Modern Science is Realising the World is a Living Network
One Earth, One Humanity, One Future, is a concept that has been conveyed by poets, philosophers and spiritual teachers throughout the ages. One of its most beautiful expressions is found in the celebrated speech attributed to Chief Seattle of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes of what is now the state of Washington in the north-west of the USA:
This we know:
all things are connected
like the blood
that unites one family…
Whatever befalls the earth,
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
Man did not weave the web of life;
he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web,
he does to himself. – Chief Seattle
Web of Life
The same idea is at the very core of the Earth Charter, that remarkable declaration of 16 fundamental principles to build a just, sustainable and peaceful world. The Preamble of the Earth Charter states:
We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future…We must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.
The time-honoured notions of the web of life and the Earth community, or community of life, are fully consistent with a new conception of life that has emerged in science over the last 30 years.
A New Conception
The systems view of life is a new understanding about life on earth that is emerging at the forefront of contemporary science. The universe is no longer seen as a machine composed of elementary building blocks. It is a conception of life based on systemic thinking and some of the new concepts and mathematical techniques of complexity theory.
It allows us for the first time to integrate the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life. We have discovered that the material world is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships; that the planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system.
The view of the human body as a machine and of the mind as a separate entity is being replaced by one that sees not only the brain, but also the immune system, the bodily tissues, and even each cell as a living, cognitive system.
The Systems View
Evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle for existence, but rather as a cooperative dance in which creativity and the constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces. And with the new emphasis on complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation, a new science of qualities is slowly emerging.
I call this new science “the systems view of life” because it involves a new kind of thinking – thinking in terms of relationships, patterns and context.
I call this new science “the systems view of life” because it involves a new kind of thinking – thinking in terms of relationships, patterns and context. In science, this way of thinking is known as “systems thinking”, or “systemic thinking”. Thinking in terms of relationships is crucial for ecology, because ecology – derived from the Greek oikos, meaning “household” – is the science of the relationships among various members of the Earth Household.