Nature's Holism (condensed - 2)
Nature's Holism (condensed - 2) <<<][Next -3


In nature there is evidence of cooperation and interdependence that I have called Ecotaoism. There is a continual coevolution of long associated interactors. Two components contribute to the mechanism, as inseparable parts of a single concept such as are the two sides of a single coin in space. PERPETUITY is the easily recognised side of this idea.  This is the continual and natural drive or impulse for survival and the perpetuation of the individual.  The product or output, acting as a "force", resulting from "perpetuity" is life forms into the living interactive realm. This "drive" forms part of the process of natural selection. In perpetuating, they produce many offspring. Every individual is different from the other, because of inherited (genetic) variation. These differences lead to "fitness" differences - differences in the likelihood to survive and reproduce (Endler, 1985). Natural selection sounds like a tautology, as those that survive are the fittest (Beck, 1991). Biologists have avoided this argument by defining fitness as the relative "goodness" of some design. They apply design standards to traits to establish their relative quality. Fitness is not then equivalent to survival, but to good design. Survival and perpetuity reflect an aspect of natural selection, which is the consequence of good design. Widgets

Ernst Mayr (1993),  a renowned evolutionist, describes perpetuity as the "perpetual existence of a reproductive surplus."  Mayr said that "the basic theory that species multiply as well as evolve is uncontested."  This condition of change is a characteristic of life not found in physics.  It is one main cause of the complexity of nature that is so different to the deterministic outcomes of physics. Another leading figure in evolutionary science recognises perpetuity thus: "The summum bonum of Charles Darwin's world is survival and persistence, not progress and improvement" (Keller & LLoyd, 1992). Widgets

I have devoted this book to COMPATIBILITY, the less easily perceived side of this idea.  A mathematical model, the modified energetic Lotka-Volterra model (MELV model), displays the mechanism leading to compatibility later in this book. Evolutionary processes lead naturally to interactions and behaviour that provide a degree of compatibility between long-associated organisms.  A compatible animal exhibits behaviour reducing its effect upon the habitat upon which it depends for survival. If measured as a relative value, greater efficiency would be found.  Natural ecosystems (such as a coral reef habitat) reflect compatibility in the interdependence of associated organisms. The bee and the flower have developed this compatibility to the sublime stage of interdependence and reciprocity, representing a highly developed form of this idea. 

The first domestication of the horse approximately 4,000 BC in the steppes just north of the black sea (Diamond, 1991) benefited both humans and the horse, enhancing the survival of each. Horses were possibly domesticated 9,000 years ago in the Arabian Peninsula. The al-Maqar civilization civilization of the Neolithic period may have domesticated horses in what is today Saudi Arabia (Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities). This horse-human association represents the formation of a compatible interaction. For many thousands of years before this Neanderthal people and then early humans hunted horses as prey. This association began at least in the Paleolithic period with cave art as early as 30,000 years ago showing wild horses. Human presence on the Arabian Peninsula extends back about 125,000 years (Armitage, S. J. et al. Science 331, 453-456 (2011)).

An even better example of a mutually dependent relationship is to be found between one-humped dromedary camels and desert nomads such as those in Afghanistan. Domestication of this animal began in southern Arabia about 5,000 years ago (Palmer et al, 1994). Afghan nomads live in close association with these animals, traveling with their flocks to new grazing grounds. These camels are incredibly well adapted to desert conditions. Without them, human existence in the desert would not have been possible. Humans could only conquer the desert through the domestication of this animal. Camels have a natural ability to scent water, but where the water is in wells, people have to provide this water. When fodder is scarce, the drovers feed them, and supply salt essential to their health.  Probably, the need for salt by these animals first led to their domestication, through the supply of salted fish. Today there are no naturally wild dromedaries.

Camels in Saudi Arabia

As a natural desert mammal, the camel has many features that make it well suited to desert life. It has splayed feet to negotiate desert sands. The fatty energy reserve in the hump is a unique adaptation to the desert heat. A 500 kg camel can have 200 kg of fat in its hump as a food reserve. As the camel needs to keep cool, it cannot store this fat all over the body, as a polar bear or seal would, as this would act as an insulation retaining heat. A fat hump is the solution that has evolved, providing up to six months of energy! Camels reduce water loss by passing concentrated urine and dry dung. It drinks massive volumes of water that it holds in the stomach and can go without water for about one to three weeks depending upon the temperature. Under heat stress it will dehydrate, losing 30-40 percent of its body weight and allow its body temperature to rise to 40.5 degrees Celsius before a sweating mechanism comes into action. At night its body temperature cools to as low as 34 degrees Celsius, dissipating heat collected in the day. This serves to reduce water loss. 

