A philosophy of participation in dynamic wholeness
Excerpt from Exploring Participation (D.C.Wahl 2002)
[Note: This is an excerpt from my 2002 masters dissertation in Holistic Science at Schumacher College. It addresses some of the root causes of our current crises of unsustainability and applied insights from holistic science to ecological design. This excerpt explores the fundamentals of what Charles Eisenstein later (2014) referred to as ‘the story of separation’ and ‘the story of interbeing. Be warned, this is academic, somewhat dense writing, yet it addresses some crucial issues. Enjoy!]
“Our task is to look at the world and see it whole.”
— E.F. Schumacher
“The success or failure of saying, and hence of writing, turns upon the ability to recognize what is part and what is not. But a part is a part only inasmuch as it serves to let the whole come forth, which is to let meaning emerge. A part is only a part according to the emergence of the whole which it serves; otherwise it is mere noise. At the same time, the whole does not dominate, for the whole cannot emerge without the parts. The hazard of emergence is such that the whole depends on the parts to be able to come forth, and the parts depend on the coming forth of the whole to be significant instead of superficial.”
— Henri Bortoft
The above remains meaningful whether we understand it hermeneutically, as referring to a text and the reciprocity of meaning between the whole and the parts, as well as understood as an analogy for our individual relationship to the wider whole — the world we live in.
In order to continue to emerge in good health, a whole like our living planet depends on the appropriate participation of its parts, and that includes humanity. Just as the parts — you and me — depend on the emergence of this healthy whole for their meaningful and healthy existence.
In this dissertation, I aim to convey some of the understanding that recognizes the intricate link between the health of the whole and the appropriate participation of the parts. I argue that appropriate participation takes place on the appropriate spatial-temporal scales and that the complex dynamic processes of life, which are continuously transforming the whole, depend on an intricate web of relationships through which everything and everybody participate simultaneously as the weavers and as the web of life.
Each individual part of this dissertation is intended to let meaning emerge and let the whole come forth. “Logic is analytical, whereas meaning is evidently holistic, and hence understanding can not be reduced to logic. We understand meaning in the moment of coalescence when the whole is reflected in the parts so that they disclose the whole.”10 The circle of relationship between the whole and the parts, in which meaning emerges, was first recognized by Friedrich Ast, who called it the hermeneutical circle.
I argue, based on my interpretation of Bortoft’s work, that the same circle of relationships between the whole and the part that is expressed in the hermeneutical circle of understanding meaning, may also help to understand our own reciprocally co-creative relationship between our perceived selves and the world we thus perceive.
It is the whole-part relation that manifests in creation, maintenance and transformation of the identities, which in turn manifest as the world we experience. At the core of this re-emergence of meaning, at the foundations of a newly emerging worldview is the awareness of our deeply participatory relationship with the living world.
In the same way that the parts and the whole of this dissertation bring forth each other, mutually dependent on each other for their meaningful existence, each one of us derives meaningful existence through his or her profoundly reciprocal relationships and interactions with the world.
Paying attention to the participatory nature of all existence and our associated creative agency in the world can help us to overcome the alienation and lack of meaning, which characterizes the modern world.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, each one of us is constantly engaged in a creative process through which we collectively bring forth or contribute to the emergence of the whole. Yet, the whole in its entirety has neither beginning nor end and there is no possibility of being outside the whole. Therefore, it is important to understand that the interactions and relationships of its parts continuously transform the whole from within, allowing for creative change to occur and new interpretations of meaning as well as new manifestations of the whole to emerge.
In other words, we need to face up to responsibility for our actions. Whatever we do is shaping the world we live in, while we are simultaneously being shaped by the world we collectively co-create through our thoughts, words and actions. The whole and the part create each other and it may serve us better to think of them not as separate and exclusive, but rather as mutually dependent and encompassing, reciprocating entities that co-create the world in a continuous process of interacting with and relating to each other. The whole and the part, as well as the observer and the observed are truly one, as well as being distinct within that one whole.
A participant-observer understanding of the world as a whole can lead us to seeing how the one can express itself as the many in the diversity of manifestations that emerge through the interactions and relationships of all participant-observers.
The process is analogous to how the one meaning of this dissertation expresses itself through the different interpretations of each individual reader. There is only one meaning and one whole, but it manifests itself differently through the ever-shifting web of relationships of its participant- observers. Like the one universal whole, meaning should not be thought of as fixed or static, but as a dynamic process un/en-folding through relationship, direct sensory experience and interpretation.
