Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 3 Number 11, Dec. 2004
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Bateson and Me
(Part Two of Three)
(If you haven't read part one, see the archives, listed below.)
"I have to thank first the fellowship of the University of
California at Santa Cruz and especially my friends in Kresge
College: Mary Diaz, Robert Edgar, Carter Wilson, Carol Proudfoot,
and the secretariat."
-- acknowledgments page of "Mind and Nature -- A Necessary Unity"
(1979) by Gregory Bateson
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1572734345/hip-20 )
( www.oikos.org/mind&nature.htm )
In reviewing what I already wrote, giving background on Gregory Bateson
and me before I became his student, I realized that there is a third
"character" in this drama I need to fill you in on: Kresge College
The University of California is in some ways modeled after Oxford
University in England, with its residential colleges. This is why
the head of each campus is called the "chancellor" instead of "dean"
and the head of each college is the "provost." When the UC regents
decided to develop a new campus on the Santa Cruz land formerly used
by Henry Cowell for ranching and a lime kiln operation, and later
donated to the UC system by the Cowell Foundation, they selected
UCLA political scientist Dean McHenry to found the new campus. (This
lead to some confusion, which I exploited in 1973 when editor of the
Kresge newsletter; after he announced his retirement as chancellor,
I called McHenry's office to confirm that he wasn't changing his
name, and printed the headline "MCHENRY STILL DEAN.") McHenry wanted
to strengthen the analogy to Oxford by creating an academically
rich "living-learning environment," which he sometimes called an
"Oxford on the Pacific."
( www.ucsc.edu/oncampus/currents/97-98/04-20/mchenry.htm )
UCSC's first college was named for Henry Cowell, followed by Crown
College (endowed by paper company Crown-Zellerbach), Merrill College
(endowed by brokerage Merrill-Lynch), Stevenson (endowed by the
Adlai Stevenson Foundation) and College Five (endowed by Frank Sinatra
-- the regents were holding out for a million, but Old Blue Eyers only
gave half that, and so they wouldn't put his name on it; later it was
named Porter College after an endowment of the family of pioneer
Benjamin F. Porter, founding director of County Bank of Santa Cruz).
I remember that some of the more sophomoric UCSC students noted
that only Cowell students lacked an obvious reason for teasing,
though Crown bore the brunt of it with the obvious toilet paper jokes.
When the Kresge Foundation, funded by the family that made a
fortune from K-Mart stores (imagine the teasing over that) endowed
the sixth college, McHenry tapped Cal-Tech biologist Robert Edgar
to be founding provost. The college began as a course at Cowell,
"Creating Kresge College" in 1970. Bob Edgar recruited psychologist
Michael Kahn, physicist Matthew Sands and biologist Henry Hilgard
as founding faculty members who participated in this class. Because
the original focus of the college was "Man and His Environment" they
also had an ecologist, whose name I have been unable to remember or
find on the web.
Some very interesting things must have happened in this course,
though it has been hard to find information about it. I suspect
there was some kind of trauma which left the participants not
wanting to talk about it. What I do know is that Kahn and
Sands, and possibly Hilgard, brought in the methodology of "T-Groups"
(short for "Training Groups") which was a technique for encouraging
people to openly discuss their emotions, towards the goal of
improved group dynamics. (These were precursors of the more
famous "encounter groups.") For more detail see the on-line essay
"A Social History of the T-Group" (1993) by Steve Potter.
( www.psicopolis.com/Kurt/tgroupstory.htm )
I also know that the ecologist was uncomfortable with this
methodology and ended up leaving Kresge College before the
start of its first official school year, 1971-1972. This
explains the bewilderment of students who arrived at Kresge
in the coming years expecting an ecological curriculum and not
* * * * * * * *
"University politics are vicious precisely because the
stakes are so small."
-- Henry Kissinger
I arrived at Kresge in the fall of 1971, one of those bewildered
students looking for the ecological curriculum. There was a lot of
talk of a "living-learning community." The three-day Kresge orientation
taught us T-Group techniques, trust exercises, and other humanistic
psychology techniques for getting in touch with our inner selves.
There was also a college "core course" (mandatory but unenforced, if
I recall correctly) that broke us into "kin groups," taught us
more T-grouping and hum. psych. stuff, and presented an academic
program that attempted to integrate all knowledge in a rather
unsatisfactory way. The first class session (held in the College V
dining hall because Kresge wasn't built yet) began with a remarkable
film with the ungainly title "A Rough Sketch for a Proposed Film
Dealing with the Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in
the Universe" (1968) by Charles and Ray Eames, which later evolved into
the famous "Powers of Ten" (1977). Both films are now on DVD.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305943877/hip-20 )
Immediately following was a skit starring two knowledge-hungry
students in lab coats with the biggest graduated cylinder I'd
ever seen, who entertained a series of Kresge faculty.
( core.ecu.edu/chem/chemlab/equipment/images/gcylinder.jpg )
Each faculty member in turn poured a measure of differently-colored
liquid into the cylinder as they explained their area of specialty.
The liquids remained separated (obviously being added in order
of decreasing density) forming marked colored bands. At the end of
this process the students attempted to achieve an integration of
the specialties by taking a large paddle and stirring the cylinder,
which resulted in a muddy brown goo. Something was said about how
hard it is to integrate knowledge. Over the next ten weeks each
faculty member in turn presented on their own area of specialty.
Integration was left as an exercise for the student.
