In the last blog I was mentioning the need in the integral philosophy, and in philosophy in general, to cultivate some kind of more natural philosophy. By natural I don’t mean, “natural sciences,” although it is intricately connected to that subject. What it really means is acknowledging, I think, three major points:
The first is that there is a need to find continuity between more disciplines, and ground academic, perhaps more metaphysical thinking in our observable reality – that of an interdependent world, woven together from biological ecosystem to social environments. An organic philosophy, where systems and processes are grown rather than mechanically assembled. There is a particular messiness in the world that doesn’t fit into boxy paradigms, but rather is better described in more circular or “feminine” descriptions, interconnection and relationship. Or, in other words, the space between the words acknowledged as an important reality.
This leads me to the second point on synergy. In any ecosystem, synergy is produced from the complex interaction of variables. They have an emergent property, they create, more or less, a permeable “whole” which has its own characteristics, and may itself be a part of a larger system or process. This sounds a lot like systems theory, and I’ll be reading up on that too, but the key components here is that synergy produces emergent higher orders. This is an observable reality within the hard sciences, and, arguably, in the social sciences. Human beings and their ideologies, culture, philosophies, are not separate from their environment, not somehow “floating above,” as thinkers of previous centuries may argue. We are grounded in the world, not somehow outside observers. The world grows us like it grows a flower or a forest. These structural, non-linear processes are abounding in all parts of life, and the universe for that matter.
So a worldview which embraces an organic rather than mechanistic universe (the seedling rather than the watchmaker), might better address and integrate our science and the world at large. Objectifying the world, while a useful skill when applied to understanding the physical processes, I believe is severely limited in that it has yet to wrap itself around (or open up to) the spaces between points (which, up until recently, has been the field for art, religion, poetry, philosophy even). I believe it is simply because synergy and non-linear systems are, by far, more complex than linear and mechanistic ones. In other words, our modes of thinking about ourselves and the world are too simplistic.
The limitations are most apparent–we are facing various energy crisis, warring with one another, fragmented and at the verge of ecological , energy and economic crisis. These appear to me, at least, as tell-tale signs of a civilization which has yet to master the knowledge of interconnection with the whole of the world, and each other. Interdependence, in other words, is a missing element in our behavior and our collective knowledge.
I do not think science itself is to blame, as much as science is still very much growing into itself. There are of course, mathematics and complex theorems that are anything but simplistic, yet we still struggle with a “universal theory,” and with more synergistic equations – because they are multiplicative, exponential. This simply means that, hopefully, this century will make best use of its computers by adding a whole dimension to the sciences: being able to navigate, theorize and master the non-linear, “organic” nature of reality. Science and its worldview will have to mature, so to speak, to incorporate this missing element, which has been up until recently so very difficult to integrate.
These emergent properties can be spoken of now, however, and we have various philosophies that have attempted to describe the processes. Manuel Delanda, Deleuze are more traditionally known for exploring the non-linear, or organic facets of reality, trying to navigate them without getting lost.
This leads me to my third point, holons. Other such thinkers, such as Koestler, have developed the idea of a “holon,” or a whole-part. This is exactly what was mentioned earlier: the synergistic, interdependent qualities of a system produce a higher order (star systems, galaxies, galaxy clusters). Ken Wilber is probably one of the most famous thinkers in this field, although I wonder if the maps and conceptualizing are all too boxy and conceptual to truly translate synergy emergence?
This both synergistic, and emergent quality of higher and lower orders of complexity is abundant in the observable universe. In that sense, the concept of a “holon,” is a phenomenological observation of reality, rather than metaphysical pie-in-the-sky idealism. It attempts to describe how life emerges, how culture emerges, and how they are all very much dependent on “lower” orders. For instance, a galaxy would cease to be if its parts were destroyed. Just as that is true, the mind would not be able to emerge without the brain. It’s not that the mind is epiphenomenal, but it is emergent from the synergy of brain chemistry. It has its own distinct properties rooted in physiological processes (which we are still attempting to understand).
This is all really talking about an “organic” philosophy, in which all things are grown from underlying processes and new qualities emerge, which may have their own influence in the world (a tornado is “emergent,” for example).
It requires us to integrate or shift from a mechanistic reality to an organic one. To me, at least, this indicates a major shift in thinking that will help us understand the world much more thoroughly, holistically. For the first time, our sciences may help us gain equilibrium with nature. Or, in other words, we will recognize ourselves, including our minds, as a part of the world and not separate from it, not somehow privileged above it. Equally, however, we will be unique in our ability: to think, to analyze, to conceptualize, relate- these qualities themselves being emergent properties. To use Alan Watts’ analogy, people think just like plants flower.
This may revolutionize a lot of the ways we organize ourselves, from being like simplistic, linear machines to multi-operational living systems. For example, the ability for people to organize collaboratively, rather than simplistic “top-down” command systems, or hierarchies. This is observant in internet and mobile communication technologies.
The philosophy may also be applicable to education. If we teach now by way of an “assembled” education, how might an organic one look? One in which we recognize the most natural and effective way to “grow” a mind rather than simply send it along linear paths and grading systems. This century, unlike any other perhaps since before civilization, offers us the opportunity to rediscover a “natural” lifestyle without having to return to a hunter-gatherer society. Or rather, we are finally understanding interdependence, holistic relationship and being able to apply it to the most profound and influential field of the modern world: science and technology. Might civilization at last grow into its own, cultivating a lifestyle rivaling the equilibrium with nature of hunter-gatherers and tribes? Solar energy, network societies, sustainability, local-economies and local energy sources, more efficient and lasting than our mechanistic civilization currently utilizes. It seems that a lot of the more masculine-oriented thinking (analytical, top-down, conceptual) is at last being complimented, or balanced by feminine-oriented relating (space between points, bottom-up, synergy, relationship, emergence). This century then, might be seen as the balancing of yin-yang in the human species. Linear processes give rise to non-linear, and the world suddenly becomes a dynamic exchange and integration of both kinds of thinking.
This might also raise more cosmological questions, such as: do societies evolve? Why did we leave the hunter-gatherer society, and, now being in a more stabilized world civilization, does this mean evolution had some sort of underlying process which we were not able to recognize, that led us to where we are now?
I firmly believe these are wonderful possibilities emerging right here and now, and we need only begin to apply them to reconcile some of our differences and seek a living civilization, one which reflects our connection with the world rather than the illusion of separation from it. One in which we see ourselves as grown from the world rather than “made,” for a mechanistic view has its cultural roots in both the enlightenment, and Judeo-Christian religions, (God the creator, maker, mechanistic processes). This paradigm shift might offer us the opportunity for a true evolution of culture, technology, politics and science. One in which we aren’t heading towards our doom, but are in the midst of coming of age in a universe waiting to be explored by a wiser, vibrant living humanity.
More thoughts on this later!
Note: Wilber has addressed an interesting point on dissociation vs. differentiation. When something new emerges, a new holon, it can emerge in a healthy manner by simply differentiation (like in biological processes), or it can emerge in an unhealthy manner, dissociation. Dissociation, arguably is what our civilization is struggling with. We have somehow disconnected ourselves from nature, by cultural myth or simply a lack of self-knowledge. Idealism, or even the belief we are floating above nature is a dissociation, harmful in that it disconnects us from the reality that culture, societies are intricately woven into nature. Modern science, of course, confirms this. Culturally, then, we wish to heal this dissociation with a healthier differentiation. Acknowledging our unique properties as within nature, rather than separate. (See Wilber, Marriage of Sense and Soul, pg 55.)