Mary Catherine Bateson: Systems Thinker |

This is a very nice obituary

Mary Catherine Bateson: Systems Thinker |

Mary Catherine Bateson: Systems Thinker

Mary Catherine Bateson [1.18.21]

Mary Catherine Bateson

by John Brockman

From the early days of Edge, Catherine Bateson was the gift that kept giving. Beginning in 1998, with her response to “What Questions Are You Asking Yourself?” through “The Last Question” in 2018, she exemplified the role of the Third Culture intellectual: “those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

Her Edge essays over the years focused on subjects as varied as “ecology and culture,” systems thinking, cybernetics, metaphor, gender, climate, schismogenesis (i.e., positive feedback), the nature of side-effects, among others, and are evidence of a keen and fearless intellect determined to advance science-based thinking as well as her own controversial ideas.

She once told me that “It turns out that the Greek religious system is a way of translating what you know about your sisters, and your cousins, and your aunts into knowledge about what’s happening to the weather, the climate, the crops, and international relations, all sorts of things. A metaphor is always a framework for thinking, using knowledge of this to think about that. Religion is an adaptive tool, among other things. It is a form of analogic thinking.”

“We carry an analog machine around with us all the time called our body,” she said. “It’s got all these different organs that interact; they’re interdependent. If one of them goes out of kilter, the others go out of kilter, eventually. This is true in society. This is how disease spreads through a community, because everything is connected.”

She used methods from systems theory to explore “how people think about complex wholes like the ecology of the planet, or the climate, or large populations of human beings that have evolved for many years in separate locations and are now re-integrating.” 

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Mary Catherine Bateson: Systems Thinker |