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Fourfold Vision and cybernetic unity: Therapist as scientist, theorist, humanist and artist.

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This chapter revisits the legacy of Gregory Bateson, whose influence upon the field of systemic therapy was significant, particularly in the earlier years. It could be argued that some of his thinking was wilfully or erroneously misinterpreted by others; in an impoverished understanding of Bateson's epistemology. Bateson (1991) was critical of action orientated people who would take ideas onto the wards without attempting to understand the ideas behind the theory, and perhaps this very hurry to implement his ideas has left therapeutic practitioners with poor models of therapy that continue to conceptualise and treat relationships and systems as "things" rather than ideas. For example, Bateson was 62 Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity Therapist as scientist, theorist, humanist and artist 4 Hugh Palmer
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May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep
William Blake 1802
When I was a child in the 1960s I was very fond of an elderly rel-
ative, Uncle Wilf, who to me was a source of wonder and fascina-
tion. He used to take me to local nature reserves and teach me to
observe and appreciate the world around me. I learnt about dier-
ent birds and mammals and how they tted into ecological systems
such as woodlands or estuaries. My uncle, E.W. Taylor CBE, like
Gregory Bateson, died in 1980, and by that time, I understood that
he was a Fellow of the Royal Society, had an honorary doctorate
for his work in optics and was a founder of the Yorkshire Wildlife
Trust. He had been involved in work with other scientists during
the second world war exploring early cybernetic systems to enable
searchlights to converge on a single spot thousands of feet above
the earth and worked with Barnes Wallis of Dambusters fame, de-
veloping sighting instruments.
As I reect upon the life and work of my uncle, I appreciate that
he was able to span both scientic thought and wider ecological
issues, as well as being a particularly kind and humble man; all
attributes that I associate with Bateson, too.
This chapter revisits the legacy of Gregory Bateson, whose inuence
upon the eld of systemic therapy was signicant, particularly in the
earlier years. It could be argued that some of his thinking was wilfully or
erroneously misinterpreted by others; in an impoverished understand-
ing of Bateson’s epistemology. Bateson (1991) was critical of action ori-
entated people who would take ideas onto the wards without attempt-
ing to understand the ideas behind the theory, and perhaps this very
hurry to implement his ideas has left therapeutic practitioners with poor
models of therapy that continue to conceptualise and treat relationships
and systems as “things” rather than ideas. For example, Bateson was
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic
Therapist as scientist, theorist,
humanist and artist
Hugh Palmer
clearly frustrated that the double bind theory he co-developed about
communication was re-presented by his co-workers as a causative
model of schizophrenia. The reication of this idea led to families being
blamed by professionals who did not fully understand the theory with
the consequence of impeding the progress of systemic family approach-
es to severe mental illness by many years. Being known for embracing
Bateson’s ideas, systemic therapy was blamed by other professionals for
blaming mothers. Bateson’s exasperation at his ideas not being under-
stood became apparent with his disagreement with Jay Haley regarding
the concept of “power”. This issue will be explored in some detail to oer
a perspective on Bateson’s epistemology that might be helpful for thera-
pists. As I have grown older and begun to more fully appreciate how the
things I learnt from my uncle led to an anity with the work of Gregory
Bateson, so too, it seems natural for me to attempt to work and think
about therapy in a way that reects their wisdom, humility and passion.
It is worth noting that Bradford Keeney, whose 1983 book Aesthetics
of Change was an attempt to bring the wisdom of Gregory Bateson to
working with families and other interactional systems, wrote more
recently about the lack of systemic thinking in systemic therapy;
complaining that
the postmodern advocates of higher order cybernetics never
embodied its circularity, but favored non-circular interpretive
discourse that highlighted endless commentary, reection, con-
versation, and description of observations and observations of ob-
(Keeney & Keeney 2012, p.26)
It could be argued that whilst berating postmodern approaches, Keeney
and Keeney have not appreciated how these very approaches have at-
tempted to aesthetically and respectfully incorporate circularity, and these
have been necessary steps towards an approach that can also include the
self of the therapist in a more dynamic way. Later in this chapter, further
issues raised by Keeney and Keeney will be identied and addressed in
relation to the “Fourfold Vision” model which I propose.
