Jesse's Reviews > Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology

Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson
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it was amazing

It's been too long since I finished this book -- three solid months, maybe more -- and its effects on my thought processes have tragically faded. I do remember the general sense of a liberated mind that came with finishing Bateson's book, and on the basis of that alone, I feel confident maxing out the stars in this review.

Not that the book gave me a complete solution to the universe. That's best left to philosophers who are more... inspirational in tone, I guess you would say. If Bateson's work was liberating, it was simply because it gave me access to Bateson's way of thinking, a new set of intellectual tools, and this in itself is a rare accomplishment. Too often, when books of ideas try to explain everything, they just end up repeating your intuitions and flattering them in a very forgettable way.

Bateson essentially gave birth to "cybernetics" as a methodology, and that's what this book is about: cybernetics, demonstrated across a wide range of disciplines, all of which Bateson meaningfully engaged with. He moves from biological speciation to dolphin communication, he spends a good deal of time on therapy and cognitive dissonance, and he makes forays into theories of language, scientific method, and Western history.

As Bateson covers these topics, we get to see the world as he does: as a place where outcomes and patterns underlie causes and effects, and where objects and qualities are only the shallowest manifestation of a deeper causal structure. He makes a rigorous practice of seeing all domains in terms of information, and he is always challenging frames and bringing attention to the assumptions and contexts that make interactions meaningful.

Even now, I'm finding that I'm enjoying this exercise, going back to Bateson and trying to remember what felt so fresh and exotic about his thought. I've spent enough time on the indulgence, though. For my last word, I'd like to point out something important: you can read summaries of Bateson's ideas as much as you want, and they'll sound clever, but without falling deep into his actual essays and his language, you won't get the optimal experience that he stands to provide. When you've read enough of these and put effort into understanding them, you really do start to find your way into a different sort of thinking about the world, even if it's just temporarily, as a welcome guest.

The writing can be dry and scientific. The essays deserve to be read slowly, and they may require a bit of domain-specific research, which can all be had on Wikipedia. If you can deal with those drawbacks, then I fully recommend you read as much of Steps to an Ecology of Mind as you can.
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Reading Progress

June 13, 2018 – Started Reading
June 13, 2018 – Shelved
August 10, 2018 – Finished Reading

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