Nature's Holism (condensed - 4)
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  Smuts (1926), in his book, "Holism and Evolution," suggests that he knew of the principle of compatibility, yet his holistic development takes a different course and becomes involved in "the highest manifestations of the human spirit."  He said, "The pathway of the real is neither abstract general principles, nor the wilderness of details; and if we wish to understand evolution, we must develop concepts adequate to its actual process, concepts which will be representative of its real characters of concreteness and universality." . .  "To UNDERSTAND NATURE, we must take one of her own units, and not an abstract one of our own making.  We must as it were, take a small sample section of nature which will include as one and indivisible both the element of activity (behaviour) (perpetuity) or principle and the element of structure (form) (compatibility) or concreteness in her." Al-Ghazzali (1924) similarly said, "granted the existence of the particular, the existence of the universal must necessarily follow"; yet Smuts's statement goes deeper, including structure and activity and noting their indivisible nature. We need to observe actual processes and note the balance between change and stability.

Modern ecologists regularly try to understand ecological processes through models or abstract constructs of their own making. These never fully parallel nature's "own units", so fail to provide a complete or true understanding of the process.  Human understanding requires models as tools by which to explain or find PATTERNS in something. Rosen (1988) explains, "Patterns are 'ways of seeing' raw data" and "science can be regarded as an elaborate, conscious adaptation of this modelling trait, formalised and made as explicit as possible in terms of aims, approaches, procedures, methods, interpretations, hypotheses and publications."

A good example to illustrate the inability to understand something without mental tools is the intricate detail of predator-prey interactions, a major task for ecologists (Begon et al, 1986).  Analysis of predator and prey fluctuations in nature reveals a complexity of interactive factors all contributing to the variation in numbers of the two populations.  The most obvious is the direct effect of the predator upon its prey.  As one delves deeper into the interaction, one finds increasing complexity. Perhaps the predator predates upon more than one prey species or that the rate of predation, efficiency of predation or "searching efficiency" (a') (Begon et al, 1986) changes as the ratio of predators to prey changes.  The more one investigates, the more possibilities one finds.  This is the nature of complex systems and the difficulty in modelling them.  Predators and prey exist as parts of multi-species systems. Environmental conditions affect these species as well (Begon et al, 1986).  Models are even useful when real data does not support their predictions, especially if you can discover the reason for a discrepancy (Tools of analysis).  By confirming  a model's predictions we have proof of validity and by refuting the model we have made some progress (Begon et al, 1986). Widgets Widgets

We must recognise that  models are not the real substance, but the tools for understanding: "models can crystallize, or at least bring together in terms of a few parameters, the important, shared properties of a wealth of unique examples.  This simply makes it easier for the ecologist to think about the problem or process under consideration." Begon, Harper and Townsend elaborate that:

  1. Models force us to try to extract the essentials from complex systems;
  2. A model can provide a 'common language' in which each example is expressed, evaluated and compared;
  3. A common language allows their common properties and differences to be more apparent;
  4. A model can provide a standard for comparison with the real world. It allows us to test changes to a system. The tool of analysis, however, will reveal detail of a character related to the tool just as an X-ray and scalpel can provide different perceptions of the same limb.

As Smuts warned, we must avoid abstract models of our own making.  In the modified, energetic Lotka-Volterra model, I take one of nature's own units and describe the holistic mechanism from this. A danger is that the whole argument is merely what Dennett calls a "Just So Story" (Dennett, 1995). In explaining the evolutionary process that leads to a feature, "some story or the other must be true." Many adaptationist reasons can explain a feature, but only one is true, so we need data to confirm and test a theory.  There is, for example, a theory that we passed through a phase in our evolution as aquatic apes (Dennett, 1995), (Kingdon, 1993). Scientists cannot easily refute this scorned idea, yet it has not replaced their standard "Just So Story." 

Physicists such as Fritjof Capra (1982) recognise a problem at a deeper level: "In atomic physics the observed phenomena can be understood only as correlations between various processes of observation and measurement, and the end of this chain of processes lies always in the consciousness of the human observer.  The crucial feature of quantum theory is that the observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an atomic phenomenon, but is necessary to even bring about these properties.  Your conscious decision about how to observe, say, an electron will determine the electron's properties: If you ask it a particle question, it will give you a particle answer; if you ask it a wave question, it will give you a wave answer. The electron does not have objective properties independent of the mind." Widgets

