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Sweetly Focused Nora Bateson

What a great two minutes!

Nora Bateson’s soulful approach to her father’s work, to his way of understanding, strikes me as being beautifully personal, ingratiating, and, most crucially, precisely formulated so as to provide a warm introductory gateway to his legacy.

The following videos help frame her brilliant film about her father, An Ecology of Mind. The interviewers are different, and there is some repetition, yet Ms. Bateson is so much deeply her father’s daughter that I find her views enchanting.

The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer. (Gregory Bateson)

According to the popular image of science, everything is, in principle, predictable and controllable; and if some event or process is not predictable and controllable in the present state of your knowledge, a little more knowledge and, especially, a little more know-how will enable us to predict and control the wild variables.

This view is wrong, not merely in detail, but in principle. It is even possible to define large classes or phenomena where prediction and control are simply impossible for very basic but quite understandable reasons. Perhaps the most familiar example of this class of phenomena is the breaking of any superficially homogeneous material, such as glass. The Brownian movement (see Glossary) of molecules in liquids and gases is similarly unpredictable.

If I throw a stone at a glass window, I shall, under appropriate circumstances, break of crack the glass in a star-shaped pattern. If my stone hits the glass as fast as a bullet, it is possible that it will detach from the glass a neat conical plug called a conic of percussion. If my stone is too slow and too small, I may fail to break the glass at all. Prediction and control will be quite possible at this level. I can easily make sure which of three results (the star, the percussion cone, or no breakage) I shall achieve, provided I avoid marginal strengths of throw.

But within the conditions which produce the star-shaped break, it will be impossible to predict or control the pathways and the positions of the arms of the stars.

Curiously enough, the more precise my laboratory methods, the more unpredictable the events will become. If I use the most homogeneous glass available, polish its surface to the most exact optical flatness, and control the motion of my stone as precisely as possible, ensuring an almost precisely vertical impact on the surface of the glass, all my efforts will only make the events more impossible to predict.

If, on the other hand, I scratch the surface of the glass or use a piece of glass that is already cracked (which would be cheating), I shall be able to make some approximate predictions. For some reason (unknown to me), the break in the glass will run parallel to the scratch and about 1/100 of an inch to the side, so that the scratch mark will appear on only one side of the break. Beyond the end of the scratch, the break will veer off unpredictably.

Under tension, a chain will break at its weakest link. That much is predictable. What is difficult is to identify the weakest link before it breaks. The generic we can know, but the specific eludes us. Some chains are designed to break at a certain tension and at a certain link. But a good chain is homogeneous, and no prediction is possible. And because we cannot know which link is weakest, we cannot know precisely how much tension will be needed to break the chain.

6. Divergent Sequences Are Unpredictable
II Every School Boy Knows
Mind & Nature (Gregory Bateson)

Any form of certainty we find along the way is probably transitional. (Nora Bateson)

Nora Bateson from AURA on Vimeo.

Nora Bateson’s film (Amazon DVD) An Ecology of Mind, A Daughter’s Portrait of Gregory Bateson–it’s wonderful– Web Site | An Ecology of the Mind (on Facebook)

Department of Anthropology Indiana University: Gregory Bateson biography

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