5.0 out of 5 stars
Gregory Bateson's Masterpiece, Dec 10 2002
Gregory Bateson is difficult to "get" but incredibly rewarding once you do understand him. The number of concepts he deals with in this masterwork is amazing; the number that are still relevant more than twenty years after publication is stunning. Mind and Nature will some day be seen as one of the most important books of the Twentieth Century.
Bateson does not just tell us what he knows -- he shows us, using marvelous examples from nature that you will never forget. He gives beautifully clear -- on the sixth or seventh reading for some people -- descriptions of learning-by-the-individual and evolution-by-the-group as ***essentially similar fusions of analogic and digital (or energy and pattern) integrations.***
Learning-by-the-individual is "somatic" and benefits the survival of the individual, but ***that*** survival in turn becomes the evolutionary driving force for the group because the genes of the individual are passed on in the germ (genetic) line of the species. Mind and Nature are an essential unity. But what's more, the processes by which both mind and nature work are the SAME: Whether individual learning or group evolution, some pattern-preferencing mechanism "selects," from a set of cast-up possibilities, some qualities of some kind. The selecting mechanisms can ONLY select from those cast-up possibilities. When those qualities have survival value, they get passed on.
Far more than just a re-statement of Darwin, the essential unity of Mind and Nature described by Bateson has vast implications for our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. We are as one with Nature, as one with the way of the Universe. Each of us in our individual being, learning our individual lessons, goes through exactly the SAME process of stochastic learning as the greater group, the species. It's not just trial and error: We can ACTIVELY CO-EVOLVE with the messages of our world. What those messages are, Bateson teaches in stunning clarity: Modern systems thinking and complexity theory as maturing (yet still not mature) arts truly starts with Bateson's analysis. Bateson may not have added a great deal to this synthesis, but his analysis has made available to countless thinkers the wisdom of the systems thinking paradigm and the evolutionary imperative.
The message Bateson sends is that to survive intelligently as humans we must better combine imagination with rigor. We must use our abilities as conscious beings to courageously imagine better futures, to go where angels fear to tread, fraught with danger though that may be. Only then can we make the world better. Until we imagine new ideas, until we bring our unique contributions into being as 'possibilities,' the forces of evolution cannot act on them. Our jobs are to be truly and deeply human: We must add our unique selves, our Minds, to the possibilities of the Universe, while balancing our beings within the constraints of Nature's flows of energy and pattern. Only the longest-term survival patterns ultimately have survival value, and we best get with it as intelligently, and as soon, as we are able.