Seen in this way, diversity is no longer the threatening, challenging existence of many others competing with our self, but rather the breathtakingly beautiful and meaningful expression of a limitless variety of manifestations that the same one, which we are of, can take as we experience relationship.
We are all of the same one, yet we are the same one differently, so we can learn to begin to cherish diversity as the true expression of our unity with the world. We are not all the same, but we are one. In loosing diversity, we loose ways of experiencing our own individuality and ultimately we loose a part of ourselves.
This understanding of the relationships between the whole and its parts, between each one of us individually and the world or the universe as a whole can help us to find language to express our fundamental interconnectedness with the living world.
We are who we are only in relationship to all there is. The world as we know it emerges in a process of reciprocal co-creation that integrates us inseparably into the world we experience. In other words, as David Abram has put it so beautifully:
“Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more- than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth — our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of the wolves and the honking of the geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.”11 — David Abram
In the Santiago theory of cognition Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela proposed that the process through which an individual interacts with its environment is fundamentally a cognitive process. This process of cognition, of structural coupling between the organism and its environment, is regarded as the fundamental process of life itself. In our reflective consciousness this process emerges as the process of knowing.
Maturnana and Varela emphasize that, as we are beginning to understand how we know, we have to realize “that the world everyone sees is not the world but a world which we bring forth with others” and “that the world will be different only if we live differently.”12 I would like to add that every time we bring forth a world, it also is the world manifesting itself in a particular way.
We will have to find new ways of expressing that we are living in a fundamentally paradoxical universe. While our individual experience of our embodied self is real and allows us, through our senses and the concepts we form, to enter into relationships with a real world, we paradoxically also are the world we thus perceive as it emerges out of our relationship with it.
A truly participatory understanding recognizes that a participating part can never be separate from the whole it participates in. It is always both part and whole simultaneously. This new dynamical way of thinking is “recovering a way of thinking based on living in the movement of paradox rather than eliminating it.” The dynamical way of thinking places paradox “at the very core of understanding.”13
The universe as the one unique whole can never be fully understood in the way that modern Reductionist science aims to understand the world through logical reasoning, prediction and control. Why? Simply because, it is not possible to take an outsider or objective point of view of the whole in its entirety.
The whole can only be approached by taking partial reference from within. This makes the observer of the whole inevitably a participant in it and blurs subject object distinctions. In observing the whole the observer will have to include him or herself, both as the observing subject as well as the observed object.
To be subject and object simultaneously fundamentally conflicts with logical reasoning dependent on either/or choices. We encounter the paradox. Reductionist science is based on the either/or logic of a Cartesian subject-object dichotomy.
Curiously, despite Werner Heisenberg’s famous reminder to the scientific community, that “what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning” and his caution that every act of observation has its associated observational blind-spot, most of science today is still based on dualistic reasoning, that draws sharp either/or distinctions between subject and object and between the observer and the observed.
Based on Aristotle’s, often disregarded or misinterpreted, self actualisation thesis, which metaphorically explained equates the process of the builder building with the process of the building being built, Henri Bortoft points out that this way of experiencing an event as process constitutes “an intermediary philosophical position between monism and dualism.” In what Bortoft calls “a unitary event” one is not reduced to the other. It is not a “monistic event”.14 Neither are there two events. Dualism sees the builder as the subject and the building as the object being built and the process of building-a-building–a-building-being-built as two distinct processes.
I believe Aristotle’s focus here is on the process of reciprocal co-creation and the emergence of identity out of relationship and interaction in this unitary event. Building the building makes the builder a builder, while being built by the builder, makes the building a building. The individual identities emerge out of, or manifest themselves through the relationships established by one single process.
Understanding process in this way lets us experience the coming into being of individual identity through relationship. Rather than experiencing a static world of finished products preconceived by viewing with subject-object goggles from the start, we being to see and think more dynamically thus experiencing reciprocal co-creation of the diversity of identities through relationship.
It is important to realize how deeply the Cartesian subject-object separation is affecting the way we interpret the world and our experiences within it. Especially with regard to the conceptual framework that makes the world appear to us as it does. Bortoft, extending Gadamer’s work on hermeneutics shows that “meaning is understanding”15 and that it is precisely the Cartesian subject-object presupposition that stops us from understanding how meaningful this insight is.
Maybe this is also why the Reductionist universe we constructed based on the subject-object presupposition seems so devoid of meaning? Our purely rational understanding of the objectified world lacks the deeper meaning which arises in the participatory experience of true, embodied understanding as an expression of a conscious universe.
