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An Emerging Paradigm in Environmental Thought




Old Paradigm
New Paradigm
Earth is a ball of rock that harbors life. The rock is unconnected to life.  

Earth's upper crust and atmosphere have been largely created by life.

Life is a brutal, bloody struggle for existence, competitive to the death.
Nature is red in tooth and claw.


Living systems are essentially cooperative. Symbiosis and Partnership are the essential patterns of life.

The basic pattern of life is competing with all others for scarce resources.

  The basic pattern of plant and animal cells is symbiotic. Eucaryote cells arose by symbiogenesis.
Evolution takes place species by species .   Co-Evolution takes place in community, by community.
Living systems happened by accident, by chance.   Living systems are autopoetic; they organize themselves.
Natural entities exist context-free  

Nothing is natural outside of context. A wolf in a cage is not a wolf.

Scientific description is objective, independent of the observer and of the process of knowing.   Objectivity is an illusion. Heisenberg: "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning."

Reductionism: You understand wholes by analysis, by dissection: meaning is in the parts


Holism: You understand the parts through synthesis (putting together the parts) of the whole. "Parts" includes every relationship within the whole. Meaning is in the whole.

Science uses the building metaphor: It has foundations, building blocks.


Science uses the Network metaphor: no thing is more fundamental than another thing. Each element of a system may be coequal.

Living systems (organisms) are in a state of equilibrium; Entropy applies to life; heat lost is just waste.   Living systems are open and far from equilibrium; homeostasis applies; entropy does not apply. Heat "lost" is energy used well.
Entropy is always increasing and the entire universe is running down and will eventually halt in Heat Death.   Open systems cannot be understood by classical thermodynamics. Living systems increase order. Living systems, such as the Biosphere, evolve toward ever-increasing complexity.