Hope & Horror, Parts & Wholes.


This is a chapter from my book, Small Arcs of Larger Circles. It is a story of my discovery and confusion around the emergence of a widespread global grouping of people concerned for the survival of “indigenous Europeans” — white people. It is important to note that a peephole into this parallel world began for me in 2013 (maybe 2012?), and by then as an internet phenomenon of community it was already in full swing. This white supremacy question is not about the USA, it is not about Trump, it has nothing to do with Making America Great Again (MAGA), this situation runs much much deeper. In my considerations of how and where to take action, I am finding that an oversimplified, or decontextualized view of these social divisions only helps to fuel the fire. I am not suggesting that I have the deeper view necessary, only that I am ready to grope in the darkness to expand my understanding. I get that I don’t get it. We are on the brink of either epiphany or war, or maybe both.

Confusion is blooming into a vitriol of finger pointing, and violence. This moment is profound — a call for urgent action. But, before we jump in with action, it is imperative that there be a moment of pause. Polarity breeds polarity; by default it is an escalating process. Enter carefully. The cultural fissures are not as clear as they seem at first glance. Memes make it seem too easy.

The institutionalized exploitation of both humanity and our habitat manifests as racism, manifests as sexism — as capitalistic greed that puts human luxury above ecological survival. Exploitation is a long narrative of “deadly.” As illusions of democracy as immune to corruption are crumbling, the world is becoming less like I wish it was… Each day seems to be a further reveal of the violence that has always been there. The dreams of the 60’s and 70’s are fading fast. Now, as the battlefield of identity is drawn up, each grouping of ideologies is ossifying in their own particular frequency and becoming less able to hear the others. But the lines are moving. The incoherence is louder than the polarity. I offer this chapter as perhaps a useful contribution to the moment.

Hope and Horror, Parts and Wholes.

Here is the link to the chapter: Small Arcs Hope & Horror (1)

Yes, Together. Intergenerational learning.


Though many will say that the future is in the hands of the children, in fact the future lies in the relationship between the generations. What kind of education will they need? And how can we as adults open our minds to thinking in new ways with them? Intergenerational learning is NOT a new project, it’s as ancient as time. Ask instead about what is being learned?

These questions go well beyond the school yard. Schools have been formed by silo-ed thinking, and therefore produce silo-ed knowledge of the world that fits the demands of silo-ed workforce and all those silos violate the interdependency of our world — generating ecological and human rights destruction. There was a time when the dream of colonial exploitation thrived off this model and developed countries got rich off this epistemology. It supported objectification of absolutely everything from people to ecologies. This thinking built great nations, and great inventions… and it is now destroying the world.

Let’s be frank, the hold up on educational systems change is the adults’ fault, not the kids’. Students are by definition recipients of the system of education delivered to them. It is of no comfort to show our battle scars and consider the gauntlet of education to be a kind of coming of age test for youth. The education system as it is now is as toxic to teachers, parents, counselors, as it is to students.

-To help prepare coming generations to thrive in their lives is to prepare them to perceive, and respond to complexity far beyond what previous generations were taught.

-To teach complexity is to be a tour guide into a world of beautiful and messy interrelationships that defy the old school of right/wrong binaries. Education, as a system, must adapt and evolve to the changing world.

The systems we live within are in constant interaction, from social systems to economic systems, to biological systems and ecological systems. Our challenge in this era is to become familiar with the living complexity of our lives and avoid the destructive habits of reductionism. I have said this a hundred times…But when it comes to intergenerational interaction this change is not so easy. It is much easier to take up meditation, or a new diet, become expert in an new technology or get a degree, than to change the way adults interact with children. The habits are hardwired to repeat what we have experienced, the good, the bad and the ugly. With some attention and cultural support a good deal of “progressive” parenting and classroom interaction has increased adult sensitivity to children’s sensitivity. But this is only the beginning. The next horizon is one of authentic mutual respect between generations, patience, humility, and care. We are headed into rough seas, together. Yes, together.

Horizons we face together. (me and my kids at sea)

The more pressing issue is that the future is going to be so different from the past that a great many of the skills and habits, and “truths” that were in the landscape even a few years ago, are becoming obsolete. The weather, food production, addiction, medicine, ecology, economy, politics and cultural volatility are all in first place for the next tipping point of global and societal shake down. Their world, to put it most simply, will be, and already is, dependent on another approach to co-existence. Children of today are facing a world in which the basics are in transformation.

