The Whole and the Particulars

June 6, 2012 Leave a comment

The Three Goals

The first goal is to see the thing in itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.
In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal in the particular,
Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

David Budbill

Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with and provide training for the Smith Fellows, a remarkable group of post-graduate students and early career scientists committed to the field of conservation biology.  Theirs is the work of true passion for and love of “nature,” including it’s healing power for human beings.

On the first evening, hunkered down in a small apartment at SERC in Acadia National Park, we listened to and shared stories across generations.  At one point, the comment was made that while there has been welcome movement towards considering ecology and whole systems approaches to conservation, it has come at the expense of academia no longer being so focused on the individual species or particular elements of those systems.  Apparently, in some living science departments in this country, you can no longer find any of the traditional “-ologists.”  The health of ecosystems, and any system, depends upon on understanding of the whole and its parts.  For some reason, it seems difficult to hold on to both.  Hence David Budbill’s poem above.

What have you done to hold on to both the universal and the particular in your change work?

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  • Gibran says:

    What a great inquiry and what a real tension. Conceptually, it seems attainable… but practically, it’s almost like the waves vs particles issue… Meditative states can give one a sense of the whole in the particular and viceversa. It seems like a particularly powerful group process could take us to a place where the whole is present and the individual is fully manifest – the trick is to acknowledge the individual’s particular expression of consciousness without getting lost in the ego story that often comes with it.

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks, Gibran, and couldn’t agree with you more about the parallel to the “wave vs. particle” phenomenon. We can acknowledge that both are true/valuable perspectives, and yet how do we keep both in view? Reminds me some of the quantum uncertainty principles and what neuroscience is showing us about how certain mental modes (analytical, for example) obscure other ways of seeing. All the more reason to have more minds in the room!

  • Mark Roest says:

    Hello Curtis, I think a form of display can handle it nicely. I have been proposing a knowledgebase which is focused on eco-regions (per World Wildlife Fund’s Terrestrial Ecoregions), the ecosystems within them, and the cultures which co-evolved with them. It needs to be a combination of GIS and digital earth imaging, and the user interface needs to be tuned to make it easy to either overlay or switch among functional units; it could display the summation statements of knowledgeable people in the culture which put relationships in perspective, and do the same for ecologists’ and ethologist’s views. This has many advantages which should make it highly popular and widely used,if done well. People will probably have to curate the information to ensure that it is meaningful to varying audiences.

  • Curtis says:

    Sounds fascinating, Mark. Where can I find more information about the technology? And I’d be curious to hear more about the curation piece, and what that looks like.

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