Just as there are sheer infinite possibilities to interpret meaning, there are infinite possibilities of the universe manifesting itself in a diversity of identities. In both cases, interpretation or manifestation depends on the relation between the part and the whole.
Seen from this perspective one could venture to say: the meaning of life is living in relation to the whole that enfolds us, participating meaningfully in its unfolding. To understand this be aware that neither life, nor mind, nor meaning, nor language, nor the universe are things, they are processes reflecting one single process: the whole un/en-folding in relation with and through the parts
As we begin to realize our fundamentally participatory relationship with this process of the whole un/en-folding, as we direct our attention toward our co-creative potential as consciously participating agents in the expression of individual identity and in the interpretation of meaning, life becomes profoundly meaningful. Meaning and life unfold together.
We can relate to this unfolding through our sensory experience, intuitive perception, as well as through our language and all other forms of communication. Since we are enfolded in the whole, we are participants by nature and always in relation. Seen from this perspective, our relationships are us.
Who we are is continuously being defined by the relationships that give us identity. Life and meaning are processes of expression and interpretation of the whole through its parts. We are participating parts of this process, therefore, as Brian Goodwin once told me:
“The point is not to understand the meaning of life, but to live a life of meaning.” — Prof. Brian Goodwin
I believe that living a life of meaning is about paying attention to our relationship to the community of life in its entirety. It is about appropriate participation in the process of life — participation in meaning unfolding.
Life is a universe of meaning unfolding through relationship. Or, as Thomas Berry has put it: “The universe is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.”16 Meaning is not something we need to search for or that we may encounter at some time in the future. The only place that meaning can unfold is in our relation to the living present — in the relations we participate in from day to day.
“The notion of the living present is one in which the future, as expectation and anticipation, is in the detail of actual interactions [relation] taking place now, as is the past as reconstructions in this process of memory. There is no dismissing the past or the future here, nor is there any distraction from the present of what we are doing together.”17
Seen this way, the universe is a continuous and diverse interpretation of meaning, in the living present, life manifesting as the diversity of expressions of individual identity through relationship. The universe is the whole coming forth into and through its parts. Bortoft argues:
“There is only one meaning. It is the one meaning that can manifest itself in different forms and therefore there is difference within meaning. The differences are elicited by the different cultural and historical contexts and personal situations [read relation], which that meaning appears in … no matter how many times the work is understood it is always the one meaning … coming into being in the happening of understanding.” 18 — Henri Bortoft
Bortoft refers to the “one that appears as the many”, as the “intensive dimension of one”. He emphasizes that the diversity of interpretations of the work (whole) do not fragment it, because what we see as diversity is in fact dynamical living unity. Just like Maturana and Varela proposed to equate the process of cognition with the process of life and, in the reflective consciousness of humans, with the process of knowing, Bortoft shows that meaning is akin to life. Like Goethe and Gadamer before him, he takes the position that meaning is inexhaustible, but neither predetermined nor indeterminate. Meaning in Gadamer’s hermeneutics is rather like Goethe described the world:
“She is complete but ever unfinished”. — Goethe
Bortoft shows clearly that the world is not an object, but a process. We participate in a world that is complete but unfinished. The way that meaning continuously manifests itself through the diversity of its interpretations reflects the way the world continuously manifests as a “dynamical unity producing itself in different modes according to language.” What is important to understand here, as Bortoft emphasized, is that experiencing the world in this way “is not perspectivism. It is manifestationism.”19 Each interpretation is a manifestation of the whole, each experience of the world is the world.
Language and all other forms of communication are ways of entering into relation and thus participation in the whole. Sensory experience is fundamental for entering into relation with the world. Just as described by Aristotle’s self-actualization thesis, where the event of building manifests the identities of the builder and the building, in the event of perception the identities of the perceiver and the perceived manifest.
Through the same reciprocally co-creative relationship of the whole and the part, described above, the identities of the perceiver and of the perceived manifest within the web of relationships that connects them to each other and the whole. It is through relationship that we bring forth a world.
In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram explores our relationship as sensing, embodied beings with the living world we participate in. He points out that in the event of perception as it is experienced “neither the perceiver nor the perceived are wholly passive…. To the sensing body no thing presents itself as utterly passive or inert.”20
Experientially considered the world is a living presence to us; distinctions like animate and inanimate, active and passive arise when we interpret experience conceptually.