The education system is a story. And, like many stories it is  woven between so many variables that it often feels ungraspable. If the employment sector is a foot, the education system is a shoe that is designed around it and vice versa. We might think then of economy as the path upon which the shoe and foot must have traction. The interdependency is what I am getting at with this metaphor. The issue is that to fix the education system requires a profound study of employment, culture, media, ideas of success and so on. While the complexity is hard work, a deeper understanding can reveal possibilities we did not previously see. Patterns of linear thinking can blind us to the vital interrelationships and our own innate ability to respond with greater sensitivity to the complexity of our lives. As the adults in the room, in this moment in time, we owe at least this much to the coming generations whose world is in such pain. I say this not to cast blame, but to recognize that the ancestors, and elders have let these kids down. For whatever reasons our parents did not manage to stop the madness, their parents did not stop the madness, and neither have we.  The road to this moment reaches way back in history, it took centuries to get this lost, but we only have one generation to pop through arrested development of our species. They need all the help they can get.

When it comes to the intergenerational relationships called “education”, the notion of mutual learning (Symmathesy) is absolutely essential for me. The way we listen is given a good deal of lip-service these days. I have personally no idea how it is that one can listen with full mind/body/imagination without learning.

The wall of “adults know best” between the generations must be overcome and instead curate an environment of intergenerational mutual-learning. My father, Gregory Bateson, gave me a most precious gift by showing me that he was learning with me when I was a child. The gift was “learning to learn”. I grew up in an unusual household in which what was important was not who was right or wrong, but what had been discovered. From the very beginning of my life my parents did not hesitate to show me the world as they saw it, through a lens of interrelationship. The education they provided me was inherently ecological, introducing me to the patterns and processes that together create complex living systems, like forests, like oceans, like cultures, like families, and like my own body and ideas.

On the shoulders of my father. (G. Bateson and me age 10) Photo Kai De Fontenay

We, the adults, the so-called authorities, will have to shift the form of our customs of intergenerational interaction to model the humility of revealing our own learning. These shifts include: revealing subjectivity, exploring the necessary inconsistencies in complex systems, and practicing zooming in and out from detail to context. The patronizing humiliation of “tough love” and the attitude of “teach that kid a lesson” are two of the most deformed and poisonous ways to infect the potential of interaction between generations. I cannot express that strongly enough. Authority is not diminished by revealing learning. It is increased.

Three Useful Terms:

Transcontextual Description: This term refers to the ways in which multiple contexts come together to form complex systems. It allows for a concentration on the interdependency between contexts that give resilience to both living and non-living systems. Transcontextual description offers insight into where contextual overlap is reinforcing and where it is loose enough to initiate shifts.


Noun: An entity formed by contextual mutual learning though interaction.

Verb: To generate mutual learning contexts through the process of interaction between multiple variables in a living entity.

*(for more on Symmathesy please read the article written by Nora Bateson in Small Arcs of Larger Circles or online in numerous journals)

Warm Data:

“Warm Data” is information about the interrelationships that integrate elements of a complex system.

Here is a link to the idea of warm data.: https://norabateson.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/warm-data/

Review of Small Arcs of Larger Circles in Cybernetics and Human Knowing Journal

Here is the link to read the whole review in Cybernetics and Human Knowing Journal:  Cybernetics and Human Knowing, review of Small Arcs written by Pille Bunnell

Bunnell writes:

An Invitation to Creative Reflection

“This is a book for the adventuresome, prepared to travel, relying on their own resources. It is a little book, but it is dense conceptually. The chapters are both independent Arcs and parts of the whole, which indeed does circle around. If I were to name a orientation for this circling, it would be something like a desire for a more fluid and dimensional way of doing things such that ethical behavior can more readily be realized in any relationship, including our relation with the biosphere. The book is realized in various forms ranging from essays, to poems, from conference presentations to personal reflections, including an email to a friend. The style of writing varies, not only between chapters, but often within a chapter. One needs to be nimble to follow the shifts, much like travelling through a highly varied landscape with attention ranging from delight at distant views, concerns about safety of river crossings, to investigations of odd scratches on a tree or delight in a frail flower nestled among rocks. The landscape includes wetlands with floating islands that can be connected through making leaps, or trusting to metaphoric bridges. Sometimes the shift from a solid ground to mid air happens in midsentence; so one must be alert.

