Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

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How can the new physics inform regenerative practice?

Appropriate participation in wholeness un/en-folding

“Nothing is more important about the quantum principle than this, that it destroys the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there’, with the observer safely separated from it by a 20-centimetre slab of plate glass. Even to observe so miniscule an object as an electron, he must shatter the glass. He must reach in. He must install his chosen measuring equipment. It is up to him to decide whether he shall measure position or momentum. To install the equipment to measure the one prevents and excludes his installing the equipment to measure the other. Moreover, the measurement changes the state of the electron. The universe will never afterwards be the same. To describe what has happened, one has to cross out that old word ‘observer’ and put in its place the new word ‘participator’. In some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe.”

— John Wheeler (in Capra, 1991, p.141)

Fritjof Capra has described the work of Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Louise De Broglie, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac as a paradigm shift in the foundations of science and our worldview.

“The new physics necessitated profound changes in concepts of space, time, matter, object, and cause and effect; and because these concepts are so fundamental to our way of experiencing the world, their transformation came as a great shock”

— Fritjof Capra (1982, p.65).

The insights that shook science a hundred years ago are still finding their way into our culturally dominant worldview. Our way of seeing the world and the science we teach in our schools and universities is still strongly affected by the Cartesian epistemology that isolates the individual observing subject from the objects it observes. This leads us to perceive our selves as individuals and the human species, as separate from the natural processes in which we participate.

“Isolated particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems”

Niels Bohr

Capra emphasizes that, at the sub-atomic level, particles are not things but relationships between things. He writes: “modern physics reveals the basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independent existing smallest units.” Capra explains: “As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated basic building blocks, but rather appears as a complicated web of relationships between the various parts of a unified whole” (Capra, 1982, p.70).

“The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole”

— Werner Heisenberg

One of the deeply transformative scientific insights of the new physics is that we are indeed not separate from but participants in the world we observe. What Henri Bortoft called the “solid object mode of seeing” predisposes us to think of the world as containing lots of separate objects, but physics shows that what we see as a collection of separate parts is actually a continuously transforming whole, governed more by the qualities of relationships and interactions of all deeply interconnected participants than by the quantity of separate parts that only appear as separate because of our way of seeing.

A second deeply transformative scientific insight of the new physics is that time itself, when thought of as a straight line from past to present and extending into the future, is also a result of our organizing ideas and our way of thinking rather than a fundamental reality. Erwin Schrödinger wrote:

“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… As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth a new 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.”

— Erwin Schrödinger (in Wilber, 1979, p.59)

A third important insight of the new physics is that in thinking of the world we live in as being composed of things that fall basically into to major categories, being either dead or alive, we will always have a very limited view life. From a holistic and participatory perspective the distinction between life and death is not so clear cut, as everything is fundamentally interconnects and part of a continuously transforming whole. The physicist David Bohm addressed this issue of the immanence of life in matter as follows:

“As the plant is formed, maintained and dissolved by the exchange of matter and energy with its environment, at which point can we say that there is a sharp distinction between what is alive and what is not? Clearly, a molecule of carbon dioxide that crosses the cell boundary into a leaf does not suddenly ‘come alive’ nor does a molecule of oxygen suddenly die when it is released into the atmosphere. Rather life itself has to be regarded as belonging in some sense to a totality, including plant and environment. It may indeed be said that life is enfolded in the totality and that, even when it i s not manifest, it is somehow ‘implicit’ in what we generally call a situation in which there is no life.”

— David Bohm (1983, p.194)

See book

The theory of the Implicate Order contains an holistic cosmic view (of interbeing); it connects everything with everything else. In principle, any individual element could reveal “detailed information about every other element in the universe.”

The central underlying theme of Bohm’s theory is the “unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders.” Nested wholeness is one of the core principles of regenerative practice (see Ungard-Bene & Mang, 2015).

As we contemplate how to redesign the human presence and impact on Earth in a just-in-time response to avoid cataclysmic climate change and the unravelling of the planet’s life support system, these insight on wholeness and our participatory role in it are equally important as increasing our ecoliteracy.

(For a bit of history on regenerative lineage: Henri Bortoft studied with David Bohm for his PhD in Physics before he joined J.G. Bennett’s ‘Institute for the comparative study for history, philosophy and the science’, where Bortoft and Antony Hodgson worked as researchers. Charlie Krone visited that lab and learned a lot of the frameworks there that he used in his professional career. Carol Sanford and Pamela Mang worked with Charlie Krone closely and learned from him many of the frameworks that are now underlying deep regenerative practice. … and while I am at it: one of the seed kernels for getting Otto Scharmer on the track of developing Theory U was also triggered by him interviewing Henri Bortoft.)

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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

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Daniel Christian Wahl

Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures

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