Entering into relation, including all forms of communication, transform the web of relationships, thereby changing (causing, defining or terminating) individual identities, their physical manifestation as well as an identity’s particular way of interpreting meaning or manifesting the whole.
Interpreting Merleau-Ponty, David Abram writes: “Experientially considered, language is no more the special property of the human organism than it is expression of the animate earth that enfolds us.”21 He points out that:
“Communicative meaning is always, in its depths, affective; it remains rooted in the sensual dimension of experience, born of the body’s native capacity to resonate with other bodies and with the landscape as a whole. Linguistic meaning is not some ideal and bodiless essence that we arbitrarily assign to physical sound or word and then toss out into the external world. Rather meaning sprouts in the very depth of the sensory world, in the heat of meeting, encounter, participation.”22 — David Abram
Yet another very important mental construct that influences the way we see the world fundamentally is our understanding of time and space. As three prominent phenomenologists, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, have concluded independently, in direct pre-conceptual experience it is impossible to distinguish time and space.23 Our understanding of time and space is really at the heart of it all, but it would go beyond the bounds of this dissertation to mention more than the most fundamental points.
The philosopher and Zen master David Loy points out that “the objectification of time is also the subjectification of the self, which thus appears only to discover itself in the anxious position of being a nontemporal entity inextricably trapped in time.”24
In other words the idea of self as something permanent and unchanging, as a thing and not a process of changing identity in relation, creates linear time as separate from space.
Indigenous, oral cultures, living by the cycles of day and night, the moon and the seasons, perceive time as cyclical. “Unlike linear time, time conceived as cyclical cannot be readily abstracted from the spatial phenomena that exemplify it — from, for instance, the circular trajectories of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Unlike a straight line, a circle demarcates and encloses a spatial field.”25
Our visible experiential space, as David Abram points out, is also demarcated by a circle — the horizon. He concludes: “Thus cyclical time, the experiential time of an oral culture, has the same shape as perceivable space. And the two circles are in truth one.”26 Our predominant understanding of linear space and time is yet another example of rigid either/or thinking. David Abram believes:
“The conceptual separation of time and space — the literate distinction between a linear, progressive time and a homogenous, featureless space — function to eclipse the enveloping earth from human awareness. As long as we structure our lives according to assumed parameters of static space and a rectilinear time, we will be able to ignore, or overlook, our thorough dependence upon the earth around us. Only when space and time are reconciled into a single, unified field of phenomena does the encompassing earth become evident, once again, in all its power and its depth, as the very ground and horizon of all our knowing.”27 — David Abram
I would like to stress the fundamental importance of direct sensory experience as the primary mode of entering into relationship and knowing the world. Although, as human beings, we predominantly live in a world that manifests itself through language and the mental concepts we express, nevertheless language can only remain meaningful if it reflects our embodied, sensory experience of the world and allows us to express the direct, intuitive understanding of that world-whole, as it is reflected in us — the world-part — through direct experience. David Abram reminds us that:
“Language is … an evolving medium we collectively inhabit, a vast topological matrix in which speaking bodies are generative sites, vortices where the matrix itself is continually being spun out of the silence of sensorial experience…Merleau-Ponty comes in his final writings to affirm that it is first the sensuous, perceptual world that is relational and web-like in character, and hence that the organic, interconnected structure of any language is an extension or echo of the deeply interconnected matrix of sensorial reality itself. Ultimately, it is not human language that is primary, but rather the sensuous, perceptual life-world, whose wild, participatory logic ramifies and elaborates itself in language.”28 — David Abram
The distrust of the senses arose out of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum and is an expression of the resulting mind-body dualism. It has critically influenced Reductionist science, our culture and the way we experience the world. Phenomenologists, like Merleau- Ponty, do not follow the tradition of Reductionist science attempting to explain the world objectively, but aim to describe “as closely as possible the way the world makes itself evident to awareness, the way things arise in our direct sensorial experience.”29
By accepting one way of seeing and interpreting, that of Reductionist science and its dualistic perspective, as the only way of seeing, we have become epistemologically rigid. Not only have we locked ourselves into our bodies, through a rigidly adhered to, either/or — type, boundary between the self and the world, between subject and object. We have retreated even further in denying our own subjective sensory experience as a legitimate way of entering into relation and understanding (presence-ing meaning in) the world.
Our reduced sense of self is hiding out in our minds, busily re-enforcing the alienating prison of a mentally constructed objective reality that isolates us from the world of qualities and meaning in which we actually live and experience.
