One of the most influential thinkers in my life and in my academic career is the exceptional Gregory Bateson. Many people know of his work though his connection to anthropologist Margaret Mead, to whom he was married for a period of time. Bateson, like many other profound individuals, has become well known for some of his aphorisms, like “the difference that makes a difference” and “the pattern that connects,” if such intellectual tweets strike your fancy. The extraordinary contribution that Bateson made to the understanding of the human condition and its relationship to the general environmental condition of the universe, however, can’t be overstated. To begin to grasp his ideas, a careful and intense reading of his books “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” and “Mind and Nature” would be a good start.
Bateson’s youngest daughter, Nora, has produced a wonderful look at the life and work of her father, which is at once a sentimental glimpse of a father’s influence on his child and a grounded, smart exposition of his philosophy. The film is called “An Ecology of Mind: A daughter’s portrait of Gregory Bateson” and is currently being screened internationally. I was fortunate to catch some of the film at the 57th Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture and Symposium in October of 2010, where Nora Bateson also gave a short talk about her film and her father. Here’s a clip:
The key takeaway quote from that short clip comes at the end, when Bateson says, “There are times when I catch myself believing that there is such a thing as something, which is separate from something else.” That quote strikes at the essence of Bateson’s scientific point of view, but also of the humanism of his work. It was his hope that learning to think ecologically, to be systems thinkers (see: Fritjof Capra), would help people to understand there interdependence with one another and with the forces of nature of which they are but a part. That same message is apparent in the work of David Suzuki, biologist, geneticist, media pioneer and humanitarian.
I was fortunate to catch a screening of Suzuki’s legacy film, “Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie” in its one-time airing on the Green Channel some months ago. The film is part of the David Suzuki Legacy Project, which is part biography, part science documentary, and part humanitarian plea. I strongly urge anyone who reads this to seek out the film in any way possible, but a short clip from the lecture portion of the film struck me as being a wonderful example of Bateson’s ecological mind. It’s theme…”we are air.” Enjoy.