Publication 7543

Harries-Jones P. (2019) Diminishing dualism: Gregory Bateson and the case for heterarchy. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 26(1): 9–28. Fulltext at
The Cambridge (UK) Declaration on Consciousness, proclaimed on July 7, 2012 at a Conference on Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals, states that there is natural intelligence, and by implication, mind in nature. The declaration marks a significant shift from portraying animal agency through a mechanistic lens. Many years before Bateson had argued that the key to eliminating animal-human dualism lies in an understanding of communication processes, that is, recognition and investigation of an implicate order without which animate existence would not survive. The first part of this article will discuss how communication yields real world patterns to which natural intelligence responds. Bateson is supported in this argument by Ruth Garrett Millikan, the founder of Biosemantics, who also demonstrates how the grasping of natural signs in recursive relational patterns generates meaningful interactions. The second part of this paper concerns mapping of multiple levels of organic existence and how a notion of heterarchical order is linked to communication processes in and between these multiple levels. This important switch of reference stems from Bateson transposing Warren McCulloch’s ideas about distributed memory. Bateson transforms McCulloch’s technical (computer-oriented) insight into a means for mapping redundancy in levels of communication feedback. Recent publications by scholars influenced by Bateson’s approach explain how communication processes coordinate non-transitive distribution of multiple layers of organization into heterarchies rather than hierarchies (Bruni & Giorgi, 2015, 2016). They show why the importance of the notion of heterarchy, with its dynamic synchronicity, has grown in recent years, especially in respect of the way in which genetics interrelates to microbiotic, epigenetic and environmental levels of organization. In addition, Nomura, Murunaba, Tomita, & Matsuno (2018) argue that synchronicity requires an altered understanding of temporality in the plant kingdom. An important addition to our understanding of time concerns the inter-subjective timing of organisms, as they negotiate localized coordination. The perspectives of inter-subjective time is one which extends beyond its usual correlates of subjectivity and objectivity, and modifies these perspectives that, until now, have fostered dualism. A final consideration is Bateson’s move to diminish dualism through an understanding of holographic coding. Its resonance of downward causation permits communication to be informative in the whole econiche, so permitting re-entry of ecosystemic form in order to resist fragmentation and competition among its parts (Harries-Jones, 2016a). Wohlleben (2016) provides an empirical example of this Gaia-like performance.


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