I didn't know it at the time but a lot was going on at Kresge
beyond my gaze. Several new faculty members, including John
Grinder and Claudia Carr, locked horns early on with Kahn & company
over the issue of whether to work on inner or outer revolution.
It's the old controversy well-described by Lennon & McCartney
in the song "Revolution" from the 1968 album "The Beatles,"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002UAX/hip-20 )
better known as "The White Album." They sang:
You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead
The Grinder gang were mostly students of the "Gestalt Therapy"
of Fritz Perls, documented in "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim" (1968).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0939266164/hip-20 )
They saw the T-groupers as stodgy and obsolete, and too reluctant
to engage in political action. (Remember, this was at the height
of the Viet Nam War in the third year of the Nixon administration.)
Something happened -- or maybe a series of things -- which resulted
in some long-standing animosities.
All I knew at the time was that every time the word "community"
appeared in the college newsletter (edited by a feisty woman named
Leslie O'Bergin) it was overstriked with slash marks. (This was
easy to do with IBM Selectric typewriters we used at the time.
Now, with computers, it's nearly impossible. Shades of Rathergate.)
I don't know whether Leslie was privy to what was going on, or
just had good instincts. Gosh knows I'm still not privy to
what was going on, but I did note in researching this article that
Michael Kahn retired as an emeritus from Stevenson College, and
Bob Edgar from Crown. Carr is at UC Berkeley. Grinder isn't in the
university system anymore. Sands and Hilgard did each manage to
retire as emeritus from Kresge.
* * * * * * * *
"Oh, there they go Romeo-ing and Juliette-ing again."
-- Gregory Bateson looking out his Kresge College office
window at students flirting between balconies
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Kresge College was its architecture.
( www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/moorekresge/kresge.html )
As I mentioned, when I arrived in 1971 the college wasn't built
yet. We met an architect named Bill Turnbull who wanted to
confer with students on the design. Most of us were living
in married students apartments at the time (in the late '60s and
early '70s married students turned out to be rather rare); these
apartments had kitchens, and we had no dining hall, so we learned
to cook for ourselves. From my roommates I learned about natural
foods, granola, yogurt, brown rice, whole wheat, vegan cooking,
etc. We even formed a college food co-op, to buy our granola
and brown rice cheaply in bulk. Our feedback led Turnbull to design
the permanent residential buildings of the college (our "dorms") with
kitchens and no dining hall. I remember attending the dedication
of the buildings in late spring of 1973, at which Turnbull explained
that he'd designed the college with several key ideas in mind:
1) The basic shape was a meandering street, like a hillside
Mediterranean village, in which residences were on upper
floors over shops on the ground floor. Since classrooms,
offices and dorms were all built with different funding,
he couldn't do this literally, but he was striving for a
similar feel. He also provided some residences with front
stoops reminiscent of brownstone buildings.
( www.GreatBuildings.com/cgi-bin/gbi.cgi/Kresge_College.html/cid_2518268.gbi )
2) From his own college dorm experiences he remembered that
everyone seemed to congregate in the bathrooms, so he made
some of the residences have large, central bathrooms, with
dual-headed showers (a feature some found scandalous).
3) There was a triple-context color scheme, designed to
accommodate the setting in a redwood forest with an
often overcast climate. On the outside the college was
painted the color of redwood bark, to blend in with the trees.
On the inside the buildings were white, to stand out
in stark contrast to the forest. And to avoid making
a whiteout environment on cloudy days, arcade and balcony
surfaces visibly mostly from the insides of the residences
were painted bright reds, oranges, yellows, greens and
blues to brighten up the gloom.
( www.aiacc.org/images/2003Awards/Kresge4.JPG )
( www.archinform.net/medien/00003174.htm?ID=YqXUbashtxhhRujb )
I was one of the very first inhabitants of this college, in the
summer of 1973. One of my roommates was a high school buddy of
mine who was never actually a student at UCSC, who now goes by the
name Thaddeus Spae.
( tspae.com )
Upon being exposed to the college's architecture he gave it the
nickname "Clown Town," from a short story by Australian science
fiction author Cordwainer Smith set 14,000 years in the future,
"The Dead Lady of Clown Town" (1964). It appears in "The Rediscovery
of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith."
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0915368560/hip-20 )
Some unknown person inscribed this nickname in a slab of fresh
cement a short while later -- just a few steps from the apartment
where Bateson lived from fall of 1973 to spring of 1974 --
and I discovered while researching this issue that the sobriquet
has achieved the relative immortality of being published in a book,
"The Language of Post-Modern Architecture" (1988) by Charles Jencks,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0847802884/hip-20 )
(which I actually own!) and subsequently being quoted on the web.
( www.brynmawr.edu/Acads/Cities/city377/pap/papew.html )
This same web site explains:
Working with William Turnbull, Moore applied the concept of
an ambulatory architecture to the layout of Kresge College...
Like Moore's one-family houses, this place proclaims its
identity through motifs associated with security. In this
case the motifs are the village, the square and the winding
path -- motifs with which people associate with idea of a
social group small enough to be comprehensible.
Some Kresge alumni have reported that they had many "acid trips"
in among these clownish buildings, and visiting the campus can bring
on "flashback" experiences. (Today Kresge offers its residential
students "Substance Free" apartments as an ALTERNATIVE, which implies
that campus drug use is still mainstream!)
( kresge.ucsc.edu/reslife/apartments.shtml )
What I didn't know then and didn't figure out for decades was that
Turnbull had been the junior architect on the project, along with
titan Charles Moore, who set about making Kresge a manifesto
for post-modernism. I didn't learn about post-modern architecture
until the early 1980s, when I read "From Bauhaus to Our House"
(1981) by Tom Wolfe.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/055338063X/hip-20 )
It turns out that eight pages are devoted to Kresge College -- the
most for any project -- in the encyclopedic tome "The History of
Postmodern Architecture" (1988) by Heinrich Klotz, translated by
( mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?sid=A9983C5F-F47C-4C1A-803F-3697DEE64BE0&ttype=2&tid=6080 )
Little did we know.
* * * * * * * *
I was 21 years when I wrote this song.
I'm 22 now but I won't be for long.
Time hurries on,
And the leaves that are green turn to brown.
-- Paul Simon, 1966
"Leaves That Are Green" on the album
"Sounds of Silence"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005NKKV/hip-20 )
The big auditorium at Kresge was originally called the Town Hall,
and that was what was painted on the door. By order of the Community
Affairs Committee (CAC), run by a self-selected consensus of faculty,
staff and students, it was renamed the Robert Edgar Town Hall in honor
of our founding provost, and the new name was painted on the door
by the college maintenance man. Later the university administration
got wind of this and informed us that we lacked the authority to name
a building -- policy was that it took an endowment of some serious
bucks to do this. (Remember Frank Sinatra.) So the college maintenance
man painted it back to "Town Hall." But everyone I knew called it the
The first class I took from Bateson, Kresge 152A, "Ecology of Mind" was
held in the Clown Hall. About 150 students were in attendance. I had
just turned 21 years old, and it was my senior year at Kresge.
One of the first things Bateson liked to do when he taught a class
was to explain something he'd discovered about the difference between
the English and Americans. In England, exhibition is a dominance
trait. The queen shows her dominance by putting on a show, and the
commoners show their submission by watching. This is the land of
Charles and Di's "storybook" wedding, and the saying "Children
should be seen and not heard." In America, exhibition is a submission
trait. Our government spies on us. (Think of J. Edgar Hoover,
and the Information Awareness Office.) Children scream "watch me,
Daddy!" as they jump off the couch. When an American teacher goes
to England, he or she will say, "Let's dispense with formalities,"
and have everyone sit in a circle. "So, what have you learned
at Cambridge?" the teacher may ask, and asserts dominance by
listening. The students assert submission by sitting quietly
(and confusedly, in this case). Silence. Cue the crickets.
When an English teacher comes to America, such as Bateson coming to
Kresge, he asserts dominance by standing up in the Clown Hall in front
of 150 students and giving a lecture. The students assert submission
by constantly interrupting to provide feedback, to show they are
paying attention like good students and can recite on command.
Cacophony ensues. Nobody will shut up.
The funny thing is that even after Bateson describes this dynamic it
still persists. The students can't stop asserting submission by
piping up. I couldn't, that's for sure. It was embarrassing.
(I was later to learn that interactions with Bateson were often
embarrassing, because he brought communications about relationships,
of which we are normally unaware, into consciousness.)
The first written assignment for the class was to "define a clock."
Boy, was that challenging. A clock is something that measures time.
What's time? The thing a clock measures. (It wasn't until many years
later that I thought about what it must have been like for him to sit
down and READ all the nonsense that resulted from this assignment.)
This assignment was followed by "Draw a diagram of the American class
system," and then "Why does a mirror reflect left and right but not up
and down?" I should note that Bateson never "corrected" or graded
these assignments. (Of course, we were on a "pass/no record" system.
As far as I know, everyone who did all the assignments passed.
Attendance at lectures was not taken.) We did discuss each assignment
in class afterwards, which lead to some frightful tangles.
If you're interested in "answers" to these questions, here you go:
The Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, Boulder, Colorado,
( glossary.its.bldrdoc.gov/fs-1037/dir-007/_1004.htm )
provides this definition of a clock:
clock: 1. A reference source of timing information.
2. A device providing signals used in a transmission
system to control the timing of certain functions
such as the duration of signal elements or the
3. A device that generates periodic, accurately spaced
signals used for such purposes as timing, regulation
of the operations of a processor, or generation of
The best analysis I have found of the American class system is
in the book "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System"
(1983) by Paul Fussell.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671792253/hip-20 )
In a nutshell, he provides this set of layers:
1. Top out-of-sight
3. Upper middle
5. High proletariat
7. Low proletariat
9. Bottom out-of-sight
The Physics Archive at Argonne National Laboratory
( www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy99/phy99x56.htm )
provides this answer to the mirror question:
If you didn't have feet you wouldn't be asking this question.
The mirror doesn't reflect your image right to left. Whatever is
actually on your left still appears to be on your left when you look in
the mirror. The right-to-left business is all from the viewpoint of
some other person looking at you, and that person sees your left as
Why is this? To put yourself in the position of someone looking at you
from behind the mirror, you could imagine a copy of yourself walking
through the mirror to the other side. To see you, your copy would then
have to turn around, and this presents several options: people with
feet tend to rotate about the vertical, so that their feet remain on
the ground (and then they forget that a rotation has even taken place,
because it's such a common motion). This rotation swaps right and left.
