By Victoria Ahlers
For my CEC experiential component, I went to the screening of Nora Bateson’s documentary, “An Ecology of Mind: A Daughter's Portrait of Gregory Bateson.” Nora is the daughter of Gregory Bateson, an English anthropologist who helped extend systems theory/cybernetics to the social/behavioral sciences during the 1940s.
The documentary was a film portrait of Bateson, who in addition to studying anthropology, did work as a philosopher, author, naturalist, system theorist, and a film maker. The documentary contained footage from Bateson’s original works, which were shot in the 1930’s in Bali and New Guinea. It was also filled with photographs, filmed lectures, and interviews. Throughout the film, Nora depicts him as a man who spent much of his time studying the interrelationships of the complex systems in which we live, in a way that was motivated by his scientific precision and caring integrity.
The main focus of the film was to serve as a rediscovery of his work and document the influence Bateson’s thinking had on the work of an incredibly wide range of disciplines. His way of thinking revealed concrete approaches to the number of challenges confronting the human race and natural world.
The film focused on Bateson’s two main theories: The Double Bind, and The Pattern Which Connects, and how they impact the fields of anthropology, psychiatry, information science, cybernetics, urban planning, biology, and ecology. They essentially challenged people to think in new ways.
Until the documentary, Bateson’s work had been for the most part inaccessible. Nora aimed to show that her father’s ideas were not just about academic theory, but could also help construct a way of life. She presented his thinking using personal perspective, and focused on stories her father used to present his ideas. She also focused on how the beauty of life itself provided the framework of her father’s life’s pursuits.
The documentary inspires audiences to see their lives within a larger system, and Nora used symmetry and metaphors throughout the film. I thought the film was very interesting. I liked the way it displayed how Bateson connected his work in philosophy and anthropology to the environment. After the film, Nora talked about making it and what inspired it. I thought this was a great touch to the screening because it allowed the audience to get answers to any questions they could have developed during the film, since it was long and at times a little confusing.