"Nora Bateson combines imaginative graphics with fascinating documentary footage and illuminating interviews to present her father’s intellectual legacy against the backdrop of his relationship with his youngest child, the filmmaker herself.
This unique documentary will be an invaluable resource to the many who have drawn on Gregory Bateson’s ideas – myself included – and to those for whom this will be an enlightening introduction."
- Deborah Tannen - New York Times Bestselling Author, Speaker, Professor at Georgetown University
"The major problems in the world," said Gregory Bateson, "are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think." Nora Bateson's brilliant film magically liberates our minds to discover that difference, and so dissolve it. Edwin Land said that people who seem to have had a new idea have often just stopped having an old idea. Gregory Bateson taught us how to stop having the most fundamental old ideas—the static, separating, reductionist fictions that dis-integrate an integrated world. Nora Bateson's beautiful portrait of her father's key insights is a stunningly effective antidote for a new generation that now needs his wisdom more than ever. It is really a remarkable and wonderful film. It will do much good."
— Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist,
Rocky Mountain Institute
"I learned to converse with Gregory through Nora's exchange with her father, in the Zen Koan-like, "The Questions are the Answers" metalogue. This remarkable film by Nora about the Essence of Gregory, the Man, his Heart/Mind/Body; the scientist, the mystic,
the sage is full of magic, humanity, humor and joy; most lovingly presented with sensitive intelligence and beauty."
- Chungliang Al Huang, founder, Living Tao Foundation;
Director, Lan Ting Institute, author, "Embrace Tiger,
Return To Mountain: The Essence of Tai Ji",
co-author with Alan Watts, "Tao: The Watercourse Way"
Audio commentary by Alex Smith and interview with Nora Bateson on Radio Ecoshock can be found HERE
An Ecology of Mind - Review Excerpts by Jan van Boeckel
When we reflect on how environmental education can be innovated to meet the needs and challenges of today’s world, and if we also consider the role that the arts can play in this, we are well-advised to take a closer look at the groundbreaking work of the great thinker Gregory Bateson. The year 2010 saw the release of a highly interesting documentary on his work, entitled An Ecology of Mind. Completed more than thirty years after his death, filmmaker Nora Bateson (Gregory Bateson’s youngest daughter) directed a compelling hour-long introduction to the world of this thinking. Gregory Bateson was one of the most original thinkers of the late twentieth century. His research covered a vast array of different fields: anthropology, biology, psychology, and philosophy of science. He would often move himself across the boundaries of disciplines, and do so in highly innovative ways. Until now his work has been largely inaccessible to those outside of the academic community. With An Ecology of Mind, this is soon bound to change.
Bateson was quite different from most other university teachers. In the 1970’s he recounted how there was, almost every year, a vague complaint about his teaching. It was alleged that “Bateson knows something which he does not tell you,” or “There’s something behind what Bateson says, but he never says what it is.”
Nora Bateson is Gregory Bateson’s youngest daughter, from his third marriage. For me, watching her film portrait of her father was an overwhelming experience. I had the strange sensation of seeing and listening to a person on film whose work I excitedly started to read decades ago. At the opening of the film Ms. Bateson says, “I am inviting you to do the thing he did best, which is to look at a thing – be it an earthworm, a number sequence, a tree, a formal definition of addiction, anything at all – from another angle.” Her father would twist things around endlessly to be sure he didn’t get stuck down a singular line of thinking. He would ask himself questions like: “What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?” To learn about this pattern was his life’s purpose. His approach was radically different from conventional science, which is often more preoccupied with taking things apart. Bateson was a voice crying in the wilderness. “Break the pattern which connects,” he stated, “and you necessarily destroy all quality.”
A Culture Vulture in Lotus Land Review Excerpts 10/3/10
Vancouver International Film Festival
Gregory was a modern Renaissance man whose areas of study and ideas threaded together anthropology, biology, psychology, technology, and ecology. Interviews with wide ranging figures like Internet pioneer Steward Brand, physicist and author of The Tao of Physics Fritjof Capra, and former California governor Jerry Brown attest to the influence and importance of Gregory's ideas.
