Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Web of Life 16

Systems Thinking 2

Tektology

This is a totally new concept for the present writer.  However, it is always great to discover something new.  Alexander Bogdanov (1873 - 1928) was the inventor or originator of this interesting concept.  He was quite a polymath with a political interest as he was a Russian physician, a philosopher, an economist, a science fiction writer, and a revolutionary of Belarusian ethnicity.  As well as all that he was a key figure in the early history of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, being one of its co-founders and a rival to the main man Vladimir Lenin until being expelled in 1909.  This system of Bogdanov remains largely unknown outside Russia, according to Dr Capra.  This Russian polymath called his theory 'tektology', from the Greek "tekton" meaning "builder."  In other words, here we have a return to the epistemological theory of building as a metaphor.  Another way of putting this is to call tektology "the science of structures."  Once again, in keeping with the overall systems approach to knowledge in any field, Bogdanov's main goal was to clarify and generalize the principles of organization of all living and even nonliving structures.  In the apt and succinct summary which Dr Capra offers us we read:
Tektology was the first attempt in the history of science to arrive at a systematic formulation of the principles of organization operating in living and nonliving systems... (The Web of Life, p. 44)
In this he prefigured the systems theory of Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901,Vienna – June 12, 1972, Buffalo, USA)  and even the cybernetics theory proposed by Norbert Wiener (1894, Columbia, Missouri – 1964, an American mathematician) and Ross Ashby (1903 – 1972, an English psychiatrist and a pioneer in cybernetics, the study of complex systems. That a mathematician and a psychiatrist could have put forward a similar theory is nothing short of extraordinary, and exciting indeed, given the disparity of the subject area pursued by both sciences.

Using the terms "complex" and "system" interchangeably, Bogdanov outlined three different kinds of system: (i) organized complexes where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, (ii) disorganized complexes where the whole is smaller than the sum of the parts and (iii) neutral complexes where the organizing and disorganizing principles cancel each other out.  Now, the development of systems can be studied and understood, according to our Russian scholar, by examining two basic organizing mechanisms: (i) formation and (ii) regulation.

Bogdanov even allows for crises which, he believes, lead eventually to transformation into a more complex system.  Here, Dr Capra argues, that our Russian scholar anticipates the concept of catastrophe developed by the French mathematician René Thom (1923 –  2002).  Capra expresses considerable surprise that Ludwig von Bertalanffy who published his world-renowned General System Theory in 1968, and who was the leading scholar in his area should not have come across the ground-breaking work of Bogdanov called Tektology which was published in parts between 1912 and 1917.  Also, it is important to note that Marxist theorists of the day were hostile to Bogdanov's ideas.

Eventually over the decades of the twentieth century systems thinking became quite fashionable in scientific circles.  With the subsequent strong support from cybernetics, the concepts of systems thinking and systems theory became integral parts of the established scientific language.  Indeed there is talk today of systems engineering, systems analysis and systems dynamics and so on and so forth.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy was a biologist with a strong interest in philosophy who belonged to the Vienna Circle . He believed strongly that biological phenomena required new ways of thinking.  He set out to replace the mechanistic image of the foundations of science with a holistic vision.  Indeed he stated that its nearest approximation in the science of the late twentieth century was that of the mathematical field of probability.

Now, Capra informs us, and as a non-scientist I am somewhat baffled here, that as the new theory of evolution entered into general science as such, there was need for a new way of thinking to incorporate this complex notion of change, development or evolution.  One new way of thinking that was invented, our learned author informs us, is the new science of complexity.  When this new science of complexity was invented two new laws were proposed therein: viz., The First Law of Thermodynamics: This law is an expression of the principle of conservation of energy.
The law states that energy can be transformed, i.e. changed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.  The Second Law is the law of the dissipation of energy was formulated first by the French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796 – 1832) who stated, having observed and studied the technology of thermal engines, that there is a trend in physical phenomena from order to disorder.  To express this tendency to breakdown or disorder the physicists invented the new quantity of entropy.  In short, entropy is, then, a measure of disorder.  Let me here return to the succinct words of Dr Capra:
With the concept of entropy and the formulation of the second law, thermodynamics introduced the idea of irreversible processes, of an "arrow of time" into science.  According to the second law, some mechanical energy is always dissipated into heat that cannot be completely recovered.  Thus the entire world machine is running down and will eventually grind to a halt... At the end of the nineteenth century, then, Newtonian mechanics, the science of eternal, reversible trajectories, had been supplemented by two diametrically opposed views of evolutionary change - that of a living world unfolding towards increasing order and complexity, and that of an engine running down, a world of ever-increasing disorder.  Who was right, Darwin or Carnot?

