Peter Harries-Jones

Dept. of Anthropology

York University, Ontario

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In honour of the centenary of Gregory Bateson’s birth, this article revisits some of the themes of his posthumous publication, Angels Fear. Some of the book goes over ground that Bateson had covered in prior publications, yet it contains three new themes. The first of these concerned recursion. Generally unnoticed by the reviewers of the book is that Bateson presents a reply in his discussion of ‘structure’ to the concepts and topology of structure- determined recursion articulated in Maturana and Varela’s notion of autopoiesis. The second and third of these themes are those of ecology and aesthetics, and their juxtaposition as ecological aesthetics. These are viewed from his communicative perspective and in an entirely novel way he links ecological aesthetics to epistemology. For example, he argues that the science of biology required an ecological aesthetic because biology, like any self-recursive communication system, must become aware of the disruption of its own relations with the unity of nature or forever continue to conduct bad science. The final section of the article steps outside Angels Fear to address briefly issues raised by the introduction of two processes of recursion, the one semantic and interpretative (Bateson), the other structural (Maturana). The first exemplar raised is family therapy, the second exemplar is that of biology itself. It concludes that the world of signals and signs seem to be a universal aspect of living systems, a veritable ‘semiosphere’ of signification and interpretation neglected by biological science . If there are new topologies of recursion to be found, they will be found in the recursive processes of this ‘semiosphere’ (Hoffmeyer, 1966).

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