The Book as a Work of Art”


Warm Data

Contextual Research and New forms of Information

Recognizing that complex problems are not susceptible to predetermined solutions, the International Bateson Institute has taken up the task of generating a category of information specifically dedicated to description of contextual relational interaction, calling it “Warm Data”. The units of knowledge by which reasoning and calculations are made namely, data, information, and facts, suggest processes of research into which we place our hopes for better understanding of the world we inhabit. But the subject being perceived must dictate the necessity of understanding in different ways, therefore producing different kinds of information. Warm data is the product of a form of study specifically concentrated on (trans)contextual understanding of complex systems. Utilizing information obtained through a subject’s removal from context and frozen in time can create error when working with complex (living)systems. Warm data presents another order of exploration in the process of discerning vital contextual interrelationships, and another species of information.
“Warm Data” can be defined as: Transcontextual information about the interrelationships that integrate a complex system.
Information can come in many forms, depending on what is being studied. There is a need now for a way to gather and impart relational information when what we need to study is relational in nature. Warm Data is a category of information to develop in tandem to existing forms of data. This kind of information is a slippery mess of variables, changes, and ambiguities. It does not sit nicely in graphs or models, and it takes longer to produce. Since Warm Data describes relational interdependencies it must also include the necessary contradictions, binds (double-binds and more), and inconsistencies that occur in interrelational processes over time. Warm Data is the delivery of these multiple descriptions in active comparison, usually in a form that permits and even encourages the subjectivity of the observer within which it is possible to make meta connections.
This essay is an exploration of how and why Warm Data is developing as a form of documentation of relational and contextual information. Here the discussion does not go into the ways in which Warm Data are produced, or what do with Warm Data in terms of “actions”.
Making Sense & Science:
In early 2012, I was at a session on Big Data at the SAS Institute in North Carolina when I declared to my colleagues that there is a need for “contextual information” and first referred to it as “Warm Data.” That moment marked the beginning of conceptualizing and exploring the possibilities of producing an approach to research, and then imagining what the delivery of “Warm Data” research might look like.
I was not clear what it was yet, I was only certain of one thing: that a new kind of information was needed to balance the information produced by research that decontextualized its subjects of inquiry. In short, the way in which we make sense of the world has everything to do with the way we behave in it, so I saw a need for another sense-making as a necessary component of shifting behavior. Five years later the International Bateson Institute is now utilizing “Warm Data” in our research and findings on addiction, how systems learn, health and ecology.
Science, the systematic pursuit of knowledge, is at the center of the post-trust, post-truth meltdown. It appears that information as a product of knowledge, is now on trail. Every research study it would appear, is perforated with holes of distrust and met with counter evidence. Research bias and funding-based conflicts of interest have undermined public confidence in scientific research results, even though good research remains the best (and only) possible way forward as we look for ways to reduce our negative impact on the world around us. Subsequent public confusion and division is resulting in binary argument fueled by information that has been derived without the complexity required to actually make sense of it contextually. The damage is vast.