By asserting that only the measurable and quantifiable is real and doubting our own sensory, embodied experience of the world we have fallen victim to yet another rigid dualism — the separation of mind and body.
This same dualism finds expression in separating mind and matter, as well as energy and matter. Yet boundaries are never as rigid as they appear when viewed from within the dualist mindset. Seen more dynamically, nothing purely excludes its dualist opposite in the process of un/en–folding by which the whole transforms, as it manifests itself in diversity.
What one way of seeing labels as opposites, in another, more dynamical way of seeing, merely reflects the relationship of the whole and the part. Each one containing the other, but not as two, rather as potential manifestations of the one unity, depending on the complete but ever unfinished web of relationships through which temporary identities manifest and express themselves. Let me briefly exemplify the dissolution of these rigid either/or boundaries taking place in the history of science. I will dedicate more attention to this in the next chapter.
Almost one hundred years ago, quantum mechanics and the understanding of quantum entanglement provided a scientific basis for accepting the fundamental interconnectedness of all matter and relativity theory established how mass and energy can transform into each other ( Einstein’s famous e = mc2).
With regard to the split between mind and matter, Fritjof Capra believes that the Santiago theory of cognition is the first scientific theory that overcomes this division. He explains that by regarding mind not as a thing but as a process — the process of cognition — and by identifying this process as the process of life, “mind and matter no longer appear to belong to two separate categories, but can be seen as representing two complementary aspects of the phenomenon of life…”30
What is important to realize here is that “we are accustomed to thinking of mind as if it were inside us — ‘in our heads’. But it is the other way around. We live within a dimension of mind which is, for the most part, as invisible to us as the air we breathe.”31 There is no rigid, either/or boundary between mind and matter, or as David Abram put it:
“Clearly, a wholly immaterial mind could neither see nor touch things — indeed, could not experience anything at all. We can experience things — can touch, hear, and taste things — only because, as bodies, we are ourselves included in the sensible field, and have our own texture, sounds, and tastes. We can perceive things at all only because we ourselves are entirely a part of the sensible world that we perceive! We might as well say that we are organs of this world, flesh of its flesh, and that the world is perceiving itself through us.”32 — David Abram
In the predominant, dualistic way of seeing, “we consider knowledge to be a subjective state of the knower, a modification of consciousness which in no way affects the phenomenon that is known”, which we regard to be the same “whether it is known or not.” The dynamical way of seeing, regards the knower not as “an onlooker but a participant in nature’s processes, which now act in consciousness to produce the phenomenon consciously as they act externally to produce it materially.”33
As participants in the complex and dynamic processes of nature, as parts reflecting the whole, we are transformed by and transform the world through our way of knowing, which expresses and guides our way of participating.
What we have to realize here is that what we become aware of, depends on the sensory and on the non-sensory aspect to cognitive perception. While it is our direct, embodied, sensory experience that allows us to enter into relationship with the world in the first place, our way of seeing, the organizing ideas we employ, shape what we become aware of and thus the world we bring forth. This has profound implications as it can help us to understand that “all scientific knowledge …is a correlation of what is seen with the way it is seen.”34
One of the most promising and daring attempts to provide a philosophical framework to integrate most of what I have discussed above was recently provided by the philosopher Christian de Quincey in his book Radical Nature — Rediscovering the Soul of Matter.
De Qunicey offers both a new ontological basis, as well as a new epistemology, which complements the relation-focused understanding of participation in the un/en-folding of the whole, which I discussed above. As I have mentioned, I believe we live in a fundamentally paradoxical universe, since we all need to come to terms with our daily experience of subjectivity in what we otherwise describe as an objective universe.
I agree with De Quincey that rather than attempting to remove the paradox, “our task will be to move into it, and know it in a new way.” He proposes a new postmodern “paradox paradigm” that “asserts the primacy of extrarational experience.”35 He argues for a participatory and intersubjective epistemology — “a way of knowing that takes us into the heart of mystery, and invites the paradox of consciousness into our very being.”36 De Quincey believes that:
“Epistemologically, we must engage the paradox. “Paradox” means, literally, “beyond” (para) “opinion or belief” (doxa). Paradox, then, takes us into the “space” that is beyond belief — into experience itself. Ontologically, it invites us into the ambiguity of being — an ambiguity of neither this-or that nor this-and- that, nether either/or nor both/and, but all of these together.”37 — Christian De Qunicey
De Quincey calls his philosophical framework Radical Naturalism. Central to his argument is the fundamental assumption: “It is inconceivable that sentience (subjectivity; consciousness), could ever emerge or evolve from wholly insentient (objective, physical matter).” He therefore argues: “the assumption of consciousness and matter as coextensive and coeternal is the most adequate ‘postmodern’ solution to the question of consciousness in the physical world.
