Conscious Purpose in 2010: Bateson's Prescient Warning

Phillip V Guddemi


<!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0cm; margin-right:0cm; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0cm; mso-pagination:none; mso-hyphenate:none; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-bidi-font-family:Cambria; mso-ansi-language:EN-US; mso-fareast-language:AR-SA;} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} --> In 1968 Gregory Bateson hosted a conference on “the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation.”  In his conference paper he warned that human conscious purpose distorts perception in a way which obscures the systemic (“cybernetic”) nature of both self and environment.  The ensuing years have paid little attention to his analysis of both observer and environment as cybernetic systems whose systemic natures are dangerously opaque to human purposive thought.  But his analysis is sounder than ever on the basis of scientific developments of the last forty years.  Recent adaptive systems formulations in ecological theory have underscored how ecological systems, because of their systems nature, can be vulnerable to the unintended consequences of human actions.  Modern neuroscience has also delineated many of the limitations of conscious thinking Bateson warned us against. In fact, new work on the cerebral hemispheres has pointed to epistemological biases, characteristic of the left hemisphere in particular, which fit Bateson’s portrait of the biases of conscious purpose.  It seems that Bateson’s forty-two year old warning was prescient and relevant to our predicament today.


ecology, consciousness, cybernetics

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