Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Web of Life 8

Turf in Girly Bog near Trim, Co. Meath
Here I am returning to Fritjof's Capra's wonderful book The Web of Life.  In so doing I wish to recapitulate a little of what I said in the last post on that topic.  Dr. Capra in this book reminds us that Immanuel Kant taught modern humankind in the wake of the Enlightenment that organisms, in contrast to machines, are self-reproducing and self-organizing wholes. This philosopher, Capra argues, thereby became the first philosopher to use the term "self-organization" as applied to organisms.  Indeed, Kant used this term it in a profoundly modern way.   This profoundly modern way is in keeping with the thought of the likes of Dr James Lovelock who invented the Gaia hypothesis which I have discussed in these pages already. (See Here) Therefore, in the simplest of sentences, then, what Capra, Lovelock and indeed this present author is getting at, may be stated thus: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

If we were to draw a line down the centre of a page and write the title "Parts" on one side of the line and "Whole" on the other side and then brainstorm the words or terms or ideas or concepts that come into our minds under the relevant column we might get something like this:

Parts                                                               Whole

Machines                                                         Animals, Humans, Organisms, Beings

Mechanistic                                                     Organismic

Reductionist                                                     Holist

Atomistic                                                          Ecological

Plainness                                                          Pattern

Simplicity                                                        Complexity

Substance                                                        Shape/Form

Soul-less/Lifeless                                            Soulful/Life-giving

Separateness                                                    Unity

Lack of organization                                       - Self-organizing (Kant)

                                                                        - Self-completing (Aristotelian entelechy)

Measured/quantified                                        Immeasurable, unquantifiable

Matter                                                               Mind

Descartes (Cartesian Dualism)                        Unity of Being, Body-Soul/Soul-Body Unity

- John Henry Newman (“The whole man moves.”)

Quantity                                                           Quality

Observation                                                     Experience

Cost                                                                 Value

Prosaic                                                             Poetic

Exoteric                                                           Esoteric/Mystical

Reason                                                             Heart

Enlightenment                                                 Romanticism

Objective/Inert Planet                                     Living Planet

Objective/Inert Planet                                   - Biochemistry and Vitalism (Hans Driesch)

Mechanistic Biology (Jacques Loeb)              - Organismic Biology

Parts Thinking                                                 Systems Thinking (Paul Weiss)

Newtonian Physics                                         Quantum Physics

Connections                                                    Interconnections

Going it alone                                                 Networking    

The above brainstorm was my attempt to get at what Dr Fritjof Capra is underscoring in chapter 2 of The Web of Life which is entitled "From the Parts to the Whole". 

Systems Thinking

Woodland scene, Girly Bog, Co. Meath.
Dr Capra informs us that systems thinking is very much the child of biology.  I will return to the learned doctor's succinct words here by way of explanation:
The main characteristics of systems thinking emerged simultaneously in several disciplines during the first half of the [twentieth] century, especially during the 1920s.  Systems thinking was pioneered by biologists, who emphasised the view of living organisms as integrated wholes.  It was further enriched by gestalt psychology and the new science of ecology, and it had perhaps the most dramatic effects in quantum physics.  (Op. cit., p. 17)