Fritjof Capra

©2015 Peter Fritz Walter. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Science, Society and the Rising Culture, New York: Simon & Schuster (Flamingo), 1987, Author copyright 1982.

5 Stars

Review

The Turning Point, by Fritjof Capra, is a logical follow-up to his Tao of Physics, and equally important. This book was a turning point also in the author’s life. In my personal view, and contrary to what most critics say, it is lesser the Tao of Physics that is the real strike of genius, but the present book because of the extrapolation of the holistic concepts developed in the Tao upon the whole value system of postmodern international culture,thereby suggesting our culture adopting and developing new values.

Only a thinker who is both logically precise, very knowledgeable about science history, and who has a metarational and integrated perception of life and the universe could do such a giant work.

The following quote shows the general direction that Capra took from the time of writing this book, and that will be especially present in his two subsequent books, The Web of Life (1997) and The Hidden Connections (2002).

It has been called the systems view; it simply is a sound holistic science paradigm that can be practically applied to all scientific research, and that promises to bring about scientific, social and later political results that are in accordance with human dignity, fostering the expansion of human consciousness and evolution. These solutions will be different from those we had in the past because they will be integrated and sustainable, and this both in the fields of science and culture:

These problems (…) are systemic problems, which means that they are closely interconnected and interdependent. They cannot be understood within the fragmented methodology characteristic to our academic disciplines and government agencies. Such an approach will never solve any of our difficulties but will merely shift them around in the complex web of social and ecological relations. A resolution can be found only if the structure of the web is changed, and this will involve profound transformations of our social institutions, values, and ideas./6

One of the points that show Capra a genius is his mental flexibility. Contrary to many other scientists from the so-called exact scientific disciplines, he has an extraordinarily synthetic thinking ability which makes him sense shifts and developments in society long before they actually happen. Then, following his intuition, he puts his sharp rational mind in the forefront for collecting and arranging the information he needs to elucidate and deploy.

This is in accordance with Einstein’s saying that a problem can never be solved on the level of thought that brought it about int he first place. In fact, it’s only through creative thinking and intuition that we can find new solutions to our old problems, because we then relocate the thinker to a higher level of perspective.

This can be seen in the way Capra puts spotlights on trends and philosophical movements of old, to show the potential they had for forging the reigning worldview, or else for shifting that view and preparing the ground for a paradigm shift. For example, Heraclites was one of those enlightened minds who showed us the volatile path of integrated wisdom, but he was not followed. Instead our science was to slavishly follow Aristotle, and in the East, the same happened when Lao-tzu was shunned by Chinese thinkers for giving the preference to the pedantic, moralistic and hair-splitting Confucius.

One important area where the reigning paradigm is presently shifting is psychology. This is only now really apparent, in 2013, where we can count the books written about what today is called energy psychology, but at the time Capra authored , this was unthinkable. Capra explains why the systems view of life will have a profound impact upon psychology, and the way psychology will be taught at university:

As in the new systems biology, the focus of psychology is now shifting from psychological structures to the underlying processes. The human psyche is seen as a dynamic system involving a variety of functions that systems theorists associate with the phenomenon of self-organization. Following Jung and Reich, many psychologists and psychotherapists have come to think of mental dynamics in terms of a flow of energy, and they also believe that these dynamics reflect an intrinsic intelligence — the equivalent of the systems concept of mentation — that enables the psyche not only to create mental illness but also to heal itself. Moreover, inner growth and self-actualization are seen as essential to the dynamics of the human psyche, in full agreement with the emphasis on self-transcendence in the systems view of life./407

In fact, one of Capra’s friends is Stanislav Grof, and with Grof he discussed many of the topics around psychology/psychiatry he writes about. I got this information not only from the huge footnote section in the present book, but also from his insightful book Uncommon Wisdom (Bantam, 1989), in which he published interviews with leading edge personalities from all walks of life, and that stands as an example for Capra’s extraordinary communication abilities, and which I will review further down.

As I have to limit myself in this review to a few topics from the extraordinarily rich array of scientific disciplines Capra reviews in this book, I shall present, as an example, how he summarizes the alternative cancer therapy approach developed byDr. O. Carl Simonton and his wife, Stephanie Matthews-Simonton. While I have read their book, Getting Well Again (1978/1992), and reviewed it, I got interested in their cancer research because of the information I received about it in the present book:

The popular image of cancer has been conditioned by the fragmented world view of our culture, the reductionist approach of our science, and technology-oriented practice of medicine. Cancer is seen as a strong and powerful invader / that strikes the body from outside. There seems to be no hope of controlling it, and for most people cancer is synonymous with death. Medical treatment — whether radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of these — is drastic, negative, and further injures the body. Physicians are increasingly coming to see cancer as a systemic disorder; a disease that has a localized appearance but has the ability to spread, and that really involves the entire body, the original tumor being merely the tip of the iceberg./388–389

What many physicians and mainstream cancer researchers hide or veil is the fact that the strangeness of the current cancer therapy approach has nothing specific about it, and can be well explained, and criticized, by seeing through its mechanistic and inhuman approach to healing, which is not healing in fact, but medical business. And it’s a worldwide and gigantic business, and all the huge profits go in the hand of a few pharmaceutical multinationals that use a league of uncritical doctors as their brave and brainwashed business consultants.

