Everything is Connected

In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure.

It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel.

Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture".


Suppose there are the phenomena A, B, and C, and each of them is itself without any self-nature, yet they are all related. Consequently, the existence of A as "A" is determined by its relation to B and C and all other phenomena.

Everything is related to everything; nothing can be considered apart from its relatedness to the whole.

Although A is without self-nature, still it is A because of its relationship to everything else. In short, the inner structure of A includes everything else in hidden or "powerless" form. And by such relationship A is A, not B or C.

The entire universe supports the existence of any single thing, and absolutely nothing exists as an individual particular by itself alone. All things continually and simultaneously manifest themselves together as a whole. The philosophy of the Hua-yen calls this ontological reality "Interdependent Origination."

As no "individual" can exist in itself alone, it exists by the support of everything other than itself.

[Hayao Kawai]
Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.101-2

In his book, Bostrom considers a distant future in which trillions of digital minds merge into an enormous cognitive cyber-soup.

“Whether the set of extremely positive posthuman modes of being would include some kind of dissolved bouillon, there is some uncertainty,” he said. “If you look at religious views, there are many where merging with something greater is a form of heaven, being in the presence of this enormous beauty and goodness. In many traditions, the best possible state does not involve being a little individual pursuing goals.

'The Doomsday Invention: Will artificial intelligence bring us utopia or destruction?'

If you put God outside and set him vis-à-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you.

And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables.

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite.

If I am right, the whole of our thinking about what we are and what other people are has got to be restructured [...] If we continue to operate on the premises that were fashionable in the precybernetic era, and which were especially underlined and strengthened during the Industrial Revolution, which seemed to validate the Darwinian unit of survival, we may have [little time] before the logical reductio ad absurdum of our old positions destroys us.

The most important task today is, perhaps, to learn to think in the new way.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.468

The notion that all these fragments separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion.

Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today.

Thus, as is now well known, this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people who live in it.

Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are caught up in it.

[David Bohm]
Wholeness and the Implicate Order

A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ... The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self ...

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

[Albert Einstein]

In the traditional society, the most respected person was the lama. In the modern sector, it is the engineer.

[..] The world views of the lama and the engineer are very different. The old beliefs were based on a description of reality that emphasized the unity or dependent origination of all life, whereas the new scientific perspective emphasizes its separateness.

It seems to say that we stand apart - outside the rest of creation. And to gain a greater understanding of the way nature works, we simply have to split matter into smaller and smaller fragments and examine the various pieces in isolation.

The shift from lama to engineer represents a shift from ethical values that encourage an empathetic and compassionate relationship with all that lives toward a value-free "objectivity" that has no ethical foundation.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.108-9

What links:

A. The decline in bee numbers

B. The decline in Fernando Torres' career?

When you look in the mirror you see yourself as an object. You see your eyes, you see your nose, you see your face, you see your body. And that’s pretty much what you see when you look at other people. But that isn’t all there is to you. In fact, that’s hardly any of what there is to you. 

So you could say, for example, you exist at the level of the quantum particle [...] Above that level you exist at an atomic level, and then a molecular level, and then you exist at the level of complex organs and the interactions between those organs. And then you, and then your family, and then the groups that your family belongs to. And then the ecosystems that the groups  belong to and so on and so forth until what it is that you are can expand to encompass virtually anything.
Now, when you look at yourself you don’t see that. You see yourself at a certain level of resolution [...] but all those other levels are equally real and equally relevant. And we in fact have very little idea how it is that you’re only able to see what you see. Almost nothing has obvious boundaries and this has real world consequences, it’s not something that’s merely abstract. 

The technical term for this problem , the problem of how to bind your perceptions to limit them, is called the frame problem. The frame problem emerges to cause all sorts of trouble for people. 

So, for example, when Henry Ford invented the automobile [he presumed he was] building an efficient means of transporting people from one place to the other. There were other unintended consequences of Ford’s  discovery.

[...] Ford happened to be a great supporter of Fascism. And the reason that he was a supporter of Fascism was because he regarded the Fascist political structure as a logical extension of the efficient methods that he’d used to assemble vehicles. So his mode of production was instantly manifested in a political philosophy.

Furthermore now - 2009 - a hundred years after the invention of the automobile, we’ve discovered some other things that the car was, other than a place to move people from point A to point B.