Bateson was primarily known as a scientist although he actually consid-
ered himself foremost a biologist. He was precise and loathed “muddled”
thinking, something he frequently made clear in both writing and lec-
tures. Bateson also advocated being human with patients. Bateson, as a
researcher, actively treated patients as part of Macy Foundation funded
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
research projects that he led between 1948 and 1963 and part of what he
attempted was to help them nd valuable patterns in their lives.
Bateson was able to incorporate both the precision of being “scientic”
and the empathy and intuition of “being human” in his interactions with
others, including patients with schizophrenia and their families. It could
be argued that he considered that the eld of psychology was broadly
evolving in two similar directions: the consciously scientic “circularist”
and the more intuitively based “humanist” (Charlton 2008).
Many readers will be familiar with talk of the “art and science” of prac-
tices such as medicine, nursing or therapy, where art and science are
seen as forming separate domains, parallel but dierentiated and not
necessarily proportionate with each other. Later in this chapter, I will
outline an approach to therapy, inuenced by Bateson, that eschews the
idea of separate domains; integrating the scientic and aesthetic, the
circularist and humanist as processes.
Bateson as therapist
Many commentators were struck by the wisdom and compassion
evident in Bateson’s interactions with others, and Lipset’s (1980) biog-
raphy reveals that this was also the case with his work with patients.
The following transcript of a 1958 patient interview (Bateson, cited in
Lipset, 1980, p.220-221) illustrates the disarmingly open way Bateson
connected with the family of a young man diagnosed with schizophrenia
in a conversation about why a family moved location so often:
Bateson: I agree with much of what you say.
Mother: Moving is just for the birds
Bateson: Having been an old –
Father: (laughing)
Mother: And even birds stay in the same nest (laughs).
Bateson: – been an old mover myself. I spend time in New Guinea,
in the Dutch East Indies, and God knows what else.
Mother: Well –
Bateson: But –
Mother: It’s all right if you’re built that way. I mean each person
has to do –
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
Father: No.
Bateson: I don’t know.
Mother: The reasons have to be voluntary. Mine are involuntary, I
know –
Bateson: I was frankly running away from all sorts of things.
It is apparent that Bateson felt comfortable in disclosing personal infor-
mation about himself and in admitting his vulnerability or weakness.
Perhaps Bateson was in tune with writers who – nearly half a century
later – advocate a degree of transparency in their interactions, although
it takes little eort to imagine some modern readers will recoil from the
idea of admitting to their clients that they were “running away from all
sorts of things”. I believe that Bateson’s position here was not merely
an ethical stance, but a reection of a man being wholly consistent with
his epistemology.
Jay Haley, in a personal letter to Lipset, suggested that Bateson would
“…stay up all night with alcoholics, to get them through…He felt that
being human with people was good for them” (Lipset 1980, p.215). R.D.
Laing, who observed Bateson in 1962, considered that, like some of the
best therapists, Bateson didn’t regard himself as a “therapist”, going
on to add “....If I was the patient in the session, I certainly wouldn’t
have felt there was anything to be frightened of...he never indicated
that he thought in terms of actually actively adopting strategic, practi-
cal means to use to pry people out of the entanglement they were in...”
(Lipset 1980, p.220)
William Fry, another of Bateson’s colleagues, suggested that Bateson
was like an anthropologist with families, more of an observer than cli-
nician or therapist, and would “...switch between that role and a sort
of friendly mother’s brother...raising tantalising and signicant issues...
They were very intuitive and hit the nail on the head, and would do all
sorts of terrible things...creating insights and stirring family patterns
up”. (Lipset 1980, p.219)
From these observations of Bateson’s clinical practice which spanned
more than ten years, two broad themes become apparent: i) he showed
compassion and intuition in his interactions, and he emphasised the
importance of therapists and doctors “being human” with their patients
(Bateson 1961); ii) he was however also able to take on a more “scientic
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
observer” position too and seemed to be able to shift between these dif-
ferent positions.
Bateson, disillusioned with psychotherapy partly because of Haley’s
inability to understand fully the epistemological issues, particularly
with regard to power left the Palo Alto group to study dolphins. The
thorny issue of power was never fully resolved. Nevertheless, his posi-
tion on power reveals a vigorously ethical stance with regards to being
in relation with others; a position echoed by more recent authors who,
whilst they may not overtly discuss “power”, advocate a non-expert, col-
laborative and non-directive approach that echoes aspects of Bateson’s
approach. Like Guddemi (2006), I see Bateson’s position on power as
placing us in a double bind – a bind that encourages creativity and oers
a route towards thinking more wisely about how Bateson’s legacy can
inform and shape therapeutic practice.