All these features of the camel formed in the millions of years of evolution before domestication. A definition of the terms " adaptation " and "evolution "  is useful, as these are fundamental to the understanding of this book. An adapted animal originally meant one suited to some particular purpose or context in nature (Burian, 1994). To adapt something, say a tool, you modify it for a different use or purpose. Evolution commonly refers to the change of species over time (Richards, 1994). As we can see in our own relatives, there is some difference between each individual. In evolutionary terminology they call this difference simply variation. Much variation is genetically based and so inherited. Variation, under the vagaries of nature, leads to differential survival , changing the population's gene frequencies, a process called natural selection (Beck, 1991). How genetics, variation and inheritance are related is discussed in their own chapter , which you can turn to now, if necessary.

Over massive time spans,  natural forces, from a diverse and complex environment, act upon this variation from individual to individual and generation to generation. A camel living in a very harsh environment has to adapt to extreme heat and shortages of water. Variation between individual camels in each generation leads to some better able to handle heat and water shortages. Others may die of heat stress or dehydration, so that only the adapted survive to reproduce. Even of the survivors, some will be more successful at breeding than others. Offspring inherit the adaptations (noun) that allowed survival and so made the animal better adapted to the environment. In subsequent generations, further variation between individuals leads to a repetition of the cycle of adaptation (adjective). Adaptation is thus an evolutionary process in its usage as an adjective and a feature of organisms as a noun.
In evolutionary biology, adaptation then becomes the evolutionary modification of a character or feature of an organism through Darwinian natural selection, leading to efficiency in a particular environment. As living animals, our bodies may also adapt physiologically to environmental extremes such as heat and cold. Even this capacity to adapt is inherited.  Behaviour is also subject to natural selection. Natural selection is the mechanism of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin in the 1850's. Nature "selects" upon the natural variation found between individuals of a species, so that at the extreme, some reproduce, while others die out. This variation is genetically based, so the offspring display the features of their parents and are again tested by the vagaries of nature. Sexual reproduction allows the mixing of the genes of two successful individuals and the elimination of harmful mutations that may accumulate. This slow shift of features contributing to survival is evolution and becomes very significant over large spans of time.


[1: to top ] "The yin of stability - the amazing persistence of these faunas over millions of years - was nurtured by the yang of heterogeneity -  the breakup of vast zones of vegetation into discrete units." (Potts, 1996).

Compatibility is a natural process based upon an observable mechanism. In this book we investigate the consequences of this process and compatibility for humanity and other life forms. Compatibility and perpetuity are similar in character and nature to the ancient Chinese philosophers' idea of yin and yang (Capra, 1982). Dynamic interplay of these two polar forces generates all manifestations of reality in Chinese Taoism.  Neither force acts in isolation. They represent the constraints to the system, or the limits for the cycles of change. Yin and yang are extreme poles of a single whole and the natural order is in a state of dynamic balance between these two constraints. Our Western minds trained in duality such as right and wrong or positive and negative may have difficulty perceiving a polarity or mutuality. Yin is contractive, responsive and conservative, while yang is expansive, aggressive, and demanding. The same two groups of qualities could apply to the duality of compatibility and perpetuity. Such dual systems cannot be in absolute rest. Capra observes that yin corresponds to responsive, consolidating, cooperative activity  and yang to aggressive, expanding, competitive activity. He also notes that yin action concerns the environment, as does compatibility and yang action involves the individual, as does perpetuity. Compatibility is similar to  yin and perpetuity is similar to yang.

Yin and yang are the symbols from the ancient Chinese philosophy called Taoism Taoism arose as an alternative to Confucianism around 300 B.C. Confucianism stressed a well disciplined society with attention to ceremony, tradition, duty, morality, and public service. Taoism emphasised a retreat from social obligations and a simple meditative life close to nature. Similar to the term "holism" of perpetuity and compatibility, the word Tao used to mean reality as a WHOLE, made up of individual ways. The Tao (Way) defines the role, characteristics and behaviour that make each thing in the universe what it is. Chinese landscape paintings from the 1,200's reflect the Taoist sensitivity to nature.  Taoists sought knowledge by studying nature, leading to various sciences such as alchemy, astronomy and medicine. Widgets

Confucianism emphasised good moral character and outlined definite rules of conduct. Confucius was born in 551 B.C. and his teachings dealt with the needs of society. Eventually Taoism influenced these beliefs, so that in the 200's and 100's, a person's ability to live in harmony with nature became important. In nature, the sun, with its outpouring of energy is seen as the repository of yang (Walker, 1992). Those that pursue the practice of attaining the Tao enter a deeply spiritual world, as reflected in the Hua Hu Ching of Lao Tzu (Walker, 1992).