To be continued.
   

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Web of Life 15

Systems Thinking 2

What is the Truth?

Francis Bacon, scientist and statesman
I have touched on this topic many times before, and those first few lines from Francis Bacon's (1561 –1626) famous essay keep surfacing in my mind: "WHAT is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer."  I have often questioned in these pages as to whether there is one singular truth or rather many different truths.  I have also questioned whether it is more correct to speak about the Truth, that is truth with a capital letter or to speak of the plural truths in lower case letters.  Many times have I written the often-quoted  assertion in these posts that we see the world not as it is, that is objectively, but rather as we are, that is, subjectively.  I'm rather cynical, then, as to whether we can arrive at the objective truth at all.  And yet to live in this matter-of-fact world, we have to accept many facts as given truths if we are to survive at all.  The great Victorian churchman and academic John Henry Cardinal Newman said something similar to my contention in the last sentence here - that the human mind has to accept ascribed certainties in lfe, otherwise we'd never make decisions. 

My opening remarks lead me on nicely to the following words from Dr. Capra:
Therefore, scientists can never deal with the truth, in the sense of a precise correspondence between the description and the described phenomenon.  In science, we always deal with limited and approximate descriptions of reality.  This may sound frustrating but for systems thinkers the fact that we can obtain approximate knowledge about an infinite web of interconnected patterns is a source of confidence and strength. (The Web of Life, p. 41)
Process Thinking
Alfred North Whitehead in pensive mood!
There are two strands of system thinking, viz., contextual thinking, which we have already discussed, and process thinking.  It is to this latter that we now turn our attention.  It is possible to trace elements of process thinking back to the ancients, especially back to Heraclitus who authored the famous dictum: "everything flows" as well as the saying that "one cannot step into the same river twice."  No wonder we speak of flow diagrams or flow charts when we discuss process thinking.  During the 1920s, the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead formulated a strongly process-oriented philosophy.  In opposition to the classical model of change as purely accidental and illusory (as by Aristotle), process philosophy regards change as the cornerstone of reality–the cornerstone of being thought as becoming. In physics Ilya Prigogine (1917 – 2003) distinguishes between the "physics of being" and the "physics of becoming".  (See here and here)
Homeostasis

Another complementary concept is that of homeostasis.  The biologists Claude Bernard and Walter Cannon promoted the principle of the constancy of the organism's "internal environment" and refined it into the concept of homeostasis - which essentially is the self-regulatory mechanism that allows organisms to maintain themselves in a state of dynamic balance with their variables fluctuating between tolerance limits.  Metabolism of the individual cell combines order and activity in a way that cannot be described by mechanistic science.  Indeed, it requires thousands of chemical reactions - in short, it is a continual, complex and highly organized activity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Web of Life 14

The Settled versus the Unsettled Mind

We humans like to be sure of things - we delight in certainties.  However, there are few certainties in this life, indeed, apart from such certainties that we shall all grow old, get ill sometimes and eventually die.  Insurance companies make money, and lots of it, on the back of the uncertainties that are part of life.  I remember a priest friend once summarising the Christian message for his congregation thus: "Jesus came into this world to comfort the disturbed and to to disturb the comfortable."  Whatever about one's religious stance or even lack of it, this sentence just quoted contains no little wisdom.  When we are too smug, we do need something to disturb us or wake us up from our indifferent slumber.  In like manner, Fritjof Capra is correct in his contention that traditional science based on the old reliable scientific method is all too comfortable insofar as it has a solid foundation.  As we have pointed out in the preceding post this building or architectural metaphor is just that - one metaphor among other metaphors.  Systems Thinking suggests another metaphor - that of Network(s). "For some scientists such a view of knowledge as a network with no firm foundations is extremely unsettling, and today it is by no means generally accepted." (The Web of Life, p. 39)

The Beauty of Philosophy

The beauty of philosophy for me, and for so many others, is that it is a restless questioning, a questioning which never stops and even ruthlessly questions our own assumptions and presumptions, and hopefully our prejudices.  It also seeks to question our motivations as individuals and as a society.  The philosophy of science must do the same.  Indeed, as one who studied mathematics for some three years at university, I am well aware that there are many areas within that subject and each of those areas has its own specific axioms (or unquestioned assumptions or fundamentals upon which that area is based).  I am also aware that, when one changes one's basic axioms or, say, changes from one geometry to another, the resulting mathematics will be different.  Each of these geometries is logical and sound within its own area and according to the axioms on which it is built (I am, of course, using a building metaphor here!).  However, when we transfer axioms from one specific area into another distinct area, they can be simply meaningless.  The beauty of philosophy, too, then, is that it trains the mind to think outside the box and it enables the mind to change from one " box" to another with a certain ease or facility.

