Noel Charlton and Gregory Bateson

I was very sorry to hear recently of the death of Noel G. Charlton. I did not know Noel well, but remember him as a regular and enthusiastic supporter of our Manchester Schumacher Lectures in the decade from the mid 1990s, often coming with his wife Jean to our post-event celebrations.

bateson_coverSome time later, Noel’s book Understanding Gregory Bateson was published – described as the first accessible introduction to Bateson’s work. A copy has graced my shelves for some years now, and does indeed provide a good source of information on Bateson, a true modern Renaissance Man who deserves study.

You can find good introductory material on Noel’s website. I can give no better introduction than to quote from this material:

“The thought of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980): biologist, anthropologist, systems thinker, psychologist, student of animal communication, ecologist and profound thinker, eventually drawing together science and spirituality, is now urgently, vitally important to us all.

His thought offers ways of using a new and wider understanding of mind and mental process as existing throughout the living world, of recognising our aesthetic sense of beauty as a guide to valuing of the systems of the ‘more-than-human’ world, and of learning to feel and act upon a new sense of reverence and respect for the living Earth and the vast process – the great ‘going-on’ – of the Universe.”

As I understand it, Bateson saw direct perception of the world as vitally important, without the intermediary of language – similar to the thinking of Alastair MacIntosh in my post The Master and His Emissary or Stephen Harrod Buhner in Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm.

If we can only tune in, the direct aesthetic sense of beauty tells us whether an ecosystem is healthy, what is the true need of a situation, how we should respond, etc. The language of thought is a later rationalisation and communication mechanism. Bateson uses words like aesthetic engagement, the sacred and grace to describe our needed relationship with the world. This is what leads to wise action.

Noel’s book traces the evolution of Bateson’s ideas throughout his life, from the early years that he was married to anthropologist Margaret Mead. It was based on research Noel did at Lancaster University.

I am not able to do full justice to this work, but it is clearly of some importance that Gregory Bateson’s work was brought to a wider audience. There is an excellent review of the book by Jean Hardy.

Thank you, Noel. We are all in your debt.

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