There is a generalized history circulating on the Internet and in academic papers that Gregory Bateson was so wedded to first-order cybernetics that he did not fully appreciate the significance of Spencer Brown and the recursive logic that Spencer Brown introduced. It therefore fell upon Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana to take up the logical aspects of recursive forms in their conceptualization of autopoiesis, and make the big leap forward. Today, Maturana and Varela are often cited as the originators of the recursive view. In a sense this is correct. Varela did take up the mathematics of recursive forms over many years and Bateson did not. But the belief that they won the debate with Bateson over recursion (Dell, 1985, Capra, 1996) is suspect. This column will take the position that at minimum, the actual situation is far more complex, moreover there are good reasons for Bateson’s hesitancy in embracing the mathematics of recursion.
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