Tom Cheetham

Introduction: Worlds Well Made

The collective human project in a post-modern culture should be to envision and attempt to enact relations among ourselves, and between ourselves and our environments, which are compatible both with the most basic human needs, and with the essential requirements of ecological systems. We can undertake to establish forms of personal and social life which are compatible with plurality and diversity, and with the irreducible individuality characteristic of the living world. We must conceive "environmental education" in such a way that it includes explicit consideration of individual cognition and societal structures and organization. Future cultures which are to be sustainable both socially and ecologically need to be based on an implicit recognition of the nonrepresentational basis of cognition, and must measure the value of forms of life in terms of their utility for human projects, and their ability to accommodate plurality.

My fundamental thesis is this: since we and our world are co-determined, and since imagination and metaphor are central to our cognition, if we wish to change the worlds we now inhabit, and ourselves along with them, we must reimagine those worlds. Increasingly, we all inhabit a single world, and this in


itself diminishes us. We have just begun the investigation of the nature of the worlds which may be available to us, and of the limitations which apply. We can say that we are not prisoners of the things-in-themselves, to be jostled about by the determinations of the particles of reality. Nor are we wholly prisoners of our time - though we can be. On the other hand, we are not free to create ex nihilo the worlds we would have. The constraints are many and varied: they are physical, physiological, ecological, cognitive and social. They are historical in the broadest sense. We are only beginning to understand these constraints, and their histories, within the context of an epistemology of the sort appropriate for the enactment of the worlds we might wish to inhabit. The possibilities which are open to us are visible only dimly. But if we do not have before us an imaginative vision of the kinds of worlds we desire, nor any sense of the plasticity of such worlds, then we cannot even hope to have an adequate understanding of the problems peculiar to a pluralistic society in a technological age.

Such visions must in-corporate, in the literal sense of 'embody', sensitivities to the operative constraints. These range from the universal laws of thermodynamics, to the particular and contingent concrete situations of societies and individuals. Attempts to transgress the limits of the possible at any level, result in incoherence and loss of function. Currently, ecological and social problems are predominant. The urgency of the situation is brought home by the collapse of ecological and social systems in both the developed and the developing countries. The dangers of a failure to provide appropriate visions are social, economic and ecological dysfunction, and suffering on a massive scale.

In what follows I will outline the shortcomings of two prevalent contemporary views of a possible human future. Both result in the devaluation of human concerns through appeals to abstract conceptions of life and mind. I will suggest an alternative which may be available to us, by considering some themes which recent work in the natural sciences and the humanities have in common.


I. Abstraction and the Disappearance of Humanity 1. History of the Modern West as Abstraction

The history of the modern West has a curious dynamic, resulting from the interaction of two logically distinct components. The first is an urge towards the identification of value and truth with the universal and abstract. The second is an increasing realization of the contingency and historicity of human activities. The contemporary world is the result of the tension which arises when a culture attempts to develop with categories of valuation and knowing grounded in the absolute, and yet at the same time function in a physical universe which is temporal and diverse. The resulting schism between Is and Ought is one of the driving forces in the production of the modern temperament. Machiavelli speaks in a voice indistinguishable from that of the dominant culture of modem technicians, politicians, economists and sociobiologists:

" . .. my intention being to write something of use to those who understand, it appears to me more proper to go to the effective truth of the matter than to its imagination ... for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation. ,,1

Moral values are grounded in the absolute and therefore 'useless'. Knowledge of this world on the other hand, is only useful if it is abstract. The moral drawn by the 17th century rationalists from Gali1eo' s success is stark and revealing:

" ... they said, the more metaphysically comfortless and morally insignificant our vocabulary, the likelier we are to be 'in touch with reality' or to be 'scientific,' or to describe reality as it wants

1. Machiavelli, N. 1952, The Prince, New American Library, p. 84.


to be described and thereby get it under control. ,,2

When the categories of valuation do not apply to this world, the world becomes abstract. As long as we presume that the reality of value and knowledge depends upon their degree of universality and permanence, we are doomed to live in such a world. Because valuation is unavoidable as an essential feature of human life, we do not stop evaluating; insofar as we believe that we cannot have knowledge of the absolute source of value, we assent to live according to the dictates we imagine the "natural", and now abstract world to provide. In the end, we abdicate responsibility entirely and the question of value never even arises.