Another idea with a holistic slant is systems theory. According to this method of investigation, living systems form multilevel structures, with each level consisting of subsystems that are wholes containing parts, and parts with respect to the larger wholes (Capra, 1982). "Arthur Koestler has coined the word 'holons' for these subsystems, which are both wholes and parts, and he has emphasised that each holon has two opposite tendencies: an integrative tendency to function as part of the larger whole (compatibility), and a self-assertive tendency to preserve its individual autonomy (perpetuity)."  Biological or social systems require the individuality of 'holons' to maintain the stratified order, but holons must also submit to the demands of the whole order to make the system viable. "These two tendencies are opposite but complementary. In a healthy system - an individual, a society, or an ecosystem - there is a balance between integration and self-assertion. This balance is not static but consists of a dynamic interplay between the two complementary tendencies, which makes the whole system flexible and open to change" (Capra, 1982).

An individual organism is subject to "natural selection". Natural selection is not however a single, unidirectional force. Natural selection is essentially bidirectional. Individual "fitness" selects for features that increase the numerical or proportional representation of the individual's genes in the population. Successful genes express the "best fit" (or appropriate adaptations) to the environment. This amounts to a "force" as offspring produced by successfully breeding individuals.  There is an immediate feedback from the habitat to the force that derives from the perpetuation of the species. Gross numerical success will, in most cases, quickly deplete the environment. This could be through the depletion of a food resource or a modification of the habitat that allowed the success of the species. This leads to a second strong selective force for behaviour or mechanisms to reduce the impact upon the habitat. A common response is the evolution of territoriality. Energy is expended in maintaining a territory that excludes members of the same species and defines an area large enough to support the breeding group. These mechanisms, selected for by natural selection enhance habitat stability and so have been termed the evolution of compatibility. These two selective components of natural selection:

  1.  Forge the interdependence between interacting (associated) organisms and so allow the emergence of holism within natural systems;
  2. Define the niche of an organism and mold the organism to this functional role within an ecosystem;
  3. Drive the evolution of organisms adapted to both the physical and biological environment (e.g. polar bears are white, not black);
  4. Drive the diversification and specialisation of closely related or similar interacting species;
  5. Promote evolutionary stasis  within a population;


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 "Absolute truth is like a mirage: it tends to disappear when you approach it" (Leakey & Lewin, 1992).

People have applied the term  Holism in many contexts. A dictionary definition of holism is "the theory that certain wholes are to be regarded as greater than the sum of their parts" (Tulloch, 1993). Holism is the study of life, the interactions of life forms and the forces and mechanisms that create the organisation, interdependence and complexity of living systems.  Holistic mechanisms and principles form the preliminaries of ecological engineering.  A new term related to holism should emerge here, and that is ecotechnology. Ecotechnology requires technological applications that are compatible with ecosystems. Under such a definition, many forms of technology will be recognised as diseases instead of technological solutions. For example, more natural methods should replace the chemical spraying of crops to kill pests. The many applications of crop spraying will become obsolete technology when looked at under the context of ecotechnology. Crop spraying aircraft, backpacks, pressure hoses and irrigation systems all fall outside the field of ecotechnology. Widgets

A trend toward an ecotechnological approach is already well advanced. More than 50 countries are members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), with its Standards Document. Individuals only conform to these standards, while inspection and regulation are the responsibility of groups within the respective member countries. In Britain there are already three main sets of standards for organic agriculture (Lampkin, 1992). The most widely used is the Soil Association's Symbol scheme (founded in 1946) that are also followed by the Irish Organic Farmer's and Grower's Association. There are also the Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association and the Organic Farmer's and Growers Ltd. marketing cooperative with their own standards. Other standards for other applications are also established and in use. They have tried to unify such standards through the formation of the British Organic Standards Committee (BOSC), formed in 1981 and the United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS), established in 1987 and published in May 1989.

Such systems-orientated (holistic) practical use of ecological knowledge is essential to the future of humanity and is largely already being realised and applied by environmentalists and organic farmers. An example is the work done in America by Daniel Chiras (1994): "Environmental Science, Action for a sustainable future." Potential applications are numerous. In Australia, they are now investigating the killing of pests and weeds with steam as a replacement for herbicides and some insecticides. In the USA, they burn weeds with a "flame cultivator", while scorched corn carries on growing (Klinkenborg & Richardson, 1995). Sustainable agriculture is a new science and technology that emphasises a few basic principles:
 [1a] A reduced dependence upon fertilisers, insecticides, herbicides and
 [1b] reduce the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels;
 [2] Techniques of improving the soil tilth - the soil's texture, nutrients and ability to hold water;
 [3] Reducing soil erosion;
 [4] Reduction of the environmental damage and social costs that came with the fertiliser and chemical use and enormous yields of conventional farming;
 [5] Learning how to coexist and cooperate with natural systems to improve yields, reduce insect pests and weeds and establish a truly viable farming technology. 

