Thursday March 21, 7:30pm
A Daughter’s Portrait of Gregory Bateson
Winner: Media Ecology Association John Culkin 2011 Award for
We are very fortunate that Nora Bateson, the filmmaker and his daughter, will be present for this screening, the official public release of her documentary. The documentary leaves me in a clear, expanded and joyful state, of heart rather than mind. It is a testimony to the universal relevance of Gregory Bateson’s thinking and the skill of Nora’s film making that everyone I have shown it to has loved it.
I first came across the film in Oxford, England, where Nora was screening it to a largely academic audience. At the end she asked for questions and comments but people were sitting in a kind of altered state, so she simply continued to weave the magic beautifully as she spoke for another 20 minutes.
This kind of experience is rare but has never had more relevance. Unless we find a new way to see the world and our place in it, there may be little hope for the human race. Gregory Bateson is a compelling thinker and teacher who might be able to help shift the balance from ‘me’ and ‘mine’ to ‘we’ and ‘ours,’ in the native American sense of ‘all our relations’.
Here are a number of reviews that demonstrate the broad reach of Bateson’s teaching.
“What becomes amply clear is that Bateson is needed today more than ever. His ability to see life from different angles runs counter to the intolerance evident in so much of what passes for contemporary public debate. In this era, which seems more and more to push individuals more toward black-and-write thinking – with any kind of larger shared truth conveniently, often intentionally, ignored – Bateson’s beliefs feel as fresh as they do refreshing…Gregory Bateson took the first steps toward such a worldwide societal reunion long before he died at age 76 in 1980. His daughter, now, in a quietly profound way, has continued the journey. It’s up to the rest of us to complete the process. Watching “An Ecology of Mind” is a good place to start.”
Dan Webster, Film critic, NPR’s KPBX “Movies 101”
“An Ecology of Mind is a spell-binding, lyrical, and very important film about Gregory Bateson and his revolutionary ideas that helped launch the modern ecology movement. The film is both memoir and tribute from his daughter, Nora Bateson, demonstrating that the most personal can reveal the most universal. Ms. Bateson’s discoveries with her father reflect the discoveries of a generation that learned serious ecology from Bateson. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bateson became a mentor to students, seasoned academics, and environmentalists, providing the language and insights that linked ecology to general systems, psychology, sociology, epistemology, and broad theories of science. Along the way, Bateson conceived and illuminated some of the most significant ideas of the era: cybernetics, double-bind, changeability, and the pattern that connects. The film, An Ecology of Mind, is an extraordinary portrayal of the breadth, depth, rigor, and dynamism of Gregory Bateson’s contributions to science and humanity.”
Rex Weyler Co-founder, Greenpeace International
“Combining rare footage from Bateson’s lectures and interviews with a veritable who’s who of thinkers influenced by his thought, this is an intimate and accessible portrait of one of the most original and creative interdisciplinary thinkers of the 20th century. From ecology to information systems, Bateson shows how the central question is not “What is it made of?” but rather “What is its pattern?” To borrow a famous remark about James Joyce, we are still learning to be Gregory Bateson’s contemporaries. Let’s hope we are fast learners.”
Cary Wolfe, Professor of English, Rice University, Author, Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside,” and What Is Posthumanism?, Founding editor, Posthumanities series
“Nora Bateson combines imaginative graphics with fascinating documentary footage and illuminating interviews to present her father’s intellectual legacy against the backdrop of his relationship with his youngest child, the filmmaker herself. This unique documentary will be an invaluable resource to the many who have drawn on Gregory Bateson’s ideas – myself included – and to those for whom this will be an enlightening introduction. “
Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation 
“This is a brilliant film about a brilliant thinker. The film offers interviews of scholars, politicians, and public intellectuals who comment on the extraordinary insights made by Gregory Bateson. It also includes clips of Bateson’s lectures, interviews, and even personal moments. Bateson’s ideas are not only still relevant today, they have become even more so as the global world faces challenges of how to bring systems thinking to bear on solutions. The film is composed by connected segments, named using key concepts that Bateson pioneered, such as pattern, relationship, cybernetics, difference that makes a difference, double bind, and more…This film is the only one I know of that explores the full range of thought and humanity of Gregory Bateson, a giant in the world of systems thinking.”
Tyler Volk, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies, New York University, Author, “Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind”
“Thank you deeply for letting me see the pre-release copy of An Ecology of Mind. It’s a tender and poetic portrayal not only of one of the most provocative thinkers of the last century but also of a vivid relationship between a daughter and father. It’s an introduction to Gregory Bateson’s wisest thought, product of a lifetime of innovative research, centering on the issue of how we (humans) think and learn and do research.”
Hildred Geertz, Professor Emerita, Dept of Anthropology, Princeton University, Author of “Images of Power: Balinese Paintings made for Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead”
“Many attributes of Gregory Bateson’s life and work are conveyed in the film, but most importantly it has the power to change the way you see. It will show you how you habitually see ‘things’ as ‘real’ and the relations that connect things as some sort of invisible, intangible and ultimately unreal connection between things. Slowly as the film redirects your gaze you will find that you are not looking at things at all, you are looking at patterns of relationship – here and there, now and then, fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, teachers and students, animals and humans, humans and the earth, and even two cups sitting on a table.”