Needless to add that it’s one of the most ethically questionable businesses in the world as it brings about huge misery, and thousands dying every year as a result of the hypnotic spells of doctor-executioners that play the devil’s agent, people who, what now is clear after twenty years of alternative cancer therapy, would not have needed to die in the first place! This is truly scandalous considering the effectiveness of perennial natural healing techniques. Capra writes in more hopeful terms, when he reports the Simonton approach to cancer therapy. But the fact alone that the Simontons are successful in their approach shows with the best possible evidence that they must be right somehow:

One of the main aims of the Simonton approach is to reverse the popular image of cancer, which does not correspond to the findings of current research. Modern cellular biology has shown that cancer cells are not strong and powerful but, on the contrary, weak and confused. They do not invade, attack, or destroy, but simply overproduce. A cancer begins with a cell that contains incorrect genetic information because it has been damaged by harmful substances or other environmental influences, or simply because the organism will occasionally produce an imperfect cell. The faulty information will prevent the cell from functioning normally, and if this cell reproduces others with the same incorrect genetic makeup, the result will be a tumor composed of a mass of these imperfect cells. Whereas normal cells communicate effectively with their environment to determine their optimal size and rate of reproduction, the communication and self-organization of malignant cells are impaired. As a result they grow larger than healthy cells and reproduce recklessly. Moreover, the normal cohesion between cells may weaken and malignant cells may / break loose from the original mass and travel to other parts of the body to form new tumors — which is known as metastasis. In a healthy organism the immune system will recognize abnormal cells and destroy them, or at least wall them off so they cannot spread. But if for some reason the immune system is not strong enough, the mass of faulty cells will continue to grow. Cancer, then, is not an attack from without but a breakdown within. /389–390

What I may add here is that this ‘popular image of cancer’ is not the result of folk wisdom, or folk delusion, but rather of folk hypnosis. The general public knows intuitively very well that what the official rhetoric says about cancer is not true, but what can they do against the medical establishment? Wilhelm Reich was legally murdered by his fellow colleagues, medical doctors who populate the rings of the FDA, in their effort to ruthlessly discard out any approach and any practitioner that does not fit in their business-driven, medical approach that serves to fill the pockets of multinationals and that doesn’t intent heal anybody. What it does is to keep people sick because it’s on the back of sick people, and not on the back of healthy people that it makes its return of investment.

In fact, the public is brainwashed by a medical propaganda that has no parallel in human history and that has put the image of cancer as the ‘killer disease’ in the minds of all and everybody. It is not the common man’s intuition that has created this standard metaphor of the hopeless and passive patient who is ‘innocently executed’ by a terminal disease. It’s a myth, but it could spread like a virus because of the apathy of most consumer-citizens to see through the veil of consume-friendly messages they receive every day in the media, and it’s the price they pay for their eternal passivity to inquiry themselves — for after all there is enough alternative information to be found today on the Internet, and there are many alternative cancer therapies. Capra continues:

The Simontons and other researchers have developed a psychosomatic model of cancer that shows how psychological and physical states work together in the onset of the disease. Although many details of this process still need to be clarified, it has become clear that the emotional stress has two principal effects. It suppresses the body’s immune system and, at the same time, leads to hormonal imbalances that result in an increased production of abnormal cells. Thus optimal conditions for cancer growth are created. The production of malignant cells is enhanced precisely at a time when the body is least capable of destroying them. As far as the personality configuration is concerned, the individual’s emotional states seem to be the crucial element in the development of cancer. The connection between cancer and emotions has been observed for hundreds of years, and today there is substantial evidence for the significance of specific emotional states. These are the result of a particular life history that seems to be characteristic of cancer patients. Psychological profiles of such patients have been established by a number of researchers, some of whom were even able to predict the incidence of cancer with remarkable accuracy on the basis of these profiles./391