Objectivity

Objectivity has always been a concern for humankind.  As a student I remember that we used to hand up the same essay to different teachers to see what score we would get and to see how accurate or objective our teachers really were.  Oftentimes the results differed, but, thankfully not markedly.   Also as a teacher who has done a certain amount of official corrections, I have always been scrupulous in taking the chief examiner's and other more local examiners' advice into consideration.  In other words, we have to work hard at being objective, that is, objectivity is not a given at all.  Scientist believe that the twin approaches of  empiricism and the scientific method are totally objective. And yet, philosophy can raise questions about how objective such so-called objectivity really is.  Returning to the words of Fritjof Capra, we read:

Another important implication of the view of reality as a inseparable network of relationships concerns the traditional concept of scientific objectivity.  In the Cartesian paradigm, scientific descriptions are believed to be objective.i.e., independent of the human observer and the process of knowing.  The new paradigm implies that epistemology - understanding of the process of knowing - has to be included explicitly in the description of natural phenomena." (Ibid., p. 39)
We see things not as they are, but as we are:

Some sources tell us that this piece of wisdom is written in the Talmud. Shakyamuni Buddha said the same thing, in different words: "All existence is conditioned." As a result of that conditioning, our perception is skewed, and as a result of living based on skewed perception.

Some years back, the great musician Joshua Bell played incognito in a metro station by way of an experiment that was organized by The Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. He played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell had sold out at a theater in Boston and the seat price was $100. The outlines of this project were: (i) In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour do we perceive beauty? (ii) Do we stop to appreciate it?  (iii) Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context? Very few people noticed his brilliance at all, or that this was a world-famous musician.  Most passed by and he was acknowledge by some 32 $ in his hat!

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing? Is it because 'We don't see things as they are but we see things as we are?'

Capra once again returns to Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901 – 1976) who was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory. In addition, he made important contributions to nuclear physics, quantum field theory, and particle physics.  This wonderful theoretical physicist said: "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." (ibid., p. 40)

Paradigm Shift

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolution, and fathered, defined and popularized the concept of "paradigm shift" which basically can be seen as a change from one way of thinking to another. It's a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change. The same can be said, I believe, about the change to Systems Thinking: "[t]hus systems thinking involves a shift from objective to 'epistemic' science;  to a framework in which epistemology - 'the method of questioning' - becomes an integral part of scientific theories." (Ibid., p. 40)

Big Question

As I have been literally singing an encomium to the importance of philosophy above, we must now ask a very big question.  If everything is connected to everything else, how can we ever hope to understand anything?  Well, while there may not today be the Cartesian idea of the total certainty of science, there exists today what we may term "approximate knowledge."  In the new paradigm of science - that of interconnection, connectivity and networks, it is recognised that all scientific concepts and theories are limited and approximate.  Science can never provide any complete and definitive understanding.  For that matter neither can theology or philosophy or literature or any other human enterprise.

The best way, dear reader, to end this post is surely with the great declaration of Socrates that the beginning of all wisdom lies in our declaration of our ignorance.  Only from there can we hope to learn anything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Web of Life 13

Systems Thinking 1

Gravestone and Cobweb, Roscrea Cemetery, 2007


These days I am pursuing an interdisciplinary course in Human Development at a local college and one of the subjects we have studied is Feminisms and Theories of Care.  Therein, we have discussed the traditional hierarchical nature of societies.  Capra et al inform us the nature itself does not work in a hierarchical fashion.  Rather it works in a network fashion, with networks resting within networks.  In the insightful words of Dr Capra we read: "We tend to arrange these systems, all nesting within larger systems, in a hierarchical scheme by placing the larger systems above the smaller ones in pyramid fashion.  But this is a human projection." (The Web of Life, p. 35).

So in nature, the, Capra et al argue that there are no "aboves" or "belows" and no hierarchies.  Instead there are only networks within networks. 

Central Points of Systems Thinking

  • The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Living systems are all integrated wholes that cannot be reduced to a sum of its individual parts.  It's the interconnections and interrelationships between parts that really matter.  In other words , we might say that the function of the parts is in fact "systemic."