Jeff Carreria, Enlightenment Next Magazine
“Gregory Bateson revolutionized our understanding of the dynamic relationships in (and between) our human consciousness, our communities and societies, and our ecological systems. His work still challenges and informs us as we create new pathways toward
health and resilience in our lives, and in our world. ‘An Ecology of Mind’ is the first documentary film to explore the life and innovative ideas of this essential thinker. Through this deeply thought-provoking film, we follow Bateson on his remarkable journey toward insight. We discover how his own life experience led him to comprehend the patterns in our reality. Bateson’s work remains indispensible as we come to terms with our responsibilities to future generations and to the larger community of life.”
Dr. Curt Meine, Director,Conservation Biology and History, Center for Humans and Nature, Author, “Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation”
“This documentary kindles the spirit of Gregory Bateson, and guides you on two fascinating journeys: One of a daughter’s effort to understand her father who died before he could tell her everything she yearned to know, and the other through the ideas that Gregory Bateson developed for us to understand ourselves in the larger ecology to which we contribute. Gregory was an anthropologist, naturalist,
cybernetician, and philosopher who never returned to where he came from, restlessly searching to expand the boundaries of our thinking and acting in a world in which everything is connected to everything else. The documentary continues the conversation he started among friends and acquaintances whose lives he touched.”
Klaus Krippendorff, Professor for Cybernetics, Language
“As close as I’ve ever gotten to this profound and influential thinker, Nora Bateson’s intimate portrait of her father allows us to delight in his delight, to share his infectious love for thinking and being. It is the most enjoyable way I know to get a dose of the systems thinking that our society so sorely needs.” Also, “A wonderful introduction to Bateson’s thought.”
Dorion Sagan, Sleight of hand magician, and author who writes on Evolution, Cybersex, and the Biology of Gender
I hope Fritjof Capra does not object to my lifting his excellent article about Bateson for the rest of my post.
HOMAGE TO GREGORY BATESON
By Fritjof Capra
I had the great fortune to have frequent discussions with Gregory Bateson during the last two years of his life, which he spent at the Esalen Institute. He was, in my opinion, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. The uniqueness of his thought came from its broad range and its generality. In an age characterized by fragmentation and overspecialization, Bateson challenged the basic assumptions and methods of several sciences by looking for patterns connecting different phenomena and for processes beneath structures.
He made significant contributions to several sciences — anthropology, cybernetics, psychiatry, and, most important of all, to the new interdisciplinary field of cognitive science, which he pioneered. But perhaps even more important is the fact that he championed a new way of thinking, which is extremely relevant to our time — thinking in terms of relationships, connections, patterns, and context. As we replace the Newtonian metaphor of the world as a machine by the metaphor of the network, and as complexity becomes a principal focus in science, the kind of systemic thinking that Bateson advocated is becoming crucial.
To use a popular phrase, Bateson taught us how to connect the dots, and this is critical today not only in science but also in politics and civic life, as most of our political and corporate leaders show a striking inability to connect the dots. For example, if we improved the fuel efficiency of our cars by just 3 mpg, which could be very easily done, we would not have to import any oil from the Persian Gulf. But instead, they prefer to fight a war that kills tens of thousands of innocent people, while the greenhouse gases produced by our cars increase the force of hurricanes that make millions homeless and cause billions of dollars of damages.
If we served organically grown food in our schools, to use another example, we would not have the current epidemic of obesity among our children, we would not poison our farm workers, and the increased carbon content of the organic soil would draw down significant amounts of CO2 and thus contribute to reversing the current climate change. In short, to solve the major problems of our time, we need exactly the type of thinking Bateson pioneered.
Gregory Bateson was not only an outstanding scientist but also a highly original philosopher. He was very charismatic and, like a Zen master, he liked to jolt people’s minds by asking astonishing and seemingly mysterious questions. “What is the pattern,” Bateson would ask “that connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose, and all four of them to me? And me to you?”
Bateson’s style of presentation was an essential and intrinsic part of his teaching. His central message was that relationships are the essence of the living world, and that we need a language of relationships to understand and describe it. One of the best ways to do so, in his view, is by telling stories. “Stories are the royal road to the study of relationships,” he would say. What is important in a story, what is true in it, is not the plot, the things, or the people in a story, but the relationships between them.
Since Bateson’s favorite method was to present patterns of relationships in the form of stories, the essays and books he wrote do not give us the full flavor of his teaching. To experience the essence of Bateson’s message, you would really have needed to experience his own live delivery of that message. Fortunately, this is still possible, because we have many hours of film footage of Gregory Bateson talking, teaching, telling stories. This is why Nora’s film project is so important, in my view. It will be not only a priceless souvenir of one of the greatest thinkers of our time, but also an essential vehicle to deliver his message, which today is more important than ever.