The problem of power: a double bind
that leads to creativity
Bateson oered us an epistemology of unity and through the use of
various metaphors and descriptions he oered glimpses of a universe
that is complex and interrelated beyond our perceptual abilities and
comprehension. Therefore any attempts to create boundaries or to se-
lectively take only piecemeal bits and pieces of his epistemology would
not only be an error, it would represent a gross misunderstanding of
what he was attempting to convey.
Bateson’s view that power is a myth insofar as relationships are con-
cerned is central to his epistemology, for his world was one of “ideas”
not “things”; a world where power simply cannot exist in the realm of
mental process – it based on a ction of unilateral control. Guddemi
(2006) notes that Bateson’s distaste for power as explanation was aes-
thetic and moral as well as scientic.
Bateson makes his position on power clear in several passages (for
example, in collections of essays published in 1972 and 1991) and this
quote from “Angels Fear” is typical:
Consider on the other hand the popular verbal cliché ―the power of
mind over matter. This little monster contains three combined con-
cepts, “power”, “mind”, and “matter’” But power is a notion derived
from the word of engineers and physicists. It is of the same world
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
as the notions of energy or matter. It would therefore be quite con-
sistent and sensible to speak, say, of the power of a magnet over a
piece of iron. All three items – the magnet, the iron, and the power
come out of the same universe of discourse. The magnet and the
iron and the power can meet each other in the same statement. But
mind, since Descartes split the universe in two, does not belong in
that world. So in order to give physical power to mind, we must give
it materialistic existence.
(G. Bateson & M. C. Bateson 1987, p.60)
There is no mistaking Gregory Bateson’s position: thinking in terms of
power with regard to mental process and relationship is lunacy. Haley,
in a personal letter to Lipset, elaborated on this position with specic
reference to therapy;
Bateson didn’t like power. He didn’t even like the word...anyone
who said “I’m going to change this person”. If they said “I will oer
this person some ideas, and if they change, it’s up to them,” then
Gregory would have no trouble with them. But if you take respon-
sibility for changing people, then you would have a problem...Any
inuence outside the person’s range is odious to him. Any indirect
manipulation is [also] out of the question.
(Lipset, 1982, p.226)
While Bateson did agree with Haley that power is a central human
concern, he wished that we humans would stop believing in power
because the pursuit of power entails the epistemologically erroneous
thinking that always causes trouble, for example the idea that “bigger
(or more) is better”.
Guddemi (2008) notes that, despite interpretations of many writers re-
garding his discourse about power, the view of Michel Foucault is sur-
prisingly close to that held by Bateson and Guddemi cites what I believe
to be an important observation by Foucault:
The exercise of power is not simply a relationship between part-
ners, individual or collective; it is a way in which certain actions
modify others. Which is to say, of course, that something called
Power, with or without a capital letter, which is assumed to exist
universally in a concentrated or diused form, does not exist.
(1982, p.788)
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
Since Bateson originally challenged the concept of power, some authors
(for example, Harries-Jones 1995 and Dell 1989) have oered ways out
of the double bind he left us with, and the following section will outline
two attempts to wriggle free: one considering power in wider contexts,
the other considering the problem of power as confusion between dier-
ent domains. I will argue for a third way out of the double bind: a path
that leads to a cybernetic approach to working with others that is very
much in keeping with Bateson’s epistemology.
Wider contexts
Traditional linear views of power rend to conceptualise one party having
power over another, and rst order cybernetic views tend to view both
parties having some kind of complementary relationship where the
“powerless” party in some way requires the other party to have power
over it and vice versa. The diculty with both these views is that they
de-contextualize the relationship, thus ignoring, for example historical,
cultural and gender aspects.
