Gregory BatesonGregory Bateson was an anthropologist who applied cybernetics to the social sciences. He was an early attendee of the famous Macy Conferences on cybernetics and they were a lifelong influence. HIs goal was an overarching cybernetical systems theory embracing all the world from an ecological perspective. In each component system, he saw feedback mechanisms maintaining homeostasis, and semiotic messaging systems traveling in pathways between all the subsystems. His supreme cybernetic system includes all the smaller systems, including all individuals. He variously identified this system as Mind or God, a sort of panpsychism. The supreme system he thought was a whole, not divisible into parts. For Bateson, Western science was arrogant, committed to what he thought was an unacceptable Cartesian division of mind from matter, and asserting an autocratic rule over the cybernetic systems. Following Charles Sanders Peirce's concept of a universal Mind, Bateson adopted Peirce's triad of deduction, induction, and especially abduction as the best scientific method. He saw abduction as the study of patterns. In his 1972 book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Bateson developed his idea of a "difference that makes a difference" in his talk to Alfred Korzybski's Institute of General Semantics. The talk was entitled "Form, Substance, and Difference." Form and substance referred to the famous Korzybski maxim "the map is not the territory." Bateson saw "differences" as the key features that become parts of the "map." In the substantial world, effects are caused by the push and pull of physical forces. But in the formal world of patterns, the cybernetic world of communications, he says
when you enter the world of communication, organization, etc., you leave behind that whole world in which effects are brought about by forces and impacts and energy exchange. You enter a world in which "effects"— and I am not sure one should still use the same word—are brought about by differences. That is, they are brought about by the sort of "thing" that gets onto the map from the territory. This is difference.What Bateson is really talking about as the Korzybski "map" is the abstract information that mind uses to communicate in the cybernetic system. What is communicated, he says, is a difference. A "difference which makes a difference" he identifies with information or negative entropy.
In fact, what we mean by information—the elementary unit of information—is a difference which makes a difference, and it is able to make a difference because the neural pathways along which it travels and is continually transformed are themselves provided with energy.In his 1972 book, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Bateson defined his panpsychic and monist view: I have said that what gets from territory to map is transforms of difference and that these (somehow selected) differences are elementary ideas. I suggest to you, now, that the word "idea," in its most elementary sense, is synonymous with "difference." The cybernetic epistemology which I have offered you would suggest a new approach. The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger Mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by "God," but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology... In sum, what has been said amounts to this: that in addition to (and always in conformity with) the familiar physical determinism which characterises our universe, there is a mental deterrminism. This mental determinism is in no sense supernatural. Rather it is of the very nature of the macroscopic* world that it exhibit mental characteristics. * The mental determinism is not transcendent but immanent and is especially complex and evident in those sections of the universe which are alive or which include living things.
ReferenceForm, Substance, Difference