Abstraction was a great success in the case of the physical sciences, and practical results were forthcoming. The intellectual gloss on this left a transcendent home for Mind and Value and God. The somewhat clumsy treatment by Descartes was put in more adequate form by Kant. The distinction was made between the phenomenal and the noumenal, and morality was grounded in the abstract and universal by means of the categorical imperative. Kant's attempt to provide a secure footing for freedom and value by means of the transcendental move is largely of academic interest from the point of view of society in general. The reign of abstraction in natural science was already established and the "natural" world was no longer a possible home for mind or value. The natural world was made wholly un-natural. It is in this context that we can see the importance of the parallel movement recognizing the centrality of history in human affairs, which began to erode the validity of any claims to transcendent, ahistorical knowledge. The natural world had been made no fit place for humanity at the same time that the transcendent home of mind and value was being dismantled, and both had to take their place within this strange new world.

2. Rorty, Richard, 1982, Consequences of Pragmatism, University of Minnesota Press, p. 193.


2. The Idol of Progress and the Idol of Nature

Our recent history then is partly the result of an attempt to live with an abstract conception of nature on the one hand, and equally abstract notions of mind and value on the other. The phenomenal and noumenal distinction is untenable, and the attempts to combine these into a single world have met with no success, since no basis for their reconciliation as abstractions has been left us. We have had a conception of the natural world which is incompatible with mind and value, and we have tried to ground our values somehow within this world. Our mistake is to suppose that these values needed grounding: we still yearn for the transcendent. We have made mythologies to match our conceptions. I will outline two such mythologies and show how they both fail by appeals to abstract absolutes.

Kant viewed his attempt to provide secure footing for metaphysics as akin to the Copernican revolution in natural science. Both revolutions, whatever their intent, served to relativize the human perspective, deny us privileged access to absolute truth, and in the end, to deny human values any particular centrality. The ensuing history of the West consists largely in the playing out of the consequences of these moves. To conceive of human concerns, abilities and values as relative, there must be an implicit conception of that to which they are relative. The nature of that implicit Absolute depends upon one's mythology. In a world dominated by natural science as currently understood, the Absolute will be Nature in one form or another.

There are, at least, two ways to envision Nature as such an Absolute. In the "linear" myth, humanity represents merely one historically contingent step in the evolution of the universe, ultimately to be followed in time and transcended in value by those trans-human beings which will come after. Nature is conceived as progressive, in a way which is a temporal analogue of the Great Chain of Being. The form which progress takes in our culture is Technology. Our implicit imperative is to assist in whatever developments such an evolution decrees. In the second, "network" myth, nature is the Great Mother, and although change occurs, there is no assumption of ontological progression: all Her creatures are of equal value. From the point of view of value, Nature is


essentially timeless and non-hierarchical. This represents the complete abandonment of the Great Chain of Being. Any actions on our part which presume human superiority are examples of anthropocentric hubris.

The linear myth currently dominates. Technology has its own dialectic.

The notion of progress does not obviously imply the transcendence of human values. At least temporarily, human values seem paramount. But however one reads the history of technology, the inescapable conclusion is that human welfare is wholly irrelevant to its continued development. Questions of value simply do not arise, since they have already been answered. Progress is identified with the Good, and progress means expansion of influence and increase in power. If something can be done, then it shall be, and we will adapt to the new conditions. The ultimate development of technology as abstraction, implicit in the activities of western economics and normal science, is to be found in the dreams of the Star Warriors and the actions of advocates of world economy, electronic world culture, space exploration, artificial intelligence and artificial life. Human destiny is expansion to the stars, and, ultimately, the creation (or evolution) of life forms more "advanced" than ourselves. This is a seductive myth for many since it promises power, success and progress into perpetual novelty. It is exciting.