Harries-Jones (1995) suggests that, instead of thinking of power in
human relationships, we would be better served by reexive dialogue
about the “metaphor of power”, and see ourselves as simply parts of
a larger situation. This does indeed oer a partial resolution to the
problem, and if we widen the context, then the relationships may be seen
as part of wider circuits. Simply focussing on individual injustices risks
ignoring the wider, cultural injustices in which the actions are located,
so by broadening the focus, the “power” of one person over another
person may be seen to take place within wider patterns of human dom-
ination and violence towards others, of patriarchal societies, of interna-
tional conict, of elites and the arms trade and so on. However, simply
shifting our focus to a wider context is not adequate; to have a greater
understanding of the relationship, we need to shift focus between con-
texts, to move from detail to context and back again.
Dierent domains for understanding power
Dell (1989) attempted to explain the problem of power as a confusion
between two profoundly dierent and separate domains, suggesting that
Bateson talks of power and lineal control in the domain of scientic ex-
planation, whereas, as therapists, when we talk of “power,” we are speak-
ing in the humanist domains of experience and description. Whilst this
may appear on the surface to be an attractive resolution to the double
bind, thinking of “domains” suggests separateness, and this is antitheti-
cal to Bateson’s epistemology of unity, so it is not an adequate solution.
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
What is required is a means of thinking that respects Bateson’s concept
of unity and recognises the importance of shifting focus between con-
texts, and this, in part, is what I hope to address.
Steps towards unity
Consideration of power as an issue that relates to either context or dif-
ferent domains is inadequate, although both positions have value. A
third way of conceptualising the problem of power would be to con-
sider it as being a problem of both context and domains. A clue to
another way forward is to be found in Charlton’s (2008) discussion
of Bateson in which he proposes that Bateson considered psychology
to be evolving in two directions, “humanist” and “circularist”. The hu-
manist way of working with clients could be considered as one human
being interacting with another; the practitioner intuitively responds
from personal emotional resources to act spontaneously out of his or
her own integrity. The “circularistic” approach would be characterised
by practitioners being consciously scientic, articulate about methods
and results, aiming for predictability and logical coherence. Charlton
(2008) suggests that Bateson saw the way forward as being a compro-
mise: a working together of both types of practice, between intuition
and examination/description, each informing the other. Charlton also
acknowledged other aspects that might be important: “Humanist, sci-
entist, artist and theoretician are all needed to form the cybernetic unity
of healing” (Charlton 2008, p.94).
Towards a Fourfold Vision
Following on from this discussion I would propose that a therapy truly
inuenced by Bateson would involve moving between all four positions
identied by Charlton (humanist, scientist, artist and theoretician) and
having the wisdom to value them all.
A way of conceptualising these positions that also oers a means of being
able to shift focus from detail to context and avoids separate “domains”
was oered over two hundred years ago by William Blake:
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night,
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep.
(William Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802)
Blake’s Fourfold Vision has been discussed by literary scholars, includ-
ing Northrop Frye (1947) and later by Rose who recognised the unity
that is inherent within Blake’s concept of Fourfold Vision: “That is, four
is really one all the time, but in order to describe unlimited perception,
a paradox is stated” (Rose 1962, p.173). The following is a necessarily
simplied overview of the four types of vision Blake oers us.
A version of Fourfold Vision for therapists
I have linked Blake’s four types of vision to Charlton’s four positions
of scientist, theorist, humanist and artist and relate these to therapeu-
tic practice. Whilst reading these, it is important to appreciate that al-
though they are presented as separate entities, and bear in mind these
are descriptions of iterative processes, not of separate domains.
Single Vision therapist as scientist
Single Vision is concerned with observational skills and the ability to
focus on detail. This incorporates being able to make linear descriptions
of the client (s) and what they present, including:
What is the issue?
Who is involved?
When does it happen?
Where does it happen?
As part of the focus and attention to detail, I would also give due con-
sideration to the possibilities of alternative explanations for the present-
ing issues. A simple example of this might be someone who presents as
depressed, but has an underlying thyroid disorder. Single vision is the
domain of evidence. However, as Bateson & McCarthy (2013 p.5) warn,
our professional practices can become deformed in the tick-boxes of di-
agnostic categories divorced from relational contexts, and this is why it
is necessary to consider the other types of vision.
