Small Mind/Large Mind

[...] the very meaning of "survival" becomes different when we stop talking about the survival of something bounded by the skin and start to think of the survival of the system of ideas in a circuit.

The contents of the skin are randomized at death and the pathways within the skin are randomized.

But the ideas, under further transformation, may go on out in the world in books or works of art.

Socrates as a bioenergetic individual is dead. But much of him still lives as a component on the contemporary ecology of ideas.

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.

Freudian psychology expanded the concept of mind inwards to include the whole communication system within the body - the automatic, the habitual, and the vast range of unconscious process. What I am saying expands mind outwards.

And both of these changes reduce the scope of the conscious self. A certain humility becomes appropriate, tempered by the dignity or joy of being a part of something much bigger.

A part - if you will - of God.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.467-8


Consciousness operates in the same way as medicine in its sampling of the events and processes of the body and of what goes on in the total mind.

It is organized in terms of purpose.

It is a short-cut device to enable you to get quickly at what you want; not to act with maximum wisdom in order to live, but to follow the shortest logical or causal path to get what you next want, which may be dinner; it may be a Beethoven sonata; it may be sex. Above all, it may be money or power.

[With the capabilities of modern technology] Conscious purpose is now empowered to upset the balances of the body, of society, and of the biological world around us. A pathology - a loss of balance - is threatened.

On the one hand, we have the systemic nature of the individual human being, the systemic nature of the culture in which he lives, and the systemic nature of the biological, ecological system around him; and, on the other hand, the curious twist in the systemic nature of the individual man whereby consciousness is, almost of necessity, blinded to the systemic nature of the man himself.

Purposive consciousness pulls out, from the total mind, sequences which do not have the loop structure which is characteristic of the whole systemic structure. If you follow the "common sense" dictates of consciousness you become, effectively, greedy and unwise - again I use "wisdom" as a word for recognition of and guidance by a knowledge of the total systemic creature.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature'), p.439-40


The world of consciousness is inevitably a world full of restrictions, of walls blocking the way. It is of necessity one sided, because of the nature of consciousness itself.

No consciousness can harbour more than a very small number of simultaneous perceptions.

All else must lie in shadow, with drawn from sight.

Any increase in the simultaneous contents immediately produces a dimming of consciousness, if not confusion to the point of disorientation.

Consciousness not only requires, but is of its very nature strictly limited to, the few and hence the distinct [...]

We have to make do, so to speak, with a minimum of simultaneous perceptions and successions of images. Hence in wide areas possible perceptions are continuously excluded, and consciousness is always bound to the narrowest circle.

[...] everything subliminal holds within it the ever-present possibility of being perceived and represented in consciousness. The unconscious is an irrepresentable totality of all subliminal psychic factors, a "total vision" in potentia. It constitutes the total disposition from which consciousness singles out tiny fragments from time to time.

[C.G. Jung]
Psychology and the East ('Foreword to the Introduction to Zen Buddhism'), p.167-8


Related posts:-
Separations and Bridges
A Different Difference
A Difference that makes a Difference
Everything and Nothing
This, Not That
Incursions of the Unknown
Reasonable Paths
Balancing Art
All ego?
Chinese Whispers
A Tough Act to Follow
Everything is Connected 
Search the Depths
Small Part/Large System
Masters of the Universe 
Digging Deeper
Get Real
Short Cuts


  1. And last, there is death.

    It is understandable that, in a civilization which separates mind from body, we should either try to forget about death or to make mythologies about the survival of transcendent mind.

    But if mind is immanent not only in those pathways of information which are located inside the body but also in external pathways, then death takes on a different aspect.

    The individual nexus of pathways which I call "me" is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind.

    [Gregory Bateson]
    Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.471

  2. Dr Izutsu suggests thinking of Jung's Collective Unconscious as the consciousness of such a Collective Unconscious [if the Collective Unconscious were a thing, then it would be that thing's consciousness].

    Jung chose that name because he was viewing it from the ego's perspective. If, in contrast, we start from the complete nondivision of Mind-Suchness [Buddha Mind, all things, the whole], we would then consider the Collective Unconscious also as conscious but at an extremely deep level where it is transpersonal, expanding to the whole of humankind.

