Integral Ecology, Evolution, and Time

The recent papal encyclical, Laudato Si, has brought the phrase “integral ecology” into the mainstream public discourse, and the route it has taken to get there is quite interesting and significant in itself. This represents an additional and quite important development in the direction of Jean Gebser’s “irruption of the integral consciousness” in our time.

The full understanding of this “integral ecology” is, nonetheless, not yet complete. As presently understood, it is the synchronic observation that human consciousness and activity cannot be considered isolated from the entire web of life, but is connected or embedded in that web of interdependency. In that sense the Papal understanding of “integral ecology” corresponds to the discovery of “Indra’s Net“. But there is more to it than that, even.

Indra's Net

Indra’s Net

There is also the diachronic dimension to integral ecology — across times. Synchronic and diachronic are terms that correspond to the meanings “contemporary” and “distemporary”, and there is a connection between these meanings and the meanings of the symbolic and the diabolic (ie, respectively, to “bring together,” or “to separate” or “hinder” or “drive apart”). To become a complete thought, “integral ecology” must include both aspects. Synchronic, corresponding to the meaning “present” (or better, the German meaning of Präsenz), and diachronic corresponding to “times” in the plural, as times past and times future as well. The synchronic and diachronic aspects of “integral ecology” must be addressed as a whole — that is to say, both “times” as the present and the evolutionary. Integral ecology must also integrate all times past and future to form a complete holon. And this is somewhat reflected in Howard Bloom’s thesis of The Global Brain, as well as Peter Russell’s The Global Brain: The Awakening Earth in the New Century. This “global brain” corresponds to the fuller meaning of “Indra’s Net” and to the meaning of “integral ecology”. But, likewise, this “global brain” has both synchronic (or, across spaces) and diachronic (across times) aspects to it. As such, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, discussed many times in earlier postings, is a map of this “global brain” and of its integral ecodynamics.

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”


The space axis in the cross of reality corresponds to the synchronic dimension. The time axis corresponds to the diachronic dimension.

Now, as to the diachronic aspect of integral ecology, you may be familiar with the principle in biology that states: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny“. Although somewhat controversial in interpretation, it was adopted by psychology as well (especially by Carl Jung) to account for individuation in relation to “the collective unconscious” or the transpersonal aspects of the psychic whole. “Ontogeny” corresponds to the synchronic, “phylogeny” to the diachronic. In principle, it means that the development of the individual specimen (that is, “you”) recapitulates (follows the same pattern or “recipe”) the entire evolutionary development of the phylum or species. “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” means, essentially, that all previously evolutionary states are indelibly encoded in the structure of the individual specimen, as legacy states. And that is as much to say that all “diachronic” times (or distemporary states) become synchronised in the individual specimen and are made contemporary with each other, integrated into its overall structure, and remain potentially accessible to consciousness.

This is a very important aspect of the coincidentia oppositorum or conjunctio oppositorum — the coincidence or conjoining of ostensible opposites. That is to say, the coincidence of all times past with time present — of the diachronic with the synchronic, the species and the specimen, in which the part represents and is agency for the whole. In that sense, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” mirrors the holographic universe. And this is equally represented in the relationship of what is called “the soul” to what is called “God”. That the human is “created in God’s image” is a holographic statement. The “particular” also represents the All-In-All. And because it is so, “integral consciousness” or “cosmic consciousness” is possible for the human individual.

In those terms, theoretically, a single atom could seed an entire universe. In fact, that’s what the “Big Bang” was, supposedly. And according to the principle of non-locality (faster than light) since everything was in close association at this original state, it all still retains that instantaneity of connectivity, so that atoms on completely “opposite sides of the universe” remain simultaneously and timelessly connected to one another (which Einstein called “spooky”).

The principle that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, which is a basic law of conservation, after all, considered in biological terms, is the meaning also of Rumi’s quite remarkable poem (for his time) about his own “spiritual evolution”. It is titled “When Was I Less By Dying?”

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’

The point is, though, that none of these states are “left behind” or abandoned, but are incorporated and integrated into the greater complex structure. And what is not yet realised fully in the structure, exists as latent future probability or potentiality yet to be realised or actualised. In those terms, all times past, and all times future converge or coincide and are represented in the present — in the individual specimen. This is the meaning of man as being “the time-binder”, which is pretty much another term for “integral being”. We are, in effect, the integral ecology itself.

How is it that a 13th century Sufi mystic had such an understanding of evolution seven centuries before Darwin? In some ways, we are just beginning to catch up with Rumi.

Remember Nietzsche’s dictum: “fundamentally, we experience only ourselves”. And if we are becoming more conscious of “integral ecology”, it is because we are becoming this ourselves. There is no fundamental separation of subject and object. This coincidence of the synchronic and the diachronic, and of ontogeny and phylogeny, is crucial to understanding Gebser’s “integral consciousness” and his “ever-present origin” and the process of what he calls “presentiation”, as well as the possibility and promise of “time-freedom”.

To drive the point home, I will also refer you to the most interesting quartet of poems about time written by T.S. Eliot, for some reason called “Four Quartets“, which I will leave you to muse upon and ponder.



One response to “Integral Ecology, Evolution, and Time”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    It seems to me that “integral ecology” is the undoing of the corporation; or one of two poles of the same phenomenon, if you will. Corporation is sharing in one another’s doom, whereas “integral ecology” is sharing in one another’s bloom.

    Apparently, both seem to be necessary in Nature. I looked for the radio broadcast of a story on KQED Bay Area radio station on the web that told the unbelievable story of a “Whale’s After Life.” I couldn’t find the radio program on the web, but, if you have time, this story about what happens after a whale dies and falls to the bottom of the ocean is pretty fascinating. It is, in my opinion, the very manifestation of “integral ecology,” and how the emergence of completely new species depends on the death of another species.

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