Quotes

  • These problems (…) are systemic problems, which means that they are closely interconnected and interdependent. They cannot be understood within the fragmented methodology characteristic to our academic disciplines and government agencies. Such an approach will never solve any of our difficulties but will merely shift them around in the complex web of social and ecological relations. A resolution can be found only if the structure of the web is changed, and this will involve profound transformations of our social institutions, values, and ideas. /6
  • Studies of periods of cultural transformation in various societies have shown that these transformations are typically preceded by a variety of social indicators, many of them identical to the symptoms of our current crisis. They include a sense of alienation and an increase in mental illness, violent crime, and social disruption, as well as an increased interest in religious cultism — all of which have been observed in our society during the past decade. In times of historic cultural change these indicators have tended to appear one to three decades before the central transformation, rising in frequency and intensity as the transformation is approaching, and falling again after it has occurred. /7
  • Ancient Chinese philosophers believed that all manifestations of reality are generated by the dynamic interplay between two polar forces which they called the yin and the yang. Heraclitus, in ancient Greece, compared the world order to an ever living fire, ‘kindling in measures and going out in measures’. Empedocles attributed the changes in the universe to the ebb and flow of two complimentary forces, which he called ‘love’ and ‘hate’. (…) After civilizations have reached a peak of vitality, they tend to lose their cultural steam and decline. An essential element in this cultural breakdown, according to Toynbee, is a loss of flexibility. When social structures and behavior patterns have become so rigid that the society can no longer adapt to changing situations, it will be unable to carry on the creative process of cultural evolution. /9
  • From the earliest times of Chinese culture, yin was associated with the feminine and yang with the masculine. This ancient association is extremely difficult to assess today because of its reinterpretation and distortion in subsequent patriarchal eras. In human biology masculine and feminine characteristics are not neatly separated but occur, in varying proportions, in both sexes. Similarly, the Chinese ancients believed that all people, whether men or women, go through yin and yang phases. The personality of each man and each woman is not a static entity but a dynamic phenomenon resulting from the interplay between feminine and masculine elements. This view of human nature is in sharp contrast to that of our patriarchal culture, which has established a rigid order in which all men are supposed to be masculine and all women feminine, and has distorted the meaning of those terms by giving men the leading roles and most of society’s privileges. /19
  • In view of the original imagery associated with the two archetypal poles, it would seem that yin can be interpreted as corresponding to responsive, consolidating, cooperative activity; yang as referring to aggressive, expanding, competitive activity. Yin action is conscious of the environment, yang action is conscious of the self. In modern terminology one could call the former ‘eco-action’ and the latter ‘ego-action’. /20
  • From this it is apparent that rational knowledge is likely to generate self-centered, or yang, activity, where intuitive wisdom is the basis of ecological, or yin, activity. /21
  • (…)[I]t is easy to see that our society has consistently favored the yang over the yin — rational knowledge over intuitive wisdom, science over religion, competition over cooperation, exploitation of natural resources over conservation, and so on. (…) According to Chinese wisdom, none of the values pursued by our culture is intrinsically bad, but by isolating them from their polar opposites, by focusing on the yang and investing it with moral virtue and political power, we have brought about the current sad state of affairs. /22
  • The view of man as dominating nature and woman, and the belief in the superior role of the rational mind, have been supported and encouraged by the Judeo-Christian tradition, which adheres to the image of a male god, personification of supreme reason and source of ultimate power, who rules the world from above by imposing his divine law on it. The laws of nature searched for by the scientists were seen as reflections of this divine law, originating in the mind of God. /24
  • In truth, the understanding of ecosystems is hindered by the very nature of the rational mind. Rational thinking is linear, whereas ecological awareness arises from an intuition of nonlinear systems. One of the most difficult things for people in our culture to understand is the fact that if you do something that is good, then more of the same will not necessarily be better. This, to me, is the essence of ecological thinking. (…) Ecological awareness, then, will arise only when we combine our rational knowledge with an intuition for the nonlinear nature of our environment. Such intuitive wisdom is characteristic of traditional, nonliterate cultures, especially of American Indian cultures, in which life was organized around a highly refined awareness of the environment. (…) Biological evolution of the human species stopped some fifty thousand years ago. From then on, evolution proceeded no longer genetically but socially and culturally, while the human body and brain remained essentially the same in structure and size. /25
  • Our progress, then, has been largely a rational and intellectual affair, and this one-sided evolution has now reached a highly alarming stage, a situation so paradoxical that it borders insanity. We can control the soft landings of space craft on distant planets, but we are unable to control the polluting fumes emanating from our cars and factories. We propose Utopian communities in gigantic space colonies, but cannot manage our cities. The business world makes us believe that huge industries producing pet foods and cosmetics are a sign of our high standards of living, while economists try to tell us we cannot ‘afford’ adequate health care, education, or public transport. Medical science and pharmacology are endangering our health, and the Defense Department has become the greatest threat to our national security. Those are the results of overemphasizing our yang, or masculine side — rational knowledge, analysis, expansion — and neglecting our yin, or feminine side — intuitive wisdom, synthesis, and ecological awareness. /26
  • In a healthy system — an individual, a society, or an ecosystem — there is a balance between integration and self-assertion. This balance is not static but consists of a dynamic interplay between the two complementary tendencies, which makes the whole system flexible and open to change. /27
  • While electromagnetism dethroned Newtonian mechanics as the ultimate theory of natural phenomena, a new trend of thinking arose that went beyond the image of the Newtonian world-machine and was to dominate not only the nineteenth century but all future scientific thinking. /57–58
  • In contrast to the mechanistic Cartesian view of the world, the world view emerging from modern physics can be characterized by worlds like organic, holistic, and ecological, It might also be called a systems view, in the sense of general systems theory. The universe is no longer seen as a machine, made up of a multitude of objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process. /66