As an example, cover crops (vetch, peas, clover) planted between grapevines return nitrogen to the soil (nitrogen fixation), provides a habitat for insect predators, reducing the need for insecticides, hinders weed growth and therefore the need for herbicides and reduces soil erosion (Klinkenborg & Richardson, 1995). Simple and sensible applications can have broad consequences, a principle of the yin and yang of Taoism. The basis of good farming is a healthy, living soil, with fungi, bacteria and earthworms. Some objectives of organic farming are to enhance biological cycles, and maintain biological diversity through habitat preservation. Various practices are classed as recommended, permitted, restricted and prohibited, in accord with the principles of holistic farming. Any person can study and grow traditional medicines at home, reducing the costs of medicines. Advances in this field are already found in books such as "The Nature Doctor", (1989) by Dr. H.C.A.Vogel.

  2.  NICHE:

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  J.C. Smuts in his book, "Holism and Evolution" (1926), defines holism as "the term, here coined, for this "fundamental factor" (process, mechanism) (which is) operative towards the creation of wholes in the universe."  Further, "Holism is a real OPERATIVE factor, a "vera causa".  He sums up the essence of holism as, "the whole is in the parts and the parts are in the whole."  Ponder the life of a wild duck and note how it is adapted and suited to its combination of an aquatic and aerial environment.  The duck's webbed feet serve the purpose of propelling the creature forwards through water, while, in contrast, the talons of the eagle serve to hold prey.  Without water a duck's feet would have no meaning.   A duck needs water for its full description. Together they form a beautiful serene whole, an ecological whole in which many other creatures form a part.  In a complex ecological environment the parts form the whole and cannot be separated from it. A whole is only complete with the presence of the natural parts.  Creatures have evolved through all time with the whole; a duck is dependent upon water AND the whole habitat for its full expression. 

Ecologists call the role of the creature, the niche of the creature. An ecological niche requires a multidimensional description of an organism's total environment and way of life. This includes physical factors such as temperature and moisture, biological factors such as food resources, parasites and predators and behaviour, including social organisation and diurnal activities (Lewontin, 1978). Although we can imagine many niches the only niches are occupied niches (Cohen & Stuart, 1994). 

People retreat to nature, for recreation, recognising some type of harmony and peace there that brings peace of mind. In nature, we find relaxation, peace, aesthetic qualities and a serenity that humanity cannot recreate in a city. There is a spiritual quality to nature that is not easily defined. An observer of animals in nature soon recognises the interdependence and balance that exists. 

Many have recognised this idea of the niche of an organism: "The crocodile isolated from his environment was not the same animal" (Savory, 1988).  "The place of a living individual (human, animal, or plant) can be evaluated meaningfully only when it is seen in its integrative, collective, ecological context (Peet, 1992)." "Every species depends on other species for food and for providing its habitat" (Diamond, 1991).  "A species is what it is where it is" (Rolston, 1992).  "An environment is what a creature knows - and knows in a certain way."  "The creature is, in this way, part of its environment, though one could as truly say that the environment is part of it" (Cooper, 1992).  "It is quite impossible to think of an organism without an environment" (Begon et al, 1986). This close link with the environment is found in all creatures, even humans. Place yourself for a while in the cold without protection and soon an instinctive response will take over - from the depths of your belly a shivering response will begin, generating heat to stay warm.

  If we remove  a significant component of an ecosystem, such as a predator, an imbalance or a shift in the dynamics of the system will occur. The predatory starfish, "Piaster", predates upon several species in its rocky shore habitat, maintaining a balance in their populations.  When removed from the environment, some prey species disappear and one becomes dominant (Smith, 1974). Alternatively, if a stable component of an ecosystem  changes, a species adapted to the environment may display maladaptive responses. 

The Rhinoceros is found in and  adapted to the hot African Savannah. Rhinoceros milk has an energy (calorific) value of 500 kcal/kg, which is low if compared to the reindeer (2773 kcal/kg) (Louw, 1993).  A young rhino depends upon this dilute milk to replace fluids lost by evaporative water loss during the hot African summers.  If we move the rhino to a cold climate, the young rhino will still need to drink the same volume of milk as in the hot climate to get the necessary nutrition. It may either starve to death if thirst stimulates feeding instead of hunger, or urinate excessively. Physiologically, the rhino is not adapted to this new environment. In this way, living creatures are a part of holistic systems "that cannot be divided into independent parts" (Peet, 1992).  We can only understand a creature's  properties  in relation to the ecosystem or whole. 

Ecosystem coherence and stability have evolved with the associated parts. Stability for such self-organising systems is utterly dynamic. The system has properties or characteristics not to be found in a study of the parts.  A study of brain cells will not lead to a discovery of consciousness for example.  Yet, billions of neurons interact to coordinate complex behaviour patterns (Lewin, 1993). 

The interdependence among species, which confers stability, is very complex. With the extinction of harpy eagles, pumas and jaguars from the forests on Panama's Barro Colorado Island, their prey, both predators such as peccaries, monkeys, and coatimundis (racoon family), and medium-sized seed eaters such as agoutis and pacas (giant rodents) started to increase in numbers.  This developed into a population explosion. Excessive predation upon  little antbirds and their eggs then drove them extinct.  Further, the coatis, agoutis, and pacas feed on large seeds that fall from the rain forest canopy, so the forest tree composition shifted from tree species producing large seeds to tree species with small seeds! (Diamond, 1991) (Wilson, 1992). Those animals that influence the entire physical structure of a habitat are called keystone species (Wilson, 1992).