As an example of our ambivalence towards the promise of such technology, let us look briefly at one aspect of the "computer culture." One significant segment of the current technological society devotes its time to investigating the relations between computational devices and living, cognitive organisms. Imagine for the moment, that research programs in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life do eventually succeed in creating entities which are quite clearly

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intelligent and at least arguably alive' This is a fearful prospect for many people, but one reason for this is that they presume that these creatures will be better than us at those things which are presumed to define us. This presumes that we can be defined in terms of an abstract Human Nature. We can diffuse much of this anxiety be discarding the belief that we have abstract, defining properties. These prospective creatures will be very good at some things (rather better chess players, for instance, than we are), and rather poor at other things. It is hard to imagine that they will write novels the we consider good. They will be other, not better. They may be useful tools for human purposes, presuming the global ecosystem can sustain the requisite levels of technological development required for their production.

The totalizing tendencies of the technological world view are the real sources of distress. The crucial moral matter from our point of view (which is the only one we have), is whether these creatures will have any impact on human suffering. Will their production increase or decrease it? Will their actions decrease or increase it? Will we create something we cannot control? These are the issues; not questions of transcendent value.

The mythology which has come to represent the alternative for many is anti-technological, holistic, Earth-centered. It finds its root metaphors in biology rather than technology. The central perception of this world view is summed up by Darwin in a note: "Never say higher or lower." Organic evolution is conceived as a process of the never ending ramification of life, all species adapting to their particular environments, none inherently better or worse than any

3. This seems increasingly unlikely to me, especially given recent developments in our understanding of human cognition (Johnson, 1987, Turvey & Shaw, 1979). For an overview of Artificial Life, see Farmer et al. (1991).

Johnson, Mark. 1987. The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason, University of Chicago Press.

Turvey, Stephen and Shaw, Robert, 1979, "The Primacy of Perceiving: An ecological reformulation of perception for understanding memory." ed. Nilsson, L.G. Perspectives on Memory Research: Essays in Honor of Uppsala University'S 500th Anniversary, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Farmer, J. D., Langton, C. and Rasmussen, S. 1991, Artificial Life, Proceedings, II. vol. X, Santa Fe Institute, Addison-Wesley, Advanced Book Program.


other. By including humans in this pattern of living process, Darwin completed the disjoining of humanity from the absolute. The move to expand our western notions of those entities which have "natural rights" from white male citizens to women, minorities, children, and across the "species barrier" to include nonhuman organisms and even, in some interpretations, non-living entities, is clearly a continuation of the Copernican and Kantian projects." This has the implicit danger of making the notion of "rights" so diffuse as to be useless for human goods. In an extreme form, the absolute source of valuation is taken to be the Biosphere itself, and human needs and sufferings are viewed on an equal footing with those of other organisms. As "anthropomorphism" was to the founders of abstract natural science, so "anthropocentrism" is to the proponents of Earthcentered cosmology. Absolute value still lurks in the wings however, in the presumption that anything can have Natural Rights or that Nature is the ultimate measure of Value.

Some of the proponents of each of these world views share an implicit smugness in denying moral centrality to human concerns -one in order to celebrate the Ubermensch, the other to sanctify Gaia. In both cases the justification is found in "natural processes": the necessity of technical progress in the former, and the relative insignificance of the human species in evolutionary/ecological Imagination and perspective in the latter. This is merely a disguised form of the evasion of moral responsibility; one needn't make any difficult decisions, since the answers are provided by Nature. What is lost in each system is any real sense of the importance of human participation in the formation of the world. In each we find ourselves on the outside looking in. We are irrelevant to the development of a technology which has to a large extent already transcended our capacity to respond; or, we are a moral blemish on the purity of Nature, and our duty is to stay out of sight. In each case the conception of humanity which is left is abstract because it is removed from the implicit absolute source of Value. By means of this abstraction, humanity is left without

4. Nash. Roderick. 1990. The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics. University of Wisconsin Press.


a soul. In the world of technology we are powerful but irrelevant. In the world of Gaia we are, or should be, powerless. In both, human suffering is ultimately insignificant.

There is no way to prove that such myths are "wrong". To attempt a proof would require an alternative absolute, and my contention is that this is precisely the problem with both world views. Instead what can be done is to exhibit incoherence and instability, and to recommend an alternative for consideration. That the technological world view is unstable and incoherent from the point of view of ecology and economics has been persuasively argued elsewhere. 5 Physical and ecological constraints limit the development of technology. The ultimate incoherence is global ecological disaster. Beyond this, critics of universalized technology can detail for us the consequences for individual humans of the abstraction inherent in this world view. This has been done." We should avoid positing another abstract Human Nature which technology is said to thwart. Rather we should emphasize that technology can limit the options for the further development of human potential.

