Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind
Much is being said in this day and age about the idea of humanity and human consciousness undergoing a massive “paradigm shift.” The phrase “paradigm shift” was first coined by physicist Thomas Kuhn in his book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” which he wrote in 1962. In his book Kuhn posits that science proceeds in accordance with certain fundamental assumptions and beliefs, the limits of which are examined, tested and redefined by visionary thinkers who present new a conceptual framework that revolutionizes and revises the existing assumptions of reality. Kuhn used his idea of paradigm shift in respect to the hard sciences, as for example, when Copernicus’ investigations determined the Earth revolved around the Sun or Einstein’s theories revolutionized concepts about energy, mass, gravity and astrophysics. However, the phrase “paradigm shift” more recently has become a formulation about how human consciousness progresses in social, artistic and creative realms, as well as in science.
Many of the people who use the term “paradigm shift” are describing some of the changes and advances in our expanding, interactive global cultural village as transformations of interlocking and related dimensions. Changes in sex roles and the sexual revolution, increasing lack of fulfillment in traditional occupations, environmentalism, the civil rights movement, new forms of artistic expression, questions about the limits of materialism and the development of the Internet itself are all said to be paradigm shifts. One of the best books to elucidate this idea – although he never used the term “paradigm shift” –was Gregory Bateson’s beautifully profound book, “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.”
Written in 1970, Bateson’s book suggests that the core reasons for the growing environmental crises in Western society stem from problems of mind, consciousness and epistemology. While describing the implications of some of his unique contributions in anthropology, biology and psychology, Bateson suggested that there while science is predicated on discerning the patterns that connects phenomena of the material world, there is also “a pattern to the pattern that connects.” However, his book did not elaborate on a very concrete or detailed model of the “pattern that connects,” but rather pointed in the direction of potentially related ideas and allowed the reader to develop his or her own expansive formulations. Bateson wrote a series of entries on seemingly unrelated topics like schizophrenia, play and fantasy, categories of learning and communication, information in primitive art as well as other subjects and tied them together with a collection of “Metalogue” conversations with his daughter about some of the interrelated ideas.
Reading between the lines, Bateson’s book hinted at or foreshadowed a number of developments that would not have been easy to visualize in the early 70s, such as the expansion of comedy in society; the development of rap music, slam poetry and spoken word art forms; the blending of art, film, music and entertainment in advertising; growth of music videos; the mass appeal of music, dance and audio-visuals in large concert stage productions; use of small and large-scale puppetry in television and Broadway theater productions; the mass popularization of 12-step programs for addiction treatment as well as a path of spirituality. In his book Bateson points the way toward an outline of certain coming paradigm shifts, and yet 40 years later Western society is still struggling with ecological consciousness and solutions relating to climate change, conservation and environmental justice. What he was suggesting is that there is something of hidden interactive human consciousness underlying all of these trends.Attempting to understand the societal forces in these paradigm shifts are helpful for getting an effective reading through understanding personal karma and transformation as it relates to interpreting a birth chart. Where do we fit in our society’s evolution? What are the trends we can anticipate about societal change and the future? Answering some of these questions sometimes resolves the karma of both personal and social issues, or may help an individual become a more effective, perceptive, understanding and successful human being. These are qualities of the Aquarian age.