If you were a fish, you might equally well decide to rotate about a
horizontal line (i.e., do a half somersault), and this would swap top
I would add that a thoughtful analysis of this question leads
to the conclusion that "left and right" are different TYPES
of directions than "up and down" -- one set applies to your
body, the other to the earth.
But of course the point of these exercises was not to come up
with the "right answer," but to probe and hopefully improve our
thinking processes. A cursory reading of these assignments
makes it seem like Bateson was "all over the map," with a course
"about nothing," sort of like the TV show "Seinfeld" was "about
nothing." (Cosmo the Fairy Godparent on Nickelodeon asked, "If it's
about nothing, how do you tell when it's over?")
A better "feel" for what the course was "about" can be gotten from
a passage from the introduction to "Steps to an Ecology of Mind" (1972),
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226039056/hip-20 )
in which he says:
I have often been impatient with colleagues who seemed unable
to discern the difference between the trivial and the profound.
But when students have asked me to define that difference, I have
been struck dumb. I have said vaguely that any study which throws
light upon the nature of "order" or "pattern" in the universe is
But this answer only begs the question.
I used to teach an informal course for psychiatric residents in
the Veterans Administration Hospital at Palo Alto, trying to get
them to think some of the thoughts that are in these essays. They
would attend dutifully and even with intense interest to what I was
saying, but every year the question would arise after three or
four sessions of the class: "What is this course all about?"
I tried various answers to this question. Once I drew up a sort
of catechism and offered it to the class as a sampling of the
questions which I hoped they would be able to discuss after
completing the course. The questions ranged from "What is a
SACRAMENT?" to "What is ENTROPY?" and "What is PLAY?"
As a didactic maneuver, my catechism was a failure: it silenced
the class. But one question in it was useful:
A certain mother habitually rewards her small son with ice
cream after he eats his spinach. What additional information
would you need to be able to predict whether the child will:
a. Come to love or hate spinach; b. Love or hate ice cream,
or c. Love or hate Mother?
We devoted one or two sessions of the class to exploring the many
ramifications of this question, and it became clear to me that
all the needed additional information concerned the context of
the mother's and son's behavior. In fact, the phenomenon of
CONTEXT and the closely related phenomenon of "MEANING" defined
a division between the "hard" sciences and the sort of science
which I was trying to build.
Gradually I discovered that what made it difficult to tell the
class what the course was about was the fact that my way of
thinking was different from theirs. A clue to this difference
came from one of the students. It was the first session of the
class and I had talked about the cultural differences between
England and America---a matter which should always be touched
on when an Englishman must teach Americans about cultural
anthropology. At the end of the session, one resident came
up. He glanced over his shoulder to be sure that the others
were all leaving, and then said rather hesitantly, "I want to
ask you a question." "Yes." "It's---do you want us to LEARN
what you are telling us?" I hesitated a moment, but he rushed
on with, "Or is it all a sort of example, an illustration of
something else?" "Yes, indeed!"
But an example of what?
And then there was, almost every year, a vague complaint which
usually came to me as a rumor. It was alleged that "Bateson
knows something which he does not tell you," or "There's something
behind what Bateson says, but he never says what it is."
Evidently I was not answering the question, "An example of what?"
This intriguing yet maddening description is a pretty good account
of what his class at Kresge was like. But he wasn't trying to
be obscure; he was telling us as plainly as he knew how what he
had to say. He just wasn't very good (yet) at saying it, and
we weren't very good at all at hearing it.
The final project for "Ecology of Mind" was to take an artifact that
was created by or once part of a living thing (a seashell, say,
or a work of art) and offer evidence of our sense that it WAS
created by or once part of a living thing. A good understanding
of the assignment and its ramifications can be gotten from this passage
from the introduction to "Mind and Nature" (1979):
In the 1950s ... I was teaching ... young beatniks in the
California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. ... It was
a small group of about ten to fifteen students, and I knew that
I would be walking into an atmosphere of skepticism bordering
on hostility. When I entered it was clear that I was expected
to be an incarnation of the devil, who would argue for the common
sense of atomic warfare and pesticides. In those days (and even
today?), science was believed to be "value-free" and not guided
I was prepared for that. I had two paper bags, and the first of
these I opened, producing a freshly cooked crab, which I placed
on the table. I then challenged the class somewhat as follows:
"I want you to produce arguments which will convince me that this
objects is the remains of a living thing. You may imagine, if you
will, that your are Martians and that on Mars you are familiar
with living things, being indeed yourselves alive. But, of course,
you have never seen crabs or lobsters. A number of objects like
this, many of them fragmentary, have arrived, perhaps by meteor.
You are to inspect them and arrive at the conclusion that they
are the remains of living things. How would you arrive at that
I was griping recently about the shortcomings of occidental
education. ... the following phrase crept into my letter:
"Break the pattern which connects the items of learning
and you necessarily destroy all quality."
I offer you the phrase THE PATTERN WHICH CONNECTS as a synonym,
another possible title for this book.
Let me go back to my crab and my class of beatniks. I was very
lucky to be teaching people who were not scientists and the bias
of whose minds was even antiscientific. All untrained as they
were, their bias was aesthetic. I would define that word, for
the moment, by saying that they were NOT like Peter Bly, the
character of whom Wordsworth sang
A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him;
And It was nothing more.
Rather, they would meet the primrose with RECOGNITION and
EMPATHY. By AESTHETIC, I mean responsive to THE PATTERN WHICH
CONNECTS. So you see, I was lucky. Perhaps by coincidence, I
faced them with what was (though I knew it not) an aesthetic
question: HOW ARE YOU RELATED TO THIS CREATURE? WHAT PATTERN
CONNECTS YOU TO IT?