In this era, it is nearly impossible to get through a day without contributing to the destruction of our world. By lunchtime most people have participated in: further disruption to the ecology, an increase in the wealth gap, the demise of social justice, and the vengeful division between cultures. Breakfast cereals are laced with chemical pesticides that are known to be toxic both to our bodies and to the soil. They also contain damagingly high amounts of refined sugar. Yet these harmful practices have been approved by the institutional authorities of science and society. How has it come to this? And how can new patterns of interaction in our societies be encouraged to emerge? Our social deference to authorized institutions in the interest of collective safety has evolved over centuries. But that safety has been contaminated, along with our trust in the institutions that are supposed to provide truth and justice. How can science evolve to contribute to greater trustworthiness of our socio-economic institutions? How can sense be made of this tangle?
Part of the problem is that, globally, nationally and personally, we face crises that can be described as “complex” or “wicked” problems. Complexity is recognizable in situations which have multiple variables in ever shifting contexts of interdependency. Some examples of complex living systems are oceans, cities, families, economic systems, culture, the health of our own bodies, and the medical systems we expect to support them.
In each of these systems, vitality is produced by multiple processes in contextual interaction. To study a jungle is to recognize that the jungle itself is not an isolated “thing” but instead exists in the interrelationship between soil, foliage, animals, weather patterns, bacteria and so on. The same contextual linkings can be found in all living systems; approaching the system without an understanding of this holism will create short circuits in the complexity and countless unintended consequences. Making sense of the vitality of a complex system is an inquiry into its way of making contact. A study of the relational patterns gives entirely different understanding of the way in which a system is cohering.
“At present there is no existing science whose special interest is the combining of pieces of information. But I shall argue that the evolutionary process must depend upon such double increments of information. 
Every evolutionary step is an addition of information to an already existing system. Because this is so, the combinations, harmonies, and discords between successive pieces and layers of information will present many problems of survival and determine many directions of change.”–Gregory Bateson, Mind & Nature, 1979
Why Warm Data?
Although statistical data is useful, it is also limited by the common practice it often accompanies: decontextualizing the focus of inquiry. To study something is usually to pull it out of context and examine it in isolation. Rarely is the study re-contextualized to look at the complexity of its larger web of relationships. Warm Data circumnavigates the limitations inherent to statistical analysis by engaging a transcontextual research methodology, bringing not only context, but multiple contexts into the inquiry process. In order to interface with any complex system without disrupting the cohesion of the interdependencies that give it integrity, we must look at the spread of relationships that make the system robust. Simply using analytic methods focused on parsing statistical (cold) data will often point to conclusions that disregard the complexity of the situation at hand. Moreover, information that does not take into account the full scope of interrelationality in a system is likely to inspire misguided decision-making, which compounds already “wicked” problems. Warm Data is not meant to replace or in any way diminish other data, but rather it is meant to keep data of certain sorts “warm” — with a nest of relations intact.

