Enacting Ecological Aesthetics

/ Events: External Events

Gregory Bateson and Esalen

Jon Goodbun, Dulmini Perera, Simon Sadler, Ben Sweeting

The conventional definitions of epistemology would place it in philosophy and regard it as beyond empirical research—the discussion only of how we can know anything.But how we acquire knowledge or information is a matter of observation and even experiment: How do the monarch butterflies find their way to the butterfly tree in the Esalen canyon? Not one of them has ever been here before.

Gregory Bateson – The Esalen Catalog 17, no. 2 (1979)

This session explores the ideas of anthropologist and cybernetician Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) in relation to Esalen. During the 1970s, Bateson was focused on the interrelation between epistemology, ecology, and aesthetics. Finding an audience for this work within the California counterculture, Bateson became a scholar in residence at Esalen Institute from 1978-80, working on a manuscript that would form the basis of Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred, written in collaboration with Mary Catherine Bateson. While Bateson did not agree with many of the specific beliefs of the counterculture, he resonated with it on a deeper level, and stated that he “cannot live anywhere else” than Esalen. Looking back on this crucial period of Bateson’s work, how might the relationship between Bateson’s ideas and Esalen, its practices and landscape, be understood? Are there ways in which understanding Bateson’s time at Esalen help to throw light on other aspects of his work? What are the possible relationships between Bateson’s ideas and contemporary Esalen? The session will begin with an introductory overview of Bateson’s work and ideas and then open up into an interactive dialogue, using Bateson’s ideas as prompts.

Venue: Esalen, Rooftop

Date: 10. September 2023, 13.30-14.45 PDT