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Jennifer Wells: Complexity, Sustainability and the Cultivation of a Healthy Planet

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While we oftentimes refer to chaos as being bad, it appears to be the foundation of all of life. It is out of this seeming randomness of everything affecting everything else that an interactive atmosphere that self-organizes to maintain a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide emerges--that is until our polluting technologies throw the levels of carbon dioxide out of whack. Chaos, not conformity, leads to organic self-organization, hence to sustainability and resilience.

These types of changes have major world-wide ramifications that include extinction rates that are going over the roof (see graph at

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At this point, we cannot align our hopes into any one discipline to help reduce these rates. In line with complexity theory, we need to take multidimensional approaches to the environment and our happiness. We can't separate out our environmental well being from our personal psychological health or the culture's health. Ecology, economy, and sociology are three legs of one resilient stool. Create a wobble in any one of them and the other two are thrown off balance, causing the entire stool (organism) to tip precariously.

We must understand what the underlying patterns are behind the extinction rates of species in relation to how our children are being raised at home and in school, our political messes and high crime rates in relationship to our high rates of depression and other emotional issues are related.

What ties them all together? To answer this question, we must all take a deep look at ourselves in relationship to the world we live in. How is it that we are conditioned? Can we move beyond that conditioning?

As Jennifer Wells (2013) writes in her book, COMPLEXITY AND SUSTAINABILITY (p. 19):

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By focusing on complexity not just as piecemeal phenomena, but also rather as a profound characteristic of our world, we radically shift epistemology, ontology and ethics, opening the way to develop wiser thinking about the range of issues crucial to improving the human ability to survive and thrive.

Wells further writes that we can no longer focus on single issues. As she states on p. 20:

Many of the global crises in recent years -- mass extinctions, climate change, social injustice, poverty, natural resource depletion, toxic pollution, etc. - have existed in large part because our thinking has been more focused on single issues and disciplinary parts rather than on systemic analysis about the interactions and processes of whole systems. For years we have been thinking about trees and losing whole forests.

Wells defines complexity as "the dynamic interactions of multiple elements engaged in self-organizing processes."

This is very much like the theory of James Lovelock whose Gaia Hypothesis states that through the interactions of plants and animals on Gaia (Earth) that we have an atmosphere that supports us hairless monkeys as well as the plants and trees surrounding us. We are organic to a living, evolving being. We ignore our environment at our own peril.

It is interesting in this regard that a fetus grows from center to periphery, from the inside out. Furthermore, each cell becomes a particular cell of a particular organ based on its relationship to everything else. Thus a cell that becomes a lung does so in relationship to the rest of the body

There is apparently a complex interaction between the cells that "instruct" a particular cell to be what it will become. But, before receiving its instructions, that daughter or virgin cell has the potential of being anything in that body.

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How a fetus evolves is how life in general evolves. We are each a microcosm of a larger macrocosm. The world is our mirror. It is a mirror in terms of how life evolves. It is also a mirror in that we have decimated much of life on our planet. This decimation, this creation of wastelands coupled with high extinction rates, is a mirror or holographic image of our highly indoctrinated lifestyles based on materialism and reductionism that thrives on limitless growth and breaking down the whole.

We are stuck in the philosophy of dualism. Dualism is a breaking down and opposition of the parts, and it may be one of the primal factors in our extinction. In Newtonian physics, isolation of each element was seen as the way to examine Truth. However, in the quantum physics that evolved in the early parts of last century, this philosophy was turned on it's ears.

As the old saying goes, "the flapping of a butterfly's wings in China has an effect on the weather in New York." Everything you do--from breathing to releasing the waste from your body to what you eat and how you love--makes a difference in this world. You, the reader, are not an isolated variable existing out there in "la-la" land. You are an instrumental part of this planet, of this universe. While complexity theories alongside chaos theories and holographic physics may be hard for you to understand, the importance of what they ultimately say about you in relation to the world is powerful in terms of helping to build a sense of connectedness. The best cure for the alienation, isolation, and insufficiency experienced by modern humans lies in returning like penitent prodigals to the embrace of our Mother Nature.

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Burl is an avid writer and publishes to OpEd News. He is author of "Sophia's Web: A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature." As of this writing, Burl is planning to self-publish the book. Alongside his wife, Burl co-hosts an on line radio (more...)

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