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Photo by Jeff Bloom

Transcontextual Research & the Rigor of Ambiguity:
Warm Data provides cross-sector interrelational information because it is the outcome of a research approach premised upon the transcontextual interaction inherent in any system. This sort of inquiry is daunting and perpetually in its pioneering stages. This research is has as its basis humility for the un-knowability and ambiguity inherent in these forms of study. However, these inevitable uncertainties we recognize do not lead us to an abandonment of deep study. On the contrary, studying relational information from multiple contextual perspectives, produces more work, takes more time, and requires larger teams. The rigor of this research is not to be underestimated. For example, if one wants to study the ways in which food impacts our lives, a multifaceted study of ecology, culture, agriculture, economy, cross-generational communication, and media is needed. This transcontextual platform provides a wider contextual framework for further inquiry into what forms and constitutes certain international contemporary issues such as eating disorders, starvation, and other health problems associated with diet. Or in a family study, to better understand an individual family member the Warm Data of the family culture, and other contextual information is enormously productive. The meanings of behavior differ greatly from family to family and from culture to culture, therefore contextual information can provide needed insight into otherwise line item analysis, diagnostics and understandings of causation. People migration, the changing banking industry, and the challenges facing mechanical and civil engineering are all topics that would benefit from an increase in contextual, relational information.
Warm Data is generated through a Batesonian[1] approach of comparing interrelating processes in a given system. This approach needs us to reconsider our prevailing epistemology, to foreground the study of interdependency, to observe the observer and to look for “the pattern that connects”.
What is the pattern that connects? This question, famously posed by Gregory Bateson (father of the author), draws the inquirer and researcher to another level of description. It is an invitation to reach behind the perceived separations of knowledge to get to the contextual knitting together of definitively inseparable processes.
A majority of current scientific research tools and methodologies pull “subjects” from their contexts in order to derive detailed, specialized, quantifiable information. To complement, and yet support, this specialized type of science, a wider practice of science in the future might develop ways to utilize information derived from both detail and interdependency. However, for now, the cultural habit of decontextualizing information, or, reductionism, is the standardized, authorized, and empirical norm.
An evolution in the realm of science is needed to foreground, and find ways to communicate (and “deliver”) another form of information, one that is less likely to be riddled with errors deriving from hidden contextual consequences. But it will require a significant shift in epistemology to begin to perceive the interrelationality in addition to the parts and wholes of any given system. A shift in the way information is derived will, in turn, inform the actions we take to protect society and ecology.
The Scientific Revolution of the 1600s brought us the scientific method and the bounty of mechanistic thinking. It brought us the notions of induction, empiricism, hard evidence, quantitative measurement, and objectivity. All of these have been enormously useful: skyscrapers, aircraft, computers and EKG machines are all manifestations of this form of scientific research and development. But not all studies are served by the empirical and inductive quantitative method. There are some forms of understanding that resist measurement and elude objectivity: these can include understanding of what is necessary for raising children well or understanding the ramifications of culture on climate change. Reductionism, or the habit of isolating information from its context(s), has been good to us, and it has been deadly.
If there is a concerted effort and demand from the scientific community and from society at large, we may witness a shift in scientific practices to include another form of research that will deliver information that includes the interdependency within complex systems. But this is not an easy shift. The habits of studying things through silo-ed disciplines is deeply entrenched in our culture.
In the mid 1950s the beginnings of a new way of understanding systems emerged in the study of “cybernetics”. Cybernetics offered the tools to look at how the “parts” of systems came together. But this tool was not easy to bring into the fold of scientific notions of isolating objective truth. The logic of “cause and effect” within the study of complex living systems defies the confines of existing methodologies. Interrelationships whose combined processes create the conditions for a particular consequence, such as an addiction, or economic wealth gap, or racism are impossible to quantify without distortion.
Observing the observer:
It takes a team of people to study in this new way. It also takes an open-ended declaration of “outcome” because this form of scientific research will produce only unforeseen “deliverables”. Stabilized, standardized “objective” science is fine for the study of some subjects, but not all. In the case of living systems and complex problems the “facts” are not always enough. The facts according to whom? Through what cultural, and methodological lens were they looking?
The observer matters, and teams of observers matter. Since data are always derived through the particular lens of the researchers, descriptions of their filters of perception are vital information and must not be sterilized out of findings.
As we currently witness the melting of trust in science, politics, law, medicine, social systems and economics, it is clear that this era will require a reclaiming of trustworthiness. Lamenting the postmodern condition of multiple relative truths and impossible clarity is only partially useful in regaining trustworthiness. Beyond the cynicism that the postmodern dilemma delivers is the practical need for better questions, and more rigorous inquiry into complexity.
We can remember that at the same time as the scientific revolution of the 1600s there was a corresponding period in art in which the techniques for rendering perfect replication of still life were constantly improved. Yet in the ensuing centuries it became clear that perfection was not enough. Baroque still lifes may have pursued a photographic realism, but later art movements such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Modernism and Postmodernism were responses to a need for a different envisioning of information, as not only “about the chair” but about who is seeing the chair, and how it might be possible to perceive “chair-ness.” Now perhaps it is time for science in its turn to adopt a parallel course of discovery around what perception and information are.
Historical antecedents:
Warm Data is not really new. Throughout history people have used aggregated information toward a natural history approach. Often these findings were often metabolized into other forms of information more readily recognized by the society. It would seem that devolution of natural history is part of the natural history, as it gets sucked back into the cultural paradigms of credibility. The limits of rationale hold particular sense-making habits in place, while others remain threatening. However, there has been a stream of inquiry that has always existed in which relational information was produced. This introduction of the notion of Warm Data is offered here in response to the need for this type of information to be strengthened and honored.