  • The universe … is a unified whole that can to some extent be divided into separate parts, into objects made of molecules and atoms, themselves made of particles. But here, at the level of particles, the notion of separate parts breaks down. The subatomic particles — and therefore, ultimately, all parts of the universe, cannot be understood as isolated entities but mist be defined through their interrelations. /70
  • The crucial feature of quantum theory is that the observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an atomic phenomenon, but it is necessary even to bring about those properties. My conscious decision about how to observe, say, an electron will determine the electron’s properties to some extent. If I ask it a particle question, it will give me a particle answer; if I ask it a wave question, it will give me a wave answer. The electron does not have objective properties independent of my mind. In atomic physics the sharp Cartesian division between mind and matter, between the observer and the observed, can no longer be maintained. We can never speak about nature without, at the same time, speaking about ourselves. /77
  • Modern physics thus pictures matter not at all as passive and inert but as being in a continuous dancing and vibrating motion whose rhythmic patterns are determined by the molecular, atomic, and nuclear configurations. We have come to realize that there are no static structures in nature. There is stability, but this stability is one of dynamic balance, and the further we penetrate into matter the more we need to understand its dynamic nature to understand its patterns. /79
  • All events are interconnected, but the connections are not causal in the classical sense. /80
  • The most important consequence of the new relativistic framework has been the realization that mass is nothing but a form of energy. Even an object at rest has energy stored in its mass, and the relation between the two is given by Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2, c being the speed of the light. /81
  • Subatomic particles must be conceived as four-dimensional entities in space-time. Their forms have to be understood dynamically, as forms in space and time. Particles are dynamic patterns, patterns of activity which have a space aspect and a time aspect. Their space aspect makes them appear as objects with a certain mass, their time aspect as processes involving the equivalent energy. Thus the being of matter and its activity cannot be separated; they are but different aspects of the same space-time reality. (…) In a relativistic description of particle interactions, the forces between the particles — their mutual attraction or repulsion — are pictured as the exchange of other particles. This concept is very difficult to visualize, but it is needed for an understanding of subatomic phenomena. It links the forces between constituents of matter to the properties of other constituents of matter, and thus unifies the two concepts, force and matter, which had seemed to be fundamentally different in Newtonian physics. (…) These energy patterns of the subatomic world form the stable nuclear, atomic, and molecular structures which build up matter and give it its macroscopic solid aspect, thus making us believe that it is made of some material substance. At the macroscopic level this notion of substance is a useful approximation, but at the atomic level it no longer makes sense. Atoms consist of particles, and these particles are not made of any material stuff. When we observe them we never see any substance; what we observe are dynamic patterns continually changing into one another — the continuous dance of energy. /82
  • The fact that all the properties of particles are determined by principles closely related to the methods of observation would mean that the basic structures of the material world are determined, ultimately, by the way we look at this world; that the observed patterns of matter are reflections of patterns of the mind. /85
  • From his careful experiments with garden peas, Mendel deduced that there were ‘units of heredity’ — later to be called genes — that did not blend in the process of reproduction and thus become diluted, but were transmitted from generation to generation without changing their identity. /107
  • Another fallacy of the reductionist approach in genetics is the belief that the character traits of an organism are uniquely determined by its genetic makeup. This ‘genetic determinism’ is a direct consequence of regarding living organisms as machines controlled by linear chains of cause and effect. It ignores the fact that the organisms are multileveled systems, the genes being imbedded in the chromosomes, the chromosomes functioning within the nuclei of their cells, the cells incorporated in the tissues, and so on. All these levels are involved in mutual interactions that influence the organism’s development and result in wide variations of the ‘genetic blueprint’. /108
  • More recently the fallacy of genetic determinism has given rise to a widely discussed theory known as sociobiology, in which all social behavior is seen as predetermined by genetic structure. Numerous critics have pointed out that this view is not only scientifically unsound but also quite dangerous. It encourages pseudoscientific justifications for racism and sexism by interpreting differences in human behavior as genetically preprogrammed and unchangeable. /109
  • [The Biomedical Model] The human body is regarded as a machine that can be analyzed in terms of its parts; disease is seen as the malfunctioning of biological mechanisms which are studied from the point of view of cellular and molecular biology; the doctor’s role is to intervene, either physically or chemically, to correct the malfunctioning of a specific mechanism. /118
  • The reason for the exclusion of the phenomenon of healing from biomedical science is evident. It is a phenomenon that cannot be understood in reductionist terms. This applies to the healing of wounds, and even more to the healing of illnesses, which generally involve a complex interplay among the physical, psychological, social, and environmental aspects of the human condition. To reincorporate the notion of healing into the theory and practice of medicine, medical science will have to transcend its narrow view of health and illness. This does not mean that it will have to be less scientific. On the contrary, by broadening its conceptual basis it will become more consistent with recent developments in modern science. /119
  • The practice of popular medicine has traditionally been the prerogative of women, since the art of healing in the family is usually associated with the tasks and the spirit of motherhood. Folk healers, typically, are both female and male, with proportions varying from culture to culture. They do not practice within an organized profession but derive their authority from their healing powers — often interpreted as their access to the spirit world — rather than from professional licensing. With the appearance of organized, high-tradition medicine, however, patriarchal patterns assert themselves and medicine becomes male-dominated. This is as true for classical Chinese or Greek medicine as for medieval European medicine, or modern cosmopolitan medicine. /121
  • Rather than trying to understand the psychological dimensions of mental illness, psychiatrists concentrated their efforts on finding organic causes — infections, nutritional deficiencies, brain damage — for all mental disturbances. This ‘organic orientation’ in psychiatry was furthered by the fact that in several instances researchers could indeed identify organic origins of mental disorders and were able to develop successful methods of treatment. Although these successes were partial and isolated, they established psychiatry firmly as a branch of medicine, committed to the biomedical model. This turned out to be rather a problematic development in the twentieth century. Indeed, even in the nineteenth century the limited success of the biomedical approach to mental illness inspired an alternative movement — the psychological approach — which led to the founding of the dynamic psychiatry and psychotherapy of Sigmund Freud and brought psychiatry much closer to the social sciences and to philosophy. /126–127