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At this stage it appears that holism does not entail the "fundamental interactions" of physical phenomena  - the atoms and like that the physicist studies (Nicolis, 1989).  These are part of an earlier evolution of matter. One theory, proposed by Ed Tyson and further developed by Alan Guth at MIT, is the inflationary model. In it, a repulsive force is opposing the gravitational force and expanded the universe within 10-35 seconds after the Big Bang of creation to about 30 cm in diameter. The repulsive force then split into the four forces known today (gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear). This theory accounts for the observed homogeneity and isotropy of our universe (Casti, 1989). 

Matter, "instead of being dispersive, diffusive, and structureless, effects through its inner activities and forces structural groupings and combinations that are valuable, not merely to humans, but in the order of the universe. But for its dynamic, structural, creative character matter could not have been the mother of the universe" (Smuts, 1926).  Perhaps different levels require different laws, so biological holism may not encompass atomic holism.  However, there are some striking parallels between the ideas derived in physics and those proposed for holism. These suggest the possibility of an undiscovered universal force or natural mechanism that causes a natural tendency towards organisation (enthalpy) instead of chaos, disorder or randomness (entropy), thus Holism and the principles of perpetuity and compatibility. Feynman (1992) states, that "it is interesting that every law or principle that we know for 'dead' things, and that we can test on the great phenomenon of life, works just as well there. There is no evidence yet that what goes on in living creatures is necessarily different, as far as the physical laws are concerned, from what goes on in nonliving things, although the life may be more complicated." 

A big difference is that organic forms evolve with time. Astronomers can study the formation of stars and solar systems, such as the Orion Nebula, but there is no living interdependence at this level and nothing struggling to survive  (Reston, 1995). John Barrow has discussed "The Origin of the Universe" (1994). He explains, "The job of cosmologists is to pin down the expansion history of the universe - to determine how the galaxies formed; why they cluster as they do; why the expansion proceeds  at the rate that it does - and to explain the shape of the universe and the balance of matter and radiation existing within it." The choice of words avoids the term evolution. 

 Davies (Professor of mathematical physics) and Gribbin (astrophysicist) state (1991) that, "there is a strong holistic flavour to the quantum description of the universe".  Fritjof Capra (1982) similarly states, "the conception of the universe as an interconnected web of relations is one of two major themes that recur throughout modern physics.  The other is the realisation that the cosmic web is intrinsically dynamic.  The dynamic aspect of matter arises in quantum theory because of the wave nature of subatomic particles, and is even more central in the relativity theory, which has shown us that the being of matter cannot be separated from its activity.  The properties of its basic patterns, the subatomic particles, can be understood only in a dynamic context, in terms of movement, interaction, and transformation." In modern physics, particles are no longer isolated entities, in fact not particles at all, but have wavelike properties.  "Both force and matter are now seen to have their common origin in the dynamic patterns that we call particles.  These energy patterns of the subatomic world form the stable nuclear, atomic and molecular structures, which build up matter and give it its macroscopic solid aspect, thus making us believe that it is made of some material substance (Capra, 1982)."  "Subatomic particles are not separate entities but interrelated energy patterns in an ongoing dynamic process (Capra, 1982)." Here we again see the elements of yin (matter) and yang (force).
This dynamism reveals the presence of yin and yang interactions in the nonliving physical universe, confirming that the dynamics that are found in the evolution of life through natural selection, have their source in a force that the Chinese called Tao and is found at the very origin of creation: "There is something obscure which is complete before heaven and earth arose; tranquil, quiet, standing alone without change, moving around without peril. It could be the mother of everything. I don't know its name, and call it Tao" (Watts, 1975). This principle, although to be found in the complex mathematics of Einstein, or Newton's description of gravity, is quite simple. Barrow (1994) explains as an astrophysicist, "If you place a cloud of dust particles in space, they will begin to feel a mutual gravitational attraction; the cloud will gradually contract (yin). The only circumstances that will prevent this is some sort of explosion (yang) that drives the particles apart. They cannot remain in an unchanging state unless another force intervenes to oppose gravity. In the absence of that opposing force, the gravitational attraction between a static distribution of stars and galaxies will cause them to fall in upon themselves." Our universe is presently expanding and the Taoist says, "All things have each their own different principle, whereas Tao brings the principles of all into single agreement (Watts, 1975).