Where materialism, idealism, and dualism fall short as adequate ontologies for a science of consciousness, radical naturalism provides a coherent foundation. The central tenet of radical naturalism is that matter is intrinsically sentient — it is both subject and object.
Radical naturalism confronts head-on the essential paradox of consciousness: We exist as embodied subjects — as subjective objects or feeling matter.” 38 The proposed philosophical framework acknowledges “the ontological and epistemological primacy of embodied feeling.”39
De Quincey uses the ancient greek concept of entelechy to describe mind as ‘a becoming of matter’. He regards mind as “neither outside nor inside of matter” but rather as “constituent of the very essence of matter — interior to its being.”40
De Quincey believes that “the Cartesian error was to identify consciousness as a kind of substance, and not to recognize it as a process or as dynamic form inherent in matter itself. Mind is the self-becoming of self-organization — the self-creation — of matter. Without this matter could never produce consciousness.”41 De Quincey summarizes the implications of his proposed philosophical framework as follows:
“With this new perspective we can now embrace the actuality of consciousness and meaning in a self- organising cosmos. Elements of the new story will include:
(1) complementarity rather than dualism,
(2) organicism rather than mechanism,
(3) holism complementing reductionism,
(4) interconnectedness rather than separateness,
(5) process rather than things,
(6) synchronicity as well as causality,
(7) creativity rather than certainty,
(8) participation and entanglement rather than objectivity.
But most of all, the new cosmology will emphasize
(9) that matter is inherently sentient all the way down, and
(10) that, therefore, nature, the cosmos — matter itself — is inherently and thoroughly meaningful, purposeful, and valuable in and for itself.
Nature, we must see, is sacred.”42 — Christian De Quincey
It may now be more obvious why I found it necessary to set a philosophical context for this dissertation, why it is so important that we learn to employ multiple ways of seeing and to integrate the dualistic/Reductionist into a wider holistic, or non-dual context. It is important that we learn to embrace and live in the paradox. The rigid either/or logic of dualism is at the heart of our alienation from nature and the whole. It is also at the heart of the consequential environmental, social and cultural crisis. As David Loy explains:
“[In dualism] the self is understood to be the source of awareness and therefore of all meaning and value, which is to devalue the world/nature into merely that field of activity wherein the self labours to fulfil itself. … the alienated subject feels no responsibility for the objectified other and attempts to find satisfaction through projects that usually merely increase the sense of alienation. The meaning and purpose sought can be attained only in a relationship whereby nonduality with the objectified other is re-established.”43 — David Loy
The dualist distinction between the self and the world allowed for the development of a detached, Reductionist science in the first place. Bortoft argued that the existing ontological gulf between science and its object is a fundamental prerequisite of Reductionist science, as it allows for a science of measuring and experimenting, in which an “object appears to consciousness, it does not appear in consciousness.”44
I would add that it is precisely this ontological gulf, which enables the moral and ethical detachment with which modern science continues to evade responsibility for its participation in bringing about the current environmental, social and economic crisis, we observe worldwide.
Only if we understand our fundamental interconnectedness as participants in the process of life, in relationship and conviviality with the community of life, only then will meaning appear.
Only as we learn to participate appropriately in the whole, at the appropriate spatio-temporal scale, will we be able to sustain our participation in the process. This is the heart of sustainability.
If we truly understand our participation in the whole we don’t have to fear the future and can love the present. We will become aware of our responsibility to participate appropriately and meaningfully through focusing our attention to meaningful relation with the community of life.
Once we understand the meaning of the whole un/en-folding in relation with and through the parts, we have accomplished the task set by E.F. Schumacher at the beginning of this chapter “to look at the world and see it whole.” Then, as Erwin Schroedinger put it:
“You can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. Your are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she is, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she brings you forth, not once but a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now. The present is the only thing that has no end.”45 — Erwin Schrödinger
[Note: This is an excerpt from my 2002 masters dissertation in Holistic Science at Schumacher College. It addresses some of the root causes of our current crises of unsustainability. If you are interested in the references you can find them here. The research I did for my masters thesis directly informed my 2006 PhD thesis in ‘Design for Human and Planetary Health: A Holistic/Integral Approach to Complexity and Sustainability’ (2006).]
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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.
Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures