Nature of the synthesis that I discovered by Fritjof Capra

(Video: 7:00 – 9:11)

What I discovered going through the history of systems thinking was that you can say that there are two approaches to understanding nature which have been in competition with one another throughout the history of western philosophy and science. Once approach starts with a question of “what is it made of”?

That was the dominant approach. You take thinks to pieces, you study the basic building blocks, components, elements and so on. So in this approach you study matter, you study quantities, structures and so on. The other approach does not start with a question what is it made of but asks what is the pattern?

When you study the pattern you study relationships, you study qualities, and you study organization. My synthesis consists of putting those two together. When you want to understand life you need both. You need to understand the DNA, the macromolecules and all the molecular biology but you also need to understand the patterns of life and how things are related. It turns out when you go into some detail of how to synthesize those two, you need a third one and the third one is the process dimension. You need to understand the process of life.

And so in this synthesis, I have 3 perspectives on life. You could call them 3 conceptional dimensions. One is the structure dimension, one is the pattern dimension and the third is the process dimension. When you look at those 3, only one is material, the structure dimension. A pattern is not something material, it is a set of relationships.

Process is not something material so if I were to say to what extent is my view materialistic, I would say 33.3%, a third of the synthesis. So it is not a materialistic view however, I do believe that mind and consciousness emerge from matter at a certain level of complexity and the organization becomes such that the processes and patterns involved are those we associate with life, with living systems.

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the two-part, 60-minute DVD.

Many new trends in the field of biology–including systems theory, complexity theory, chaos theory, the Gaia hypothesis–suggest a new approach to the understanding of living systems. this view of our intimate involvement with the web of life can lead us toward ways of living that are ecologically sound.

Fritjof Capra, Ph.D., is author of:

The Tao of Physics
Uncommon Wisdom
The Turning Point
Belonging to the Universe and The Web of Life

He is director of the Center for Ecoliteracy.