  • Systems thinking is the ability to shift one's attention back and forth between systems levels.  Capra argues that when stress is applied to an organism, a city or an economy we will gain insight into how that particular system works.

  • While there is no hierarchy within systems thinking there are different levels within a system that represent levels of different complexity.

  • Works in an opposite way to Cartesian thinking which believed that in any complex system the behaviour of the whole could be analysed in terms of the properties of its parts.  Systems science shows that living systems cannot be understood by analysis.  The properties of parts are not intrinsic properties, but can be understood only within the context of the larger whole.  In other words systems thinking is contextual thinking.

  • Ultimately, there are no parts at all, Dr Capra argues (ibid., p. 37). What we call a part is merely a pattern in an inseparable web of relationships.

  • The traditional metaphor for science has come from the building or architectural world, and no wonder, indeed, because all human beings (indeed all animals) need to construct a shelter in which to live.  Hence we speak of fundamental laws, foundational principles, basic building blocks etc.  Descartes spoke about "the shifting foundations" of philosophy upon which no solid science could be built.

  • Yet, three hundred years later Heisenberg could say that these very foundations of physics (indeed of all the sciences) were themselves not very solid.  In fact the foundations were shifting:  "the foundations of physics have started moving." (Heisenberg as quoted in Capra, ibid., p. 38)

  • In the new systems thinking, the metaphor of knowledge as a building is being replaced by that of the network.  This attention to metaphor, here, and our use of them, indeed our almost unconscious or unthinking use of them needs to be re-visited and thought about quite seriously as they do highlight our unthinking presuppositions.  In some old rabbinical tale or other I read over the years, I remember an old rabbi telling one of his disciples that what he had learned from a long life was that one should always question one's motivations.  Brilliant.  We should constantly question our motivations and indeed our presuppositions, and consequently our unthinking use of language.  This is where philosophy comes in and where poor old Descartes went wrong!

  • Interestingly, Capra alludes to Geoffrey Chew's famous concept of "bootstrap philosophy" where the notion of scientific knowledge as a network of concepts and models, in which no part is any more fundamental than the others.  This "bootstrap philosophy" abandons the idea of fundamental building-blocks of matter and accepts no fundamental entities whatsoever, whether equations or otherwise.  The universe itself is seen as a dynamic web of interrelated events.

  • Now all of these points above imply that physics can no longer be seen as the most fundamental level of science.  Since there are no foundations in the network, the phenomena described by physics are not any more foundational than those described by biology or chemistry or psychology or any other science.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The Web of Life 12

The Power of Images

Roscrea Graveyard, September'07.  Spider's web on cross



Every writer, indeed every human being one could say, is well aware of the potency of images.  Images speak louder than a thousand words.  Indeed, our memories are crammed packed with myriads of them and, in a sense, we are our memories.  No wonder we are suckers for good images.  Likewise, when Dr Fritjof Capra was choosing a title for his wonderful book a central image shot to his mind, viz., that of the web.  The idea of "The Web of Life" is a very ancient one indeed.  It has been used by mystics, sages, poets and philosophers throughout the ages to convey their sense of the unity - nay, interwovenness and interlinked nature of all phenomena.  Indeed, Capra informs us that he chose his image from the marvellous speech attributed to Chief Seattle.  Hence, it may not be too inappropriate to place a copy of the full text of that speech hereunder.  Even though the provenance of the speech has been disputed, this point need not delay us here as we are merely (or, more properly, wholly) concerned with the spirit and power of the words and images that with the true identity of its author. It is likely that the following words are not those of Chief Seattle.

"The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother's heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.
One thing we know - there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all."  (See here for text: Inauthentic Version )
There does exist a truer version of the original speech by Chief Seattle and it can be found here: Authentic Version

Sammis' portrait of Chief Seattle.
It is the first version or the inauthentic one that contains the image of the "web of life."  It is a far more poetic version than the original authentic speech.  However, one can see how the former is based on the latter as foundational text.  There is much we moderns can learn from the simplicity of ancient religions, or more specifically from ancient spiritualities which certainly had a high respect for nature and for the life of planet Earth, for the sacredness of her soil, and indeed for humans whom they saw as just another part of nature.  It was Christianity, following on the Jewish preoccupation with being the "chosen" or favoured "people of God," that placed humankind (or mankind as Judaism/Christianity puts it) at the topmost point of that creation.  That such beliefs led, not alone to hubris and pride, but also to the torture, enslavement and murder of what they would have seen, and possibly still do see still, as "less important" races.
  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Web of Life 11


Suspended wheel outside a tyre business near me.