By putting them on an imaginary planet, "Mars," I stripped
them of all thought of lobsters, amoebas, cabbages, and so on
and forced the diagnosis of life back into identification with
living self: "YOU carry the bench marks, the criteria, with
which you could look at the crab to find that it, too, carries
the same marks." My question was much more sophisticated than I knew.
So they looked at the crab. And first of all, they came up
with the observation that it is SYMMETRICAL; that is, the
right side resembles the left.
"Very good. You mean it's COMPOSED, like a painting?" (No response.)
Then they observed that one claw was bigger than the other.
So it was NOT symmetrical.
I suggested that if a number of these objects had come by
meteor, they would find that in almost all specimens it was
the same side (right or left) that carried the bigger claw.
(No response "What's Bateson getting at?")
Going back to symmetry somebody said that "YES, ONE CLAW IS
BIGGER THAN THE OTHER, BUT BOTH CLAWS ARE MADE OF THE SAME PARTS."
Ah! What a beautiful and noble statement that is, how the
speaker politely flung into the trash can the idea that SIZE
could be of primary or profound importance and went after
THE PATTERN WHICH CONNECTS. He discarded an asymmetry in size
in favor of a deeper symmetry in formal relations.
Yes, indeed, the two claws are characterized (ugly word) by
embodying SIMILAR RELATIONS BETWEEN PARTS. Never quantities,
always shapes, forms, and relations. This was, indeed,
something that characterized the crab as a ... living thing.
Later, it appeared that not only are the two claws built
on the same "ground plan," (i.e., upon corresponding sets
of relations between corresponding parts) but that these
relations between corresponding parts extend down the
series of the walking legs. We could recognize in every
leg pieces that corresponded to the pieces in the claw.
And in your own body, of course, the same sort of thing
is true. Humerus in the upper arm correspond to femur in
the thigh, and radius-ulna corresponds to tibia-fibula;
the carpals in the wrist correspond to tarsals in the foot;
fingers correspond to toes.
The anatomy of the crab is repetitive and rhythmical. It is,
like music, repetitive with modulation. Indeed, the direction
from head toward tail corresponds to a sequence in time: In
embryology, the head is older than the tail. A flow of
information is possible, from front to rear.
Professional biologists talk about phylogenetic HOMOLOGY
for that CLASS of facts of which one example is the formal
resemblance between my limb bones and those of a horse.
Another example is the formal resemblance between the
appendages of a crab and those of a lobster.
That is one class of facts. Another (somehow similar?)
class of facts is what they call SERIAL HOMOLOGY. One example
is the rhythmic repetition with change from appendage to
appendage down the length of the breast (crab or man); another
(perhaps not quite comparable because of the difference in
relation to time) would be the bilateral symmetry of the man or crab.
This narrative describes his work with "beatniks" in the 1950s,
but his work with "hippies" in the 1970s was similar. The assignment
was for us written, not oral, but we discussed it at length in the
For my final project I chose a phonograph record, "Don't Crush That
Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers!" (1970) by the Firesign Theatre.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005T7IS/hip-20 )
I submitted my analysis not on paper but on a reel-to-reel tape.
At first he refused to accept it in this form, but then I showed up
in his office with the tape and a deck and played it for him on
the spot. He accepted it, probably because I had done some
good scholarship. I found a paper that listed a number of types
of errors in the speech of schizophrenics (or those suffering from
"Dementia Praecox" to use an archaic term) and found examples of
each type in the humor of the Firesigns. Most of these "errors"
involved jumbling logical levels, sort of like "eating a menu."
The gist of my argument was you had to be alive to be intelligent
enough to mimic insanity for comedic effect -- no "artificial
intelligence" could do it. (I find amusing today to reflect that
the Firesign Theatre and similar level-jumbling humor can still
be heard on the radio show of so-called Dr. Demento, whose slogan
is "Stay demented!")
* * * * * * * *
In American education [Mark] Hopkins, [Williams College professor
and later president of the College 1836 - 1872], ...pioneered in
making the student the center of the educational experience, and
he did it so well that one of his former students, U.S. President
James A. Garfield, immortalized his achievement in an aphorism
which has passed into the lore of American education:
'The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and
a student on the other.'
-- About Williams -- The History of the College
( www.williams.edu/home/about/history.html )
In addition to the lectures and assignments for Bateson's
"Ecology of Mind" class, I was also learning from him by
reading his book. As I mentioned last month, in early fall
of 1974 I opened Stewart Brand's sequel to the "Last Whole Earth
Catalog," which he called the "Whole Earth Epilog," to find Bateson
on the first page of the "Understanding Whole Systems" section.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140039503/hip-20 )
His advice for reading "Steps to an Ecology of Mind" was:
In recommending this book, I've learned to suggest that it
be read backwards. Read the recent broad analyses of mind
and ecology at the end of the book and then work back to
see where the premises come from.
This served me well. I had already skipped ahead over the summer
at the urging of Bateson's secretary Judith Van Slooten, when I
bogged down in the early anthropology papers, but now I was tearing
through the sections on "Epistemology and Ecology" and "Crisis in
the Ecology of Mind" and loving it. In Bateson I had finally found
a thinker whose ideas made as much sense -- or more -- as my own,
after struggling most of my life with what Bateson politely calls
"nonsense" (as in: "They say that power corrupts; but this, I
suspect, is nonsense. What is true is that the IDEA of power corrupts,"
to use of one of Brand's favorite quotes from "Steps...").
