Re: The Review of Mind & Nature

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Mon, 6 Mar 1995 13:09:48 +1000

I'm glad to see lots of feedback on my review of _Mind and Nature_.
Too much to deal with in one go (and the longest response, from Mike
Lieber, hasn't gone to the list), so I'll start with some simple things.

Scott Holmes writes:
> As for Bateson's use of the word "mind", I believe it is only a matter
> of convention. He notes in his introduction to _Steps..._ that "mind"
> is one of several concepts that "... are so loosely derived and so
> mutually irrelevant that they mix together to make a sort of conceptual
> fog which does much to delay the progress of science".

Mike Lieber also mentions that many cyberneticists have used "mind"
in a wide sense.

Eve Pinsker writes:
> I like _Mind and Nature_ (and I think the most useful thing in there,
> in terms of what was added to his earlier work, is the discussion of
> the alternation between form and process) but I keep going back to the
> essays in _Steps_ (so much so that I've worn out 2 paperback copies
> of it; I didn't know it was out of print). Maybe the exposition in
> _Mind and Nature_ got watered down because it was directed towards
> a broader audience.

Well, I definitely want to read _Steps_! My bookshop told me it was
out of print, so I'm hoping the university will get its act together
and give me a library card real soon now.

But the "watering down" Eve refers to may be at the heart of my
problem with the use of "mind" in _Mind and Nature_. Given the popular
audience that book is aimed at, I see it as all to likely that readers
will just *merge* Bateson's "mind" in with the traditional "conceptual
fog" to produce something even worse. Bateson explicitly states
that he isn't discussing consciousness, but it takes a fair bit of
philosophical sophistication to separate "consciousness" from "mind".
The blurb on my copy (which I would quote, except that it's at home
and I'm at uni) is a good example of this -- whoever wrote it seems
to have decided that Bateson is another New Age guru selling universal
consciousness and turning his back on Western science.

I think what Bateson calls "mind" is both well-defined and an extremely
powerful concept. My objections to his language are purely pragmatic;
a few terminological changes would have helped put readers without
a cybernetics background on the right track. (And yes, I realise
this would have reduced the books popular appeal a little, but I think
it would have been well worthwhile.)

Danny Yee.