  • The public image of the human organism — enforced by the content of television programs, and especially by advertising — is that of a machine which is prone to constant failure unless supervised by doctors and treated with medication. The notion of the organism’s inherent healing power and tendency to stay healthy is not communicated, and trust in one’s own organism is not promoted. (…) It is intriguing and quite ironic that physicians themselves are the ones who suffer most from the mechanistic view of health by disregarding stressful circumstances in their lives. Whereas traditional healers were expected to be healthy people, keeping their body and soul in harmony and in tune with their environment, the typical attitudes and habits of doctors today are quite unhealthy and produce considerable illness. Physicians’ life expectancy today is ten to fifteen years less than that of the average population, and they have not only high rates of physical illness but also high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, and other social pathologies. /146
  • The mechanistic view of the human organism and the resulting engineering approach to health has led to an excessive emphasis on medical technology, which is perceived as the only way to improve health. /147
  • Hospitals have grown into large professional institutions, emphasizing technology and scientific competence rather than contact with the patient. In these modern medical centers, which look more like airports than therapeutic environments, patients tend to feel helpless and frightened, which often keeps them from getting well. /148
  • The excessive use of high technology in medical care is not only uneconomic but also causes an unnecessary amount of pain and suffering. Accidents in hospitals now occur more frequently than in any other industries except mining and high-rise construction. /149
  • The theory of specific disease causation has been successful in a few special cases, such as acute infectious processes and nutritional deficiencies, but the overwhelming majority of illnesses cannot be understood in terms of the reductionist concepts of well-defined disease entities and single causes. The main error of the biomedical approach is the confusion between disease processes and disease origins. Instead of asking why an illness occurs, and trying to remove the conditions that lead to it, medical researchers try to understand the biological mechanisms through which the disease operates, so that they can then interfere with them. /150
  • The origins of disease will generally be found in several causative factors that must concur to result in ill health. Moreover, their effects will differ profoundly from person to person, since they depend on the individual’s emotional reactions to stressful situations and on the social environment in which these situations occur. /151
  • Whereas illness is a condition of the total human being, disease is a condition of a particular part of the body, and rather than treating patients who are ill, doctors have concentrated on treating their diseases. /152
  • Perhaps the most striking example of the emphasis on symptoms rather than underlying causes is the drug approach of contemporary medicine. It has its roots in the erroneous view that bacteria are the primary causes of disease, rather than symptomatic manifestations of underlying physiological disorder. /153
  • There seem to be very few infectious diseases in which the bacteria cause actual direct damage to the cells or tissues of the host organism. There are some, but in most cases the damage is caused by an overreaction of the organism, a kind of panic in which a number of powerful, unrelated defense mechanisms are all turned on at once. Infectious diseases, then, arise most of the time from a lack of coordination within the organism, rather than from injury caused by invading bacteria. /155
  • An important aspect of the mechanistic view of living organisms and the resulting engineering approach to health is the belief that the cure of illness requires some outside intervention by the physician, which can be either physical, through surgery or radiation, or chemical, through drugs. /157
  • The systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration. Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or basic substances, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization. /286
  • Systems thinking is process thinking; form becomes associated with process, interrelation with interaction, and opposites are unified through oscillation. /288
  • Machines function according to linear chains of cause and effect, and when they break down a single cause for the breakdown can usually be identified. In contrast, the functioning of organisms is guided by cyclical patterns of information flow known as feedback loops. /289
  • This nonlinear interconnectedness of living organisms indicates that the conventional attempts of biomedical science to associate diseases with single causes are highly problematic. Moreover, it shows the fallacy of ‘genetic determination’, the belief that various physical or mental features of an individual organism are ‘controlled’ or ‘dictated’ by its genetic makeup. The systems view makes it clear that genes do not uniquely determine the functioning of an organism as cogs and wheels determine the working of a clock. Rather, genes are integral parts of an ordered whole and thus conform to its systemic organization. /289–290
  • Living organisms function quite differently. They are open systems, which means that they have to maintain a continuous exchange of energy and matter with their environment to stay alive. This exchange involves taking in ordered structures, such as food, breaking them down and using some of their components to maintain or even increase the order of the organism. This process is known as metabolism. It allows the system to remain in a state of nonequilibrium, in which it is always ‘at work’. A high degree of nonequilibrium is absolutely necessary for self-organization; living organisms are open systems that continually operate far from equilibrium. /291
  • The stability of self-organizing systems is utterly dynamic and must not be confused with equilibrium. It consists in maintaining the same overall structure in spite of ongoing changes and replacements of its components. (…) We replace all our cells, except for those in the brain, within a few years, yet we have no trouble recognizing our friends even after long periods of separation. Such is the dynamic stability of self-organizing systems. /292
  • Self-renewal is an essential aspect of self-organizing systems. Whereas a machine is constructed to produce a specific product or to carry out a specific task intended by its designer, an organism is primarily engaged in renewing itself; cells are breaking down and building up structures, tissues and organs are replacing their cells in continual cycles. Thus the pancreas replaces most of its cells every twenty-four hours, the stomach lining every three days; our white blood cells are renewed in ten days and 98 percent of the protein in the brain is turned over in less than one month. All these processes are regulated in such a way that the overall pattern of the organism is preserved, and this remarkable ability of self-maintenance persists under a variety of circumstances, including changing environmental conditions and many kinds of interference. /293