There is much footage of Gregory with his measured and eloquent English accent, as he lectures, and discusses the importance of understanding relationships. He was an avid documentarian, taking thousands of photos and hours of footage when he worked with his then wife anthropologist Margaret Mead in Indonesia. Nothing seemed beyond his purview. He was a formidable and rigorous thinker, but a caring man who was especially tender with his youngest daughter.
"An amazing film."
Wade Graham - writer, Harpers and Los Angeles Times
"An Ecology of Mind is a spell-binding, lyrical, and very important film about Gregory Bateson and his revolutionary ideas that helped launch the modern ecology movement.
The film is both memoir and tribute from his daughter, Nora Bateson, demonstrating that the most personal can reveal the most universal. Ms. Bateson’s discoveries with her father reflect the discoveries of a generation that learned serious ecology from Bateson. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bateson became a mentor to students, seasoned academics, and environmentalists, providing the language and insights that linked ecology to general systems, psychology, sociology, epistemology, and broad theories of science.
Along the way, Bateson conceived and illuminated some of the most significant ideas of the era: cybernetics, double-bind, changeability, and the pattern that connects. The film, An Ecology of Mind, effectively conveys the breadth, depth, rigor, and dynamism of Gregory Bateson’s contributions to science and humanity."
- Rex Weyler - Co-founder, Greenpeace International
An Ecology of Mind: A Film by Nora Bateson
Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D. - Huffington Post, 10/13/11
Family systems therapists are a rare breed, as we see the world from a different angle from most people and even from most other therapists. Simply put, our particular slant is that we look at the interconnections and relationships between people instead of seeing them as separate independent individuals. For teaching us this unique way of seeing the world, family therapists are indebted in large part to Gregory Bateson.
A giant among twentieth century thinkers, Bateson was at once biologist, ecologist, anthropologist, cyberneticist, family therapist, and creative thinker. As ecologist, he taught us that human beings act in ways that are destructive to fragile ecological systems because we do not see the interdependencies between natural systems and our own lives. As anthropologist, he taught us that behaviors and words have no meaning outside of cultural contexts. As cyberneticist, he taught us that change in one part of a system can be manifested in an entirely different part of the system in unexpected different ways. As family therapist, he taught us that pathologies reside not in individuals but in the patterns of communication between individuals. As creative thinker, he taught us that the language of complex systems, including family systems, is metaphor.
Nora Bateson, Gregory's daughter, has made an exquisite film that is at once a tribute to her remarkable father and an elegant expression of his ideas. An Ecology of Mind, the title of both the film and one of Gregory Bateson's books, is a film about mind and nature, which Bateson believed were a unity even though our language and culture leads us to believe that they are separate. It is a film about the relationships between living things told tenderly through a metaphor of a relationship -- Nora's relationship with her father.
The narrative leads us on a journey past a series of "roadmaps" in Gregory's career: relationships, difference, epistemology, cybernetics, changeability, patterns, and of course that enigmatic cornerstone of family systems thinking, the double bind. The film conveys these complex ideas in such a way as to take us right inside them so that we see them as clearly as pebbles in a crystalline mountain stream. That the film accomplishes this is a testament to the filmmaker's artistry and her grasp of her father's subtle and unique style of thinking.
Perhaps the deepest idea that the film tackles is the pressing problem of our global double bind. Civilization, Gregory Bateson believed, is on the road to destruction unless we give up thinking in linear and material ways. The double bind that we now face is this: on the one hand, we want to preserve our natural environment; on the other, everything we do to grow our economy and preserve our standard of living disrupts the natural environment and our relationships with it. Nora, like her father, suggests that we must raise our consciousness and learn to think in new ways to escape our pathology of wrong thinking. She quotes Einstein: "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." We must give up making arbitrary distinctions between human beings and the rest of nature and start thinking instead in terms of the interconnections among all living beings.