But of course I could have read his book anywhere. The greatest
benefit I got from studying under Bateson was the on-on-one
interactions I had with him, or to be more precise, with him and Judith.
Whenever he was in his office she was too. (Once I caught him alone,
sitting at her desk typing on her IBM Selectric. He looked at me in a
panic. "Don't tell Judith I can type!" he pleaded.) As I mentioned
last month, my student apartment looked right into his office window,
and I could see if he was in. If he was, I frequently would go over
and hang out. If I didn't interfere (much) he would often let me sit
"like a fly on the wall" in the guest chair while they conducted
business. Mostly this was him reading correspondence and then
dictating replies to her, which she typed on the spot.
People sent him preprints of scientific papers in vast quantities.
He didn't have time to read most of them, so Judith stacked
them outside his office. I read a few; my favorite was by Anatol
Holt. (I wish I still had it.)
One of the things I learned about from this experience was Bateson's
ongoing difficulties with his publisher. When "Steps..." came out
in hardback in 1972, the dust jacket had a painting by William Blake
called "The Vision of the Last Judgment" (1808).
( www.apocalyptic-theories.com/gallery/lastjudge/blakejudge.html )
I'm not sure, but I think I recall that the text of one of the essays
refers to the cover painting.
Facing the title page was another artwork, a 1937 Balinese painting
by Ida Bagus Djati Sura analyzed by Bateson in the essay "Style, Grace
and Information in Primitive Art" (1967). The essay is really incomplete
without the painting to refer to.
The paperback edition, which came out the same year, had a number
of changes. The cover art was now a painting by Raymond Rivera,
so the reference to Blake (if it's really there) was incorrect.
It was a nice painting, of a mountain that also looked like and
old man's face, and slightly resembled Bateson. I was reminded
of the passage in James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" (1939) in which
the geography of Dublin was described as a giant man.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0141181265/hip-20 )
But was certainly not Blake.
The Balinese painting was simply removed, making the analysis in
"Style, Grace and Information in Primitive Art" much harder to understand.
I remember some students -- including me -- being confused and thinking
the Raymond Rivera cover painting was the one being analyzed, which
made no sense. I was fortunate in that Bateson GAVE me a copy
of "Steps..." in hard cover, and autographed it. (I wonder what
it would be worth on eBay today, though I would never part with it.)
But what of the lone student who bought the book somewhere far away?
One short essay, "On Emptyheadedness Among Biologists and State Boards
of Education" (1970) was also removed. It was one of my favorites,
not only for its in-your-face title, but because it took on the
dogma of evolutions in their opposition to creationist dogma.
I contained this wise passage:
Evolution has long been badly taught. In particular, students
-- and even professional biologists -- acquire theories of
evolution without any deep understanding of what problem these
theories attempt to solve. They learn but little of the evolution
of evolutionary theory.
And while I'm complaining, the paperback edition folds the commentaries
on parts IV and V into the ends of essays in each section, and removes
them from the table of contents. Cheesy.
For inexplicable reasons, the publisher issued a new paperback edition
(in 1974?) with a cover drawing of a series of humanoids, reminiscent
of the well-known "ape evolving into man" picture, only each was in
a fetal position, forming os series of series of growing spheres,
perhaps inspired by Blake's
earths rolling in circles of space
Bateson responded, so I'm told, with a telegram to the publisher:
"AUTO-FELLATIO APE MUST GO!"
I was actually there when the publisher's next effort arrived
in a larger cardboard carton. Judith opened it, and pulled
out one of dozens of paperbacks, holding it like a dead rat,
by one corner. All cover art had been dispensed with, and
the title was in big stylistic letters in red on a yellow
background. Judith called it "ketchup and mustard" colored.
This was perhaps the most "educational" sequence of experiences
of my life. I had finally found what I considered a wise
man, and he let me soak up his mind like a sponge.
I had found the sponsor for my "Whole Systems" major, and
as a first step I convinced him to sponsor a student-directed
seminar the following quarter called "Understanding Whole Systems."
I needed to get his signature on a form to finalize the class
arrangements, and he had already left for winter break. Judith
told me he was giving an invited talk at the veteran's hospital
in San Diego. Well, I was on my way there for winter break.
With my friend Wayne in tow, I tacked him down where he was
talking to a bunch of psychiatric students about schizophrenia.
(Security is abysmal in hospitals.) They'd brought in a
schizophrenic for him to "work" with. With the man standing
there a doctor gave a brief case history, including the fact
that, while in the hospital for psychiatric reasons, they found
cancer in one of his testicles and removed it. I was horrified.
To the crazy mind his mental illness and this partial castration
by the doctors HAD to be linked. (Even if he wasn't crazy, there
is a part of the mind which believes all metaphors.) Bateson
asked the man a few cursory questions and sent him away.
He then explained that this stunt of bringing in a patient for
him to "work" with in front of an audience created a context where
it was very difficult for him to be of any help. He told
a story of a similar session he'd witnessed in which a doctor
told a mental patient to "write your name" on a blackboard and
the patient wrote "your name." After several similar level-
confusions, the doctor finally gave up, and the patient wrote
in giant letters, "VICTORY."