The danger presented by the Earth-centered myth is more subtle. The potential problem lies here, too, in the relativization of human suffering. While such mythologies may be coherent within other contexts, in our culture they are

5. See for instance.Daly, Herman, 1977, Steady State Economics,

Freeman. Daly, Herman, 1986, "Toward a New Economic Model," Bull. Atomic Scientists, April, pp. 42-44.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. 1971. The Entropy Law and Economic Process, Harvard U.Press.

6. See Barrett, Berry, Ellul, Illich, Marcuse, Mumford, Turner, and myriad others:

Barrett, William, 1978, The Illusion of Technique, Anchor Press.

Ibid., 1986, The Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer, Anchor, Doubleday. Berry, Wendell, 1974, The Unsettling of America, Sierra Books.

Ibid., 1990, Mat Are People For? North Point Press.

Ellul, Jacques, 1964, The Technological Society, Vintage Books. Illich, Ivan, 1973, Toolsfor Conviviality, Harper & Row. Marcuse, H. 1966, One Dimensional Man, Beacon Press.

Mumford, Lewis, 1934, Technics and Civilization, Harcourt, Brace & World. Turner, Frederick, 1986, Beyond Geography: The ~stern Spirit Against Wilderness, Rutgers University Press.


less so. It is important to note that in modem industrial societies these myths are not generally promulgated by those in the lower socio-economic classes, but only by those who can afford the luxury of narratives which bestow rights on non-human life. Thus the cultural and social causes of environmental disruption tend to be ignored, and the intimate connection between the domination of people and the domination of nature is misunderstood. 7 In relativizing our suffering we vaporize our humanity.

But what we have is our humanity, and our actual historical, social and ecological context; what we envision is always abstract. As long as we conceive of the human project as either movement towards a fixed and predetermined absolute ideal, or as a mere epiphenomenon of Nature, we are doomed to misperceive our concrete situation and so to create a necessarily incoherent society. Cultures get the environment they deserve.

What other options can we provide? We need to articulate an alternative narrative; one which is not wholly arbitrary, but rather co-determined as perceiver to perceived, as organism to ambient. We require a vision of a possible world with a human face.

n. The Categories of Plurality

A more adequate view of the world must not be grounded in any claim to absolute knowledge. We need rather to create concepts which will serve as tools for the furtherance of our project. The relationship between human activity and the non-human world requires reconception. The current understanding of the practice of science and its relation to human needs and values must be revised. From within natural science as currently practiced and within the tradition of the humanities, there have arisen conceptions which are at least not incompatible with our fundamental project, and which I believe are necessary

7. Murray Bookchin has argued this point for years:

Bookchin, Murray, 1980, Toward an Ecological Society, Black Rose Books. Ibid., 1990, Remaking Society: Pathways to A Green Future, South End Press.


for its continuation. I will very briefly sketch some of the relevant ideas.

1. From Organism to Biosphere: The Sciences of The Complex

The natural sciences are in the midst of a fundamental revolution based on the recognition of the centrality of three related characteristics of our world. First: natural science does not discover a world independent of human being. In a broad range of disciplines from quantum mechanics to cognitive psychology there is an ongoing critique of the notion of truth as representation of a world "out there" which provides the reality to which our ideas must correspond. Second: the world in which we are embedded is "complex" in quite specific ways which are only now being delineated. One of the consequences of this notion of complexity is the blurring of the distinction between the animate and the inanimate which itself is a result of the rise of abstract natural science. Third: there is growing recognition of the importance of irreducible individuality as a basic characteristic of entities in nature. This is true particularly, although not exclusively, in the sciences of life: biological structures have envelopes of possibilities, but the details of their histories may be unpredictable and unique. 8

These three themes, a non-representational view of cognition, an expanded understanding of the ubiquity of complexity, and a grasp of individuality as more than extraneous noise, are especially relevant for the further development of our understanding of living systems. They find their original unity in the phenomenology of life.

