The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 19, Issue 1/4, 2003

Special Issue on Gregory Bateson

Peter Harries-Jones
Pages 69-94

Consciousness, Embodiment, and Critique of Phenomenology in the Thought of Gregory Bateson

The initiators of information theory had deliberately tried to expunge ‘meaning’ from aspects of their theory. Bateson’s ecology of mind was consistent with physical definitions of information as feedback and constraint yet tied these cybernetic mechanisms into context of messages, meta-messages, and their meaning. Thus Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology was of a most unusual type: a theory of informational constraint with no located mind, a theory of agency in which conscious purpose was no longer the guiding executor of mental activity. At the same time Bateson rejected many premises of phenomenology: self-hood or body-hood could not be arbitrarily cut off from the reflexive and recursive system of communication in which human beings were always involved. Embodiment, the interactions that evoke the ‘fabric’ (Merleau-Ponty) of life, involve communicative interactions both as persons within a system of social relations and also as living organisms within a system of ecological relations.