Robert Paterson's Radio Weblog
What is really going on beneath the surface? What is the nature of the bifurcation that is unfolding? That's what interests me.

A New Renaissance - Solving the Nature/Nature Paradox - A Series of Sketches for a Book

Why are all our human organizations in the West in such trouble? At work, between 15% and 25% of payroll costs are driven by absence, illness and employee dysfunction. The workplace has become one of the most important drivers of poor health in the modern world, yet most hardly know this. At school, 40% of children now leave school functionaly illiterate. They can read the "cat sat on the mat" but they cannot make sense of a complex sentence. At home, more than 50% of families are now lead by a single parent. No viable primate group has survived with such an impoverished learning and economic unit. Politically, we elect leaders with less than a true plurality who then ignore us and become increasingly totalitarian. Consequently, we are losing trust in our political system as is confirmed by an ever-dropping voter turnout. In the wider world, we are experiencing changes in climate, in our rivers and on our crop lands that tell us that we are eroding the ability of the biosphere to support life. Yet are powerless to stop what we are doing.

What is really going on? We don't seem to be equipped to solve our problems. The more we try and investigate the problems of our institutions, the more paradoxical their situation becomes. So solutions appear to be either silver bullets or unsolveable binary paradoxes. Precribe Ritalin for the hyperactive boy. Demand more drugs to keep us well. Demand more police to keep us safe. Demand more teachers to educate our children. Demand more daycare to raise our chuldren. Or we collapse into helplessness when we see our situation in terms of  binary choices such as we can have either jobs or the planet.

Why can't we see a better way? Why are we so stuck?

This morning I started to read an old book by Fritjof Capra, called "Uncommon Wisdom". It is a rich and moving book of how Capra came to "see" the connection between the new physics and the ancient wisdom of the East. The book is all about the power of relationships. At the personal level, the book tells us about Capra's own relationships with those that influence him such as Walter Heisenberg, At the intellectual level, the book reminds us that the new physics and the ancient wisdom tell us that the only constant is relationship.

This is the moment when I had my flash. Capra was decribing the torture of the early thinkers of the Quantum world such as Bohr and Heisenberg.

"Whenever the essential nature of things is analyzed by the intellect, it will seem absurd or paradoxical.....For centuries, the phenomena studied in science belonged to the scientists everyday environment and hence to the realm of their sensory experience...Like the mystics, physicists were now dealing with the nonsensory experience of reality, and, like the mysics, had to face the paradoxical aspects of this experience. From then on the models and images of medern physics become akin to those of eastern philosophy"

This was my flash. Is our current view of how we organize and how we inhabit the world trapped by our sensory experiences? Are we using the wrong language, metaphors and images? Is this why we cannot "see" what we need to "see" to solve our problems? The new Physicists were struggling to understand the microscopic world that was beyond their sensory experience. All they saw at first were paradoxes that made no sense. How could light be a wave and a particle? How could we have science if the observer always affected the observed? How could we make sense of structure if there could not be a hieracrchy of building blocks?

With an enormous effort, they broke through their sensory experience and accepted the world of the micro that was not built on objects but on relationships. That was 80 years ago. But for the rest of us, this idea is some abstract concept that only applies to the mirco world. What if it is a univeral truth instead? What if relationships not objects were the centrepiece of all human activity? Are we still stuck in the pre-Coperincan world of our most primitve sensory experience?

300 years ago we gave up the idea that the Earth was the centre of the universe. This was the Copernican Revolution that creatd the modern era and the age of science. But did we also give up the other key Western idea that mankind, as represented by the individual was even more located at the centre of the universe? 

I think that at the heart of our inability to solve the problems of our time is a belief that we, as individuals, are the unique pinnacle centrepiece of creation. We believe that mankind is above the natural world. We believe that we can therefore treat all other things animate or inanimate as ours to do with as we please. We believe that we can treat all humans who are not like us like objects. We therfore believe in an object-based universe. We do this because until now we had no sensory experience that we could have a planetary impact on all life and hence on our own.

We are the heart of the Cartesian Heresy. Is it not that we have to see the world as built up from unique parts because we see ourselves as the most unique of all the parts? That's not true you say. We have progressed beyond that. Let's ahve aquick check and see if we have.

Look at how we measure and evaluate performance in organizations. Individuals are primarly held accountable. There is nothing meaningful in any performance management system that relates to workplace climate or how a team functions. Except in the military, we pay no attention to how human social groups form or even exist. We gaily talk about teamwork but know next to nothing about how social groups are formed or their rules. Look how we view healthcare. It is all about how we apply remedies to the expressed symptons in an individual. We talk population health. We acknowledge how public health eradicated most of the infectious diseases of the 19th ecntury but we hang onto the efficacy of drugs and individual procedures. Look how we apply social policy. It is all about how we dribble financial resources to the individual. We pay next to no attention to the circumstances of how an environment influences behaviour in spite of the new knowledge that crime has been cut in half in New York by working on the Grafitti on the subway.




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Last update: 01/03/2003; 12:32:09 PM.