  • Such as state is known as homeostasis. It is a state of dynamic, transactional balance in which there is great flexibility; in other words, the system has a large number of options for interacting with its environment. When there is some disturbance, the organism tends to return to its original state, and it does so by adapting in various ways to environmental changes. Feedback mechanisms come into play and tend to reduce any deviation from the balanced state. /294
  • The more one studies the living world the more one comes to realize that the tendency to associate, establish links, live inside one another and cooperate is an essential characteristic of living organisms. /301
  • Excessive aggression, competition, and destructive behavior are predominant only in the human species and have to be dealt with in terms of cultural values rather than being ‘explained’ pseudoscientifically as inherently natural phenomena. /302
  • The tendency of living systems to form multileveled structures whose levels differ in their complexity is all-pervasive throughout nature and has to be seen as a basic principle of self-organization. At each level of complexity we encounter systems that are integrated, self-organizing wholes consisting of smaller parts and, at the same time, acting as parts of larger wholes. For example, the human organism contains organ systems composed of several organs, each organ being made up of tissues and each tissue made up of cells. The relations between these systems levels can be represented by a ‘systems tree’. (…) Thus, the pervasiveness of order in the universe takes on a new meaning: order at one systems level is the consequence of self-organization at a larger level. /303
  • This creative reaching out into novelty, which in time leads to an ordered unfolding of complexity, seems to be a fundamental property of life, a basic characteristic of the universe which is not — at least for the time being — amenable to further explanation. We can, however, explore the dynamics and mechanisms of self-transcendence in the evolution of individuals, species, ecosystems, societies, and cultures. /309
  • Evolution is an ongoing and open adventure that continually creates its own purpose in a process whose detailed outcome is inherently unpredictable. Nevertheless, the general pattern of evolution can be recognized and is quite comprehensible. Its characteristics include the progressive increase of complexity, coordination, and interdependence; the integration of individuals into multileveled systems; and the continual refinement of certain functions and patterns of behavior. /313
  • There are larger manifestations of mind of which our individual minds are only subsystems. This recognition has very radical implications for our interactions with the natural environment. If we separate mental phenomena from the larger systems in which they are immanent and confine them to human individuals, we will see the environment as mindless and will tend to exploit it. Our attitudes will be very different when we realize that the environment is not only alive but also mindful, like ourselves. /316
  • Our responses to the environment, then, are determined not so much by the direct effect of external stimuli on our biological system but rather by our past experience, our expectations, our purposes, and the individual symbolic interpretation of our perceptual experience. /321
  • In the future elaboration of the new holistic world view, the notion of rhythm is likely to play a very fundamental role. The systems approach has shown that living organisms are intrinsically dynamic, their visible forms being stable manifestations of underlying processes. Process and stability, however, are compatible only if the processes form rhythmic patterns — fluctuations, oscillations, vibrations, waves. The new systems biology shows that fluctuations are crucial in the dynamics of self-organization. They are the basis of order in the living world: ordered structures arise from rhythmic patterns. /326–327
  • The conceptual shift from structure to rhythm may be extremely useful in our attempts to find a unifying description of nature. /327
  • The notion of illness as originating in a lack of integration seems to be especially relevant to approaches that try to understand living organisms in terms of rhythmic patterns. From this perspective synchrony becomes an important measure of health. Individual organisms interact and communicate with one another by synchronizing their rhythms and thus integrating themselves into the larger rhythms of their environment. /355
  • When the systems view of mind is adopted, it becomes obvious that any illness has mental aspects. Getting sick and healing are both integral parts of an organism’s self-organization, and since mind represents the dynamics of this self-organization, the processes of getting sick and of healing are essential mental phenomena. Because mentation is a multileveled pattern of processes, most of them are taking place in the unconscious realm, we are not always fully aware of how we move in and out of illness, but this does not alter the fact that illness is a mental phenomenon in its very essence. /359
  • The precise ways in which physical and psychological patterns interlink are still little understood, and thus most physicians tend to restrict themselves to the biomedical model and neglect the psychological aspects of illness. However, there have been significant attempts to develop a unified approach to the mind/body system throughout the history of Western medicine. Several decades ago these attempts culminated in the foundation of psychosomatic medicine as a scientific discipline, concerned specifically with the study of the relationships between the biological and psychological aspects of health.* This new branch of medicine is now rapidly gaining acceptance, especially with the growing awareness of the relevance of stress, and it is likely to play an important role in a future holistic system of health care. /359 (Referencing Lipowski, Z.J. 1977 ‘Psychosomatic Medicine in the Seventies: An Overview’ The American Journal of Psychiatry. March.)
  • The first step in this kind of self-healing will be the patients’ recognition that they have participated consciously or unconsciously in the origin and development of their illness, and hence will also be able to participate in the healing process. In practice, this notion of patient participation, which implies the idea of patient responsibility, is extremely problematic and is vigorously denied by most patients. Conditioned as they are by the Cartesian framework, they refuse to consider the possibility that they may have participated in their illness, associating the idea with blame and moral judgment. It will be important to clarify exactly what is meant by patient participation and responsibility. /361
  • Mental attitudes and psychological techniques are important means for both the prevention and healing of illness. A positive attitude combined with specific stress-reduction techniques will have a strong positive impact on the mind/body system and will often be able to reverse the disease process, even to heal severe biological disorders. The same techniques can be used to prevent illness by applying them to cope with excessive stress before any serious damage occurs. An impressive proof of the healing power of positive expectations alone is provided by the placebo effect. A placebo is an imitation medicine, dressed up like an authentic pill and given to patients who think they are receiving the real thing. Studies have shown that 35 percent of patients consistently experience ‘satisfactory relief’ when placebos are used instead of regular medication for a wide range of medical problems.* Placebos have been strikingly successful in reducing or eliminating physical symptoms, and have produced dramatic recoveries from illnesses for which there are no known medical cures. The only active ingredient in these treatments appears to be the power of the patient’s positive expectations, supported by interaction with the therapist. /362 (Referencing Cousins, Norman. 1977. ‘The Mysterious Placebo.‘ Saturday Review, October 1.)