Tw of ol d Vi s io n therapist as theorist
Twofold Vision moves the focus from specic details to more relational
aspects of interest and would incorporate consciously scientic obser-
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
vation of patterns within the family system. Internal systemic relation-
ships, including rst order cybernetic patterns, such as circular causality,
would be an obvious consideration, although I would also include within
this focus thinking about second order patterns that would include the
new unit of clients plus therapist(s). This links in with Bateson’s aph-
orism about “the dierence that makes a dierence” where multiple
versions of “Single Vision”, along with the consideration of relational
aspects of the clients’ lives can contribute to a sense of a greater unity.
This is analogous to the theory of Humberto Maturana (2005) that
human experience takes place in the relational space of conversation.
Threefold Vision therapist as humanist
This focus of attention is around the human aspects of therapy, where
the therapist might make connection with their personal experienc-
es and be mindful of any intuitions they might have in relation to the
therapy or the clients. Within this focus, other important aspects of the
self of the therapist will be acknowledged and considered, including
embodied aspects of practice and empathy. How these will be used in
terms of reexivity and disclosure and transparency will depend on the
preferences and constraints of the therapist and agency. A further but
important consideration, is to consider how the self of the therapist is
also open to change and learning from the clients.
Fourfold Vision therapist as artist
Similar to Blake’s sentiment, Fourfold Vision could be thought of as the
aesthetic delight of working with and between single, twofold and three-
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
fold visioning. Fourfold Vision is akin to the phenomenological notion
of the hermeneutic circle, although the scope of attention is variable –
moving between detail and wider contexts. The attention of the thera-
pist moves reexively between levels of detail, relationship and broader
context; the process is not static, and the focusing reexively on particu-
lar details, widening the context, and then focussing again, perhaps on
dierent details. Nora Bateson (2012) uses the helpful analogy of a tele-
photo lens in this context, and calls the process of shifting between detail
and wider context “zooming in” and “zooming out”. Focussing in on a
detail and then “zooming out” to a wider context permits the viewer to
reect upon where to next “zoom in”. In this process, the therapist and
the family are located and theorised in wider and wider contexts, includ-
ing the ethical (Lang & McAdam 1995). The personal, reexive aspect
of Threefold Vision provides both direction and meaning to the process
of exploring Single and Twofold Vision. Whilst there are links between
Fourfold Vision and Lang, Little & Cronen’s (1990) domain of aesthetics
(Fourfold Vision incorporates working ethically, elegantly and graceful-
ly) it is important to stress that in this approach, the aesthetic element
is found within the evolving, ever shifting Fourfold Vision that movies
between single, twofold and threefold visioning. This is where “sparkling
moments” or the emergence of deep connection and empathy can occur,
which, along with an appreciation of the wider connections that hint at a
greater unity; the unity which Bateson considered to be sacred.
The problem of ‘power’ from the
perspective of Fourfold Vision
Bateson’s denial of power was simply an aspect of his rejection of a
non-relational, one dimensional epistemology. Power is not the problem;
rather it is how we think about our relationships with each other (and
the environment) that is the problem.
To begin to think of power from Bateson’s epistemology, it might help
if, as an example, we explore violence and think about how violence is
used at all levels of society in attempts to exert control; whether individ-
uals using their sts or nations using bombs and un-manned drones. We
can consider the economics of international arms trade, appreciate that
weapons used to kill and maim women and children may be manufac-
tured in your country, perhaps even making your neighbourhood more
auent. We can wonder if bombing a population makes them more or
less inclined to conform, and how useful violence is in changing people’s
minds or having any long-term inuence in controlling others. Moving
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
back to Single and Twofold Vision, we can look at, and locate local epi-
sodes of violence and attempts to control as being part of a wider problem.
As Bateson suggests, the myth of power is self-validating, and this is
evident within all levels of society; through the behaviour of individuals
or groups of people through to nation states. People continue to attempt
to exert power over others, because it seems to be eective. To begin to
shift towards Bateson’s epistemology, whilst we might condemn the in-
dividual perpetrator of violence, we must also condemn the patriarchal
structures, many of which are born from violence, where individual acts
take place – the very structures that we are part of.
Fourfold Vision: nested, not separate domains
What has been presented here is analogous to the hermeneutic circle
familiar to those who use phenomenological approaches. However, in
Fourfold Vision the therapist (or observer-participant) continuously
moves between detail and wider, relational contexts, whilst simultane-
ously reecting on the process, allowing personal intuitions and embod-
ied sensations to create shifts in attention, so dierent details and con-
texts continuously move in and out of the frame.
