Hello! Do you remember ever having seen before the following expression?
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”
Well, this is the basic notion of systems theory, which is currently opposing the mechanistic paradigm for the ecological (systemic) one. To better understand, let’s talk a little bit of history (based on the book “The Web of Life” by Fritjop Capra).
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with new discoveries in physics, astronomy and mathematics, a medieval world view based on the philosophy of Aristotle and Christian theology, has changed completely. The vision of an organic world, living and spiritual was replaced by the notion of the world as a machine.
So, at that time Galileo Galilei restricted science to the study of phenomena that could be measured and quantified and Rene Descartes created the method of analytical thinking, which is to break complex phenomena into pieces in order to understand the behavior of the whole from the properties of its parts. The material universe, including living organisms, for Descartes was a machine, and could in principle be fully understood by analyzing it in terms of its smallest parts. Then Isaac Newton, with its Newtonian mechanics, completed the concepts of Descartes and Galileo, i.e., the world as a perfect machine governed by exact mathematical laws.
All this was very important for that epoch and allowed many advances in science, but cannot explain everything; after all “we are not machines.” As William Blake wrote in a funny way: “May God protect us from the single vision and sleep of Newton.” And as Goethe wrote in a philosophical way: “Every creature is just a standardized grading of a great harmonious whole.”
But speaking more scientifically, according to the systemic view, the essential properties of an organism or living system are the property of the whole, which neither party has. They arise from the interactions and relations between the parties. These properties are destroyed when the system is dissected, either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements. A very interesting example is the taste of sugar, which is not present in the atoms of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which are its components.
See the following video with an interview with Capra about this subject:
Below is a video (part of the film “Mindwalk”) that exemplifies these concepts didactically:
In the next post we’ll see how this system theory can be used to build a sustainable society. See you soon!