Biology, in its foundations, is based on the study of individual instances, and the recognition of the centrality of diversity. To a degree perhaps greater than that in any other science, biology is based on a strong descriptive component. The discovery and description of that which exists is a task which in itself requires the efforts of cadres of experienced observers. A purely descriptive

8. This arises in many contexts, but is well represented by the notion of "sensitivity to initial conditions ."


science has been belittled by workers in more abstract areas of natural science since the development of the physical science paradigm. But there is no such activity as pure description. That this is not simply a theoretical comment on the social construction of scientific theories is revealed by comments of Suzanne Langer. Listen to her offhand dismissal of the "mind/body problem":

"The complexity of [the physico-chemical processes of life] is beyond the imagination of anyone who does not know some samples of them rather intimately ... The common-sense tenet that such processes cannot attain feeling, awareness and thought loses its cogency when one is confronted by the actual intricacies of chemical and electrochemical organization. The bridge to organisms arises by itself and the conviction that "extended substance" cannot think and "thinking substance" cannot have material properties appears as a medieval doctrine handed down to modem philosophy in Descartes' famous dictum, and with no firmer foundation than his word. ,,9

Description is an active process of interaction which takes up things into a realm of meanings and creates a world.'? Our Cartesian epistemology has produced a Cartesian world in which categories appropriate to life have been entirely suppressed. Most contemporary biology is based implicitly on this view of animate

9. Langer, Suzanne, 1967, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, I. Johns's Hopkins University Press. pp. 273-4.

10. A view of cognition as essentially based upon imagination is developed by Johnson, Lakoff, and others:

Johnson, Mark. 1987, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason, University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark, 1980, Metaphors * Live By, University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George, 1986, WJmen, Fire and Dangerous Things.: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. University of Chicago Press.


nature. There is a new biology emerging which refuses to accept this state of affairs. What follows is a sketch of some radical conceptions in contemporary biological thought, with speculation on their interrelations.

A possible unifying theme is the notion of 'biological autonomy' as introduced and developed by Varela and Maturana.!' Autonomous systems are networks of recursively dependent processes which define the system as a recognizable unity. A subset of such autonomous systems are those we call living. 12 These latter are defined by 'autopoietic' activities. Living systems are autopoietic in the sense that they are self-producing entities which define their own worlds. The conservation of form in the face of external change becomes the guiding principle for understanding the development and evolution of such systems. The investigation of the formal properties of such systems has opened up a vast and unexplored region of the universe for research.P Whether autonomy and autopoiesis tum out to be the most useful unifying conceptions or not, the trend is towards the recognition of analogies among the various levels of biological organization which may allow for a deep understanding of

11. Maturana H.R. and Varela, F. 1980, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living, D. Reidel.

Maturana, H.R. and Varela, F. 1987, The Tree of Knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding, Shambala.

Varela, F. 1979, The Principles of Biological Autonomy, Elsevier.

12. Varela, F. 1979, p. 55.

l3. See for instance Goodwin (1990), Goodwin & Webster (1982)" Goodwin et al. (1989), Ho (1990), Kauffman (1989, and in press):

Goodwin, Brian, 1990, Structuralism in Biology, (preprint).

Goodwin, Brian & Webster, G. 1982, "The Origin of Species: A Structuralist Approach", J. Social Bioi. Struc., vol. 5, pp. 15-47.

Goodwin, Brian, Sibatini, A. & Webster, G. (eds). 1989. Dynamic Structures in Biology, Edinburgh University Press.

Ho, Mae-Wan. 1990, "An Exercise in Rational Taxonomy", J. Theoret. Bioi., vol. 147, pp.43-57.

Kauffman, S.A. 1989, "Adaptation on Rugged Fitness Landscapes," Lectures in the Sciences of Complexity, ed. D. Stein, Redwood City, CA, Addison-Wesley, vol. 1, pp. 527-618.

Kauffman, S.A. (in press), The Origins of Order, Oxford University Press.


life and mind.

Consequences of this view of living beings extend across many discipline boundaries. The immune system can be reconceptualized as such a self defining entity. 14 As such a self maintaining system, its interactions with its environment may be regarded as a form of cognition. Likewise, the relation which an amoeba maintains with its environment is usefully described as cognitive.

