OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect

Gregory Bateson tells us that we ought always look for the “pattern which connects.”

Gregory Bateson

I first stumbled upon Gregory Bateson while a college student and working at a local book distributorship. Our customers were college and university libraries, and one of them had purchased a beautiful hardbound copy of Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity.  I stood there, over the packing table, thumbing through the book filled with words I’d never seen before:   stochastic, lineal, ostensive, morphogenesis, and homology. At least I could pronounce them, and that was enough to seduce me.  And then this: what is the pattern that connects all living things?

My own prized copy

It was the first mind-stretching book I read in my life.  Some parts of it completely escaped me (some still do), but I kept at it, mesmerized by the language and that recurring phrase, “search for the pattern that connects.” The chapter on “Every Schoolboy Knows” I read and reread – it is where I received one of the intellectual gems of my feeble scientific interest: “science never proves anything.”  It was hard to take.  Take in, that is.  Every paragraph punched me in my paradigm.

It’s still punching today.  The premises of thought upon which all our teaching is based are ancient and, I assert, obsolete.

To the extent we create and inhabit a built environment opposed to nature, attempting to obliterate nature – covered from rain, warmed by a furnace, cooled by air conditioning, transported by car, bus or jet, elevated by escalators and elevators, cleansed in showers, filled with store-bought food, clothed by fabrics milled and stitched by machines – we engender a damning separation of mind and nature.

Even now, short paragraphs slip from my grip: ” we have to show that the difference between two consecutive summations of odd numbers is equal and always (emphasis his) equal to the difference between the squares of their ordinal names.”  From which I eventually culled cardinal and ordinal. All these dazzling words made me giddy – fun to speak aloud, but empty of meaning, at least then.  Here, then, in Gregory Bateson’s esoteric tongue were the emanations of my imaginative life breaking free of something.

The world I grew up in was not a pile of parts; it was one all thing.


3 comments on “OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect

  1. Pingback: OneThing20: how mind and nature might connect (via itsallonething) « patternsthatconnect

  2. I love your writing and your constant references to the natural world. I am from Northern California and the thing I miss the most is hiking through the oaks and soaking in the interconnection that results from the complex natural ecosystem – but also something metaphysical, spiritual, and totally indescribable. Check out the work of my friend / colleague Nick Gogerty who has been doing some interesting theoretical work on ecological systems, risk, etc. ( He literally is the smartest, most creative person I have ever met.

    • Nicole – I grew up camping with family and then hiking in wilderness areas with my brothers. It’s clear that we need emulate nature’s success stories rather than pound out our own at the expense of nature. One of my favorite system dynamics aphorisms goes like this, if there is a problem in a system and you understand the system, you had better choose to fix it. Or the system will fix it for you, and you will no choice at all. The more time I spend looking at trees or water, the more gentle I am, everywhere in my life.

      All the best to you, Nicole. I will keep reading your work, too.


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