Upside-Down Gods

Upside-Down Gods

Peter Harries-Jones

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780823270347

Publisher: Fordham University Press


This is an intellectual biography of Gregory Bateson, one of the most important holistic writers of the twentieth century, whose qualitative approach to information and intelligence in living systems challenges modern science’s exclusive attachment to technical premises of cyber-information and Artificial Intelligence. Hesubstitutes ‘pattern’ and ‘meaning’ for the ‘thinginess’ of data and places his emphasis on ‘mapping’ and gestalt. His approach appears first in his anthropological studies of New Guinea culture and ‘body/mind’ interaction in Balinese which he undertook with his spouse, Margaret Mead. Later, he shows how patterns of relationship and communication exist at a ‘higher,’ or meta-level, to those of biophysical interaction. Perceptions of ‘difference’ and the ‘difference that makes a difference’ create contexts for interpersonal communication; these ‘mind-like’ characteristics are also apparent in the world of living systems, enabling species to co-evolve in a mutually supportive manner—unlike natural selection. One of his legacies is biosemiotics, which focuses on the ability of all organisms and all cells to respond to patterns, even in microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. All are semiotic, that is, they can interpret and develop meaningful preferences in their ordering of events. In ecology, his ‘post-genomic’ stance considers organism-plus-environment as the fundamental unit of life, and not the gene; in so doing he turns many notions of causality ‘upside-down.’ Bateson’s holism yields an ecological aesthetics, never achieved in any of the natural sciences, which underlines the moral divide between sustainable creativity and current biocide in planetary biodiversity.