So for example, it turns out that the automobile and the internal combustion engine are among the most effective technologies ever devised to transform the nature of the atmosphere to heat up the world. Not only that, the car has completely transformed the nature of cities.

And these were all unintended consequences of the fact that the car was far more than what people thought it was. 

You can say that about any technological structure. No one knew what TV would do to the news, for example. No one knew what the internet would do to the music industry. Everything that you interact with is far more complicated than you see.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'Reality and the Sacred'

[...] in no system which shows mental characteristics can any part have unilateral control over the whole. In other words, the mental characteristics of the system are immanent, not in some part, but in the system as whole.

[A] computer is only an arc of a larger circuit which always includes a man and an environment from which information is received and upon which efferent messages from the computer have effect. This total system, or ensemble, may legitimately be said to show mental characteristics. It operates by trial and error and has creative character.

Similarly, we may say that "mind" is immanent in those circuits of the brain which are complete within the brain. Or that mind is immanent in circuits which are complete within the system, brain plus body. Or, finally, that mind is immanent in the larger system - man plus environment.

In principle, if we desire to explain or understand the mental aspect of any biological event, we must take into account the system - that is, the network of closed circuits, within which that biological event is determined. But when we seek to explain the behaviour of a man or an other organism, this "system" will usually not have the same limits as the "self" - as this term is commonly (and variously) understood.

Consider a man felling a tree with an axe. Each stroke of the axe is modified or corrected, according to the shape of the cut face of the tree left by the previous stroke. This self-corrective (i.e., mental) process is brought about by a total system, tree-eyes-brain-muscles-axe-stroke-tree; and it is this total system that has the characteristics of an immanent mind.

But this is not how the average Occidental sees the event sequence of tree felling. He says, "I cut down the tree" and he even believes that there is a delimited agent, the "self" which performed a delimited "purposive" action upon a delimited object.

[...] popular parlance includes mind in its utterance by invoking the personal pronoun, and then achieves a mixture of mentalism and physicalism by restricting mind within the man and reifying the tree.

The total self-corrective unit which processes information, or, as I say, "thinks" and "acts" and "decides," is a system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or of what is popularly called the "self" or "consciousness" [...]

[...] if we exclude the unconscious processes from the "self" and call them "ego alien," then these processes take on the subjective colouring of "urges" and "forces"; and this pseudodynamic quality is then extended to the conscious "self" which attempts to "resist" the "forces" of the unconscious. The "self" thereby becomes itself an organization of seeming 'forces."

The popular notion which would equate "self" with consciousness thus leads into the notion that ideas are "forces" [...]

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('The Cybernetics of "Self": A Theory of Alcoholism'), p.316-20

That’s the key of the future of macro-economics - the alignment of agency and wellbeing, and that correlates with closing the loop.

We’re closing the loop between agency of individuals/well being of others - moving from an open loop system, where I could affect things but not internalise those effects in the cost equation, to [a system where] all [affects are] internalised in the cost equation.

That corresponds to a world view where my sense of self and my sense of the rest of the universe are not fundamentally separate concepts. I wouldn’t exist without oxygen, or the plants that make the oxygen, or the bugs and fungus that makes the plants work to make the oxygen.

I am not an individual. I have a self-organising membrane that has some individuality to it but I am an emergent property of everything else. 

So when you close the loop between sense of self and sense of others, then what’s in my best interest [is] whats in the best interest of others. There is loop closure between ‘advantage self at the expense of others’ or ‘sacrifice self for the well being of others’, both of which are nonsense in a radically interconnected system.

What we’re looking at is closing all the causal loops so that everything that influences decision making is being informed by everything being influenced.

[Daniel Schmachtenberger]
'36: Daniel Schmachtenberger - Phase Shifting Humanity', The Future Thinkers Podcast (29:55)

The will to power […] depends on the fact that for Nietzsche all things in the world are interconnected and that their interconnections are crucial to their very character. But from these ideas a more radical conclusion seems to follow: “No things remain but only dynamic quanta, in a relation of tension to all other dynamic quanta: their essence lies in their relation to all other quanta, in their ‘effect’ upon the same.”

Nietzsche’s continual stress on the interconnectedness of everything in the world constitutes his attack on the “thing-in-itself,” by which he understands the concept of an object that is distinct from, more than, beyond, or behind the totality of its effects on every other thing.