I realized there was this whole world beyond Kresge that I
didn't think about where Bateson participated in various groups.
* * * * * * * *
"Kresge was one of the first colleges at UCSC, and originally
one of the most experimental. Distinguished founding faculty
members included Gregory Bateson, former husband of Margaret
Mead and author of The Ecology of Mind, John Grinder, founder
of applied Neurolinguistics and co-author of The Structure of
Magic, and William Everson, one of the Beat Poets."
-- Kresge College entry in "The Free Dictionary"
( encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Kresge%20College )
(I am astonished at the number of errors in such a short paragraph.
But I do find it remarkable; that of all the faculty at Kresge from 1970
until today, these three are mentioned in this entry, and I took
classes from all three in the first half of 1975.)
Winter quarter began in January of 1975, one of the happiest
times in my life. I had a new girlfriend (to whom I have been
happily married for for 27 years). Together we attended a
"Black Comedy Film Festival" each Tuesday night which featured
films like "Harold and Maude" (1971).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305882592/hip-20 )
Every Tuesday and Thursday we took the class "Birth of a Poet"
together from William Everson.
( www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/everson/exhibit.htm )
Everson was a former monk turned nature-inspired poet who
looked like a mountain man, made his own books, wore a buck knife
in a hand-tooled leather sheath, admired the nature-inspired poet
Robinson Jeffers (who the Beach Boys quote on the out-of-print
"Holland" album), and said his course wasn't about how to be a
poet but how DECIDE IF you are a poet. His course was considered
a "Mick" (Mickey Mouse class) because you get get 15 credits over
3 quarters, no attendance was required, and the only assigment was to
keep a dream journal. (Many students tried to turn in poems, but he
only accepted dream journals.)
Here is one of his poems, "The Poet Is Dead" (memorial for Robinson
Jeffers) written in 1962 about his mentor:
The poet is dead.
Nor will ever again hear the sea lions
Grunt in the kelp at Point Lobos.
Nor look to the south when the grunion
Run the Pacific, and the plunging
Stun themselves in the sea.
( www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/everson/online_poems.htm )
We went to all of his lectures in the Clown Hall, laid on the floor,
and doodled with her colored felt pens.
Also on Tuesdays and Thursdays I taught my student-directed
seminar, Kresge 192P, "Understanding Whole Systems," and she
was a student in that class. This amazing experience of attempting
to teach what I knew about systems theory at the age of 21 must
be the subject of a future e-Zine.
On Thursday nights I drove us and some others up into the Santa
Cruz mountains for Bateson's seminar course, Kresge 164A, "The
Nature of Human Knowledge." Each year Bateson selected from the
students who's attended "Ecology of Mind" a dozen or so who
showed promise in class feedback and written assignments, and
invited them to participate in his advanced class. We sat
around his living room by the fireplace, warming by the fire,
and his wife Lois served tea and cookies. The house was a rustic
mountain home that had once housed Pacific High School, where
the "Domebook" series had been produced.
( www.buckminster.info/Biblio/About-BkTOC-Domebook2.htm )
His teaching style in this seminar was a departure from his
English "exhibition asserting dominance" mode in the large
lecture. He had each student, alone or in pairs, present to
the class. Mostly he listened quietly. Sometimes he even seemed
to nod off. But if someone actually said something worthwhile
(which apparently didn't happen very often) he would sit up
and look enthralled. I can tell you that this was a powerful
reinforcer, in the Skinerian sense. I can still remember what I
said to get this reaction:
1) Newton didn't "discover gravity." Everyone already
knew that apples fell, and invoked the word "gravity"
to explain it. Newton's breakthrough was explaining that
apples fell FOR THE SAME REASON that the moon DIDN'T fall.
("Yes, that's right!" he said, leaning forward excitedly.
Boy was that great! I wanted more.)
2) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is true -- we cannot
measure the position and momentum of, say, an electron with
arbitrary accuracy -- because the electron LACKS THE INFORMATION
CAPACITY to store and reveal these measurements. ("You
should publish that!" he urged me. I finally am.)
3) Godel's Theorem proves that any mathematical system
sufficient to represent the integers must be either
incomplete or inconsistent. Mathematicians choose
incomplete, and live with statements with unresolvable
truth values. In the logic of human emotions ("The heart
has its reasons which the reason cannot understand,"
said Pascal) we often choose inconsistent, which means
a proposition can be proved true or false DEPENDING ON
THE PATHWAY USED TO DEDUCE ITS TRUTH VALUE. To avoid
reaching certain undesirable conclusions we must
mentally BLOCKADE CERTAIN PATHWAYS OF INQUIRY. (This he
he also urged me to publish.)
Near the end of the quarter a guy showed up at Kresge who'd
transfered from some eastern college just to study with Bateson.
I happened to bump into him by the big "inverted fountain"
by the college office that we called the "Brain Drain" (after
some clown stenciled the nickname all over it, and the college
removed ALL BUT ONE). I explained to him that he would've had
to come in the fall, take the lecture course, and then be selected
by Bateson for the winter and spring seminars; he couldn't just
show up and sign up. But I put in a good word for him with Bateson
and managed to get him in.
