Interconnections versus structure - a different way to look at reality

Progress Namibia - Interconnections versus structure - a different way to look at reality
02 February 2021

It’s been a long time since I did a Progress Namibia Weekly – but I promise – it is officially making a come-back.

And first for this year is not news.

It’s some inspiration from Fritjof Capra, a physicist made famous by his book “The Tao of Physics”. But it is not from this book that I am drawing my inspiration from for this Weekly. In fact, it is from “The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture”. A book written in the 1970s that is so applicable today it seems shocking to me.

The kind human society we have created has culminated in this moment in time – that of collapse. We think feedbacks like COVID or extremism are isolated events that are “happening to us”, but they are all part of an ill human system that we have all created.

The paradox of intolerance (“if we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and the tolerance with them), the paradox of choice (too much choice causes the feeling of less happiness, less satisfaction and can even lead to paralysis) in some societies are becoming more and more prevalent, while in others poverty and desperation prevail.

We have destroyed so much of our life support system in the process that we are experiencing climate change, the rise of novel viruses and other diseases (in all sorts of species, not only human), and the list goes on.

I share a few thoughts from Capra on this to allow us to better understand that we are not the something. We are part of the something. And that something is not what we think it is. Let’s start at the most microscopic level.

Quantum theory has shown that subatomic particles (what we refer to as neutrons, protons, etc) are not isolated grains of matter but are probability patterns, interconnections in an inseparable cosmic web that includes the human observer and her consciousness. Relativity theory has made the cosmic web come alive, so to speak, by revealing its intrinsically dynamic character; by showing that its activity is the very essence of its being.

In modern physics, the image of the universe as a machine has been transcended by a view of it as one indivisible, dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process. At the sub-atomic level the interrelations and interactions between the parts of the whole are more fundamental than the parts themselves.

There is motion but there are, ultimately, no moving objects; there is activity but there are no actors; there are no dancers, there is only the dance.

Instead of trying to understand this, especially taking a systems perspective, we have focused our sciences too much on reductionism. On objectivism. To such an extent that we have manifested a distorted view of reality, even within our scientific realm. Given that health seems a topical science to focus on, let’s use it as an example.

The reductionist view of disease established itself as a fundamental principle of modern medical science; this has limited the health industry immensely. We forgot to study the terrain, the interconnections. The internal and external environment of the organism.

A healthy body exhibits a striking resistance to many types of microbes. Every human organism acts as a host to a multitude of bacteria, and these can cause damage only when the body is weakened. Successful therapy will often depend only on the physician’s ability to restore the physiological conditions favourable to natural resistance. Mental states affect resistance to infection.

The health of human beings is predominantly determined not by medical intervention but by their behaviour, their food, and the nature of their environment.

The causes of our health crisis are manifold (in case you hadn’t noticed, we had health crises way before COVID came along – just look at some of the biggest GDP contributors countries like the USA); they can be found both within and without medical science, and are inextricably linked to the larger social and cultural crisis.

The mechanist view of the human organism and the resulting engineering approach to health has led to an excessive emphasis on medical technology, which is perceived as the only way to improve health. The increasing dependence of medical care on complex technologies has accelerated the trend toward specialization and has enforced the doctors’ tendency to look at particular parts of the body, forgetting to deal with the patient as a whole person.

At the same time the practice of medicine has shifted from the office of the GP to the hospital where it became progressively depersonalized, if not dehumanized. In these modern medical centers, which look more like airports than therapeutic environments, patients tend to feel helpless and frightened, which often keeps them from getting well. Some 30-50 % of present hospitalization is medically unnecessary, but alternative services that could be therapeutically more effective and economically more efficient have almost disappeared.

The conceptual problem at the center of contemporary healthcare is the biomedical definition of disease, according to which diseases are well-defined entities that involve structural changes at the cellular level and have unique causal roots. The biomedical model allows for several kinds of causative factors, but researchers tend to adhere to the doctrine of “one disease, one cause”. But the overwhelming majority of illnesses cannot be understood in terms of the reductionist concepts of well-defined disease entities and single causes.

The common cold is a good example. It can develop only if a person is exposed to one of several viruses, but not everybody exposed to these viruses will be afflicted. Exposure will result in illness only when the exposed individual is in a receptive state, and this will depend on weather conditions, fatigue, stress, and a host of other circumstances that influence a person’s resistance to infection.

Whereas illness is a condition of the total human being, disease is a condition of a particular part of the body, and rather than treating patients who are ill, doctors have concentrated on treating their diseases. They have lost sight of the important distinction between the two concepts.

To adopt a more holistic and ecological concept of health, will require not only a radical conceptual shift in medical science but also a major public re-education. Many people obstinately adhere to the biomedical model because they are afraid to have their life styles examined and to be confronted with their unhealthy behaviour. As a society, we also tend to use medical diagnosis as a cover-up of social problems. We prefer to talk about our children’s hyperactivity or learning disability than to examine the inadequacy of our antiquated school systems (if you want to know more about this, see the most popular Ted Talk of all time “Do schools kill creativity?”). We are told we suffer from hypertension or anxiety or stress rather than to change our overcompetitive business world. We accept ever-increasing rates of cancer rather than investigate how the chemical industry poisons our food to increase its profits. We accept all new allergies and auto-immune diseases but fail to look at the food industry as part of the problem. These health problems go far beyond the concerns of the medical profession, and we need to look at the entire system.

Every cell is a working part (part material/part energy) of your body, just like your body is a working part (part material, part energy) of our Earth. Everything is interconnected. We cannot go on looking at the world (and our bodies) as a machine that is made up of structures independent of each other. Interconnections are more real than solid structures. That is the truth. So it is no surprise that when we live as if the Earth is a resource to exploit, and not an organism that we are part of, we are indeed the ones who suffer. Remember, you are not merely observing the future, you are shaping it.