Systems Theory in Anthropology - System Theory: Gregory Bateson

System Theory: Gregory Bateson

British anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, is the most influential and one of the earliest founders of System Theory in anthropology. He developed an interdisciplinary approach that included communication theory, cybernetics, and mathematical logic. In his collection of essays, The Sacred Unity, Bateson argues that there are “ecological systems, social systems, and the individual organism plus the environment with which it interacts is itself a system in this technical sense.” By adding environment with systems, Bateson closes the gap between the dualities such as subject and object. “Playing upon the differences between formalization and process, or crystallization and randomness, Bateson sought to transcend other dualisms–mind versus nature, organism versus environment, concept versus context, and subject versus object.” Bateson set out the general rule of systems theory. He says:

The basic rule of systems theory is that, if you want to understand some phenomenon or appearance, you must consider that phenomenon within the context of all completed circuits which are relevant to it. The emphasis is on the concept of the completed communicational circuit and implicit in the theory is the expectation that all units containing completed circuits will show mental characteristics. The mind, in other words, is immanent in the circuitry. We are accustomed to thinking of the mind as somehow contained within the skin of an organism, but the circuitry is not contained within the skin.

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