* * * * * * * *
"One of the expectations which I personally carried at the time
of discovery and development of NLP was that people interested
in our work would cleanly make the distinction between NLP and
applications of NLP. My hope at the time was that given this
distinction, there would arise a group of committed men and
women who would recognize the meta levels tools which we had
either discovered (the Milton Model.....), or created (the verbal
patterns of the Meta Model or Precision Model, Representational
Systems....), and go out and identify and create new models of
excellence to offer the world. This has not happened and is very
disappointing to me. NLP is popularly represented and commonly
practiced at least one logical level below what it was clearly
understood to be at the time by Bandler and me."
-- John Grinder, 1996
interview by Chris and Jules Collingwood
( www.inspiritive.com.au/grinterv.htm )
Spring quarter I continued taking Bateson's seminar, and also
an independent study with him for the purpose of writing the first
half of my senior thesis. I had convinced him to sponsor my
individual major in "Whole Systems." I also continued taking
"Birth of a Poet" (after all, it was a "Mick"), and signed
up for Grinder and Bandler's class, Linguistics 188, "Pragmatics
of Human Communication." (And I got Grinder to sponsor me in
a student-directed seminar called "Interfacing Kresge With Its Tools
and Toys," designed to get students to facilitate improved college
use of its media equipment and other resources.)
Early in the quarter I approached Michael Kahn and asked him to
be on my faculty committee for my individual major. I needed three.
"Who are the other two?" he asked. "Gregory Bateson and John
Grinder." He told me "It would be impossible." (I didn't then
know about the blow-ups of 1971.)
Grinder and Bandler were generating quite a buzz. They had been
studying the techniques of hypnotherapists Milton Erikson and
Virginia Satir, in person and on audio tape and film, and also
studying Bateson's works, and had made a breakthrough that came to
be known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Here is how
Guhen Kitaoka describes it after the fact in the "cyberbook"
called "An Integral Epistemology for Enlightenment" (2000)
( www.creativity.co.uk/creativity/guhen )
in the "NLP Co-founders" section:
NLP was started by John Grinder, a linguistic professor, and
Richard Bandler, a mathematician, at the University of California
at Santa Cruz (UCSC), around 1975.
At the time, Grinder and Bandler were students of Gregory Bateson,
a British born psychologist and anthropologist teaching at UCSC.
Bateson and Milton H. Erickson, the most important hypnotherapist,
are the two figures who gave the biggest influence to the birth of NLP.
Bandler was then deeply involved in Gestalt Therapy, and modeled
Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt. NLP was born when Grinder
and Bandler published, in 1975, their first book entitled
"The Structure of Magic, I", in which they presented a set of
explicit tools, by means of which one can achieve the excellent
performance level of such therapeutic wizards as Perls, as well
as Erickson and Virginia Satir, an authority of family therapy.
In their class G&B were handing out ditto sheets from their
work in progress, which later that year came out in hardback.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0831400447/hip-20 )
The glowing introduction was by Bateson. He closed with:
May it be heard!
In their class, I had a hard time accepting their methods.
After some struggle I came up with the analogy that when
you learn a martial art, like judo, the master teaches you
an ethical framework for using it, so you don't go around
beating up old ladies for fun. It seemed to me that they
were teaching people a sort of mental judo and then ENCOURAGING
them to beat up old ladies.
Bateson also had a falling out with G&B. He actually wrote
them a letter rescinding his introduction and endorsement of
their book, in which he called them
pu rposive pu nks
quoting from e. e. cummings in "ECONOMIC SECU"
rity'' is a cu
use among pu
tting the arse
before the torse
( www.siir.gen.tr/siir/edward_estlin_cummings/economic_secu.htm )
I wish I had a copy of that letter, which I only got a brief look at.
* * * * * * * *
The first, early period (anthropology) is characterized by "Social
Structure of the Iatmul People of the Sepik River", 1932, and
articles of similar vein. Bateson refers to his anthropological
field work among the Baining as a failure because he felt he
"didn't know what he was doing."
( www2.gwu.edu/~asc/biographies/Bateson/bio.html )
Well, I was back down to one faculty sponsor. But I had other
problems. I had finished my senior year and used up my scholarship
money and I didn't have the financial resources to continue. But
I needed a break. I'd been going to school since I was 5 years
old, following a plan my parents had made for me, and I wanted to
get "off the map for a while." My idea was to bicycle across
America, and then return to solve the problem of college money
and faculty sponsors. Like Bateson in the early 1930s, I felt
I didn't know what I was doing. I needed a reality check.
My girlfriend decided to join me. We moved onto a cooperative
dairy farm in Santa Cruz where we had some friends, worked all
summer at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park, bought
bicycles, and set off across the continent on October 1, 1975.
TO BE CONTINUED...
* * * * * * * *
The organizers of "Bateson @ 100: Multiple Versions of the World:
A conference celebrating Bateson's centennial and his continued
influence" last November
( www.batesonconference.org )
have set up a bulletin board to continue the dialog on his work.
You are invited to participate.
( urbanage.org/gb_bb/ )
P.S. to C3M Volume 3 Number 9, October 2004 "Ecological Crisis, World
Models, and the Nature of Proof" --
I got an email from James Hood.
( mailto:email@example.com )
He challenged my assertion that "Today, starvation is all but
eliminated on earth, except where political factors such as civil
wars perpetuate it. Hunger due to actual food shortages is fading
away. This is not to say no one is starving, or that we will never
face the problem again, but go to google news... and search for
famine." He responded:
Whoa.....jeez, all I can say is try "starvation" and "hunger"
Is this all a hoax?
( www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/005/y7352e/y7352e03.htm )
I stand corrected. There is still work to be done.
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