Simply, the questions that we ask when investigating something complex may lead us to a very different perception of our problem to that found by a person with different set of valid questions (the scalpel versus X-ray). Physicists identify subatomic entities called fermions and bosons through the reductionist approach.  Fermions and bosons have different characteristics and behaviour that distinguish them. Fermions have an odd number of spin units and are subject to the Pauli exclusion principle, which says that no two identical particles can occupy the same quantum state.  No such restriction applies to  bosons .  However, theoreticians found that one can regard  fermions and bosoms as rather like two different 'projections' of a single underlying geometrical entity (Davy's & Brown, 1988).  What was originally thought to be separate "parts" turned out to be different views of a single whole. Capra observed a holistic principle that develops from this: "When scientists reduce an integral whole to fundamental building blocks - whether they are cells, genes, or elementary particles - and try to explain all phenomena in terms of these elements, they lose the ability to understand the coordinating activities of the whole system" (Capra, 1982). A similar perception applies to the perpetuity-compatibility concept in that you have to deal with it holistically. Perpetuity and compatibility represent two different projections of the same idea or complex - a single indivisible process in operation. Holism requires a different approach to scientific reductionism. In holism we look for the properties that define the whole, in reductionism we look for ways to describe the parts.


 "We (Allah) punished the people of Pharaoh with years and shortness of crops; that they might receive admonition . . ." (QsVIIv130).
 "So We (Allah) extracted retribution from them: We drowned them in the sea, because they rejected our signs, and failed to take warning from them . . ." (v136).
 "And We levelled to the ground the great works and fine buildings which Pharaoh and his people erected" (v137).

  " Teleology"  is a major point of contention in science, religion and evolution. The Christians and many other religions say that God created things for the purpose they serve, so there can be no evolution. From the above quotations from the revelation of the Holy Quraan, God clearly controls the events of our lives. Teleological creation had the result in sight. A teleological statement would be that God created the moon to cause the tides that are found in all the oceans. Evolutionary theory and holism are not based upon a  teleology. To be more clear, they are neutral on this topic. If I say, "Evolution can be the mechanism by which God creates life forms for purposes that he wishes," I clearly run into a contradiction that I have not fully resolved.  Evolution is about the mechanism and not about God. Evolution is about creation, God is the Uncreated. Evolution is about form, God is that before form - the Formless, the "Uncreated Before". An animal evolves. The proof is in the massive fossil record. Darwin's theory of evolution proposes that there is always a slight variation in the offspring produced. Today geneticists' observations support this. Some variations are suited to the conditions of life and these creatures survive better and produce the next generation. The cumulative effect of  these small variations is what leads to evolution. Widgets

An animal is born with the genes of its parents, and so its form is the result of the success and survival of its parents and back through the ages through all its ancestors. Its form does not look towards some future ideal form as the adherents of teleology insist, but is the result of success in the past. This is the opposite of teleology and has been given the term teleonomy. As such an elephant is adapted to the African Savannah, the result of 50 million years of evolution (Eltringham & Shoshani, 1991). Offspring born inherit what made past elephants  successful (Eldredge, 1995), and so need the same conditions in which their ancestors lived to be successful. There is no aim towards some future "ideal" elephant. If the elephant was born into the cold arctic regions, its inherited form would not be suited to the conditions and it would perish.


Many people have had an INTUITIVE FEEL for the properties of holism, in utterances such as that "as evolution proceeds, there is a reduction in randomness and a corresponding increase in order. This order is possible because the constituent parts behave homeotelically (in a way that maintains the order of the whole)."  "Indeed, with evolution, competition gives way to cooperation, or what ecologists call mutualism" (Goldsmith, 1992).  We notice the introduction of the term, homeotely or "same goal," in that "all cooperation implies goal-directedness or purposiveness."  Here Goldsmith has recognised a process but has not understood the mechanism, so attributes a teleological will to nature, as purposiveness, to attain the apparent cooperation. This teleological view looks to the result as the aim or goal of the process. The evidence for this is weak for a wilful nature would not allow the destruction that man has imposed upon her stable beauty.  An observer, seeing cooperation in nature, might easily  conclude that some form of teleology is taking place. In comparison, an objective analysis can show that the purpose of motor vehicles is to transport people, but this is not an inherent will of the motor vehicle.

To better understand this teleological contradiction, let us develop a metaphor. Let us compare the evolution of an animal to the human-induced evolution of the simple cart. The cart evolves through the selective changes and improvements. Changes to the cart that improve the cart are slow and similar to the changes to an animal responding to the conditions of nature. In nature, only the animals with suitable variations survive. A cow or horse pulls the cart. In our analogy the horse represents the life force of the cart that drives it and makes the cart effective as an entity. Changes that improve the cart do not affect the physical form of the horse, though the cart may be easier to pull. After many years of evolution the cart becomes a fine carriage with many features.