    This sort of transpersonal, total-consciousness field in The Awakening of Faith sutra is called "Shujo-shin," or "Collective Mind."

    This Collective Mind has two aspects. It has the expansion of cognitive total-unity, which contains every kind of existence, including Jung's Collective Unconscious. At the same time, it has our ordinary daily consciousness.

    That is, it is constantly swinging back and forth between ordinary consciousness and the transpersonal, cosmic cognition.

    [Hayao Kawai]
    Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.126

  3. I have a premonition that such a new science, covering the whole without making distinctions between things and human beings, will emerge, and that it will be infinitely closer to religion than the old (modern) science.

    At such a time, ideas from Buddhism [...] will become useful.

    [Hayao Kawai]
    Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.140

  4. [...] in no system which shows mental characteristics can any part have unilateral control over the whole. In other words, the mental characteristics of the system are immanent, not in some part, but in the system as whole.

    [A] computer is only an arc of a larger circuit which always includes a man and an environment from which information is received and upon which efferent messages from the computer have effect. This total system, or ensemble, may legitimately be said to show mental characteristics. It operates by trial and error and has creative character.

    Similarly, we may say that "mind" is immanent in those circuits of the brain which are complete within the brain. Or that mind is immanent in circuits which are complete within the system, brain plus body. Or, finally, that mind is immanent in the larger system - man plus environment.

    In principle, if we desire to explain or understand the mental aspect of any biological event, we must take into account the system - that is, the network of closed circuits, within which that biological event is determined. But when we seek to explain the behaviour of a man or an other organism, this "system" will usually not have the same limits as the "self" - as this term is commonly (and variously) understood.

    Consider a man felling a tree with an axe. Each stroke of the axe is modified or corrected, according to the shape of the cut face of the tree left by the previous stroke. This self-corrective (i.e., mental) process is brought about by a total system, tree-eyes-brain-muscles-axe-stroke-tree; and it is this total system that has the characteristics of an immanent mind.

    But this is not how the average Occidental sees the event sequence of tree felling. He says, "I cut down the tree" and he even believes that there is a delimited agent, the "self" which performed a delimited "purposive" action upon a delimited object.

    [...] popular parlance includes mind in its utterance by invoking the personal pronoun, and then achieves a mixture of mentalism and physicalism by restricting mind within the man and reifying the tree.

    The total self-corrective unit which processes information, or, as I say, "thinks" and "acts" and "decides," is a system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or of what is popularly called the "self" or "consciousness" [...]

    [...] if we exclude the unconscious processes from the "self" and call them "ego alien," then these processes take on the subjective colouring of "urges" and "forces"; and this pseudodynamic quality is then extended to the conscious "self" which attempts to "resist" the "forces" of the unconscious. The "self" thereby becomes itself an organization of seeming 'forces."

    The popular notion which would equate "self" with consciousness thus leads into the notion that ideas are "forces" [...]

    [Gregory Bateson]
    Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('The Cybernetics of "Self": A Theory of Alcoholism'), p.316-20

  5. There is a Power greater than the self

    Cybernetics would go somewhat further and recognize that the "self" as ordinarily understood is only a small part of a much larger trial-and-error system which does the thinking, acting, and deciding.

    The "self" is a false reification of an improperly delimited part of this much larger field of interlocking processes.

    A favourable relationship with this Power is discovered through "hitting bottom" and "surrender."

    By resisting this Power, men and especially alcoholics bring disaster upon themselves. The materialistic philosophy which sees "man" as pitted against his environment is rapidly breaking down as technological man becomes more and more able to oppose the largest systems.

    [The Twelfth Step of AA] enjoins aid to other alcoholics as a necessary spiritual exercise without which the member would relapse. [...] the relationship between man and his community parallels the relationship between man and God. "AA is a power greater than any of us."

    In sum, the relationship of each individual to the "Power" is best defined in the words is part of.

    If we deeply and even unconsciously believe that our relation to the largest system which concerns us - the "Power greater than self" - is symmetrical and emulative, then we are in error [...] It is not asserted that all transactions between human beings ought to be complementary, though it is clear that the relation between the individual and the larger system of which he is a part must necessarily be so.

    [Gregory Bateson]
    Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('The Cybernetics of "Self": A Theory of Alcoholism'), p.331-3