Literature/1976/Bateson

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Bateson, Gregory & Mead, Margaret (1976). "For God's Sake, Margaret: Conversation with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead." CoEvolutionary Quarterly (Summer 1976) no. 10, pp. 22-44.

Figures[edit]

The anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead contrasted first and second-order cybernetics with this diagram in an interview in 1973.[1] @ w: Second-order cybernetics [2]

Excerpts[edit]

SB [3] 
Margaret, what was your perception at the time of the early Macy meetings as to what was going on?
Mead 
The thing that cybernetics made the most difference to me, aside from all the things that you know, in the social organisation field, was the interaction between the mother and child. There had been too much emphasis that there were temperamental differences among children, so that you responded differently to a hyperactive baby than you did to a quiet baby. But the extent to which there was a system in which the mother was dependent on what the child had learned as the stimulus for the next position wasn’t well articulated until we got the cybernetics conferences going.
Bateson 
The link-up between the behavioral sciences spread very slowly and hasn’t really spread yet. The cyberneticians in the narrow sense of the word went off into input-output.
SB
They went off into computer science.
Bateson 
Computer science is input-output. You’ve got a box, and you’ve got this line enclosing the box, and the science is the science of these boxes. Now, the essence of Wiener’s cybernetics was that the science is the science of the whole circuit. You see, the diagram ...
Mead 
You'd better verbalize this diagram if it's going to be on the tape.
Bateson 
Well, you can carry a piece of yellow paper all the way home with you. The electric boys have a circuit like that, and an event here is reported by a sense organ of some kind, and affects something that puts in here. Then ... you say there’s an input and an output. Then you work on the box. What Wiener says is that you work on the whole picture and its properties. Now, there may be boxes inside here, like this of all sorts, but essentially your ecosystem, your organism-plus-environment, is to be considered as a single circuit.
SB 
The bigger circle there ...
Bateson 
And you’re not really concerned with an input-output, but with the events within the bigger circuit, and you are part of the bigger circuit. It’s these lines around the box (which are just conceptual lines after all) which mark the difference between the engineers and ...
Mead 
... and between the systems people and general systems theory, too.
Bateson
Yes.
SB 
A kind of a Martin Buber-ish breakdown, ‘I-it’, where they are trying to keep themselves out of that which they’re studying. The engineer is outside the box ... and Wiener is inside the box.
Bateson 
And Wiener is inside the box; I’m inside the box ...
Mead 
I’m inside the box. You see, Wiener named the thing, and of course the word 'cybernetics' comes from the Greek word for helmsman.
Bateson 
It actually existed as a word before Wiener -- it’s a nineteenth century word.
Mead 
Yes, but he wrote the book Cybernetics and sort of patented the idea to that extent. And then he went to Russia, and was very well received. The Russians were crazy about this right away -- it fit right to their lives. But one of the big difficulties in Russian psychology is that they have great difficulty learning that anything's irreversible. So cybernetics spread all over the Soviet Union very rapidly, and in Czechoslovakia, whereas what spread here was systems theory instead of cybernetics.
SB
How did that happen? It seems like something went kind of awry.
Mead 
Americans like mechanical machines.
Bateson 
They like tools.
SB
Material tools more than conceptual tools.
Bateson 
No, because conceptual tools aren’t conceptual tools in America, they’re not part of you.
SB
How about McCulloch? He loved machinery. Did he also see himself as inside the box?
Mead
Well, one of the things he spent a great deal of time on was perception machines, separate sensory apparatus for the deaf or the blind.

Wikimedia[edit]

Chronology[edit]

  • Pask, Gordon (1996). "Heinz von Foerster's Self-Organisation, the Progenitor of Conversation and Interaction Theories." Systems Research, 13(3): 349–362. [^]
  • Maturana, Humberto and Francisco Varela (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Boston: Reidel. [^]
  • Bateson, Gregory & Mead, Margaret (1976). "For God's Sake, Margaret: Conversation with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead." CoEvolutionary Quarterly (Summer 1976) no. 10, pp. 22-44. [^]
  • Pask, Gordon (1975). Conversation, Cognition and Learning. Elsevier. [^]
  • Abramovitz, Robert and Heinz von Foerster (1974). Cybernetics of Cybernetics or the Control of Control and the Communication of Communication (result of a course, fall semester 1973, continued through spring semester 1974, sponsored by a grant from the Point Foundation to the Biological Computer Laboratory, University of Illinois), Urbana, Ill.: Biological Computer Laboratory, 1974. [^]
  • Cherry, Colin (1957). On Human Communication: A Review, a Survey, and a Criticism . The M.I.T. Press, 1966. [^]
  • Shannon, Claude E. & Warren Weaver (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. University of Illinois Press. [^]
  • Wiener, Norbert (1948). Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. 2nd ed., The MIT Press, 1965. [^]

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Comments[edit]


Notes[edit]

  1. Interview with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, CoEvolution Quarterly, June 1973.
  2. The year 1973 must be 1976. This mistake appears serious as compared with 1974/Foerster (1974) and alleged Maturana (1972) instead of Maturana (1980).
  3. Stewart Brand, the publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog.
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