The alchemists, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, William Blake, people producing case law, Pythagoras, anthropologists, and artists like Shakespeare, Hokosai, Bjork and countless others have used their own means of bringing together multiple forms of information and rubbing them together to find new perspectives. Currently qualitative research teams and methods are becoming increasingly popular. They may benefit from the naming of another form of information in which to place their findings.
Characteristics of Warm Data:
To more effectively meet the challenges of this new sort of rigor, we require studies that generate understanding of contextual systemic data. The information generated makes a difference not only in scientific research, but also in the contextual influences considered in decision-making. Here are six characteristics of Warm Data.
1. Multiple description: This is a way to illustrate processes and contexts of interdependency. Multiple description both blurs the distinctions between contexts, and describes them through difference, comparison and relational perception. While it might appear that this process would lead to an untenable and infinite collection of perspectives, the Batesonian notion of information as “difference that makes a difference” is way to study the relation between perspectives, through contrasting qualitative characteristics. The information is not located but diffused into the contextual contacts and boundaries.
2. Looking for pattern: We compare findings from one context with findings of similar patterns in other contexts, to generate hybrid information. This is very much in keeping with Pierce’s Abduction. The findings from pattern comparison across contexts are conceptual, and indirect. For example, the patterns of ecological relationships in a tide pool can be compared to the patterns of relationship in a family, but the needs of survival for the tide pool are clearly different in detail than those of the family. Understanding the patterns comparing ecological systems is useful for studies of other systems, even though the systems may be not be alike in their details.
3. Paradox, inconsistency and time: Scientific research premised upon the complexity of a system in relation to its environment will produce paradox and inconsistency, by necessity. In order to keep the complexity intact, results should feature these dilemmas without resolving them. In fact these instabilities are sources of information about the relationships that are highly generative. Relationships over time change, and aggregated relationship such as a forest or society must produce responses to responses that are disruptive. The disruptions are rich with Warm Data.
4. Holism and reductionism: Information derived by zooming out to study context is as important as the information derived by zooming in on detail. These two forms of information are not alike. One is relational and overlapping, the other is isolated and (sometimes) linear. Both are needed in relation even when they produce contradictions. Smaller and larger contexts are tangled up mutually calibrating interactions. They are not concentric nor are they separable; rather they are steeped in interdependency.
5. Cultural epistemological responsibility: Science and culture are deeply entwined. Development of inquiry that is simultaneously inclusive of multiple generations, cultures, and sectors is useful to keep observers’ frames relevant. Information is only as perceivable as the sensorial limits of the observer. A variety of perceptions lessens blind spots.
6. Aesthetic/mood/rhythm: In any inquiry of life, the aesthetic matters — perhaps above all else. This vital condition of any interrelational context is often ignored in favor of misplaced rationality. Given that complex systems are interrelational, the nature of the relationships needs to be noticed. The aesthetic is the conduit through which relation occurs. While the aesthetic need not be valuated, it must be noticed to better assess relational information. Keeping in mind that the opposite of aesthetic is anesthetic, it is clear that increasing sensitivity is preferable to numbness as it increases receivable information.
Just as the methodology for generating Warm Data is characterized by transcontextual research, the end-product and delivery of this information will be characterized by multiple description (though all aspects of Warm Data involves both transcontextual research and multiple description). I need look no further than my own hand for an illustration of how multiple description can increase the scope of understanding within a system and between systems of understanding. To illustrate this, let us ask, “What is a hand for?” Different contexts provide contrasting contexts for understanding. A violinist’s hands hold the muscle memory and learning of a lifetime of practice. But a sculptor’s hands know weight and texture and pressure in another way. People who use sign language express not only words but also emotion through their hands. In this sense, the contexts that the hand exists within, (anatomy, music, memory, language, cognition) each provide a realm of relational data to be explored. This is just one simple example of the possibility of transcontextual research. At present the International Bateson Institute is currently researching the Warm Data of: Addiction, Health Care Systems, Education, Climate Change, Emergency Population Relocation, Double Binds within Political Discourse and more.

IMG_1862 (1)
The Theory:
There are several theories at work within this process. Here are a few:
Patterns that connect
2. Difference that makes a difference
3. Multiple description
4. Symmathesy: Contextual Mutual learning and calibration
5. Autopoiesis, and Mind (Maturana, Varela, Thompson and Bateson)
6. Systems and Complexity Theory
7. Ecology of communication
8. Double binds
9. Conscious purpose
10. Epistemological frames
11. Change in complex systems
12. Interdependency
13. Abduction (Pierce)
14. Transcontextual Research
Meet the Hydra:
Beyond the conventional problem solving techniques of reducing and resolving, problem solving in complexity further requires an understanding of the interdependencies that are generating the issues. We must address these even in addition to our ever more acute and urgent responses to rising situations. Like the heads of the mythological Hydra our crises are many now. But in our silo-ed world the crises that we perceive and address are also silo-ed, as is the habit of finding silo-ed solutions. Much like chopping off the Hydra’s heads, the resulting solutions that do not address the complexity seem only to generate more consequences.
The most serious problems facing us now are not in any particular institution, but rather in the relationship between them. If change is made it is a consequence of a shift not only in the problematized part, but in the combined conditions in which the system exists, be it a person, organization, forest, or society. Like an ecosystem the interdependencies of the institutional systems are interlinked and steeped together in patterns that make it difficult to create whole systems change. To address our socio-economic and ecological crisis now requires a level of contextual comprehension, wiggly though it may be to grok the inconsistencies and paradoxes of interrelational process. Far from solving these dilemmas or resolving the conflicting patterns, Warm Data utilizes these characteristics as its most important resources of inquiry.