Whilst it may be convenient to think of Fourfold Vision as a means of
describing what might be happening in therapeutic practice, I have also
been exploring how to use it to guide my own practice and as a concept
to help clients in their thinking too. An obvious example of this is where
a client who focuses on minutiae and details to the detriment of seeing
the bigger picture (or vice versa) is invited to shift the focus whilst sup-
porting a reection upon the process, including noticing and exploring
dierences in feelings as the focus moves around.
The following section is an attempt to illustrate the process used when
working with an extremely traumatised client, who is here called A.K.
She has experienced multiple diculties in her life. A.K. has agreed to
share her story with us and she chose the pseudonym for me to use.
Working with Fourfold Vision: the descent into hell
A.K. is 32, and has been “clean” for ve years. Previously she worked
as a prostitute and was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, including
cocaine. In the four years preceding this, she had been kept as a sex
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
slave, locked in a room and routinely tortured and degraded by her male
partner who regularly “pimped” her out to groups of men.
A.K. identied that there were many cruel and terrifying incidents that
she wanted to surface and speak about, yet all of these incidents blurred
together. She was not sure of the timescales as many of the ordeals were
similar in nature and she would often black out or dissociate from her
body during these episodes.
Working with Fourfold Vision: making (some)
sense of it all
We needed to nd a way for A.K. to begin to talk about these events, and
for the talking to have some meaning. She found it easier for me to not
look at her during times she spoke of her memories, and together we
devised a process where I would look away from her, and ask questions
that might prompt particular memories and then, still not looking at
her, respond to what I heard. She would nd a way into telling me about
an episode of terrible violence against her in the slowed down time of
trauma. After she had nished the telling, I then retold her story and de-
scribed my experience of listening to her account, about how distressing
it was to hear, and articulated connections I made. Some of this was with
links to my own experiences, with theory, for example, Foucault’s (1975)
notions of gaze, and of Dante’s Inferno, with the descriptions of descent
through the nine circles of hell. A.K. described how helpful it was to hear
my retelling of her story; how it felt as though she was no longer on her
own in that particular memory. This became an on-going process, with
much work being done by both of us to encourage the surfacing and
telling of stories, sometimes hampered by the nature of what she called
“disassociation”, but A.K. was been able to express that she felt we made
signicant progress.
Working with A.K., as with most clients, the aspect of Single Vision
(Therapist as Scientist) is pretty much self-evident; the initial focus is
upon her story, and the meanings she has made. In A.K.’s situation,
Single Vision would also take into consideration explanations such as
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” and “Dissociation” that might account
for her diculties; for example, how ordinary, everyday physical sensa-
tions can precipitate overwhelming emotional responses. At the same
time, it was important to be consciously aware of the particular details
that attention was being given to, with some reexivity regarding the
rationale for these choices and decisions.
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
Twofold Vision (Therapist as Theorist) in the case of working with A.K.
incorporated showing an interest in her relationships with others, in-
cluding family members and her abusive boyfriend. Exploring patterns
in relationships was helpful, and we explored her experience of feeling
invalidated by dierent men in her life. However, a signicant element of
the focus of Twofold Vision is also the therapeutic relationship between
A.K. and I; we thought together about how the relationship emerged,
and how we managed and discussed issues like gender, age or spiritual-
ity. Regarding the relationship, it may be helpful at this point to share
A.K.’s own (2012) words:
“I needed someone who knew me, to whom I wasn’t anonymous, to
see at rst hand the dierent heads, the frozenness, to spend time
with me and get to know me so that they could understand me and
what it’s like to be me, and help me to move forward. The last 6
months have seen that change. You listen rather than telling me
how it is, you check out if you are getting things right and I nd
myself able to trust you.”
A.K. noted that I was compassionate but constructive, I listened and had a
better understanding of her than anyone she had seen for therapy before.
