The Art and Science of Connecting the Dots of Life-Coherent Meaning and Understanding
The tour-de-force article by Fritjof Capra entitled The Science of Connection provides much food for thought and served as the catalyst to connect many narratives into an integral life-coherent unifying framework of meaning which I would life to share with you the readers. It connected for me Dan Siegel’s definition of the mind with John McMurtry’s fields of life values and removes any doubt once and for all that mind, matter and life are different manifestations of the same underlying unified field of processes.
According to Fritjof Capra in The Science of Connection:
“A New Conception
The systems view of life is a new understanding about life on earth that is emerging at the forefront of contemporary science. The universe is no longer seen as a machine composed of elementary building blocks. It is a conception of life based on systemic thinking and some of the new concepts and mathematical techniques of complexity theory.
It allows us for the first time to integrate the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life. We have discovered that the material world is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships; that the planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system.
The view of the human body as a machine and of the mind as a separate entity is being replaced by one that sees not only the brain, but also the immune system, the bodily tissues, and even each cell as a living, cognitive system.
The Systems View
Evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle for existence, but rather as a cooperative dance in which creativity and the constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces. And with the new emphasis on complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation, a new science of qualities is slowly emerging.
I call this new science “the systems view of life” because it involves a new kind of thinking – thinking in terms of relationships, patterns and context. In science, this way of thinking is known as “systems thinking”, or “systemic thinking”. Thinking in terms of relationships is crucial for ecology, because ecology – derived from the Greek oikos, meaning “household” – is the science of the relationships among various members of the Earth Household.
One of the most important insights of the systemic understanding of life is the recognition that networks are the basic pattern of organisation of all living systems. Ecosystems are understood in terms of food webs (i.e. networks of organisms); organisms are networks of cells, organs and organ systems; and cells are networks of molecules.
The network is a pattern that is common to all life. Wherever we see life, we see networks. Indeed, at the very heart of the change of paradigm from the mechanistic to the systemic view of life we find a fundamental change of metaphor: from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network.
Closer examination of these living networks has shown that their key characteristic is that they are self-generating. In a cell, for example, all the biological structures – the proteins, the enzymes, the DNA, the cell membrane, and so on – are continually produced, repaired and regenerated by the cellular network. Similarly, at the level of a multicellular organism, the bodily cells are continually regenerated and recycled by the organism’s metabolic network.
Living networks continually create or recreate themselves by transforming or replacing their components. In this way they undergo continual structural changes while preserving their web-like patterns of organisation. This coexistence of stability and change is indeed one of the key characteristics of life.
Life in the social realm can also be understood in terms of networks, but here we are not dealing with chemical processes: we are dealing with processes of communication. Social networks, as you know, are networks of communications. Like biological networks, they are self-generating, but what they generate is mostly non-material. Each communication creates thoughts and meaning, which give rise to further communications, and thus the entire network generates itself.
Mind and Consciousness
One of the most important, and most radical, philosophical implications of the systems view of life is a new conception of the nature of mind and consciousness, which finally overcomes the Cartesian division between mind and matter that has haunted philosophers and scientists for centuries.
In the 17th century, René Descartes based his view on the fundamental division between two independent and separate realms – that of mind, which he called the “thinking thing” (res cogitans), and that of matter, the “extended thing” (res extensa).
Following Descartes, scientists and philosophers continued to think of the mind as some intangible entity and were unable to imagine how this “thinking thing” is related to the body. The decisive advance of the systems view of life has been to abandon the Cartesian view of mind as a “thing”, and to realise that mind and consciousness are not things, but processes.
The Process of Knowing
This novel concept of mind was developed during the 1960s by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, who used the term ‘mental process’, and independently by the biologist Humberto Maturana. Their central insight is the identification of cognition, the process of knowing, with the process of life.
