by Grian A. Cutanda
The preamble of the constitution of UNESCO says:
“That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.
This is something that almost everyone researching in the field of social and human sciences could say. And, above all, this is something that we —those involved in the study of inner dimensions of peace and sustainability— emphasize over and over again. But we not only think that war has its origin in the minds of human beings. We are also convinced that the big problems that plague us as a species and plague the planet on which we live —among which climate change stands out for its urgency— are rooted as well inside us; specifically, in our worldview.
The worldview of every society and civilization is deeply marked and determined by the myths in which they are based
As the leading authors in cultural studies pointed out, the worldview of every society and civilization is deeply marked and determined by the myths in which they are based. In the case of Western culture, which has largely imposed its worldview on this emerging global civilization, our founding myths tell us that, after creating man and woman, God said: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth” (Genesis, 1:28).
What worldview emerges from a creation myth that says this? What image or pattern of relationship between humans and the world around them has been infused through hundreds of generations with this story about how things were set up in the beginning?
We could compare this story with one of the creation myths of Australian Aboriginal cultures, the one known as The Secret of Dreaming, which ends by saying: “So this is why the Land is sacred and Man must be its Caretaker” (Pulter, 1988)
Obviously, from these creation myths would emerge two very different worldviews and cultures, with two very different ways of understanding the relationship between human beings and the universe. In one of these worldviews, man is the master of all that is, he can do and undo at will and make use of all forms of life as he pleases. In the other worldview, human being is seen as a steward who should take care of all the living and non-living things around him, inasmuch as the Earth is sacred.
However, we cannot put all the blame about our worldview on our founding myths. The philosophy of Descartes and the physics of Newton arose a concept of the universe that, together with its mythic basis, defined the image of the world that we all, collectively, hold today
However, we cannot put all the blame about our worldview on our founding myths. Although myths largely determine our way of contemplating reality, and even thinking, there are other cultural factors involved in it. In our case, from the 17th century, our worldview has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Descartes and the physics of Newton. From them not only emerged modern science but, also and above all, arose a concept of the universe that, together with its mythic basis, defined the image of the world that we all, collectively, hold today: the mechanistic view of the universe.
Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm led us to believe that the world around us is something like a huge watch in which each gearwheel meets a simple task and can be studied in isolation to discern the working of the whole mechanism. This led to a reductionist approach to reality where the important thing ceased to be the entire set to become its parts or elements, so fading from sight the critical importance of the overall functioning of the alleged “mechanism”. Objects were isolated from each other (atomism), from their environment (antiecological perspective) and from the observer (objectivist perspective). And thus we end up fragmenting a reality that essentially is one, giving prominence to the analysis and division of reality —rather than to the contexts and processes, relationships and integration— and giving too much importance to reason, at the expense of emotion and intuition.
Now, we not only took for granted that we could behave at will with the natural world around us. Now, in addition, we could divide it, dissect it, an analyze it in its isolated components, regardless of the critical importance of existing relationships and processes among those elements. And worst of all is that this allowed us a remarkable control over the world, giving us the illusory conviction that we had finally found the key that would allow us to impose, once and for all, on nature.
It is this worldview that has led to the way of thinking, attitudes, values, behaviours and lifestyles which have brought us to this profound social and environmental crisis. It is that feeling of being owners and masters of everything, and that not taking into consideration the global nature of the world, but only its parts, what has led us to this situation in which “we can’t see the forest for the trees.”
The source of the problems lies in the minds of human beings, but also the solution is in our own minds. This solution lies in the need that we urgently adopt a new worldview
Indeed, the source of the problem lies in the minds of human beings, but also the solution is in our own minds. This solution lies in the need that we urgently adopt a new worldview, an understanding of reality that leads to a different way of thinking, and to attitudes, values, behaviours and lifestyles consistent with this more accurate perception of the universe.
During the 20th century, and once again from the discoveries of physics —specifically particle physics—, a new paradigm began to unfold. It was a paradigm which, without denying or excluding the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm, is offering now not only a new mode to understand science, but also a new way of seeing and understanding reality. And, what is even better, a new way of thinking and understanding our relationships with the world around us.
Starting from the formulations of the Austrian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the 1950’s and his General Theory of Systems, this new view of reality was developed to reach the field of social sciences, through the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, and philosophy of science and epistemology with Ervin Laszlo and Edgar Morin, with his Theory of Complexity.
From the complex systems paradigm, we begin to see reality as a whole of which its various elements are integrated and interrelated
From the complex systems paradigm, the Cartesian-Newtonian principle of fragmentation becomes a principle of interrelationship and interdependence, which distinguishes but does not separate, taking into account the context and the processes that happens within the system. Thus, we begin to see reality as a whole of which its various elements are integrated and interrelated; and in which, unlike the mechanistic paradigm, the “watch” as a whole is much more than the sum of its components.
For example, from the complex systems thinking, complex system Earth could not be explained as a sum of biological, mineral, and atmospheric components, because all of them together would give rise to a larger and more complex entity than the sum of parts. And the same is true of the human beings, because the sum of its various biological subsystems gives rise to some emergent properties —such as the consciousness— that could not be explained from the mere sum of its parts.
The complex systems thinking does not separate reality from its contexts, and hence you cannot understand from there humans as something separate from the planet Earth and the community of life that inhabits her
The complex systems thinking does not separate reality from its contexts, and hence you cannot understand from there humans as something separate from the planet Earth and the community of life that inhabits her. In short, the complex systems worldview allows you to “see the forest through the trees.” And, from that new worldview, a new thinking, new values, behaviours and lifestyles emerge, all of them adjusted to reality and therefore more suitable for survival: the shared survival of the entire community of life and the planet that sustains it.
If we want to reach the root causes of climate change, if we are to overcome the serious social and environmental crisis in which we are living —in short, if we want to survive—, we will need to urgently develop this new worldview and this new way of thinking. It is a revolution of the human mind to the scale of the revolution brought by Descartes and Newton just over three centuries. Even it could be much more than a historical revolution, because it would end denying some of our founding myths. But it is a necessary revolution in our way of seeing reality, in the way we think and relate to the world around us and, ultimately, in our way of living and being in the world.
Perhaps then we will be in a good position to reach that dreamed world in which peace and social justice prevail, that world in which human being could finally be the Caregiver of his brothers and sisters in the community of life, and a worthy son of his mother, the Earth.