, beauty and the sacred Earth. New York: SUNY Press.
Dell, P. (1989) Violence and the Systemic View: The Problem of Power. Family Process, 28: 1, 1-14.
Harries-Jones, P. (1995) A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lipsett, D. (1980). Gregory Bateson, the Legacy of a Scientist. Boston: Beacon Press

Posted by Hugh Palmer at 11:49 am

Labels: Bateson, Blake, power, Therapy


http://hughpalmer.blogspot.de/2012/01/b ... apist.html


Hugh Palmer's Bateson resource page has a number of useful links and includes the last paragraph of a letter written by Bateson:

Gregory Bateson wrote:I am suggesting to you that all the multiple insults, the double binds and invasions that we all experience in life, the impact (to use an inappropriate physical word) whereby experience corrupts our epistemology, challenging the core of our existence, and thereby seducing us into a false cult of the ego—what I am suggesting is that the process whereby double binds and other traumas teach us a false epistemology is already well advanced in most occidentals and perhaps most orientals, and that those whom we call "schizophrenics" are those in whom the endless kicking against the pricks has become intolerable.

http://edge.org/conversation/gregory-ba ... centennial
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