Monday, November 25, 2013

Steps to an Ecology of Mind By Gregory Bateson

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The title of this book of collected essays and lectures is intended precisely to define the contents. The essays, spread over thirty-five years, combine to propose a new way of thinking about ideas and about those aggregates of ideas which I call "minds." This way of thinking I call the "ecology of mind," or the ecology of ideas. It is a science which does not yet exist as an organized body of theory or knowledge. 

But the definition of an "idea" which the essays combine to propose is much wider and more formal than is conventional. The essays must speak for themselves, but here at the beginning let me state my belief that such matters as the bilateral symmetry of an animal, the patterned arrangement of leaves in a plant, the escalation of an armaments race, the processes of courtship, the nature of play, the grammar of a sentence, the mystery of biological evolution, and the contemporary crises in man's relationship to him environment, can only be understood in terms of such an ecology of ideas as I propose. 

The questions which the book raises are ecological: How do ideas interact? Is there some sort of natural selection which determines the survival of some ideas and the extinction or death of others? What sort of economics limits the multiplicity of ideas in a given region of mind? What are the necessary conditions for stability (or survival) of such a system or subsystem? 

Some of these questions are touched upon in the essays, but the main thrust of the book is to clear the way so that such questions can be meaningfully asked.

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