The evolutionary "force" that shaped the  cart was human design that made the cart suitable for the purpose it needs to serve. A horse is an assumed and necessary part of the cart. Now an adherent of teleology will see the carriage and claim that the cart evolved with the carriage as the goal and result, for which it harnessed the horse to give it motive power and the human to shape it. They may also claim  that the horse (life force) designed the cart, but the horse had no active part in the design. Teological statements would claim that the cart actively evolved with the goal and purpose of becoming a carriage, whereas in truth this is not so. Similarly an animal's physical form is harnessed to life and is shaped by the selective forces of nature so that only suitable variations survive to perpetuate the kind. There is no more an inherent teleological source to animal evolution than there is a design process inherent to the cart.  One may equate the action of man's hand in the design to the hand of God, but this does not affect the argument, for the process that occurs is still evolution through natural selection. This is not a religious thesis that can ponder the intentions of a God that is free of time but a biological thesis of observable processes. Widgets

Holism does not imply or attribute a will to nature as Goldsmith does; rather it explains a natural process or mechanism in living systems subject to natural selection. Smuts describes the complex organisation that takes place through holism. What is important in the observation by Goldsmith is that there is a greater tendency for cooperation than competition in nature. His explanation of how this is supposed to occur is incorrect.  This observation needs to be shown as a fact.  Recently, even business attitudes are beginning to deal with this idea.  De Bono (1993) says, "the traditional view of competitors as enemies may not always be correct.  The key is to decide in which areas they are beneficial and in which areas they are rivals." Leopold  is almost poetic in his recognition of a principle and process not yet established nor simply described by man, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise."  Such statements possess a deeper content, based on principles for which no simple description has yet been made.  In the language of the science of complexity, these statements reflect EMERGENT PROPERTIES of the whole system. An emergent property is property of the whole that is not found in the parts. Personality and consciousness are emergent properties not to be found in the parts.

Others have recognised these emergent qualities and their relevance within the context of the new science of complexity. Paul Davies, professor of natural history at the University of Adelaide notes that holism challenges orthodox biology. He recognises a process where the characteristics of matter and energy lead to the self-organisation of complex systems. As with holism, this leads to nature displaying a progressive trend (Time, V.147(6)).  Stuart Pimm, who wrote the book, "The Balance of Nature?", explained that "You can view foodwebs as an emergent property of complex systems" (Lewin, 1993).  He observed that  exotic species easily invade species-poor communities, "newly established species-rich communities are more difficult to invade than species-poor ones, but mature communities are even tougher." Widgets

To display this Pimm uses Hawaii as an example. More species of birds and plants have been introduced into Hawaii than anywhere in the world. Two distinct ecological associations exist. A pristine highland region has native plants and birds. Few species have invaded this persistent community. It is a long-established community that resists invasion. In the lowland region, human settlement has disrupted established communities and made them vulnerable to invasion (Lewin, 1993). His explanation was that a selection process was going on, with only the better, more efficient species able to penetrate the highlands. Successful colonisers were "Plants that had a higher productive rate, herbivores that could gather more food, carnivores that could run faster. . . ." "It seemed plausible, but we couldn't confirm it in our data." The ability of mature ecosystems to resist invasion is a consequence of the interactive process of compatibility and perpetuity. Stuart Pimm said  that we cannot (yet) say what fitness for an (ecological) community is, yet, in the modified energetic Lotka-Volterra model, fitness at community level requires compatibility between associated species.

Ted Case, an ecologist at the University of California, made similar observations, claiming that interactions between species in a community create "an invisible protective network" that tended to repel potential invaders (Lewin, 1993).  He concludes by asking, "What is the nature of the protective network?" My book explains and provides the mechanism for the formation of the protective framework found in established ecological communities. Capra (1982) perceived the network as essential: "What is preserved in a wilderness area is not individual trees or organisms but the complex web of relationships between them."