The film suggests that we face not only an ecological double bind, but a social one as well -- voiced in the film by California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown says that we now find ourselves in a situation of social inequality. The proposed solution is to grow the economy. However, the result of growing the economy is more inequality (the rich get richer). Somehow we must break out of the level of consciousness that contains this contradiction. Nora Bateson suggests that we must question authority and mainstream thought patterns in order to think ourselves out of this pathological situation. Although the film predates the Wall Street protesters, their attempt to raise our consciousness about the social double bind seems like an important first step along the road to a healthier society.
An Ecology of Mind is a beautiful and important film, and has been deservedly showing to sold-out audiences around the world since its premier at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year. Nora Bateson presents viewers not only with an intellectually challenging and inspiring work of art, but also with a glimpse of evanescent hope.
Dan Webster Review Excerpts (transcription) on KPBX, February 25, 2011
The documentary An Ecology of Mind, which won a Golden SpIFFy award at the just-completed Spokane International Film Festival, is playing this weekend only at the Magic Lantern Theatre. Following is the review that I did for Spokane Public Radio.
The task she took on was hardly easy. Pinning Bateson down takes a fair amount of effort. Coming up with a simple definition of, say, systems theory is one thing. Doing so in a way that educates the average filmgoer without making her film feel like a mere academic exercise is something else entirely. Yet Nora Bateson manages to do so by always keeping the man she knew at the center. By using historical film footage both of him and shot by him – remnants of the work he and Mead did in South Seas native cultures – to illustrate the points she wants to make. By interviewing a coterie of people, friends, colleagues and family, who knew Bateson best.
What becomes amply clear is that Bateson is needed today more than ever. His ability to see life from different angles runs counter to the intolerance evident in so much of what passes for contemporary public debate. In this era, which seems more and more to push individuals more toward black-and-write thinking – with any kind of larger shared truth conveniently, often intentionally, ignored – Bateson’s beliefs feel as fresh as they do refreshing.
Gregory Bateson took the first steps toward such a worldwide societal reunion long before he died at age 76 in 1980. His daughter, now, in a quietly profound way, has continued the journey. It’s up to the rest of us to complete the process. Watching “An Ecology of Mind” is a good place to start.
Excerpts from German review in FILMDIENST by Joseph Lederle, June 2011
Previously, Bateson’s work was known in the alternative and environmental circles in the academic milieu of the 80s. Bateson's two most important written works, Steps to An Ecology of Mind and Mind and Nature, were published by the … German publisher Suhrkamp. Surprisingly, it has taken 30 years since Bateson’s death in 1980 for a more popular understanding of his work. Gregory Bateson remains alive in his significant impact on systemic family therapy, and his influence on the works of Nikolas Luhmann and other systems theorists. But the body of Bateson’s work needed the cinematic “art of translation” of his youngest daughter, Nora Bateson, to save one of the most refreshing, unpretentious thinkers from oblivion and make the work more accessible in the present.
In her 60 minute film that is as personal as it is accessible, one encounters not a dreamer, but instead a funny, entertaining man who was notorious for his enigmatic questions and advised his students to read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to learn something about human nature and the fundamental processes of evolution. This was no joke for Bateson, who was convinced that reality does not open itself through the analytical process of dissecting writing, but rather can be deduced through metaphorical and poetic language.
Long before the term “ecology” was fashionable, Bateson was driven by the question: “What are the structural reasons behind the destructive use of natural resources?” With the insight that “we” have lost the ability to recognize broad patterns, he presented his ideas to audiences not as “thesis” but instead circled around around the topic with paradoxical examples.
The film follows Bateson’s credo that the spirit that follows logic, causality and the preservation of the power needs to find balance in the realm of art and intuition. Nora Bateson does not present a standard biography but instead draws a quiet and exhilarating pastiche, which uses little animated sequences that show the content of the keywords that the film touches upon… even if it involves difficult epistemological questions. The central mantra of the tireless protagonist, who interpreted the wold as an infinite set of relational events, and focused on the context of things above their singular form, has thus found a congenial cinematic form.