Cognition is to be understood as a continuous development of living form. 15 Our "mental abilities' are then not diluted versions of a transcendent Mind. Cognition, so broadly conceived, is constrained by features of both the self and the world, and no aspect of the cognitive process gives one privileged access to Truth. 16 One corollary of this is that science itself is not value-neutral. No human activities can be. Nor is human cognition divisible into unrelated compartments which operate in some vague disembodied manner. Reason and emotion are not clearly distinguished faculties. Any radical distinction between art and logic, or the sciences and the humanities is misleading and pernicious .. Though such distinctions may seem to have pedagogical value, and

14. See Varela in Perelson (1988).

Perelson, Alan S. (ed). 1988. Theoretical Immunology, Proceedings, Parts I & II, vol. 2 & 3. Santa Fe Institute, Addison Wesley.

15. Suzanne Langer's entire project is easily contained within Maturana and Varela's: this involves the exploration of the fundamental relations among artistic sensibilities and the rational activities of science.

16. The work of the "ecological psychologists" is particularly pertinent here. See for instance Turvey, (1974), Turvey & Shaw (1979) and Lombardo (1987).

Turvey, M. T. 1974, "Constructive Theory, Perceptual Systems, and Tacit Knowledge", eds. Weimer, Walter & Palermo, David, Cognition and the Symbolic Process, Halsted Press, J. Wiley & Sons, pp. 165-180.

Turvey, Stephen and Shaw, Robert. 1979, "The Primacy of Perceiving: An ecological reformulation of perception for understanding memory", ed. Nilsson, L.G. Perspectives on Memory Research: Essays in Honor of Uppsala University'S SOOth Anniversary. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lombardo, Thomas J. 1987, The Reciprocity of Perceiver and Environment: The Evolution of James J. Gibson's Ecological Psychology, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


are useful for organizing universities, they have resulted in a profound misapprehension of the nature of the world and our relation to it. The significance of aesthetic sensitivities in mathematical physics has been widely noted by practitioners and commentators alike. Langer, who knows as much about the relation between the two as any writer with whom I am familiar, has said,

" ... any appreciation of form, any awareness of patterns in experience, is "reason"; and discourse, with all its refinements (e.g., mathematical symbolism, which is an extension of language) is only one possible pattern. ,,17

Likewise, clarity of feeling and thought, logical development and expression are crucial requirements in the "humanities" where problems of ambiguity and polysemy abound.

At a higher level of organization, the structure and development of societies may be viewed from such a biological point of view. Societies and their cognitive structures are perhaps interpretable also as such self preserving systems. All human activities have their bases in the biological roots of cognition."

Higher order autonomous systems may also be represented by species and ecosystems. Species are self defining entities which conserve the "specific mate recognition system. ,,19 Ecosystems may be, to an as yet undefined degree,

17. Langer. Suz:moe. 1953, Feeling and Form, Scribner's, p. 29.

18. The view suggested here is distinct from that of orthodox neo-Darwinian sociobiology. Charles Dyb _ up this view well: "This is what it means to establish a continuity between biology IIIIIi socidy - not the reduction of social life to biology, but the recognition of the shape of the poIlIIiIIiIiI:y ..-::e through which social life has to pass, a space with ecological determinants." a.IIs Dyte, 1988, The Evolutionary Dynamics of Complex Systems, Oxford, Oxford University ...... po l«l.

19. Paterso._lI.E.IL 1985, "The recognition concept of species", ed. Vrba, E., Species and Speciation, JJww.....rMu. Monogr, vol. 4, pp. 21-29 .

. ,!I _


specific to each system or class of systems, such self defining systems.P The biosphere itself, conceived as a single entity, has been described as an autopoietic system."

This view of the biological basis of the natural and human worlds does not resolve moral dilemmas, or the question of free will. 22 Nor does it postulate a "seat of action" or a soul, but it seems not inconsistent with their existence. Other alternatives do. No abstract theory can be normative, but it can provide a possibility space, and a suitable epistemology for the recognition of particularity and concreteness, which are required for a human world. 23

20. Here the work of Bernard Patten is important. See Patten (1982), and Higashi and Bums (1991). This network based conception of ecosystems draws on von Uexkull's notions of "Umwelt" and "function circles" (von Uexkul1, 1926, 1957). Von Uerlrull, appropriately, is an important source for Langer (1967) in her central discussion of" Animal Acts and


Patten, B. 1982, "Environs: Relativistic Elementary Particles for Ecology", Amer. Naturalist, vol. 119(2), pp. 179-219.