A thing, he insists, cannot be distinguished (except provisionally) from its various interrelations. Objects are conditioned by other objects through and through: “‘Things that have a constitution in themselves’ - a dogmatic idea with which one must break absolutely.”

To speak of a thing-in-itself is to speak of a thing that can be conceived to exist independently of all other things and that is to that extent unconditioned. But this implies that at least some of its features, through which it is to be conceived, apply to it quite independently of the existence of any other thing or that it can be conceived to exist without any features at all.

Nietzsche does not believe that things can have properties on their own, properties that attach to them independently of the existence of other things, because he believes that properties are nothing but a thing’s effects on other things, including ourselves as perceivers:

“That things possess a constitution on themselves quite apart from interpretation and subjectivity, is quite ideal hypothesis; it presupposes that interpretation and subjectivity are not essential, that a thing freed from all relationships would still be a thing […] The properties of a thing are effects on other ‘things’: if one removes other ‘things,’ then a thing has no properties, i.e. there is no thing without other things, i.e., there is no ‘thing-in-itself’.”

[…] what there is is always determined from a specific point of view that embodies its particular interests, needs, and values, its own will to power. “‘Essence’, ‘the essential nature,’ is something perspectival and already presupposes a multiplicity. At the bottom of it there always lies ‘what is it for me?’ (for us, for all that lives, etc.)”

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 79-81

[…] in Structuralism, all signifiers are directly connected to an extra-linguistic signified, the invariable ones. 

To 'mean' anything, a signifier must presuppose a signified already-always outside it. This is what Derrida terms as the "transcendental signified": as a signified, it belongs to the realm of language, but by being invariable, and by refusing any movement, it remains outside it 

A word, if immovable, can mean nothing, or even exist. Only when an endless chain of other signifiers, other words, hints, get associated with it, it finally acquires meaning ('Camel' is understandable only when it is thinly associated with many related words, such as 'animal', 'desert', 'cigarette', 'long neck', etc.). 

In other words, language is this movement. 

‘Trace (deconstruction)’, Wikipedia

If both positive and negative consequences of an action fell on its author, our learning would be fast.

But often an action’s positive consequences benefit only its author, since they are visible, while the negative consequences, being invisible, apply to others, with net cost to society.

Consider job-protection measures: you notice those whose jobs are made safe and ascribe social benefits to such protections. You do not notice the effect on those who cannot find a job as a result, since the measure will reduce job openings. In some cases […] the positive consequences of an action will immediately benefit the politicians and phony humanitarians, while the negative ones take a long time to appear - they may never become noticeable.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 111

An organism’s primary properties are, according to evolutionary theory, both a record of past environments and a conjecture about the current one. 

The overall species-niche super system determines the traits that individual organisms will exhibit. It is known that two animals with the same genotype can be phenotypically different depending on the environment in which they develop. Is this not a form of self-cause whereby the distributed whole influences its components?

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.107

Dynamical systems theory tells us that because they are embedded in history as well as in a structured environment, people are not independent, isolated atoms just plunked into a completely alien environment that affects them through mechanical forces. 

As we saw earlier, by means of second-order context-dependencies established by persistent interaction with the environment, agents effectively import the environment into their internal dynamics by recalibrating these to incoming signals. 

Over time, that is, both phylogenetically and developmentally, people establish interdependencies between the environment and their internal dynamics such that the former becomes part of their external structure: their boundary conditions. 

Context-sensitive constraints established by positive feedback weave both the environment and history into the agent's cognitive and conative states, thereby achieving the embeddedness in space and time that characterizes those complex systems. The way adaptive systems function therefore strongly suggests that, as dynamical structures, intentions "ain't just in the head" either.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, 197

Feedback processes […] embody the context-sensitive constraints of history. 

By embodying context-sensitive constraints, mutualist feedback renders a system sensitive to (constrained by) its own past experiences. This makes nonlinear dynamical systems historical, not just temporal the way near-equilibrium thermodynamical systems are. 

Once the system's subsequent behavior depends on both the spatial and temporal conditions under which it was created and the contingent experiences it has undergone, the system is historically and contextually embedded in a way that near-equilibrium systems of traditional thermodynamics are not. 