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  Perpetuity and compatibility as an idea has immense potential as it changes the emphasis of Darwin's evolutionary principle of natural selection. It is a sociological principle, an ethical tool in peace management, a tool for the management of complex life-systems (ecosystems, businesses, agriculture) and a tool for environmental science. As Edward O. Wilson stated, to halt the destruction of the world's biodiversity, we need biology, anthropology, economics, agriculture, government and law to find a common voice. For me this new proposal of a holistic mechanism has taken on the dimension of a revolutionary paradigm (from the Greek paradeigma meaning pattern). We humans, whether we are Caucasian, Chinese, African or Asian, suffer from a long recognised fault: "For as Leo Tolstoy poignantly recognised, even (especially) brilliant scientists can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truths if they be such as to contradict principles learned as children, taught as professors, and revered throughout life as sacred ancestral treasures" (Ford, 1989, New Physics). New ideas may elicit ferocious resistance from traditional quarters: "ideas that require people to reorganise their picture of the world provoke hostility" (Gleick, 1987).  Worded another way, "One suspects that there are ideas of a similar groundless status by today's standards that will in the future take their place within the accepted 'scientific' picture of reality" (Barrow, 1988).  In yet another context, "perceptions are basically hypotheses and" . . . "science thus consists of chains of hypotheses. Everything, in short, is unavoidably filtered through the neurological limitations of our brains and the experiences (first or second hand) stored within them.  Unfortunately, from a scientific standpoint, this also has the effect that we reject or overlook information, which seems at the time to be irrelevant, without even being aware of it" (Rosen, 1988). "Because we are bound by what we know, it is difficult to imagine what we don't know" (Hickman & Silva, 1988).  The 'Holism and Evolution' of Smuts could be one such idea.  As stated in the Taoist text, Hua Hu Ching, "Language cannot capture the melody of a song; to understand it, you must hear it with your own ears" (Walker, 1992).

We can call holism a new myth; a modern myth, based on science and the wider perspective this science has provided us. "Every human society has felt the need to generate a body of myth, an explanation of how the society came to be and its place in the world" . . . "a sacred narrative explaining how the world or humans came to be in their present form" (Leakey & Lewin, 1992). Widgets

Myths have been with us from ancient times, perhaps from the beginning of language. Language is a defining feature of human intelligence (Calvin, 1994) and the greatest human invention, yet linguists cannot trace any protolanguage much beyond 7000 years ago (Ross, 1991). In many primitive cultures, the Shaman or medicine man relates the societies' myths. These form one aspect of the culture. They provide the social framework, giving coherence and direction to the people's lives so that man, woman and child know what is expected from them. Without written language, myths often  form the repository of the culture's sacred history and, as such, are based on fact. They are mythic fact  (Halifax, 1979).

The Mehinaku of Brazil has a myth to explain why men and women differ and why they perform separate functions. Men originally did the women's roles, taking care of children, breast feeding babies, preparing flour from the manioc (starch diet like bread), and weaving hammocks. Women did the men's roles of hunting, fishing, and clearing fields. Women had a sacred ceremonial house, where if a man dared enter, he would be gang raped by all of the women of the village.  During rituals the women used a sacred flute. One day the men learned how to frighten the women and stole their flute spirits. From that time they switched roles and the men hunt, fish and farm. (Singer & Woodhead, 1988). 

Interestingly, our most primitive living relative, the bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee, P. paniscus) lives in social groups where the females are dominant. The more specialised chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) has this relation reversed, with dominant males. We are so closely related to chimpanzees that 99 percent of our polypeptides are identical. Our earliest ancestor - that also led to the chimpanzee lineage - may have had a social order where females were dominant. 

Australian Aborigines have a myth recalling their origins: "For some time the woman and (two) men lived on the plants that he (Baiame, the sky king) had shown them. Then came a great drought, and the plants were scarce and then no more. And the woman and men were famished. One of the men killed a kangaroo rat. He began to eat this and the woman joined him, but the other man would not eat, though he was starving (Advance 120. 1993)." We know that our diets have changed and that meat eating is a recent adaptation. 

Based on science, the holistic myth is not sacred, but depends on the rigour of science for its veracity. It contains no superstition, though even this is relative perception, for where one sees Jinns, another sees ignorance; where one finds worship another finds blasphemy. Society is undergoing enormous changes because of the progress of science. Our cultural myth concerning life has to change to meet these changes. You will understand what I mean by term 'myth' by considering the north and south of the earth.  People have a mental idea of the earth and so say, 'up north' and 'down south', never 'down north' or 'up south'. Australians dislike that their continent is "down under". Similarly, we casually say that the sun rises, but this is an archaic and incorrect perception.  Seen from space, there is no such thing. The conventions of our reality specify these perceptions, yet our planet moving through space around the sun has no such orientation.  The orientation is a universal mental idea accepted as reality. 

  Mayr expresses the above sentiment succinctly: "A new discovery in science, such as the double-helix structure of DNA, is usually accepted almost immediately. If the assumed discovery turns out to be based on an error or a misinterpretation, it quickly disappears from the literature. By contrast, resistance to the introduction of new theories, particularly those that are based on new ideas, is much stronger and broader based." He notes that Isaac Newton's theory that gravitation causes motion of the planets required eighty years for universal acceptance. They adopted Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift, published in 1912, fifty years later, following the theory of plate tectonics.  Most Jews, Christians and Muslims still reject the fact of evolution today, and may even face the threat of death if he or she proposes it! 

