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Gregory Bateson
 [1904-1980] was an Anthropologist, a Social Scientist, a Cyberneticist and one of the most important social scientists of this century. Strongly opposing those scientists who attempted to ‘reduce’ everything to mere matter, he was intent upon the task of re-introducing ‘Mind’ back into the scientific equations – writing two famous books Steps to an Ecology of Mind, and Mind & Nature as part of this task. From his point of view Mind is a constituent part of ‘material reality’ and it is thus nonsensical to try to split mind from matter. Before being championed by the counter-culture of the 1960’s Bateson had been busy in the 20’s and 30’s as an anthropologist in Bali, and in helping to found the science of cybernetics among many other things. Adopted by many thinkers in the anti-psychiatry movement because he provided a model and a new epistemology for developing a novel understanding of human madness, and also for his invention of the theory of the double bind. Bateson is well known for identifying and naming the paradox of the double bind, a dilemma that Bateson and his colleagues discovered while researching schizophrenia. A double bind occurs when an individual experiences conflicting emotional, verbal, or physical messages. They realized that these highly emotionally impaired individuals often suffered from an inability to process the internal and external communication they were receiving.

The deliberate use of double bind scenarios can be used as a form of thought control. With no clear verbal communication, implications can be made through intonation, eye contact, physical gestures, and by other methods. Victims of double bind intimidation often feel trapped in a situation that requires they complete a specific task that may result in a positive outcome in one regard, and a negative outcome in another. For instance, when a person who is abused is told that he or she is loved and valued while simultaneously receiving the message that he or she will no longer be loved if he or she tells anyone about the abuse, the victim is in a double bind.

The double bind technique is used as a method of coercion and control in relationships of nearly every type. The authority figure, whether a parent, teacher, or intimate partner, uses the tactic to gain power over the victim in the relationship. The victim, unable to come to any resolution when confronted with the double bind, experiences anxiety and fear. As hard as the victim may try, he or she is not able to satisfy all requirements of the double bind, as it is an impossible puzzle. This can leave a person feeling powerless, intimidated, unfulfilled, and afraid of the consequences that will follow.

Bateson was intensely fascinated by the interplay of various symptoms, and he claimed that the world was a group of systems interacting with one another. The system of the individual, the culture, and the ecosystem each respond to one another, creating a feedback loop.

Bateson became an American citizen in 1956 and remained in the United States for the rest of his life. He spent the remainder of his career lecturing, teaching, and researching. He worked at Saybrook University (formerly the Humanistic Psychology Institute) in San Francisco and at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was a member of several prestigious professional associations and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He helped to elaborate the science of cybernetics with colleagues Warren McCulloch, Gordon Pask, Ross Ashby, Heinz von Foerster, Norbert Wiener, etc. He inspired several different models and approaches in the area of psychotherapy, notably that of the MRI Interactional school of Weakland, Jackson, and Watzlawick, and many other later schools of family therapy [including that of the Milan school of Palazzoli], and he directly influenced family therapists such as Brad Keeney, Tom Andersen, Lynn Hoffman and many others.

Books:

  • Naven: A Survey of the Problems suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe drawn from Three Points of View (1958)
  • Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis (with Margaret Mead, 1942)
  • Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry (with J.Ruesch, 1951)
  • Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (1972)
  • Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979)
  • Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred (1988)
  • A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind (with Rodney Donaldson, 1991)

See GoodTherapy.org’s website.

Archives:
Gregory Bateson’s archives were given by his family to the Special Collections & Archives of the UCSC Library (University of California in Santa Cruz, CA). Click here to get access to the collection.