An Ecology of Mind
A daughter's loving film portrait of one of the 20th century's most influential thinkers, Gregory Bateson, anthropologist, systems theorist and ecologist.
Directed by Nora Bateson
Co-Producer & Editor: David Sieburg
Artwork & Animations: Carl Prescott
Scriptwriter & Narrator: Nora Bateson
AN ECOLOGY OF MIND is a portrait of Gregory Bateson, celebrated anthropologist, philosopher, author, naturalist, and systems theorist. His story is lovingly told by his youngest daughter, Nora, with footage from Gregory's own films shot in the 1930s with his wife Margaret Mead in Bali and New Guinea, along with photographs, filmed lectures, and interviews.
"A brilliant film about a brilliant thinker" Tyler Volk, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies, New York University
Gregory Bateson was a man who studied the interrelationships of the complex systems we live in with scientific rigor and enormous integrity. His theories, such as "the double bind" and "the pattern which connects", continue to impact the fields of anthropology, psychiatry, information science, cybernetics, urban planning, biology, and ecology, challenging people to think in new ways.
Through this film, Nora Bateson sets out to show that his ideas are not just fodder for academic theory, but can help instruct a way of life. She presents his thinking using a richly personal perspective, focusing on the stories Bateson used to present his ideas and how the beauty of life itself provided the framework of his life's pursuits.
Hoping to inspire its audience to see their lives within a larger system, glistening with symmetry, play, and metaphor, AN ECOLOGY OF MIND is an invitation to ask the kinds of questions that could help thread the world back together from the inside.
Grade Level: 9 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2011
Copyright Date: 2010
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-905-4
"Students of biology, science, science history, or organizational theory will delight in discovering this influential thinker and An Ecology of Mind is a great introduction...I am recommending it as a 'must-see' for all community college, college and graduate school science, science education and science history students, as well as scientists and educators who are interested in a very ancient and completely modern problem: understanding the behaviors of complex systems."
Roberta Batorsky, Middlesex County College and Rowan University, American Biology Teacher Magazine
"Edwin Land said that people who seem to have had a new idea have often just stopped having an old idea. Gregory Bateson taught us how to stop having the most fundamental old ideas--the static, separating, reductionist fictions that disintegrate an integrated world. Nora Bateson's beautiful portrait of her father's key insights is a stunningly effective antidote for a new generation that now needs his wisdom more than ever."
Amory B. Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute, Author, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run: A Call to Save the Earth
"A brilliant film about a brilliant thinker...Bateson's ideas are not only still relevant today, they have become even more so as the global world faces challenges of how to bring systems thinking to bear on solutions...I was a student of Bateson's in the late 1970s while he was a scholar in residence at the Lindisfarne Foundation and was finishing his seminal book, Mind and Nature. The experience was extraordinary. This film is the only one I know of that explores the full range of thought and humanity of Gregory Bateson, a giant in the world of systems thinking. I think An Ecology of Mind would be excellent in small classroom or seminar situations in which its showing could be followed by free discussion, because the film works best in generating ideas."
Tyler Volk, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies, New York University, Author, Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind
"Combining rare footage from Bateson's lectures and interviews with a veritable who's who of thinkers influenced by his thought, this is an intimate and accessible portrait of one of the most original and creative interdisciplinary thinkers of the 20th century. From ecology to information systems, Bateson shows how the central question is not 'What is it made of?' but rather 'What is its pattern?'. To borrow a famous remark about James Joyce, we are still learning to be Gregory Bateson's contemporaries. Let's hope we are fast learners."
Cary Wolfe, Professor of English, Rice University, Author, Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the 'Outside,' and What Is Posthumanism?
"An Ecology of Mind is a tender and poetic portrayal not only of one of the most provocative thinkers of the last century but also of a vivid relationship between a daughter and father. It's an introduction to Gregory Bateson's wisest thoughts, a product of a lifetime of innovative research, centering on the issue of how we (humans) think and learn and do research. I imagine it being shown in a classroom...followed by searching discussions."
Hildred Geertz, Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Princeton University, Author, Images of Power: Balinese Paintings made for Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead
"A very attractive, well made film which will arouse interest in the work of Gregory Bateson. Students who have not heard of Bateson's work will find the film a helpful introduction to some of his basic ideas. People with a holistic perspective who have struggled with the object-oriented categories of current academic fields will find support for their views and encouragement not to succumb to the perceptual biases of the majority. The general public will find an Eastern style of thought articulated by a Western scientist. People concerned about the impacts of human beings on the environment will find both an analytic and spiritual adviser...An Ecology of Mind is a loving tribute to a revered father and teacher."
Stuart Umpleby, Professor, Department of Management, Director, Research Program in Social and Organizational Learning, The George Washington University, Associate Editor, Journal of Cybernetics and Systems
"Gregory Bateson revolutionized our understanding of the dynamic relationships in (and between) our human consciousness, our communities and societies, and our ecological systems. His work still challenges and informs us as we create new pathways toward health and resilience in our lives, and in our world. An Ecology of Mind is the first documentary film to explore the life and innovative ideas of this essential thinker. Through this deeply thought-provoking film, we follow Bateson on his remarkable journey toward insight. We discover how his own life experience led him to comprehend the patterns in our reality. Bateson's work remains indispensible as we come to terms with our responsibilities to future generations and to the larger community of life."
