The Institute for Intercultural Studies

50th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences










July 9-14, 2006
Sonoma State University
Rohnert Park, California
Reported by Nora Bateson

For half a century the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) has been devoted to interdisciplinary inquiry into the nature of complex systems. Both Mead and Bateson were affiliated with this organization, and Mead served as its president in the early 1970s when it was known as Society for General Systems Research (SGSR).

The group held its 50th annual meeting on July 9-14, 2006 at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California. This year's ISSS meeting was a dynamic combination formal and interactive conversations that were thematically connected by the title, "Complexity, Democracy, and Sustainability". ISSS 2005-2006 president, Debora Hammond set a course "to celebrate and reinvigorate a half-century of interdisciplinary collaboration and synthesis". Against the current backdrop of looming dysfunction in our political, environmental, medical, agricultural, and educational systems, (to name a few), the meetings were charged with a sense of urgency coupled with intense creativity toward social change.

For the last fifty years, the goal of the ISSS has been to "explore common patterns of organization in different kinds of complex systems and to facilitate collaborative inquiry between scholars and practitioners from across the disciplinary spectrum". The interdisciplinary focus of the systems sciences offers diversity of perspective and is a place for a kind of dialogue that has the potential to articulate the relationships between different disciplines. The conference was attended by a record number of participants and plenary speakers, such as Fritjof Kapra, Susan Oyama, Ralph Abraham, Alexander and Katia Lazlo, Geoffrey West, Nora Bateson and Alfonso Montuori among many others. Their talks were organized around the following topics:

  • Complex Systems and the Roots of Systems Thinking
  • Self-Organization and Living Systems
  • Ecological Systems and Sustainability
  • Social Systems Design and Practice

Nora Bateson and Alfonso Montuori presented a clips from the Bateson bio-pic film in progress, "That Reminds Me of a Story", in conjunction with a discussion of Blake's "Tiger", Bateson 's "Allegory", and the subject of Beauty. In addition to the plenary sessions there were several breakout sessions, or "streams" of presentations and dialogues, one of which was entitled, "The Bateson Forum". Scholars in this forum, applying Bateson's ideas to myriad topics, gave five papers. John Broadbent, presented his paper: "Theory and Practice of Evolutionary Civilization"; Allan Combs presented, "Daddy Why Are People So Complex"; Thomas Malloy and Gary Jensen brought their collaborative work" Mapping Gregory Bateson's Epistemology to Nonlinear Dynamic Systems Theory: Dynamic Form and Hierarchies of Knowledge"; Ayten Aydin presented "Evolving Science & Humanity: Humanity As A Relational Ground"; and also given was, Phillip Guddemi's "Thoughts on Power, Bateson, & Our Flamingo Nature".

As Debora Hammond said in her welcome, "The ISSS is unique among systems-oriented institutions in the breadth of its scope, bringing together scholars and practitioners from academic, business, government, and non-profit communities to explore what Gregory Bateson has called the "pattern that connects." Within such an exploration of connectivity, the conference provoked a tangible collective responsibility and call to action.

The 2007 ISSS conference will be held in Tokyo, Japan in August. For information check the ISSS web site.


Mind In Nature: Gregory Bateson and the Ecology of Experience
ISSS Pre-Conference Workshop
Friday, July 7 -July 9 at the Ratna Ling Retreat Center, Cazadero, CA

A few days before the ISSS meeting, pre-conference workshop on Gregory Bateson and the Ecology of Experience was held in the beautiful and remote Rata Ling Retreat Center, a Tibetan center high up on the hills above Jenner California. The workshop was hosted by the Center for Creative Inquiry and was lead by Jack Petranker and Allan Combs. The group was gathered in a redwood grove, and embarked on a series of conversations and exercises, which were evocative of the meanings of Mind In Nature. The workshop's structure was based on the Bateson's premise that: A metalogue is a conversation about some problematic subject. The conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject. (Bateson, Steps xxxiii). The redwood grove was therefore an appropriate setting for the discussion, and came to be affectionately dubbed: the Meta-Forest (or metaphor-est).

The participants were a diverse group of academics and "non-academics", wildly representing professions from information technologists, NGOs and even the UN. Some were very familiar with Bateson's work and some had no prior experience of it whatsoever. The experiential focus of the workshop used the natural setting as a "jumping in place" to think about the relationships between living things, the interconnected system(s) they share, how time is related to sustainability, and the difficulties of "knowing" that we are part of these systems. Various exercises were offered to bring these ideas into the realm of physical as well as intellectual understanding.

Nora Bateson attended the pre-conference workshop and in addition to participating in the challenge of "knowing" connectedness, enjoyed sharing clips from the interviews she has been shooting for her bio-pic film in progress about Bateson entitled, "That Reminds Me of A Story" as added fodder for the conversations and (for some) an introduction to Bateson's work as it is being utilized today in the sciences.


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