Gregory Bateson in the Weirdlands


While prepping some materials on Gregory Bateson for my work in progress, I was perusing the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Inventory of the Gregory Bateson Papers. While Bateson was known for his interest in what Andrew Pickering, following W. Grey Walter, calls the “strange performances” of the mind, the contents of box #80 stuck out in my mind as particularly curious:

Session with Jenny O’Connor, English psychic who channeled “The Nine”, Esalen Institute, unedited transcript & notesFeb. 7, 1979

In my post Into the Mystic: Capitalism and the Structuralization of Spirituality, I wrote about how as time went on, Esalen, under the successive leaderships of Richard Price and Julian Silvermann, became estranged from its countercultural roots and transitioned into a kind of ‘wellness center’ for corporate retreaters. Poking around, I was surprised to see this:

Dick [Richard Price] still maintained his scan of the spiritual/psychological horizon and was willing to embrace, at least for a while, unusual explorations “along the psychological-spiritual front.” One of his last such explorations was what he called his “research project in paranormal intelligence,” involving an English woman named Jenny O’Connor who, by automatic writing, channeled “the Nine” – a group of extraterrestrials from the star Sirius. Dick used the Nine as paranormal management consultants and adjunct Gestalt facilitators. Around Esalen, however, the Nine were much better known for performing the role of extraterrestrial hatchet men, than for giving insight into how Esalen might improve its operations. (Gestalt Legacy Project, The Life and Practice of Richard Price: A Gestalt Biography, pgs. 137-138


Jenny and the Nine, as they came to be called, were also quite controversial within the Esalen community, not because of O’Connors’ alleged psychic powers or because the Nine happened to be from the star Sirius (that was fairly normal fair), but because Dick decided to ask Jenny and the Nine to help him make tough administrative decisions, which including firing and hiring individuals. (Jeffrey Kripal, Esalen: America and the Land of No Religion, pg. 366)

Anyone out there in the interwebs have other information or insight into this? I’m very curious in Bateson’s interview with O’Connor, but unfortunately it appears the requesting archival material from UC Santa Cruz is rather difficult.

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7 Responses to Gregory Bateson in the Weirdlands

  1. landzek says:

    I love your posts ! You know; I wonder when and if f we will be allow d to discuss the role as f intoxication (for the 60-70s : lsd) in the development of philosophical ideas. I think it irresponsible to consider ideas without including the possibility intoxication in the discussion.

    • edmundberger says:

      Thanks! Yeah, for me who is more interested in the historical emergence of philosophical concepts (and more importantly, their instrumentalization as economic-political technique) than ‘doing’ philosophy as an act, the various things that ‘feed’ into the creation of concepts interests me greatly. So I agree, the role of intoxication/hallucination/consciousness-altering is essential to probe, and I would also extend that a little further include to the infrastructures, formal and informal that produce these sorts of conditions. Bateson would serve as a great case study in this regard; while he was always going further than his colleagues (he foreshadows a lot of concerns of contemporary STS, for example, in the 1930s with his book ‘Naven’, which depicts clearly the role of anthropological frameworks in producing anthropological ‘fact’), there are really three prominent instances that seem to mark his turn towards a free-form and open that aligned him with the counterculture. The first of these the realization that one has to include the role of the observer in the system being studied (which emerges in the context of Macy Conferences on cybernetics, but was really built with the aformentioned insights in ‘Naven’). The second was his schizophrenia project, which was launched as a part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s communication studies program, which led him to find parallels between schizophrenia and Zen Buddhism, mysticism, shamanism, etc. The third was an encounter with LSD, which occurred entirely in the context of the US government’s sponsorship of research into consciousness-altering for Cold War ends (which, of course, was pretty important for the counterculture as a whole. As an aside, its fun to note that it was after this encounter that Bateson turned Allen Ginsberg onto the drug!)

      Have you encountered Andrew Pickering’s “The Cybernetic Brain”? It provides a good tracing of how a great deal of cyberneticians and systems theorists who emerge in the 50s, 60s, and 70s often maintained a fascination with intoxication, mysticism and altered states. While Pickering doesn’t go too far into the history of philosophy, I think that understanding these individuals, their theories, and interactions is essential for properly understanding the development of philosophy through the 70s and 80s – particularly post-structuralist theory. I would also argue, of course, that this has to be contextualized in the relentless critique of the managerial, industrial society that formed after WW2, and its application of instrumental rationality (as the Frankfurt School theorists called it).

      Here’s a link to Pickering’s book –

  2. Pingback: Quinn Michaels: The Esalen Connection – Tyler

  3. Sierra Lindborg says:

    Have you found any more information on this? I used to live at esalen and am very curious

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