Higashi, M. and Bums, T. 1991, Theoretical Studies of Ecosystems: The Network Perspective, Cambridge University Press.

Jacob von. Uexkul1, 1926, Theoretical Biology, Harcourt, Brace.

Jacob, von Uexkul1, 1957, "A strol1 through the worlds of animals and men." ed. C.H. Schiller, Instinctive Behavior, International Universities Press.

21. Lovelock, J.E. 1988, Ages of Gaia, W.W.Norton.

22. Discoveries of the prevalence of chaotic dynamics in physical systems suggest that aspects of the world are unpredictable and hence unknowable even in theory. What this shows however is that determinism is not equivalent to predictability. This is still physical science and says nothing one way or the other about the existence of free will.

23. This kind of a view may be able to avoid Berman's critique of the "cybernetic paradigm". See footnote 9, and: Berman, Morris, 1986, "The Cybernetic Dream of the 21st Century", J. Humanistic Psychology, vol. 26(2), pp. 24-51.


2. The World with a Human Face: The Re-imagination of the Infinite Universe

I have already outlined two rather different contemporary world views in a way which makes explicit the underlying assumptions of their abstraction, and have suggested that there are trends in the natural sciences which run counter to these. Contemporary developments in the humanities clearly parallel those in the natural sciences in their emphasis on plurality and individuality, and in the turn away from an reliance on an absolute grounding of knowledge and value. I take as exemplary the works of Richard Rorty and recent writings of Stephen Toulmin.j"

Toulmin has set out an interpretation of the rise of the modern world which suggests that the true Renaissance is represented in the works of the early humanists such as Montaigne and Shakespeare, Rabelais and Erasmus. The embrace of the account of rationality provided by Descartes and Newton was a reaction against the social and political chaos of the period. We have developed, and now inhabit, a culture which is impoverished and pathological as a result. Toulmin presents an analysis of the inadequacy of the Cartesian program in dealing with the multiple problems of humanity, and calls explicitly for a return to a view of natural objects and human values as embedded in particular, temporal contexts. This can provide, he argues, an "ecological paradigm" for the next century.

Rorty champions a view which is a development of the pragmatism of James and Dewey, in which "the will to truth is not the urge to dominate, but

24. See Rorty (1979, 1982, 1989) and Toulmin (1990). There are numerous revealing and useful parallels in the literature and Rorty particularly helps orient one to the relevance of the work of Foucault, Heidegger, Dewey, James and others.

Rorty, Richard, 1979, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton University Press. Rorty, Richard, 1982, Consequences of Pragmatism, University of Minnesota Press. Rorty, Richard, 1989, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge University Press. Toulmin, Stephen, 1990, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, Free Press .

.. iHiUlliiI1iJ;i-."


"merely objective"!' rationale for normative claims.

The role of imagination in the salvation of individual lives is suggested by the liberating experience that true education can be for those who are open to it. We must begin to actively reinsert ourselves in the world of day to day activities, and consciously fight the abstractive effects of contemporary culture. It is of the utmost significance that those people with the greatest sensitivities to the multiple crises of society and the environment are those who have some deep experiential connection with the natural world.32 Nothing less than a radical awakening at the level of the individual is necessary to save us from ourselves. Given the current circumstances, this alone will not suffice, and the power of technology and the conceptions of the new sciences will be required as useful tools. But in the end, sustainable human cultures can only be enacted through a reimagination of ourselves and a recreation of our world which celebrate the diversity and plurality which characterize the living.

Knowledge of current constraints can at most tell us what not to do. Such knowledge leaves open possibilities which must be enacted by the creative imagination and action of individuals. The agenda for each of us, no matter where our particular interests may lie in the various realms of human concern, is to maintain a dialectic between the delineation of constraints and the creation of possibilities. In this dance lies the experiment of life.

31. R.D. Laing, quoted in Berman, 1989, p. 117, points out that this combination never occurs in our language.

32. For good discussion of this and related points see for instance Berry, 1974, 1990, and also:

Wilson, Edwin O. 1984, Biophilia, Harvard University Press.

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