The signicance of Threefold Vision (Therapist as Humanist) emerged
in the process of therapy. Whilst listening to A.K. giving an account of
a particular experience, I found that, while I was not looking directly
at her, I would be much more aware of my inner experiences as I re-
ected upon what I was hearing. Rather like listening to a (horrifying)
radio drama, I constructed images of what I imagined to be happen-
ing; trying to feel what it would be like to be so vulnerable, exposed and
naked, punched, spat at and penetrated so violently by groups of face-
less, laughing men. The process of listening and responding was slow,
dicult and very moving, for both A.K and I. Keeney & Keeney (2012,
p.33) suggest that:
“The liberated from-models therapist isn’t holding on to a list of
therapeutic taboos or a code of banned, blacklisted forms of ther-
apeutic understanding and action. Here you are free to be moved
by whatever the client presents. The embodied circular loop of im-
provisation is the most respectful relationship possible with a client
for it utilizes whatever the client and therapist bring and then uti-
lizes what happens next in the interaction. We call this ‘circular
therapeutics’ and regard it as the key to bringing a healing heart
to therapy.”
Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
Being open to improvisation during the process of therapy, for example
in developing a process that enabled A.K. to speak without my gaze,
enabled her to share with me experiences that she had never spoken
about before, but also led to signicant shifts in my position regarding
pornography, the objectication of women and feminism, which links
very much with the concept of Fourfold Vision (Therapist as Artist); as
well as being benecial for the client, the process has changed me, too.
I can shift between compassion and empathy to outrage about living
in a society that implicitly privileges the objectication of women that
creates the context for the sort of abuse A.K. experienced. The work we
did changed both of us; my understanding of the impact of tracking,
prostitution and pornography on both women and men has led me to
becoming involved in campaigning work to oppose the tracking of
women into prostitution. A.K. now has a partner and a son. She still has
ashbacks, but is much happier with her life.
Conclusion: Fourfold Vision is only a map
Fourfold Vision encourages a move towards thinking in terms of the re-
exive shifting of focus within a greater unity rather than thinking in
terms of separate domains. To separate things into domains, catego-
ries or groups may be convenient but it is not systemic, and is certainly
antithetical to Bateson’s thinking. More important than breaking free
of limiting, boundaried domains, this approach oers a means for sys-
temic therapists to become more exible and to improvise. It meets the
challenge presented by Keeney & Keeney (2012 p.32) who noted that
rst-order cybernetics resulted in therapists taking responsibility for
changing the client, but that “second-order cybernetics ups the ethical
imperative by asking us to change ourselves in order to foster change in
others”. Further, this model allows for a “both/and” approach of taking
account of the value of evidence and data collection (Therapist as Scien-
tist) whilst at the same time providing for a relational focus (Therapist
as Theorist) and personal elements (Therapist as Humanist).
The concept of Fourfold Vision oered in this chapter is an attempt to
articulate and share a way of thinking about our work with clients and
families that is respectful of Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology. The
experience of fourfold vision is to move gracefully between detail and
relationships, between theory and data, whilst simultaneously allowing
your own inner experiences and intuitions to inform your attention and
to allow the possibility of being open to change oneself. It is not a pre-
scription, but an invitation.
Fourfold Vision and Cybernetic Unity
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“A.K.” (2012). Personal communication.
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Bateson, Gregory (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays
in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Chicago:
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Bateson, Gregory & Bateson, Mary Catherine (1987). Angels Fear:
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Bateson, Gregory (1991). Sacred Unity: Further steps to an ecology of
mind. New York: A Cornelia & Michael Bessie Books.
Bateson, Nora (2012). Personal communication.
Bateson, Nora & McCarthy, Imelda (2013). An Ecology of Mind: Family
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Systemic Therapy as Transformative Practice
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... This paper further develops a therapeutic approach (Palmer 2014(Palmer , 2016) that is drawn from and influenced by Gregory Bateson's life and work. I had long felt that Bateson had been misunderstood; this misunderstanding is perhaps best represented by the fallout of his disavowal of the concept of 'power' in relationships, but equally so regarding his general approach to being in relationship with others (both aspects covered in more depth in my 2016 chapter), although both are facets of his cybernetic epistemology, perhaps best summarised by his observation "The nature of the world in which I live, and in which I wish you lived -all of you... and all the time... but even I don't live in it all the time -there are times when I catch myself believing that there is such a thing as 'something' which is separate from something else (Gregory Bateson, in Nora Bateson's film, An Ecology of Mind, a Daughter's Portrait of Gregory Bateson, 2012). ...