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The Hydra grows new heads every time one is chopped off.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2000. Print.

Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Cresskill: Hampton, 2002. Print.

Bateson, Nora, “Warm Data.” The International Bateson Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Bateson, Nora. Symmathesy, A Word in Progress. Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the ISSS — 2015 Berlin, Germany, Vol 1, No 1 (2015)

Foerster, Heinz Von. Cybernetics: Circular Causal and Feedback Mechanisms in Biological and Social Systems: Transactions of the … Conference … New York, N.Y. New York, NY:

Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, 1950. Print.

Maturana, Humberto R., and Francisco Varela. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological

Roots of Human Understanding. (Revised edition) Boston and London: Shambhala 1992.
· Peirce, C. S. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, edited by C. Hartshorne, P.

Weiss, and A. Burks. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. 1931–1958

Varela, Francisco J., Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive

Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, Mass. And London, England: MIT Press.1991

[1] a theoretical epistemological — ontological toolset including, but not limited to, schismogenesis, abduction, double bind, and the six criteria of mind as listed in Gregory Bateson’s seminal text Mind and Nature

Awkward Invitation

via Daily Prompt: Collaboration

The world is in need of all of its 7 billion creative human inhabitants to assist in the journey into our shared future. This much is clear. But this collaboration requires an invitation which at present is generated by the same peoples whose ancestors implemented colonialism. Awkward. The do-gooders need to be very careful with this invite that it not be an assumed moral high ground. There is damage done. There is long hurt. The bullies cannot really go to the playground now, and suggest team spirit. Tread carefully. The great “we” of humanity is not a term to be used by the 1%, or the 10% or even the 20%… we don’t know from we. So, invite with humility, with willingness to learn, with apology, with full awareness that the decorations of your luxury living room have been gained over generations of exploitation of people and nature. Be careful with this term. The care taken is the invitation.

Review of my book, Small Arcs of Larger Circles, in Network Review, by David Lorimer

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Symmathesy as Mutual Learning

David Lorimer

SMALL ARCS OF LARGER CIRCLES Nora Bateson Triarchy Press, 2016, 211 pp., £15, p/b – ISBN 978-1-909470-96-5

Readers of this Review will probably be most familiar with the work of Gregory Bateson, but may not be aware that his father William was professor of biology at Cambridge and coined the term genetics in 1906. Then only a few months ago, I reviewed Mary Catherine Bateson’s book Composing a Further Life – now we have her half sister Nora, a filmmaker as well as an author, continuing the intergenerational family reflections on the pattern that connects, with a foreword by her daughter. Interestingly, it turns out that the phrase ‘the evolution is in the context’ comes from William, even though it is often attributed to Gregory.

The book as a whole is a rich feast with poetry, short reflections and more extended pieces introducing the terms transcontextuality and symmathesy. It is a corrective to the excessive emphasis on individualism in the West: ‘”I” carries the suggestion that I am somehow individual, independent, when interdependence is the law’ – even within our own bodies containing over 10 trillion organisms and without which we cannot live. Transcontextuality reminds us that an understanding of living organisms requires more than one context of study if we are to understand their vitality. Perception of the world of things makes them separate, which means that we can assign some form of agency. However, ‘when the larger intertwined contexts are in focus, agency is diffused.’ This turns out to be a crucial point, as Nora explains in an essay on leadership within the paradox of agency. For her, there is no such thing as an isolated individual and we consequently require a new understanding of leadership based on interdependency, since leadership itself is the product of many contexts. Whatever happens within a system is an expression of the patterns of that entire system, which means there is no blame and everyone is responsible. In my review of the book about Thomas Merton, I think he understands this point. In our current global situation, we can no longer afford to think in singular and linear terms, as solutions cannot come from such a narrow way of thinking.

