"Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know our selves."
The role of spirituality in the recovery process was discussed in relation to cybernetics and Systems Theory by Gregory Bateson. Bateson is an anthropologist. He began to put forth his theory in 1973 starting with his book, "Steps to an Ecology of Mind." Bateson made three basic hypothetical statements about addictions and the addicted. The first is that the sober alcoholic is functioning in relation to an epistemology which is accepted in occidental culture, but is incompatible with systems theory. Second, the intoxicated alcoholic, by virtue of being in an altered state of consciousness, has taken a partial and subjective step toward a more correct state of mind. Finally, that the emphasis of spirituality within the Alcoholics Anonymous program closely relates to the epistemology of cybernetics.
Bateson maintains that addiction (as well as other mental disorders) is a result of disturbances in communication. His theory regarding addiction is based on the paradigm of cybernetics. The term cybernetic is from the Greek, "kybernan," meaning, "to govern." The field of cybernetics is the study of control and self-regulation in machinery and living organisms. Through his work in this area, Bateson concluded that the mind, or sense of "self" is in actuality not a thing contained strictly within the body, but is a process. The course this process takes is determined by informational feedback to the self-system.
In Bateson's words, "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." Consequently, there is no substantial self apart from the system. The self is inter-relational and a product of the communications with its environment.
This notion is in contrast with the epistemology of occidental culture which views the "self" as a separate entity set in opposition to a disjunctive milieu. Bateson has termed this concept an "epistemological error." Addiction then, is viewed as resulting from faulty environmental feedback which conditions individuals both consciously and unconsciously to view themselves as separate from the environment. Alcoholics are caught in a particularly intense form of the epistemological error and tend to overly rely on the separate self as omnipotent to the point of narcissism. Consequently, in viewing the self as a separate entity, the world is viewed as hostile and must be controlled and conquered.
Relationships within this cosmological frame tend to be competitive as opposed to complimentary. This phenomenon is at the core of what AA terms "alcoholic pride" or the need to control the addiction through "self-control." In Bateson's words, "It is an obsessive acceptance of a challenge, a repudiation of the proposition 'I cannot'. This effort to control drinking (or any other addiction) by reliance on self, results in a cycle of attempts followed by relapse. Paradoxically, this cycle increasingly narrows the notion of self (increased narcissism) and further place circumstances outside its scope.
Due to their pharmacological properties, addictive substances tend to break down the barriers between self and environment. In this manner, alcohol and other drugs are viewed as a step toward correcting epistemological errors created by the conditioning one is exposed to in occidental culture. By virtue of a pharmacological process, the addict experiences the self as part of, rather apart from the world. However, given the disastrous physical consequences of prolonged chemical use/abuse these unconscious attempts to correct the epistemological error ultimately fails.
Since the alcoholic has had brief experiences with a more correct state of mind, the common advice to "use will power" to remain sober will fail. Bateson elaborates on this point. "In favor of this hypothesis, there is the undoubted fact that the testing of self-control leads back to drinking. As I have argued, the whole epistemology of self-control which his friends urge upon the alcoholic is monstrous. If this be so, then the alcoholic is right in rejecting it. He has achieved a 'reductio ad absurdum' of the convention epistemology." Give this state of affairs, the alcoholic finds his or herself in a seemingly hopeless situation. Bateson has termed these types of situations, "Double Bind."
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