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Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Pattern learning: Health and space-time and development strategy

Global Strategies Project

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1. Health as integration

As has been noted on many occasions, the concept of health is intimately related to that of wholeness. As broadly defined by the World Health Organization, it encompasses the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of the individual and is thus central to the concept of human and social development. It is therefore valuable to explore the evolution in the concept of health, as a form of integration, and as throwing light on the implications of such integration for an understanding of development strategy. This question has been admirably discussed by Larry Dossey (1982), a physician, in the light of the conceptual implications of theoretical breakthroughs in 20th century physics.

2. Physics and consciousness

Given the disturbing innovation of such physics, whereby the behaviour and subjectivity of the observer is necessarily incorporated into any understanding of the results of observation, he points out the weakness in the argument that such theoretical breakthroughs are only of significance to the abstract world of nuclear physics. He cites the physicist E Wigner who states: "The recognition that physical objects and spiritual values have a very similar kind of reality...is the only known point of view which is consistent with quantum mechanics" (1979, p. 192). Dossey points out that the relevance of such supposedly sub-atomic pre-occupations to macroscopic phenomena is also demonstrated by Bell's theorem as noted by the physicist H S Stapp: "The most important thing about Bell's theorem is that it puts the dilemma posed by quantum phenomena clearly into the realm of macroscopic phenomena...it shows that our ordinary ideas about the world are somehow profoundly deficient even on the macroscopic level" (p. 1303). The theorem can be described as stating: "If the statistical predictions of quantum theory are true, an objective universe is incompatible with the law of local causes", which requires that events occur at a speed not exceeding that of light (p. 1303). In some sense, as yet not understood, all "objects" thus constitute an indivisible whole, in contrast to the prevailing notion of an external, fixed, objective world of separate things. Furthermore, the theorem shows that the ordinary idea of an objective world unaffected by consciousness lies in opposition not only to quantum theory but to facts established by experiment.

In addition to the implications of quantum mechanics, Dossey draws attention to those from the logical limitations highlighted by the theorems of Godel (1958), Turing and Church, and Tarski. These collectively demonstrate the inherent limitations of any symbolic language which purports to describe the world unambiguously but is also called upon to make self-referential statements about itself as part of that world. They show that no precise language can be universal and that no scientific system is complete. Any language used to describe health and development, must necessarily suffer from similar limitations.

3. Reframing understandings of life and development

In the light of these considerations, Dossey points out that if our ordinary view of life, death, health and disease rests solidly on seventeenth-century physics (and on the logic on which it is based), and if this physics has now been partially abandoned in favour of a more accurate description of nature, then: "an unescapable question occurs: must not our definitions of life, death, health, and disease themselves change? To refuse to face the consequences to these areas is to favour dogma over an evolving knowledge...We have nothing to lose by a reexamination of fundamental assumptions of our models of health; on the contrary, we face the extraordinary possibility of fashioning a system that emphasizes life instead of death, and unity and one-ness instead of fragmentation, darkness, and isolation." (p. 1412).

After listing the characteristics of health and of the image of man arising from the "traditional" view (p. 139141), Dossey outlines the nature of the concept of health which emerges in the light of the new participative descriptions of nature. He notes, for example, that even from the point of view of elemental biology and physiology, the body behaves more as pattern and process than asan isolated and noninteracting object. It cannot be localized in space and its boundary is essentially illusory as in the notion of "body" in de Nicolas analysis. Health and illness are then a characteristic of the dynamic relationship between bodies on which therapy should necessarily arbitrarily focus as a participative process. The divisions of time are also arbitrarily imposed. "Connected as we are to all other bodies, comprised as we are of an unending flux of events themselves occurring in spacetime, we regard ourselves not as bodies fixed in time at particular points, but as eternally changing patterns for which precise descriptive terms seem utterly inappropriate" (p. 1429).

The ordinary view of death is then inadequate because it is based on two erroneous assumptions - that the body occupies a particular space, and that it endures through a span of linear time (p. 158). Dossey considers that during illness the experience of spacetime construction is distorted: "When we are sick we become a Newtonian object: a bit-piece stranded in a flowing time" (p. 175). Health and illness are field phenomena. Comprehending spacetime in this way is not a matter of intelligence and restricted to gifted scientists. It is largely a skill of the right-hemisphere. Such understanding has long been characteristic of certain oriental philosophies, and other cultures have developed with a concept of non-flowing time (p. 178). This understanding may even be charact-eristic of musically-oriented (youth) in the West and of aurally-oriented cultures. Desire for such experience may also contribute to widespread use of drugs as offering an alternative to domination of daily life by a Newtonian worldview with its many limitations.

The emergence of such incompatible spacetime views in society as flowing or non-flowing time, isolated objects or shifting energy patterns, should perhaps be seen as constituting a vital complementarity of evolutionary significance. Dossey therefore stresses the importance of alternation between them: "These two modes of time perception, working alternately, make sense. They strike a balance not conferred by either alone. Perhaps we find within us these two capacities for sensing time because we needed one as much as the other". (p. 180).

The two modes may then be seen as corresponding to Bohm's distinction between the explicate and the implicate order, the former being characterized by separated objects and the latter by flowing movement of totality (the holomovement). For Dossey it is the latter with which health is associated, disease being a disequil-ibrium towards the former: "Seen in this way, health has a kinetic quality. There is an essential dynamism to it, rounded as it is in Bohm's proposed underlying implicate order... Health is not static".

He contrasts this with a prevailing image of health as associated with some "frozen stage of youth, whereafter things never change... We view health as a frozen painting, a still collection of bits of information" (p. 183). But this has no meaning if health is the harmony of the movement of interdependent parts. Dossey produces a 13-pointable contrasting health based on the traditional view with that based on an implicate view (p. 1867). The problem is that modern health care (including holistic health), only focuses on the reality of the explicate order of separate objects and events. "The implicate domain, where the very meaning of health, disease, and death radically changes, is currently of no concern to medicine". (p. 189) Explicate therapy has a purely mechanistic concern to "keep the parts running".

4. Implications for development strategy

It is clear that Dossey's arguments with respect to health can also be made with respect to human and social development in general, especially since much development thinking can be viewed as directed towards "keeping the parts running". There is much to be said therefore for exploring the possibility of elaborating an implicate understanding of development as a vital complement to the prevailing explicate view. Any "new world order", to be of any long-term significance, could well be based on an alternation between these two modes.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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