One danger highlighted by Nora is that our vocabulary may change but our underlying patterns of thinking remain the same – it is easy to think mechanistically about systems or else stress the centrality of oneness when the essential insight is a process of uniting requiring relationality. We often think about the relationship between parts and wholes when we should be talking about holons and be wary of the exact meaning of these words – diagrams with boxes and arrows make things out of p r o c e s s e s . Linear planning in a systems context is an abstract illusion as all the elements are constantly changing both in themselves and in relation to each other. This is where mutual learning between and within living contexts comes in and is given the name symmathesy. I was so struck by this essay that I sourced it on the Internet and sent it to a number of friends.

Symmathesy is defined in two ways: first as ‘an entity formed over time by contextual mutual learning through interaction’ (this is what the International Futures Forum would call an integrity), and secondly the process of contextual mutual learning through interaction. In this sense, evolution emerges in interrelationality rather than being the outcome of arrangement and mechanistic function. To live is to learn in a mutual learning context that is inherently complex, and the idea of parts and wholes is misleading in coevolving systems with multiple contexts. The essay helps readers to see that mutuality is primary rather than agency and individuality. In addition, words are a limited and abstract form of linear exposition that can make for a poverty of description.

Under implications and applications of symmathesy, perhaps education is the most important, but also intractable as it is within our current educational contexts that we learn to think the way we do, largely in linear, specialist and analytical terms. Understanding and interacting with complex living systems is necessary for our survival. As Nora comments, ‘as it stands, our “knowledge” often prevents us seeing the interdependencies of our complex world, therefore we disrupt them – to the detriment of our well-being and that of the biosphere we live within.’ (p. 190)

“We need to become much more aware of how we are making sense of our world in terms of our underlying patterns of thought. When applied to institutions, they ‘appear to be equally entwined in the self preserving holding pattern of dysfunction that stymies all attempts to instigate change, even for the survival of our species.’ (p. 192) These institutions have their own ecology or totality of patterns of interrelationship that require ‘contextual rehabilitation’ so that the overarching discourse becomes one of interconnection, interdependency, and interaction through relationship. This point could not be more important as we are still operating within a mental silo of separate nation-states each pursuing their own interests. Whether we know it or not, we are in a mutual process of learning our way into the future where we will inevitably receive feedback on our efforts and hopefully enhance our capacity for creative and adaptive improvisation in the interests of the planet as a whole. This seminal book will give you a new relational lens on life. ”

Network Review 122 Small Arcs Review

Interview with Nora Bateson about Systemic Leadership- this is a little bit radical.

Here is the interview for the Systemic Leadership Summit. I hope you enjoy it.

Nora Bateson & Jennifer Campbell Interview on Systemic Leadership.

Leadership? Look around.

There are many people trying hard to repurpose their understandings of existing systems into change. But alas, we are now faced with a history that brought us precisely to this moment, riddled with inability to see changes we cannot understand –And a future that is pulling us into a process of evolution rapidly in which every thing we now know as “practical” is deadly.

Keeping the existing systems going, however green, is methadone for heroin. Systemic change is needed, and soon.

Epistemological shifts are hard, but we now have to get to a new level of making sense of our world that groks the interdependency, and shakes off the habit of short circuiting complexity. That is going to bring us into change that is transcontextual… culture, genetics, language…. We are going to need a lot of art to shake our frames of sense making. We need new science. Mostly, I really hope the aesthetic of this shift is not militant. Hoarding our canned food and buying farms is just a repeat of the thinking that got us into this mess.

Leadership that promises strategy, solution, goals, deliverables, higher profits, direct corrections and purposeful purposes… will dig us deeper into silo-ed solutions to match our silo-ed problems. No existing versions of success, heroism, influence or wealth will come of the form of leadership I am suggesting. Instead we go together… into a way of living we have not yet imagined.

“Since we don’t know where we’re going, we’d better stick together in case someone gets there.” – Ken Kesey (Thanks for re-posting this quote John Perry Barlow)

Thanks to: Jennifer Campbell, Creator and Host of the Systemic Leadership Summit” as well as the link to the summit: http://systemicleadershipsummit.com You can see more of interviews on leadership with other Systemic folks there.