Others have become stuck in fundamental conflicts between holism and scientific reductionism, apparent and unresolved. Boucher observed, "While arguing that nature is an integrated whole and that everything is connected to everything else, we continued researching with theories that said communities were no more than sets of individual organisms.  The problem, in other words, is one of cognitive dissonance - the difficulty of working with two sets of ecological ideas, based on different fundamental assumptions and ultimately in conflict." It is time to unite the elements of this "cognitive dissonance" into a simple process.  In the process,  we need to review fundamental evolutionary principles, as recognised by Kropotkin (1902) who questioned the definition of "fitness". "Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle.  If we ask nature, "who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another? We at once see that those animals that acquire habits of MUTUAL AID are undoubtedly the fittest" (Goldsmith, 1992 ).  Social ants show well this quality of fitness through their success, which has continued for 100 million years (compared to our 100,000 years)!  In some tropical forests, ants make up 70% of the total treetop insect population, with a biomass four times greater than the biomass of all the vertebrates.  Their complex social systems have greatly affected their evolutionary success, so that among insects, only 2% are social, but these represent more than half the insect biomass (Lewin, 1993), (Wilson, 1992). Edward O. Wilson expressed the great advantages of sociality as follows: "The emergent properties of social life are so very powerful" . . . " the colony as a whole processes more information. An individual social insect processes less information than an individual solitary insect, but as part of an aggregate activity, the social insect contributes to more complex computation. The colony works as a single organism" (Lewin, 1993).

Some people found pieces of the puzzle but joined mismatching pieces. Von Bertalanffy who proposed two laws, the first being the law of "biological maintenance", which states that "the organic system tends to preserve (perpetuate) itself," but then organised this law into a descriptive scheme in that he stated in his second law that a natural system is organised "hierarchically (Goldsmith, 1992)."
  Politicians and formulators of policy have voiced the principle of compatibility and perpetuity as a need, "we must find a new spiritual and ethical basis for human activities on Earth: Humankind must enter into a NEW COMMUNION WITH NATURE, and regain respect for the wonders of the natural world" (Starke, 1990). Some advanced groups such as that set up by the Canadian Council of Resource and Environmental Ministers have set out to do something.  "Our main objective is to promote environmentally sound economic growth and development, not to promote either economic growth (PERPETUITY) or environmental protection (compatibility) in isolation" (Starke, 1990).  Here the pieces link together to form a UNIT, the one requiring the other to arrive at a solution.  It is a very sound policy. These people are speaking from an inner consistency or conviction that they recognise instinctively but battle to fully comprehend or express.

Professor Feynman (1965), a theoretical physicist seems to hint at another process: "If you can find any other view of the world which agrees over the entire range where things have already been observed, but disagrees somewhere else, you have made a great discovery."   Further, he does not limit the method of discovery to mathematics, but says, "Any schemes - such as "think of symmetry laws" or "put the information in mathematical form," or "guess equations" - are known to everybody now . . . " "The next scheme, the new discovery, is going to be made in a completely different way."  I present a new discovery or theory of some importance that needs to be tested.    A comment by Rolston III (1992) summarises the theme of this book:  "The challenge is to find a clear model of community and to discover an ethics for it - better biology for better ethics.  Even before the rise of ecology, biologists began to conclude that the combative survival of the fittest distorts the truth.  The more perceptive model is coaction in adapted fit. Predator and prey, parasite and host, grazers and grazed are contending forces in dynamic processes where the well-being of each is bound up with the other - coordinated as much as heart and liver are coordinated organically.  The ecosystem supplies the coordinates through which each organism moves, outside which the species cannot really be located." It is in this context that a new concept and mechanism are presented.

Another purpose of this book is to introduce some terminology or nomenclature of the technological developments important to this topic.  Today we take the knowledge and importance of vitamins for granted, yet not too long ago these were part of esoteric science.  Similarly many important developments need to be presented in a simple and understandable form. As our children will need to deal with these developments as everyday knowledge, so will we also need a background in these subjects.  We need to consider IN WHAT WAY TECHNOLOGY SUCH AS BIOTECHNOLOGY CAN BRING MAN CLOSER TO NATURE AND ECOSYSTEM PROCESSES INSTEAD OF DIVORCING HIM FURTHER FROM THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT. We are at the forefront of a technological advance that we need to guide so that technology becomes a tool and not a dependency. Kennedy, in his book, "Preparing for the twenty first century" (1993), says, "Precisely because the range of biotech applications is so vast, it is difficult to think through its larger consequences.  What needs to be kept in mind, however, is the distinction between biotechnology, which enhances food output in the field, and the newer science, which is creating synthetic products in vitro in the laboratory.  Both have profound implications. . . ."

  Edward O. Wilson (1992) finally provided a biological context for this study as a new discipline called BIODIVERSITY STUDIES. He defines this as "the systematic study of the full array of organic diversity and the origin of that diversity, together with methods by which it can be maintained and used for the benefit of humanity. The enterprise of biodiversity studies is thus both scientific, a branch of pure biology, and applied, a branch of biotechnology and the social sciences." This book is concerned with the health of the dynamic, living part of earth and our relationship with other life forms. Widgets

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