Cognition, according to Maturana, is the activity involved in the self-generation and self-perpetuation of living networks. In other words, cognition is the very process of life. The self-organising activity of living systems, at all levels of life, is mental activity. The interactions of a living organism – plant, animal or human – with its environment are cognitive interactions. Thus life and cognition are inseparably connected.
Mind – or, more accurately, mental activity – is immanent in matter at all levels of life. For the first time, we have a scientific theory that unifies mind, matter and life.”
In another tour-de-force article entitled Scientists say your “mind” isn’t confined to your brain, or even your body, the unity of the mind, (brain/body) matter and life are made self-evident and is reproduced below in full:
“You might wonder, at some point today, what’s going on in another person’s mind. You may compliment someone’s great mind, or say they are out of their mind. You may even try to expand or free your own mind.
But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?
Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of a recently published book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.
He first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those wrestling with the question across these fields.
After much discussion, they decided that a key component of the mind is: “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” It’s not catchy. But it is interesting, and with meaningful implications.
The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions.
“I realized if someone asked me to define the shoreline but insisted, is it the water or the sand, I would have to say the shore is both sand and sea,” says Siegel. “You can’t limit our understanding of the coastline to insist it’s one or the other. I started thinking, maybe the mind is like the coastline—some inner and inter process. Mental life for an anthropologist or sociologist is profoundly social. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.”
The definition has since been supported by research across the sciences, but much of the original idea came from mathematics. Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result).
In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation to mental health. Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. This means that without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity—a notion that, Siegel says, fits the range of symptoms of mental health disorders.
Finally, self-organization demands linking together differentiated ideas or, essentially, integration. And Siegel says integration—whether that’s within the brain or within society—is the foundation of a healthy mind.Siegel says he wrote his book now because he sees so much misery in society, and he believes this is partly shaped by how we perceive our own minds. He talks of doing research in Namibia, where people he spoke to attributed their happiness to a sense of belonging.
When Siegel was asked in return whether he belonged in America, his answer was less upbeat: “I thought how isolated we all are and how disconnected we feel,” he says. “In our modern society we have this belief that mind is brain activity and this means the self, which comes from the mind, is separate and we don’t really belong. But we’re all part of each others’ lives. The mind is not just brain activity. When we realize it’s this relational process, there’s this huge shift in this sense of belonging.”
In other words, even perceiving our mind as simply a product of our brain, rather than relations, can make us feel more isolated. And to appreciate the benefits of interrelations, you simply have to open your mind.”
This now leads us back to John McMurtry’s life-value onto-axiology which provided the unified cognitive framework of meaning to make sense of it all. (Please see: Social Philosophy and Oncology by Giorgio Baruchello and Elísabet Hjörleifsdóttir (2014) and THE META VALUE SYSTEM OF ALL VALUES by Professor John McMurtry – Updated 2016).
We can now rehabilitate our messed up world from the Great Sickness that we have inheritied, this time by using the most cutting-edge cognitive technology ever discovered to anchor us to the life-ground and to be guided strategically by the life-compass and life-coordinates going forward. Since mind and life are both unified as an “emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us,” we can now connect 1) the embodied individual life hosts of cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems, in relationship with 2) the embodied social life host of individuals, families, groups, institutions, and and nation-states, also in relationship with 3) the planetary life hosts of terrestial and aquatic ecosystems.
The goal now is to use our gifts as a humane species, guided now by a culture of peaceful coexistence and health flourishing, to help ensure that these interconnected self-organising processes which constitute the life support systems within, among and around us, respectively, cohere and resonate with each other so that their integrity is protected and preserved to serve and nourish all life forms on this planet. All of our rule-creation processes inclusive of the medium of exchanges (money and its creation) need now be revisited and reformulated and made life-valued coherent as we surgical dissect out that which is culturally and stuctural violent in all of our ideologies and institutional functioning, to ensure that there is lasting peace and shared prosperity in fully life-coherent partnership among flourishing people and this bountiful planet that has been gifted to us.