The very structure of a snowflake, for example, embodies the conditions under which it was created. Because dissipative structures are not just dropped into either time or space the way Newtonian atoms with only primary qualities are, their evolutionary trajectory is therefore not predictable in detail. 

Mutualism thus makes a dynamical system's current and future properties, states, and behaviors dependent on the context in which the system is currently embedded as well as on its prior experiences. As a result, unlike the near-equilibrium processes of traditional thermodynamics, complex systems do not forget their initial conditions: they "carry their history on their backs" 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.140

This 'whole person' of whom we have been talking is not, then, a solitary, self-sufficient unit. It belongs essentially within a larger whole, indeed within an interlocking pattern formed by a great range of such wholes.

These wider systems are not an alien interference with its identity. They are its home, its native climate, the soil from which it grows, the atmosphere which it needs in order to breathe. Their unimaginable richness is what makes up the meaning of our lives.

The self's wholeness is not, then, the wholeness of a billiard-ball but that of an organism, a transient, struggling creature which has, of course, its own distinct shape but which still belongs in its own context and background.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.20

Saussure's 'structural' model of language remains a landmark in the study of complex systems. His primary insight - that meaning is generated through a system of differences - remains an excellent way of conceptualising the relationships in a complex system.

To think in terms of relationships, rather than in terms of deterministic rules, is not a novelty for science, but it has always been seen as part of qualitative descriptions and not as part of the quantitative descriptions and calculations deemed necessary ever since Kepler's insistence that 'to measure is to know'.

Many phenomena, especially in the life-sciences, but also in physics and mathematics, simply cannot be understood properly in terms of deterministic, rule-based or statistical processes. Quantum-mechanical descriptions of sub-atomic processes are essentially relational, and even on a more macroscopic level, relations determine the nature of matter.

The carbon atoms in my body can all be interchanged with carbon atoms from the wood of my desktop, and there will be no noticeable difference (Penrose 1989: 32).

The significance of each atom is therefore not determined by its basic nature, but is a result of a large number of relationships between itself and other atoms.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.35, 37

[…] the relationality of the world is operationalised via an understanding of agency that no longer privileges human action.

Rather, all matter is ‘affective’ – it possesses a ‘capacity to affect and be affected’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 127–8), whether it is human or non-human, animate or inanimate (DeLanda, 2006: 4; Mulcahy, 2012: 10; Youdell and Armstrong, 2011: 145).

Replacing (human) agency with ‘affect’ serves as an ethical and political counter to the humanism of the social sciences, supplying the basis both for an anti-humanist critique of the destructive capacities of humans in the Anthropocene (Lovelock, 2007: 141) and to reintegrate humans within ‘the environment’ (Fox and Alldred, 2016), thus underpinning a more positive posthumanism (Braidotti, 2006: 37).

The latter, according to Braidotti, can be a basis for an eco-philosophy that establishes a continuum between human and non-human matter (Braidotti, 2006: 41, 2013: 104).

When applied to sociology, these aspects of contemporary materialism’s monism (van der Tuin and Dolphijn, 2010: 155) or ‘flat ontology’ (DeLanda, 2005: 51) collapse or cut across a range of conventional social theory dualisms – including agency/structure, nature/culture, animate/inanimate, micro/macro, reason/emotion, surface/depth, word/ world and mind/matter (Braidotti, 2013: 4–5; Coole and Frost, 2010: 26–7; Deleuze and Guattari, 1988: 23; van der Tuin and Dolphijn, 2010: 157).

[Nick J. Fox & Pam Alldred]
‘Social structures, power and resistance in monist sociology: (New) materialist insights’

Urbanization has done many things, but the important things that it has done from an ecological point of view is to separate people psychologically from the ecosphere and separate them physically from the ecosystems that actually sustain them.

Many people can live all their lives, and most of our young people in school, in cities with no psychological or physical sense of connectivity to anything outside of themselves.

In some sense, it replicates the economist notion that we're disconnected from all things, when the reality is that every city on the planet would curl up and die, were we cut off from […] the huge arterial network needed to supply cities. But in the process [of supplying cities] we're depleting the resources of the land base all over the planet.

[William Rees]
‘William E. Rees: "The Fundamental Issue - Overshoot" | The Great Simplification #53’, Nate Hagens, YouTube

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