Encountering Wholeness

Way back in 1994 as part of my S.T.L. degree I wrote a thesis on Faith and Theological Method in the Works of John Henry Newman Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was one of the foremost minds of nineteenth century England as well as being the greatest stylist of the period in the English language.  In short, he wrote angelic prose.  Anyway, in that thesis I adverted to Newman's obsession with wholeness or holism, somewhat way before holism was known as a way of perceiving things or of approaching problems.  Here, in summary, is what I wrote then:

From his experience of life Newman was deeply conscious that our permanent convictions and beliefs are reached, not by the intellect alone, but by the whole person functioning as a thinking, feeling and willing unity.  This he calls our 'compound nature.'  He found it simply impossible to be a reductionist, to think otherwise than in continual reference to the whole.  In all his writings Newman was continually aware of the partial character of his viewpoint on any specific subject... [In the Apologia] he insists that in any controversy in which he was involved that he had 'a great impatience, whatever was the subject, of not bringing out the whole of it, as clearly as I could'  Nowhere did he express this basic vision with greater force than in the following often-quoted passage from the same book: 'For myself it was not logic then that carried me on... It is the concrete being that reasons; pass a number of years and I find myself in a new place; how? the whole man moves; paper logic is but a record of it.' (Tim Quinlan op.cit. supra, p. 41)
The Holism of Ecology



In summary, then, organismic biologists came across irreducible wholeness in organisms.  Thereafter, quantum physicists encountered it in atomic phenomena and Gestalt psychologists found it in perception itself.  Then, along came the ecologists and they encountered this thrust to wholeness in their studies of animal and plant communities.  As Dr Fritjof Capra puts it so succinctly: "The new science of ecology emerged out of the organismic school of biology during the nineteenth century, when biologists began to study communities of organisms." (The Web of Life, p. 33)  The German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919) coined the term "ecology" in 1866 and defined it thus: 'the science of relations between the organism and the surrounding outer world.' (Ibid., p. 33)

The War of Terminologies

The word "Umwelt" or "environment" was used for the first time in 1909.  One Charles Elton (1900 – 1991) introduced the concepts of food chains and food cycles.  Another called Frederick Clements  (1874 - 1945), an American plant ecologist introduced the concept of viewing plant communities as 'super-organisms.'  A British plant ecologist, one A.G. Tansley (1871 - 1955)  countered this concept with the idea of the 'ecosystem.'  He maintained that his new term was more accurate and more precise than Clements' concept, and that it characterised both animal and plant communities. 

The term 'biosphere' was first used in the late nineteenth century by the Austrian geologist Eduard Suess (1831–1914) to describe the layer of life surrounding the Earth.  A few decades later, the Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863 – 1945) published a fully researched book called Biosphere.   Capra informs us that of all the early writing and research on the living Earth Vernadsky's comes closest to the contemporary Gaia theory advanced and developed by the modern scientists James Lovelock and Lynn Magulis in the 1970s.  I have written about the Gaia hypothesis before - see here and following posts.  James Lovelock's own web page can be accessed here - Lovelock )

Enriching Systems Thinking

Ecology enriched Systems Thinking with two other concepts - those of community and network.  Returning to Dr Capra's own words, we read:

Today we know that most organisms are not only members of ecological communities but are also complex ecosystems themselves, containing a host of smaller organisms that have considerable autonomy and yet are integrated harmoniously into the functioning of the whole... Over billions of years of evolution, many species have formed such tightly knit communities that the whole system resembles a large, multicreatured organism.  Bees and ants, for example, are unable to survive in isolation, but in great numbers they act almost like the cells of a complex organism with a collective intelligence and capabilities for adaptation far superior to those of its individual members.  Similar close coordination of activities exist also among different species, where it is known as symbiosis, and again the resulting living systems have the characteristics of single organisms. (Ibid., p. 34)
In brief, then, my argument here, drawing on Newman (theology) and modern science with Dr Fritjof Capra, is that the thrust to wholeness or unity is perennial with respect to the human quest for meaning.  On the one hand, those who want to figure out how things work are fundamentally concerned with parts and how these work, even with atomism, that is attempting to continually divide things to arrive at foundational bricks as it were.  On the other hand philosophers, literati and others are concerned with striving to see the whole picture in whatever they are investigating at a particular time.  In sum, then, I should like to finish with the words of one of my favourite Romantic poets and philosophers and critics, viz., S.T. Coleridge, words which get to the essence of my intentions in this post.   Coleridge once said that the human thrust to meaning could best be summed up in the words "to see the unity behind the multeity."