Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson was the legendary anthropologist that had an enormous affect upon NLP founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder as well as Robert Dilts who had a significant effect upon NLP’s development. In later years Bateson moved to and eventually passed away at California’s new age haven, Esalen Institute where he shared his views with and friendship with the renowned LSD and Holotropic Breathing researchers Stanislaus and Christina Grof.

Gregory Bateson was born in England in 1904 and attended Cambridge where he studied biology and linguistics. At the age of 33 he moved to Palo Alto, California where he continued is teaching and developed an interest in and knowledge of systems theory. It was during this time that he met the famed systems theorist and anthropologist Margaret Mead whom he eventually would wed.

Gregory Bateson was invited to be a core member of The Macy Conferences which were a set of meetings of scholars from various disciplines held in New York by the initiative of Warren McCulloch and the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation from 1946 to 1953. The principal purpose of these series of conferences was to set the foundations for a general science of the workings of the human mind. It was one of the first interdisciplinary studies done which was the catalyst to the development of systems theory, cybernetics, and what later became known as cognitive science. Other core members were Margaret Mead whom Bateson was married from 1936-47 and psychologist Eric Erickson.

During Gregory’s early years as an anthropologist he drifted around a bit aimlessly he was searching for a purpose or thesis. Eventually he began to focus upon the relationships and interactions among people.


Gregory Bateson suggested the influence of a circular system of causation, and proposed that: In short, the behavior of person X affects person Y, and the reaction of person Y to person X’s behavior will then affect person X’s behavior, which in turn will affect person Y, and so on. Bateson called this the “vicious circle”.

This is the predecessor to the NLP presupposition:The meaning of all communication is the response that it elicits in the other not that which is intent by the communicator.

Gregory Bateson came up with the theory of the double blind as a cause for schizophrenia.

Full double bind requires several conditions to be met.

1 The victim of double bind receives contradictory injunctions or emotional messages on different levels of communication (for example: a child is encouraged to speak freely, but criticized or silenced whenever he or she actually does so).

2 No meta communication is possible – for example, asking which of the two messages is valid or describing the communication as making no sense.

3 The victim cannot leave the communication field.

4 Failing to fulfill the contradictory injunctions is punished (for example, by withdrawal of love).

This example is considered to be more important as an example of Gregory Bateson's approach to the complexities of communication.

From More on Gregory Bateson from Wikipedia :

In his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind, he saw the world as a series of systems containing those of individuals, societies and ecosystems. Within each system is found competition and dependency. Each of these systems has adaptive changes which depend upon feedback loops to control balance by changing multiple variables. Bateson believed that these self-correcting systems were conservative by controlling exponential slippage. Bateson also viewed that all three systems of the individual, society and ecosystem were all together a part of one supreme cybernetic system that controls everything instead of just interacting systems. This supreme cybernetic system is beyond the self of the individual and could be equated to what many people refer to as God, though Bateson referred to it as the Mind. While the Mind is a cybernetic system, it can only be distinguished as a whole and not parts. Bateson felt the Mind was imminent in the messages and pathways of the supreme cybernetic system. He saw the root of system collapses as a result of Occidental or Western epistemology. According to Bateson consciousness is the bridge between the cybernetic networks of individual, society and ecology and that the mismatch between the systems due to improper understanding will be result in the degradation of the entire supreme cybernetic system or Mind. Bateson saw consciousness as developed through Occidental epistemology was at direct odds with the Mind.

Bateson argues that Occidental epistemology perpetuates a system of understanding which is purpose or means-to-an-end driven. Purpose in the end controls attention and narrows perception thus limiting what comes into consciousness and amount of wisdom generable had been reduced. Additionally Occidental epistemology propagates the false notion of that man exists outside the Mind and this leads man to believe in what Bateson calls the philosophy of control based upon false knowledge.

Bateson presents Occidental epistemology as a method of thinking that leads to a mindset in which man exerts an autocratic rule over all cybernetic systems. In exerting his autocratic rule man changes the environment to suit him and in doing so he unbalances the natural cybernetic system of controlled competition and mutual dependency. The purpose driven accumulation of knowledge ignores the supreme cybernetic system and leads to the eventual breakdown of the entire system. Bateson claims that man will never be able to control the whole system because it does not operate in a linear fashion and if man creates his own rules for the system, he opens himself up to becoming a slave to the self-made system due to cybernetics non-linear nature. Lastly man’s technological prowess combined with his scientific hubris gives him to potential to irrevocably damage and destroy the supreme cybernetic system instead of just disrupting the system temporally until the system can self-correct.

Bateson argues for a position of humility and acceptance of the natural cybernetic system instead of scientific arrogance as a solution. He believes that humility can come about by abandoning the view of operating through consciousness alone. Consciousness is but only one way in which to obtain knowledge and without complete knowledge of the entire cybernetic system disaster is inevitable. The limited conscious must be combined with the unconscious in complete synthesis. Only when thought and emotion are combined in whole is man able to obtain complete knowledge. He believed that religion and art are some of the few areas in which a man is acting as whole individual in complete consciousness. By acting with this greater wisdom of the supreme cybernetic system as a whole man can change his relationship to the Mind from one of symmetry, in which he endlessly tried up in constant competition, to one of complimentary. Bateson argues for a culture that promotes the most general wisdom and is able flexibly change within the supreme cybernetic system.

Gregory Bateson and NLP founders Bandler and Grinder as well as Robert Dilts and many others spent many evenings discussing and musing about the nature of reality. His influence upon NLP should not be underestimated.

In addition to Bateson's intellectual stimulation, he also introduced Bandler, Grinder and Dilts to his good friend from Phoenix Arizona, Dr. Milton Erickson , the founder of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. This meeting would radically change the way that people were modeled and therapy was done. Click on Milton's name or the society to learn more about the Ericksonian influences upon NLP.

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