Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

An Ecology of Mind: Remember the Future

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

An Ecology of Mind: Remember the Future

Article excerpt

(DVD, 2011, by Nora Bateson, Bullfrog Films, 60 minutes,

This homage to scientist, psychologist, and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson was produced and directed by his daughter, Nora. Gregory Bateson, who was the son of William Bateson (coiner of the term "genetics") and the husband of Margaret Mead, influenced the fields of information science, cybernetics, urban planning, anthropology, psychiatry, biology, and ecology--before, in fact, some of these sciences even existed. Students of biology, science, science history, or organizational theory will delight in discovering this influential thinker, and An Ecology of Mind is a great introduction.

If a scientist were to name some quintessentially 20th-century words characterizing modes of thinking, they would include interdisciplinary, connectedness, context, relatedness, cybernetics, networks, and changeability. These terms, peppered throughout An Ecology of Mind, underlie meta-thinker Bateson's contributions.

Bateson was interested in exploring how living things are connected, how we all live together--animals, plants, you and me. He was a signal thinker whose insight into ecosystems and networks defined the way we teach our students biology. (Bateson's phrase "the delicate interdependencies" has become a foundation of my lecture on ecosystems).

What tells the sea anemone how to grow, and the amoeba what to do next? Its context decides.

In filmed interviews and lectures, Bateson speaks to us: "Thinking is not done by the brain in your head.... How is thinking done? Look at a thing, an earthworm, a number sequence, a tree, a definition of addiction, from another angle.... The thing is not the thing.... the map not the territory ... it must be reexamined infinitely so you don't get stuck down a singular line of thinking."

An example of the difference between a thing and its context is the molecule hemoglobin: You may know all about hemoglobin, its atoms and structure, where it came from in the formation of the universe, and still not know the essence of hemoglobin's relationship to oxygen and the way oxygen helps the body process energy. …

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