Do we REALLY believe in Evolution? Gregory Bateson, Part 2

Jeff CarreiraBlog Posts9 Comments

I want to finish the thought that I started in my last post when I used this quote of Gregory Bateson’s – “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”  The quote has stuck with me, because I think to the degree that we don’t see things this way, we don’t really believe in the possibility of evolution.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s use the example of another catastrophic moment in human history – the Bubonic Plague.  The Black Death as it was known resulted in the death of an estimated quarter of the population of Europe. At the time no one knew about the germ theory of disease or about bacterial infection. You can imagine that all sorts of treatments were attempted, but no matter how hard the people of the time tried to solve the problem, it just kept persisting.

And I don’t think it is just a matter of not having knowledge, it was a problem of “the way people thought.” It was a problem of worldview. If you could time transport back to the middle ages, with knowledge about how bacteria were infecting Rats, that were infecting flies that were infecting humans – you probably would just as likely be burned at the stake as a witch, as you would be to be hailed as a hero. And there is probably no way that even if you were seen as a great healer that you could enact a solution and actually get people to change their behavior, because would be facing a huge gap between “how nature works and the way people thought” at the time.

The Bubonic Plague has been largely eradicated in the world, by the discovery of antibiotics. But antibiotics weren’t really the solution to the Black Death – the age of enlightenment and the advent of scientific thinking which lead to a worldview in which antibiotics could be discovered was the solution to the Black Death.

As we face our own catastrophic problems, worldwide economic collapse, global warming, terrorism etc. are we thinking about the need for a shift in worldview – our evolution to the next stage of human development? Or are we rearranging the pieces on the existing playing field without realizing that the game has changed? Are we open to the possibility that the kind of people we need to become will be as different from how we are now as we are from the Europeans who kept posies of herbs in their pockets to protect themselves against the Black Death?

 

For further reading in the meantime:

For those who might be interested to learn more about the history of the Black Death this page gives a full history:

http://www.american.edu/TED/bubonic.htm

Here is a page with information about Gregory Bateson posted on the centennial anniversary of his birth:

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bateson04/bateson04_index.html

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Joanna
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Joanna

Wow Jeff, this is quite a question you have posed ‘Are we open to the possibility that the kind of people we need to become will be as different from how we are now as we are from the Europeans who kept posies of herbs in their pockets to protect themselves against the Black Death? ‘ Implicit in this question seems to be an unavoidable truth and challenge, – we actually do need to change quite radically and ……..also urgently!

Willa
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Willa

That’s a great post Jeff, I love what you say and it’s so true. And interestingly I meet more and more people who are asking themselves exactly this question (that is, without the great example of the Black Death that you came up with): how do we really shift whatever our thinking is right now, rather than putting plasters on the wound? We all need to band together in order to make that shift…. asap!

imants
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imants

Bateson’s quote and more so the entire previous blog has intrigued and stayed with me since I read it, with a unsettling sense of not knowing why. …I was immediately drawn to read the Essay on Circles by Raplh Waldo Emerson which I found beautiful in its language, insight and depth. I am amazed at the the way his use of language evokes THE sacred inherent in evolution. His quote from St Augustine who described ” the nature of God as a circle whose centre was everywhere and its cicumference nowhere ” plucked the strings of my spirit until a… Read more »

Isabelle
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Isabelle

What a great post, Jeff. I remember reading Gregory Bateson in college and absolutely loving Steps to an Ecology of Mind. I still have his book, but long since forgot what drew me to it. How remarkable to read his quote now, 30 years later! I remember now, that at the time, I interpreted Bateson’s thesis from a very materialistic point of view. I interpreted the need to bridge the gap between how nature works and the way people think, as a need to study external nature (i.e. ecosystems, etc.) and align myself to it. Like so many people, I… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
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Jeff Carreira

Thank you all for your responses to this post. I am continuing to think about this particular quote and also the enormity of what it means to “believe in evolution.” I am thinking about a next post in which I want to take a particularly fascinating metaphor that William James used to that I think is also very rich in what it can spark in terms of deeper thought on this subject.

And Imants, I agree that Emerson’s essay “Circles” is beautiful and powerful.

Please do pass this post on to anyone you think might appreciate it.

Martin
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Martin

I was pleased to see you´re dealing with these major philosophers and bringing them to the world of evolutionary enlightenment. I haven´t read much, but the few things I have been into were always absolutely inspiring. Funny enough I got a hold of “Mind and Nature. A Necessary Unit” a few weeks ago – after 15 years – and read about his ideas of “patterns” as an expression of MIND or SPIRIT, different degrees of order and learning, circularity etc. Once again it humbled me to realize, how much we don´t know , maybe cannot know, but nonetheless constantly try… Read more »

paul buchman
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paul buchman

Hi Jeff, A person living during the plague would likely feel victimized, out of control, superstitious, vulnerable. Culture and conditioning would shape people’s responses in predictable ways. The comparison to us today and our challenges is illuminating. If we see ourselves as more sophisticated intellectually, spiritually and societally, then we can make the quick conclusion that they suffered because of their ignorance. But how do we avoid the same fate? Who were the cutting edge thinkers and how did they approach the concrete structures of consciousness then? With a hammer? By building a door? Could it have been enough to… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
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Jeff Carreira

Dear Paul, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The thing I see most powerful about William James’s thinking is that he places human activity as an equal part of reality. That inherently takes away victimization.

Frank Luke
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Frank Luke

Hi Jeff, re: “Are we open to the possibility that the kind of people we need to become will be as different from how we are now as we are from the Europeans who kept posies of herbs in their pockets to protect themselves against the Black Death?” Good question. It depends on whom you mean when you say (we). It seems clear to me that there will need to be that collective development of humanity to heighten consciousness sufficiently not so much re: believing the efficacy of posies to ward off death but more about how to co-exist peaceably… Read more »