  This whole book is a mental construct or an art form of ideas. Each chapter sheds some light on the other. The result, I hope, is to shift your paradigm or world view. A holistic account requires a different emphasis. A holistic idea requires one to mobilise a large entity (theory, paradigm, conceptual scheme, conceptual framework or theoretical language or world view, to borrow some terms from current literature). This requires that the reader be familiar with the principles of the whole theory (Burian, 1984). This narrative's purpose is to develop familiarity with the holistic terrain, laying some foundations for a holistic world view. 

  Our world view is radically incompatible with nature and not sustainable. Humanity has initiated a spate of destruction and extinctions, which if not curtailed, will be similar in effect to the event that caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs (Wilson, 1992). Through the demonstration of the biological process of perpetuity and compatibility, I hope to shift perception of this 'large entity' enough for most readers to accept the new paradigm. If enough people accept the reality of the new paradigm, a separate 'body politic' may evolve - the consciously compatible human. Unfortunately, the requirements for this transformation are similar to the prerequisites for spirituality found in many religions. Spiritual transformation does not have a very successful track record.

  This book is to some extent a guided journey as much of what I say, others have said in better words than I can imagine or compose. As Mark Twain said, "Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him."  (Winokur, 1988). However, the light of their individual statements has lacked the necessary synthesis providing a focus on the full implication, meaning and depth of their conceptions.  Simple statements by various authors have a profound meaning in the context of the principles in this book. As Cardwell (1994) noted, "Imitation means innovation, which, in turn  often stimulates invention." Just as a willingness to adopt or imitate inventions made by others is not a sign of inferiority, so the adoption of others' ideas as part of a larger structure, form part of a creative and progressive mind. We have built our whole civilisation upon knowledge found and established by others. 

  The early Greeks possessed imaginative inventiveness in abstract matters, which led to theories that persisted and developed through to today, such as the theory of atomism, attributed to Leucippus (440 BC) and Democritus (about 430 BC) (Russell, 1946).  Forethought or foresight is a component  of the awareness of time, important to the development of humanity.  Russell (1946) describes this prudence or forethought as  distinguishing civilised man from the savage (Russell, 1946).  A farsighted view was necessary for agriculture to arise and develop and so has been a characteristic of modern man.  It was necessary so that man would strive for a future reward.  This "willingness" is quite distinct from the instinctive behaviour of the industrious bee, or squirrels burying nuts. 

The philosophical development of thought and ideas, such as by the early Greeks, and the more primal forethought necessary to survive through periods of scarcity, appears to have similar origins. They represent activities seeking to establish stability, order and constancy to life.  Russell (1946) claims that throughout history there is a conflict between prudence and passion.  Prudence requires a good memory, such an attribute preserved on Orphic tablets as an attribute of the afterlife: "And lo, I am parched with the thirst and I perish. Give me quickly the cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory." 

  Holism is a theory recorded in early Greek literature of Heraclitus who lived around 500 BC. The essence of Holism is to be found in some of his statements: "Couples are things whole and things not whole, what is drawn together and what is drawn asunder, the harmonious and the discordant.  The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one." Some essential parameters of this holism are evident in the scattered remnants of his works. He taught evolutionary principles such as, "nothing ever is, everything is becoming" (Russell, 1946). 

  My book provides a simple synthesis. I consider it an ecological imperative that humanity accepts holism.  Clearly humanity needs to reevaluate the role of nature in our existence as an ecological imperative. Appleyard (1992) who opposes such a view, states, "I do not believe there is any meaning or consolation to be found in simple advocacy of harmony with nature."  Others have recognised the ecological imperative such as a former soviet leader, Mikhail  Gorbachev who said, "Technology has not only failed to ease the conflict between man and nature, it has aggravated that conflict  . . .   The crisis of civilisation that we see today is a crisis of the naive belief in the omnipotence of humanity.  We must change behaviour and models of consumption.  Humanity must reject self-deification.  Man is not a god who owns nature.  Man is part of nature (Time No.  36, 1993)."  The paleoanthropologist, Richard Leakey similarly said, "We are not stewards of the Earth, forever and a day.  We are merely short-term tenants, and pretty unruly and destructive ones at that" (Leakey & Lewin, 1992). People living in cities have to realise and remember their intimate dependence on nature. The last 200 years of humanity's 200,000 years of existence, in which humanity has achieved so much change, progress and damage, is a mere instant compared with the roughly 150 million years of existence of the dinosaurs or the 4.6 billion years attributed to the earth's age and geological history.  If we wish humanity to last on earth for more than a mere moment, we need to change how we interact with nature. 