  • In the past, psychosomatic self-healing has always been associated with faith in some treatment — a drug, the power of a healer, perhaps a miracle. In a future approach to health and healing, based on the new holistic paradigm, it should be possible to acknowledge the individual’s potential for self-healing directly, with no need for any conceptual crutches, and to develop psychological techniques that will facilitate the healing process. /363
  • The development of illness involves the continual interplay between physical and mental processes that reinforce one another through a complex network of feedback loops. Disease patterns at any stage appear as manifestations of underlying psychosomatic processes that should be dealt with in the course of therapy. This dynamic view of illness specifically acknowledges the organism’s innate tendency to heal itself — to reestablish itself in a balanced state — which may include stages of crises and major life transitions. /364
  • The reorganization of health care will also mean discouraging the construction and use of facilities that are inefficient and incompatible with the new view of health. To change the present technology-intensive, hospital-based system, a first useful step may be, as Victor Fuchs has suggested, to impose a moratorium on all hospital construction and expansion to bring our escalating hospital costs under control. At/ the same time hospitals will gradually be transformed into more efficient and more humane institutions, comfortable and therapeutic environments modeled after hotels rather than factories or machine shops, with good and nourishing food, family members included in patient care, and other such sensible improvements. /370–371 (Referencing White, Kerr L. 1978. ‘Ill Health and Its Amelioration: Individual and Collective Choices.’ In Carlson, Rick, J. ed. Future Directions in Health Care: A New Public Pollicy, Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, and Fuchs, Victor R. 1974. Who Shall Live? New York: Basic Books.)
  • A number of therapeutic models and techniques are already being developed that go beyond the biomedical framework and are consistent with the systems view of health. Some of them are based on well-established Western healing traditions, others are of more recent origin, and most of them are not taken very seriously by the medical establishment because they are difficult to understand in terms of classical scientific concepts. To begin with, numerous unorthodox approaches to health share a belief in the existence of patterns of ‘subtle energies’, or ‘life philosophies’, and see illness as resulting from changes in these patterns. Although the therapies practiced in these tradition, which are sometimes referred to as ‘energy medicine’, involve a variety of techniques, all of them are believed to influence the organism at a more fundamental level than the physical or psychological symptoms of illness. This view is quite similar to that of the Chinese medical tradition, and so are many of the concepts used in the various healing traditions. For example, when homeopaths speak about the ‘vital force’, or Reichian therapists about ‘bioenergy’, they use these terms in a sense that comes very close to the Chinese concept of ch’i. /373
  • Homeopathic therapy consists of matching the pattern of symptoms that is characteristic of the patient with a similar pattern characteristic of the remedy. Vithoulkas believes that each remedy is associated with a certain vibrational pattern that constitutes its very essence. When the remedy is taken its energy pattern resonates with the energy pattern of the patient and thereby induces the healing process. The resonance phenomenon seems to be central to homeopathic therapy, / but what exactly resonates and how this resonance is brought about is not well understood. /375–376
  • Homeopathic remedies are substances derived from animals, plants and minerals, and are taken in highly diluted form. The selection of the correct remedy is based on Hahnemann’s Law of Similars — ‘Like Cures Like’ — which gave homeopathy its name. According to Hahnemann, any substance that can produce a total pattern of symptoms in a healthy human being can cure those same symptoms in a sick person. Homeopaths claim that literally any substance can produce, and cure, a wide spectrum of highly individualized symptoms known as the ‘personality’ of the remedy. /376
  • From the very beginning of his medical research, Reich was keenly interested in the role of energy in the functioning of living organisms, and one of the main goals of his psychoanalytic work was to associate the sexual drive, or libido, which Freud saw as an abstract psychological force, with concrete energy flowing through the physical organism. This approach led Reich to the concept of bioenergy, a fundamental form of energy that permeates and governs the entire organism and manifests itself in the emotions as well as in the flow of bodily fluids and other biophysical movements. Bioenergy, according to Reich, flows in wave movements and its basic dynamic characteristic is pulsation. Every mobilization of flow processes / and emotions in the organism is based on a mobilization of bioenergy. /377–378
  • One of Reich’s key discoveries was that attitudes and emotional experiences can give rise to certain muscular patterns which block the free flow of energy. These muscular blocks, which Reich called ‘character armor’, are developed in nearly every adult individual. They reflect our personality and enclose key elements of our emotional history, locked up in the structure and tissue of our muscles. The central task of Reichian therapy is to destroy the muscular armor in order to reestablish the organism’s full capacity for the pulsation of bioenergy. /378
  • It is evident that Reich’s concept of bioenergy comes very close to the Chinese concept of ch’i. Like the Chinese, Reich emphasized the cyclical nature of the organism’s flow processes and, like the Chinese, he also saw the energy flow in the body as the reflection of a process that goes on in the universe at large. To him bioenergy was a special manifestation of a form of cosmic energy that he called ‘orgone energy’. Reich saw this orgone research as some kind of primordial substance, present everywhere in the atmosphere and extending through all space, like the ether of the nineteenth-century physics. Inanimate as well as living matter, according to Reich, derives from orgone energy through a complicated process of differentiation. /378
  • Influenced by the pioneering ideas of Wilhelm Reich, by Eastern concepts, and by the modern dance movement, a number of therapists have combined various elements from these traditions to develop bodywork techniques that have recently become very popular. The principal founders of these new approaches are Alexander Lowen (‘bioenergetics’), Frederick Alexander (‘Alexander technique’), Moshe Feldenkrais (‘functional integration’), Ida Rolf (‘structuring integration’), and Judith Aston (‘structural patterning’). In addition, various massage therapies have been developed, many of them inspired by Eastern techniques like shiatsu and acupressure. All these approaches are based on the Reichian notion that emotional stress manifests itself in the form of blocks in the muscle structure and tissue, but they differ in the methods employed for releasing these psychosomatic blocks. (Referencing Popenoe, Cris. 1977. Wellness. Washington, D.C.)