Dr. Curt Meine, Director,Conservation Biology and History, Center for Humans and Nature, Author, Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation
"This documentary kindles the spirit of Gregory Bateson, and guides you on two fascinating journeys: One of a daughter's effort to understand her father who died before he could tell her everything she yearned to know, and the other through the ideas that Gregory Bateson developed for us to understand ourselves in the larger ecology to which we contribute. Gregory was an anthropologist, naturalist, cybernetician, and philosopher who never returned to where he came from, restlessly searching to expand the boundaries of our thinking and acting in a world in which everything is connected to everything else. The documentary continues the conversation he started among friends and acquaintances whose lives he touched."
Klaus Krippendorff, Professor for Cybernetics, Language and Culture, University of Pennsylvania, Author, On Communicating: Otherness, Meaning, and Information
"Nora Bateson combines imaginative graphics with fascinating documentary footage and illuminating interviews to present her father's intellectual legacy against the backdrop of his relationship with his youngest child, the filmmaker herself. This unique documentary will be an invaluable resource to the many who have drawn on Gregory Bateson's ideas--myself included--and to those for whom this will be an enlightening introduction."
Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University, Author, You Just Don't Understand
"Nora Bateson's imtimate portrait of her father allows us to delight in his delight, to share his infectious love for thinking and being. It is the most enjoyable way I know to get a dose of the systems thinking that our society so sorely needs."
Dorion Sagen, Author, The Sciences of Avatar: From Anthropology to Xenology, Co-Author, Up From Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence
"An Ecology of Mind is a spell-binding, lyrical, and very important film about Gregory Bateson and his revolutionary ideas that helped launch the modern ecology movement...In the 1960s and 1970s, Bateson became a mentor to students, seasoned academics, and environmentalists, providing the language and insights that linked ecology to general systems, psychology, sociology, epistemology, and broad theories of science. Along the way, Bateson conceived and illuminated some of the most significant ideas of the era: cybernetics, double-bind, changeability, and the pattern that connects. The film effectively conveys the breadth, depth, rigor, and dynamism of Gregory Bateson's contributions to science and humanity."
Rex Weyler, Co-founder, Greenpeace International
"A loving tribute to a man who shaped the life of the filmmaker and, more than most of us realize, shaped all of our lives. He may not appear in the pantheon of most younger anthropologists, but his work was almost always precocious and indicated how anthropology could actually contribute beyond the narrow confines of the anthropology department...Suitable for college courses in cultural anthropology and history/theory of anthropology, as well as general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Community College of Denver, Anthropology Review Database
Includes extended interviews with Mary Catherine Bateson, Fritjof Capra, Jerry Brown, Terry Deacon, and Tim Keanini, plus scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
The film's website
The film's trailer
The Ecologist's interview with filmmaker
Awards and Festivals
2012 Science Books & Films Best List
Silver Chris Award, Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Audience Award, Best Documentary Feature, Santa Cruz Film Festival
Best Documentary, Spokane International Film Festival
John Culkin Award for Outstanding Praxis, Media Ecology Association
Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Interactive Media Festival
Vancouver International Film Festival
Bioneers Moving Image Festival
Haida Gwaii Film Festival
Cinema Pacific Film Festival
Sedona International Film Festival
Western Psychological Association Film Festival
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... more Reviews
"Highly recommended...Encourage[s] viewers to expand our typical perspectives and exercise our brains in a holistic manner...A great mind-opener that would be a valuable resource for a variety of college level course discussions, as well as for the intellectually ambitious general viewer."
Rue McKenzie, University of South Florida, Educational Media Reviews Online
"A concise summary of several opinions on a very much discussed topic. The choice of different perspectives brings a new infusion of concepts and the intermingling of opinions gives the viewer much to think about...Amenable to a wide range of viewers of all ages...A very well done piece of work. Nice job!"
Sowmya Anjur, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Science Books and Films
"Until now, [Bateson's] work has been largely inaccessible to those outside of the academic community. With this film, this is bound to change...Perhaps Nora Bateson's biggest achievement is that she is able to explain abstract and rather inaccessible concepts in a clear way."
Jan van Boeckel, Resurgence Magazine
"An inspiring, meditative film that shows Gregory Bateson range and depth and ultimately gives us a larger glimpse into our place within nature and the cosmos, asking us to consider: What pattern connects art to science, and the cave to the universe, and all of that to us? Bateson-father and daughter-have not only asked a challenging question, they have given us the tools to reimagine our world."
Wild River Review
"[A] keen yet personal portrait of an extraordinary man, An Ecology of Mind also looks to the future, and draws upon Bateson's way of thinking to reveal practical approaches to humanity's tremendous modern-day challenges."
The Midwest Book Review
"Exquisite...The film conveys [Bateson's] complex ideas in such a way as to take us right inside them so that we see them as clearly as pebbles in a crystalline mountain stream. That the film accomplishes this is a testament to the filmmaker's artistry and her grasp of her father's subtle and unique style of thinking...A beautiful and important film."
Dr. Marilyn Wedge, Huffington Post
"What becomes amply clear is that Bateson is needed today more than ever...Bateson's beliefs feel as fresh as they do refreshing...His daughter, now, in a quietly profound way has continued the journey. It's up to the rest of us to complete the process. Watching An Ecology of Mind is a good place to start."
Dan Webster, Movie 101 on NPR
"Many attributes of Gregory Bateson's life and work are conveyed in the film, but most importantly, it has the power to change the way you see...You will find that you are not looking as things at all, you are looking at patterns of relationship--here and there, now and then, fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, teachers and students, animals and humans, humans and the earth, and even two cups sitting on a table."
Enlightenment Next Magazine