  At least, I outline and define a new behavioural purpose. The beauty of holism is that it demands a scientifically based respect for nature. Its principles are not theologically based, so cannot conflict with religion. Also, no religion can justify the wholesale destruction of nature that is taking place at a rapid rate. No matter what the scriptures of the Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Scientologists and so forth follow, they do not promote the destruction of nature. From the religious fundamentalist, I request that he or she recognise that humans are naturally innovative. Humanity possesses the singular ability to create unique events and to destroy. Most, if not all religious groups have watched passively as we have destroyed nature, but eagerly adopted new technology. No religious scripture details how to build the great ships that we have today, nor the nylon clothes that you wear nor the ball point pen that you hold. These are the result of human creativity. Holism does not challenge religions, but points to a more harmonious way of life that respects and preserves God's Creation. 

The discovery of penicillin in 1928 was a unique event. Stepping onto the moon was a unique event - for any creature from earth.  On the 16 December, 1993, a nuclear fusion experiment at Plainsboro, New Jersey, created for a moment the hottest spot in the solar system within the Tomamak Fusion Test Reactor (Time, No.51, Dec.  20, 1993).  This ability to innovate and create has led to the development of motor vehicles, computers and golf.  A truly unique event, such as the first spark of fire used by a human ancestor, changed the course of all life, while even flying a kite is still a unique event.  Kite-flying epitomises the human ability to create something absolutely new. Dennett, quoting Dawkins, describes these unique ideas as "a unit of cultural transmission." Dawkins coins the term "meme" for this. As examples of such distinct memorable units Dennett (1995) gives the arch, wheel, alphabet and many other creations and inventions. 

Imagine a new idea -a meme - such as presented in this web page, held by only two people in a population of 10 billion. They each manage to convince only one other person of the idea in a year, every year. Those convinced in turn convert only one other person to the idea every subsequent year. It will only take 34 years for all 10 billion people to adopt the idea. Each person will only be responsible for 34 other people in their life time for this to occur. Cultural evolution is incredibly dynamic and in a "global village" society can be transformed very rapidly. An idea that threatens no ideology, does not conflict with religious or cultural beliefs and yet improves the chances of peace, ecological stability and environmental health and is easy to understand should spread and evolve rapidly. 

This idea is in a film, "Pay it forward" (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, 2000) . Here the concept is to do a life changing deed for a person, who is in turn asked to pay back through a similar good deed to three other people and asking them to each "pay it forward" to three other people.

When it is said that we were made in God's image I believe that this refers to our creative ability. Of all the life that has evolved, it is only the human ape that has this ability. The adoption of a new behavioural purpose - the application of the concept of perpetuity and compatibility in the interaction with all life forms - would confer behavioural stability and predictability to humanity. This would enhance our survival potential in the long term through the process of natural selection and evolution and represent another unique event and a new paradigm.  This behavioural change would be a unique event in the history of life, as it would be a conscious endeavour and would be a departure from humanities' characteristic effect upon nature. Here we are dealing with the physical evolution of humanity. Our spiritual development is another matter. 

Our modern times is not the only evidence of humanity's destruction of nature. Following the emergence of humanity over 10,000  years ago as a significant hunter of big game, many  large, slow breeding mammals (megafauna) became extinct. Kingdon (1992) estimates that between 40,000 years ago and today,  86% of Australia's megafauna, 80% of South America's megafauna, 73% of North America's megafauna and 15% of Africa's megafauna were lost. (In 1375 B.C., an Egyptian pharaoh, Amenhotep III hunted lions from his chariot using a bow and arrow  to display his courage - possibly the oldest record of a trophy and sport hunter.) With the appearance of man on new continents or islands has followed a series of species extinctions, without exception.  After people reached Australia, extinctions of giant kangaroos, the 'marsupial lion', and other marsupials followed.  After Indians reached North America, extinctions of lions, cheetahs, native wild horses, mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths and dozens of other large mammals followed. Mediterranean islands such as Crete and Cyprus lost dwarf elephants and pygmy hippos. Madagascar lost giant lemurs and flightless elephant birds. New Zealand lost giant flightless moas. Hawaii lost flightless geese, and dozens of smaller birds (Diamond, 1991). Old civilisations also leave their evidence. Around  Babylon in Iraq, is now desert sand that was once fertile soil supporting that civilisation. Modern Lebanon  once supported vast Cedar forests that supplied the wood for the Great Temple of Jerusalem built by King Solomon (Goldsmith et al, 1990). 

The new behavioural purpose, described as the reciprocity of perpetuity and compatibility, is derived from nature and offers an interactive mechanism that should enhance our survival potential. It thus offers us a practical method of curbing our destructive nature. Our civilisation needs to choose to reverse the process of decline. There is no alternative.

Keep on the quick guided tour. For some ideas on the practical application of these principles,  see the short section on Coevolution and Environmental Management. The synopsis is the previous thread in this "tour".

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by Laurence Evans 1998 - 2008


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