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The Second Annual Polish Bateson Symposium

Participants in the Second Annual Polish Bateson Symposium

Poland was beautiful. Friendly people amidst a legacy of history and new splendor. The food and ambiance in Krakow was magnificent. The Silesian Botanical Garden was the ideal venue to discuss the Ecology of Mind and plan for next year’s International Bateson Congress (July 2018, in Poland).

Lech Witkowski and Nora Bateson facilitated us through many profound thoughts and discussions One such query: how we can we determine, in a systemic/ecological manner, the meaning of injurious patterns in our world with an emphasis on producing solutions that respect our human and environmental needs. Our informal and intimate dialogues truly dealt with the framework that Gregory Bateson expressed when he said that “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think." We covered areas of Immigration, Health, Education, and Communication, all within the context of determining how patterns of communication connect, through “the difference that makes a difference.”

A coordinated book was published- with chapters from many of the participants, (chosen because of their expertise in working systemically in various professions), created a synchronizing thread of common thoughts (see my chapter under publications or go to: The forty or so participants represented many countries throughout Europe as well as Canada, the United States and Singapore. The talent and presentations were extraordinary as we weaved together a framework that will make next year’s event a success in addressing some of “the major problems in the world.”

(L to R) Gail Kara, USA; Maimunah Mosli, Singapore; Kenneth Silvestri, USA

What I want to share in this blog, is a re-energized personal sense of how best to perceive and respond to life each day. For me, this has its origins in my mentor Paul Byers and the workshops that I participated in with Gregory Bateson while I was a doctoral student at Columbia University. Paul was an anthropologist, photographer and an accomplished musician. He assisted Margaret Mead on many projects and taught doctoral students the use of systemic thinking. Gregory Bateson, whose thoughts and writings formed the basis for the Symposium, was without doubt one of the premier multi-discipline thinkers of the 20th century.

Gregory once told me that I was in good hands studying with Paul, “if anyone can accurately explain my work, it would be Paul Byers.” After reading and being with Gregory’s daughter, Nora and the Symposium, the epistemology that Gregory espoused is in good hands. (See Nora’s wonderful documentary “An Ecology of Mind,” from Bullfrog Films and her new book “Small Arcs of Larger Circles,” a review of which is listed under my publications).

Here is my takeaway from the Symposium. It is clear to me that we have two basic choices about how to view and act in our lives. One way is to work primarily from a predominantly linear western cultural framework​ based on cause and effect learning or reductionist reasoning. This framework, when solely used, has proven to be narrow and mostly ineffective in its application to health, education, environment, foreign affairs, politics and the economy. Each solution comes with the need to further resolve another resulting problem, etc., etc., (i.e. a pharmaceutical pill that requires another to deal with its side effects.). This view has unfortunately been assimilated by many of our decision makers.

Hoverer, an alternative framework to navigating life is one of being ecological and holistic. This is based on being mindful, respectful of relationships, and conscious to the importance of interrelationships, in a part to whole process that takes into consideration all of nature's anomalies and differences. It is by using this framework that we can use our perceptual lens to zoom in and out, simultaneously seeing the present (which can include patterns of everyday language and cultural constraints) and a wider perspective at the same time. With this lens, we can much more easily navigate and learn from the inevitable paradoxes​ we encounter every day as well as see and avoid injurious double binds.

The DDT catastrophe, for instance, is an excellent example of the cause-effect form of thinking. The chemical seemingly was effective in killing certain "predator​" bugs to enable farmers grow bigger cabbages, until it was realized that it worked its way up the biological chain killing different species and eventually threatening humans. Yes, simply planting marigolds in this instance would have created a symbiotic relationship that benefited, bugs, cabbages, and humankind. A more scary and contemporary scenario, comes from policy makers who deny the need for climate control, empathic immigrant policies and/or have phobic behaviors toward global co-existence both human and non-human. This inevitably effects all the institutions that educate (family, schools, media, religion etc.) and sustain our culture.

Embodying an ecological, holistic or systemic framework (seen in Art and Poetry which are the human metaphors for nature) is lifesaving, less competitive, and more collaborative. This way of perceiving and behaving is based on our learning from each other in a mutual manner as Nora Bateson advocates. This framework emphasizes trans-contextual respect; meaning that like a hologram each part and every action we take or perceive is connected to our total existence. It does not depend on content alone but on our contextual environments.

(L to R) Lech Witkowski, Poland; Jan Jagodzinski, Canada; Howard Kornfeld, MD, USA

It is here, in the relationships of our many evolving contexts/ situations, that we evolve and create meaning through the subtle warm differences within those present moments. This provides a refreshing pathway to heal ourselves and our environment. The Greek word "Gaia" refers to our planet as having an existence that is more than the sum of its parts, in other words each action we as individuals take is connected to larger contexts of even larger contexts and so on. This is the essence of seeing and being systemic. The point being, is to stay mindful, be in the present, create supportive environments, celebrate the aesthetic, make necessary adjustments and respect nature.

Be Well,

Dr. Ken

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