International Symposium: Progress in Socio-Ecosystem Science
Socio-Ecosystem Science: A New Field of Science Originated in Asia
March 2, 2006, 10:00〜17:30, Lecture Hall,
Building for Environmental Studies, Nagoya University
EcoTopia Science Institute

On the holistic views of the environment in Asian thought

(Sophia University, Graduate Division of Global Environmental Studies)

     Environmental crisis that human beings now face can be described as inconsistency between two types of principal systems on the earth, i.e., ecosystems and economic systems. In ancient eras, humans were completely dominated by ecosystems. Civilization made gradually human societies difficult parts to be dissolved into ecosystems. Ultimate results of this process are the environmental crisis. Therefore the subject of solving this crisis is to reestablish the consistency those systems.

     Before going on this way, we have to know what is system, what essential features system has. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines system as "a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole." It seems an excellent definition. The key word is "unified whole." Especially in living system, like as ecosystem or economic system, a whole itself plays essential roles for sustain its entity. The whole is not just collection of parts. Then we have to admit the existence of relatively independent purposes, macroscopic purposes of the whole.

     In economic systems dominated by competitive markets, the macroscopic purpose, in the course of nature, is growth measured by gross domestic product. The purpose is relatively independent of microscopic purpose held by individual economic subject, e.g. consumer, firm, and local government. Although there exist many issues we should discuss about, we leave them to another opportunity.
The macroscopic purpose of ecosystems is too complex to give a simple conclusion that is commonly acceptable. However we inevitably discern highly organized order in an ecosystem. Ecosystems have a sort of holistic purpose. We can see a series of researches for this holistic purpose. They consider the energy flow in ecosystems. It was originated by the work of Lotka (1922) . In the paper he specified the principle of maximum energy flux. Recently Kay and Schneider (1994) gave a comprehensive understanding for this approach. It says that life and ecosystem self-organize their system in order to maximize dissipation of energy. Although those theories shed sharply light on the holistic nature of ecosystems, they still remain as a hypothesis.

     The fact that ecosystems have the holistic nature means that the world where we live has to have the holistic nature consistent with that of ecosystems insofar as we would like to live of a sustainable global society, whereas it is ambiguous whether the principle of economic growth could survive under that request or not.

     The holism for living systems and the world seems not to have been treated appropriately. This is because modern science and technology have strong tendency toward reductionism, which tries to explain a whole system by individual part included in the system or regards a whole as merely a connected collection of parts. This tendency is recognized in the field of social science. Since the sprits of modern society have been dominated by reductionism, we discarded holistic belief about the world included in the global ecosystem. The holistic belief had been mounted in our societies, especially in Asian societies. Let us see some representative philosophies in Asian tradition.

     First we have to approach Indian Ancient Philosophy described in Upanishads that is mystic or spiritual interpretations and essence on the Vedas (after 1200 BCE). It is not too much to say that Asian though is originated by this philosophy. The core thought of the philosophy is express as the unification of Brahman (梵) and Atman (我). Brahman is the principle that constructs the order of our universe, is the order itself and is entity that sustains the order. On the other hand, Atman is the essence of the individual subjects that construct the universe and our world inclusive of human beings. It is merged into individual existence and sustains its integrity. It was said that both concepts with entity could not be grasped by ordinary thinking sense. The enlightenment (悟り) is brought to the person who can recognize the truth expressed by those two concepts. This principle is not just religion. It is a philosophy and a sort of worldviews. Though it can be indescribable what order is to be implemented on this phase, Brahman is the subject forming holistic order and this philosophy contributes to make and strengthen people's holistic belief.

     Buddhism was based on this Indian philosophy and inherited some essential concepts, e.g., the transmigration of soul (輪廻). We can see many holistic worldviews in Buddhism. For example, Avatamsaka Sutra (華厳経) preaches that the world is ultimately nested, there are thousands of the world even in a piece of dust and Dharma (ultimate truth) of Vairochana Buddha (盧舎那仏) radiates every corner in the every world.

    Philosophical Taoism was described by ancient Chinese philosophers, Laozi (老子: around 600 BCE) and Zhuangzi (荘子:4th century BCE). In another course, Taoism was developed as one of major religion. The central concept of Taoism is Tao or Dao (道: the way). Dao is the ultimate order in the universe, the principle and the force forming that order, and the entity that create all things in the universe. Thus we can see many common features to Brahman. Then it is obvious that Dao expresses the holistic nature of the world and contribute for us to forming the belief of that holistic nature.

     In Japanese Edo era, there was a scholar of natural philosophy. Baien Miura (三浦梅園: 1723-1789) posed a magnificent view of the world and the universe in his main work Gengo (玄語: ultimate truth). Although he uses classical Chinese concepts, e.g. yin and yang (陰陽), he attached completely different meanings to the concepts and creates an original philosophical system that shows the structure of the world and the universe. His core proposition is that every object in the world consists of conflicted factors, and each factor itself has also a conflicted structure. The world has this type of ultimately nested structures, like as the worldview of Dharma of Avatamsaka Sutra. In his words, "一" (one) shows a whole and "二" (two) shows the state we see each conflicted factor independently (see Figure). In this theory, there is no explicit and abstract concept that forms order of the world. However, his theory provides a holistic worldview.

     One thing that we have to notice for those holistic worldviews is that, in the heart of those thoughts, the equality of every thing (living and nonliving) in the world is strongly advocated. The emphasis on the equality is essentially ascribed to the included holism in those thoughts. This causes an ecological implication. Every living creature is equal, not more valuable than others and not less valuable than others inclusive of human beings. Actually, we can see many sentences that are consistent with the platform of deep ecology defined by A.Naess .

     Generally speaking, the holistic views of the environment in Asian thought have lost their power of influence to people. Western philosophy accompanied by natural science and technology has been expelling those holistic views. The Asian people's belief about the holistic nature of the world has been gradually destroyed. Instead of that, they have obtained economic welfare, then they have faced serous environmental crisis.

     In order to solve environmental problems, we are required to establish the people's belief as well as to take concrete measures to solve the problems directly. Every science (inclusive of social science) and technology has to contribute to accomplish this requirement. The assessment of technology from the viewpoint of holism and the fusion of sciences to establish a system of knowledge consistent with the holistic worldview are important subjects. There are so many other subjects we have to explore.