  • The imbalance and fragmentation that pervade our culture play an important role in the development of cancer and, at the same time, prevent medical researchers and clinicians from understanding the disease or treating it successfully. The conceptual framework and therapy that Carl Simonton, a radiation oncologist, and Stephanie Matthews-Simonton, a psychotherapist, have developed are fully consistent with the views of health and illness we have been discussing and have far-reaching implications for many areas of health and healing. (Referencing that Oncology stems from the Greek onkos (‘mass’), is the study of tumors, as well as Simonton, O. Carl, Matthews-Simonton, Stephanie, and Creighton, James, 1978. Getting Well Again. Los Angeles: Tarcher.)
  • The popular image of cancer has been conditioned by the fragmented world view of our culture, the reductionist approach of our science, and technology-oriented practice of medicine. Cancer is seen as a strong and powerful invader / that strikes the body from outside. There seems to be no hope of controlling it, and for most people cancer is synonymous with death. Medical treatment — whether radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of these — is drastic, negative, and further injures the body. Physicians are increasingly coming to see cancer as a systemic disorder; a disease that has a localized appearance but has the ability to spread, and that really involves the entire body, the original tumor being merely the tip of the iceberg. /388–389
  • One of the main aims of the Simonton approach is to reverse the popular image of cancer, which does not correspond to the findings of current research. Modern cellular biology has shown that cancer cells are not strong and powerful but, on the contrary, weak and confused. They do not invade, attack, or destroy, but simply overproduce. A cancer begins with a cell that contains incorrect genetic information because it has been damaged by harmful substances or other environmental influences, or simply because the organism will occasionally produce an imperfect cell. The faulty information will prevent the cell from functioning normally, and if this cell reproduces others with the same incorrect genetic makeup, the result will be a tumor composed of a mass of these imperfect cells. Whereas normal cells communicate effectively with their environment to determine their optimal size and rate of reproduction, the communication and self-organization of malignant cells are impaired. As a result they grow larger than healthy cells and reproduce recklessly. Moreover, the normal cohesion between cells may weaken and malignant cells may / break loose from the original mass and travel to other parts of the body to form new tumors — which is known as metastasis. In a healthy organism the immune system will recognize abnormal cells and destroy them, or at least wall them off so they cannot spread. But if for some reason the immune system is not strong enough, the mass of faulty cells will continue to grow. Cancer, then, is not an attack from without but a breakdown within. /389–390
  • The Simontons and other researchers have developed a psychosomatic model of cancer that shows how psychological and physical states work together in the onset of the disease. Although many details of this process still need to be clarified, it has become clear that the emotional stress has two principal effects. It suppresses the body’s immune system and, at the same time, leads to hormonal imbalances that result in an increased production of abnormal cells. Thus optimal conditions for cancer growth are created. The production of malignant cells is enhanced precisely at a time when the body is least capable of destroying them. As far as the personality configuration is concerned, the individual’s emotional states seem to be the crucial element in the development of cancer. The connection between cancer and emotions has been observed for hundreds of years, and today there is substantial evidence for the significance of specific emotional states. These are the result of a particular life history that seems to be characteristic of cancer patients. Psychological profiles of such patients have been established by a number of researchers, some of whom were even able to predict the incidence of cancer with remarkable accuracy on the basis of these profiles. /391
  • As in any holistic therapy, the first step toward initiating the healing cycle consists of making patients aware of the wider context of their illness. Establishing the context of cancer begins by asking patients to identify the major stresses occuring in their lives six to eighteen months prior to their diagnosis. The list of these stresses is then used as a basis for discussing the patients’ participation in the onset of their disease. The purpose of the concept of patient participation is not to evoke guilt, but rather to create the basis for reversing the cycle of psychosomatic processes that led to the state of ill health. /392
  • While the Simontons are establishing the context of a patient’s illness, they are also strengthening his belief in the effectiveness of the treatment and the potency of the body’s defenses. The development of such a positive attitude is crucial for the treatment. Studies have shown that the patient’s response to treatment depends more on his attitude than on the severity of the disease. Once feelings of hope and anticipation are generated, the organism translates them into biological processes that begin to restore balance and to revitalize the immune system, using the same pathways that were / used in the development of the illness. /392–393
  • The Simontons see cancer not merely as a physical problem but as a problem of the whole person. Accordingly, their therapy does not focus on the disease alone but deals with the total human being. It is a multidimensional approach involving various treatment strategies designed to initiate and support the psychosomatic process of healing. At the biological level the aim is twofold; to destroy cancer cells and to revitalize the immune system. In addition, regular physical exercise is used to reduce stress, to alleviate depression, and to help patients get more in touch with their bodies. Experience has shown that cancer patients are capable of far more physical activity than most people would assume. /393
  • One of the most vital and enthusiastic movements that arose from dissatisfaction with the mechanistic orientation of psychological thought is the school of humanistic psychology spearheaded by Abraham Maslow. Maslow rejected Freud’s view of humanity as being dominated by lower instincts and criticized Freud for deriving his theories of human behavior from the study of neurotic and psychotic individuals. Maslow thought that conclusion based on observing the worst in human beings rather than the best were bound to result in a distorted view of human nature. /402
  • The healthy experience of oneself is an experience of the whole organism, body and mind, and mental illnesses often arise from failure to integrate the various components of this organism. From this point of view the Cartesian split between mind and body and the conceptual separation of individuals from their environment appear to be symptoms of a collective mental illness shared by most of Western culture, as they are indeed often perceived by other cultures. /406
  • As in the new systems biology, the focus of psychology is now shifting from psychological structures to the underlying processes. The human psyche is seen as a dynamic system involving a variety of functions that systems theorists associate with the phenomenon of self-organization. Following Jung and Reich, many psychologists and psychotherapists have come to think of mental dynamics in terms of a flow of energy, and they also believe that these dynamics reflect an intrinsic intelligence — the equivalent of the systems concept of mentation — that enables the psyche not only to create mental illness but also to heal itself. Moreover, inner growth and self-actualization are seen as essential to the dynamics of the human psyche, in full agreement with the emphasis on self-transcendence in the systems view of life. /407

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