Gregory Bateson

Gregory
Bateson
1904
1980

British Ethnologist, Biologist, Systems Researcher, Anthropologist, Social Scientist, Linguist, Semiotician and Cyberneticist

Author Quotes

I have always thought that way: that the relation between me and that book, or the book and the table, is still a microcosm of the relation between man and God, or God and the devil, or what have you. That the big relations and the small relations are all the same thing! For study’s purposes, you have to work with small ones, sometimes. And then people blame you for working with small ones. Then you start working with big ones and they blame you for being a mystic. It’s all the same business.

Members of weakly religious families get, of course, no religious training from any source outside the family.

The concept of communication includes all of those processes by which people influence one another... This definition is based on the premise that all actions and events have communicative aspects, as soon as they are perceived by a human being; it implies, futhermore, that such perception changes the information which an individual processes and therefor influences him.

We are most of us governed by epistemologies that we know to be wrong.

If a man achieves or suffers change in premises which are deeply embedded in his mind, he will surely find that the results of that change will ramify throughout his whole universe.

Multiple descriptions are better than one.

The cybernetic epistemology which I have offered you would suggest a new approach. The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system. This larger Mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by “God,” but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology.

We can never be quite clear whether we are referring to the world as it is or to the world as we see it.

If it were possible adequately to present the whole of a culture, stressing every aspect exactly as appears in the culture itself, no single detail would appear bizarre or strange or arbitrary to the reader, but rather the details would all appear natural and reasonable as they do to the natives who have lived all their lives within the culture.

No organism can afford to be conscious of matters with which it could deal at unconscious levels. Broadly, we can afford to sink those sorts of knowledge which continue to be true regardless of changes in the environment, but we must maintain in an accessible place all those controls of behavior which must be modified for every instance. The economics of the system, in fact, pushes organisms toward sinking into the unconscious those generalities of relationship which remain permanently true and toward keeping within the conscious the pragmatic of particular instances.

The hierarchy of relations, from the molecular structure of carbon to the equilibrium of the species and ecological whole, will perhaps be the leading idea of the future.

We face a world which is threatened not only with disorganization of many kinds, but also with the destruction of its environment, and we, today, are still unable to think clearly about the relations between an organism and its environment. What sort of thing is this, which we call ‘organism plus environment?

If we pursue this matter further, we shall be told that the stable object is unchanging under the impact or stress of some particular external or internal variable or, perhaps, that it resists the passage of time.

Numbers are the product of counting. Quantities are the product of measurement. This means that numbers can conceivably be accurate because there is a discontinuity between each integer and the next. Between two and three there is a jump. In the case of quantity there is no such jump, and because jump is missing in the world of quantity it is impossible for any quantity to be exact. You can have exactly three tomatoes. You can never have exactly three gallons of water. Always quantity is approximate.

The map is not the territory (coined by Alfred Korzybski), and the name is not the thing named.

We get a picture, then, of mind as synonymous with cybernetic system – the relevant total information-processing, trial-and-error completing unit. And we know that within Mind in the widest sense there will be hierarchy of sub-systems, any one of which we can call an individual mind. But this picture is precisely the same picture which I arrived at in discussing the unit of evolution. I believe that this identity is the most important generalization which I have to offer you tonight.

In order to proceed with abstraction, the organism must be exposed to a sufficient number of events which contain the same factors. Only then is a person equipped to cope with the most frequent happenings that he may encounter.

Of all these examples, the simplest but the most profound is the fact that it takes at least two somethings to create a difference.

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

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.

In the transmission of human culture, people always attempt to replicate, to pass on to the next generation the skills and values of the parents, but the attempt always fails because cultural transmission is geared to learning, not DNA.

Official education was telling people almost nothing of the nature of all those things on the seashores, and in the redwood forests, in the deserts and in the plains.

The messages cease to be messages when nobody can read them. Without a Rosetta stone, we would know nothing of all that was written in Egyptian hieroglyphs. They would be only elegant ornaments on papyrus or rock. To be meaningful - even to be recognized as pattern - every regularity must meet with complementary regularities, perhaps skills, and these skills are as evanescent as the patterns themselves. They, too, are written on sand or the surface of waters.

What we mean by information — the elementary unit of information — is a difference which makes a difference, and it is able to make a difference because the neural pathways along which it travels and is continually transformed are themselves provided with energy. The pathways are ready to be triggered. We may even say that the question is already implicit in them.

Instead of looking at the substance of it, looking at the parts and saying: “What made this part, what made that part? And where did the design plan come from that makes those parts work together?”, one sees in the pattern of their similarities and differences a whole separate kind of patterning process, and I think that was characteristic of his way of looking through the surface to some deeper dimension.

Author Picture
First Name
Gregory
Last Name
Bateson
Birth Date
1904
Death Date
1980
Bio

British Ethnologist, Biologist, Systems Researcher, Anthropologist, Social Scientist, Linguist, Semiotician and Cyberneticist