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This paper describes the use of a therapeutic approach that has been inspired by the work of Gregory Bateson and the concept of 'Fourfold Vision' described by the poet and mystic, William Blake. The fourfold vision approach incorporates the use of data, theory and intuition within an aesthetic process. It offers a way of thinking about elements of practice as being equally important interconnected parts of an aesthetic whole rather than separate parts or domains that all need to be attended to in a formal or rigid structure. Significantly, this approach offers a means of incorporating the inner experience of the therapist, including intuition, within a coherent process that also incorporates theory and data. The four ways of seeing interact to create an iterative unfolding. Conveying a shift from parts and wholes to relationships and processes is so tricky! A case study is provided that offers some signposts to how fourfold vision can be used to reflect upon and inform practice.
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This paper is an exploration of a new cybernetic approach to 'power' which is developed in a dialectical fashion out of a respectful response to Gregory Bateson's famous distaste for and dismissal of the concept. Thus it begins with an evocation of Bateson's objections to 'power' as an explanatory principle. It continues by examining, point by point, a conference paper Bateson wrote late in his life in order to try to pick apart the concept and see what meat might be gleaned from its carcass. It then turns to my own attempt to use the autopoiesis theory of Maturana and Varela, and in counterpoint Bateson's theories of system and adaptation, to develop a new theory of what 'power' might mean, which I call the theory of 'power as relational asymmetry.' This theory is all too briefly then applied to ecology, animal behavior, and human social evolution. Some of its implications for contemporary approaches are touched upon. Finally the paper returns to Bateson and explores his ethical and epistemological objection to the putatively 'scientific' practice of the oversimplification of human motivation, and it observes that here may be found some of the roots of Bateson's dislike of the 'power' concept. Any cybernetic concept of the domain of 'power' should retain Bateson's motivational pluralism.
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Violence is a strikingly lineal concept that is difficult to address from a systemic perspective. Bateson's epistemological disqualification of the concept of power is often understood to imply a corresponding systemic disqualification of the concept of violence. This position is examined in light of recent feminist criticism. It is argued that (a) violence and power belong essentially to the domain of human experience and (b) human experience cannot be invalidated by theory. Accordingly, it is suggested that the (appropriate) invalidation of power and violence in the domain of systemic explanation should probably be understood both as a deliberate choice that necessarily follows from adopting a systemic perspective, and as a fundamental limitation of that perspective. In neither case, however, should the systemic view be considered to be a valid disqualification of the human experience of violence and power.
Gregory Bateson was one of the most original social scientists of this century. He is widely known as author of key ideas used in family therapy - including the well-known condition called 'double bind' . He was also one of the most influential figures in cultural anthropology. In the decade before his death in 1980 Bateson turned toward a consideration of ecology. Standard ecology concentrates on an ecosystem's biomass and on energy budgets supporting life. Bateson came to the conclusion that understanding ecological organization requires a complete switch in scientific perspective. He reasoned that ecological phenomena must be explained primarily through patterns of information and that only through perceiving these informational patterns will we uncover the elusive unity, or integration, of ecosystems. Bateson believed that relying upon the materialist framework of knowledge dominant in ecological science will deepen errors of interpretation and, in the end, promote eco-crisis. He saw recursive patterns of communication as the basis of order in both natural and human domains. He conducted his investigation first in small-scale social settings; then among octopus, otters, and dolphins. Later he took these investigations to the broader setting of evolutionary analysis and developed a framework of thinking he called 'an ecology of mind.' Finally, his inquiry included an ecology of mind in ecological settings - a recursive epistemology. This is the first study of the whole range of Bateson's ecological thought - a comprehensive presentaionof Bateson's matrix of ideas. Drawing on unpublished letters and papers, Harries-Jones clarifies themes scattered throughout Bateson's own writings, revealing the conceptual consistency inherent in Bateson's position, and elaborating ways in which he pioneered aspects of late twentieth-century thought.
Purpose – To reflect on the matter of self-consciousness. Design/methodology/approach – The purpose is achieved through the process of answering four questions presented to me by Heinz von Foerster in the course of our many conversations. Findings – It is not possible to understand the nature of self-consciousness without understanding the operation of human beings as living systems that exist as emotional languaging living systems: self-consciousness is a manner of living. Practical implications – We human beings can become more aware of our responsibility in the design of robots that imitate us. Originality/value – Reflects on what makes us humans special, on subjective experience, and on the world we bring forth.