Worldviews and Wholeness

My purpose in preparing this is in response to my feeling that the notion of wholeness needs clarifying and putting into context. I would like to do this by focusing on the role played by the scientific view in our cultural worldview and showing in simple terms how this scientific view has changed, and proposing that this change points to a need for a change in the worldview of our culture.

Science has obviously had a tremendous effect on our lives through the material products of technology, but does it have any influence in terms of the worldview of our culture? Clearly it does, because if we see a worldview as containing our deep (usually unexplored) assumptions, beliefs and notions about what is true, real, important, meaningful, etc., then science has had a central role to play in the formation of the dominant mechanistic worldview of western culture. This worldview operates in an unquestioned way in the mode of operation of the institutions of our cultures, e.g. politics, economics, and permeates the whole ethos of our lives by being deeply inculcated into us at an early age through absorption from our parents and, perhaps just as effectively, at school through the “hidden curriculum”. It can also come into us through music, movies, sport, TV, as a worldview operates throughout all the movements of a culture.

The role of science in our worldview began with the scientific revolution of the 17th century and developed over the next two centuries into a profound and pivotal factor largely because of the success of the methods of science and its concomitant view of reality, especially when in the 19th century it began to ally itself to technology. A western-mind developed, and a new society formed. It is not necessary to cover all the complexities of this but simply to note that this 19th century worldview is still with us today. What follows is a summary of some of the more important values and assumptions of our culture that are rooted in science:

1)      The dualism of mind and matter, leading to a subjective and personal human consciousness versus an objective and impersonal world.

2)      A fragmentary and reductionist approach to ordering, controlling and making the world predictable.

3)      The material world is the essential reality and is understood in terms of universal knowledge using only reason, rationality and objective observation. These mental qualities are thus given greater value over other qualities and aspects of human nature.

4)      The belief in the intrinsic value of progress, individualism and competition.

This is usually described as the “mechanistic” worldview since nature is seen as an intricate impersonal machine strictly ordered by mathematical or rational laws. This view led to, and was supported by, a surprisingly simple view of the nature of material reality that was very successful in describing and modelling matter at its different levels. In it, all matter and material processes can be reduced and understood in terms of the movement of fundamental “particles” interacting with each other in empty space. Thus the universe is stars and planets moving in a vacuum, and all other matter can be reduced to the movement of atoms or, in the case of atoms themselves, elementary particles.

There is growing evidence that in many areas of science this view of matter and material processes is too simple and crude and doesn’t work in new domains. In the field of physics, the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics have exposed basic inadequacies, and experiments have clearly shown that elementary particles once connected cannot be treated as separate entities, in the normal sense, even if a great distance apart (non-locality or entanglement). Also, quantum theory indicates that the “empty” space cannot be empty of electromagnetic energy.

A main point I want to make is that, if our view of the nature of material reality changes, then it suggests a change is needed in how we view everything, i.e. a fundamental change in our worldview.

In this final part I would like to state some of the features of a new view of material reality that could be the basis, or an important factor, of a more subtle, accurate and meaningful worldview. What follows is the picture that quantum theory and relativity suggest according to Prof. David Bohm. The new view is that “all is flux”, every thing has its essence in movement and change. This is fundamentally different from saying every thing is moving and changing, which is part of the old picture. In this view instead of things being primary and movement secondary, here the fundamental movement is primary and thingness secondary. The essence is an unbroken, undivided movement; this is the “hidden” wholeness that it is suggested is at the heart of the material world. This movement is immense undetectable energy that exists beyond space and time and from which they are abstractions. It follows that both “empty” space and “absolute” time are also abstractions that have value only because they are useful ideas in a simplified picture of reality. Being beyond space and time this movement is not limited, bounded or divisible in any conceivable way and so has an infinite wholeness as a fundamental quality, and is unknowable and unperceivable in any ordinary way. It is the non-manifest or subtle invisible ground of the manifest material world. The perceivable manifest world is like the tip of a continuously created iceberg and not really separate from what is below the surface (or limit of our perceptions). It is like the rainbow that is continuously created from the invisible interaction of sunlight and the falling raindrops.

The nature of the material world is that matter and things are continually being created and are in a process of coming into being from the movement and going back into it in a timeless now, like a fountain of water keeps its shape and form, though its essence is flowing water. Any part or thing that comes out of this invisible movement is in fact still the movement manifesting itself in a perceivable way depending on the situation of the perceiver, so that the part or thing perceived is the movement in perceivable form. Thus the part is internally related to the whole and the part is a display of the whole. Matter, rather than being the seen as the ground of reality, is now seen as a ripple on a vast ocean of immense energy.

The material world has many levels of coherent structure, i.e. atomic, molecular, cellular, organic, ecological, global, solar, galactic, and cosmic. The wholeness of the fundamental movement (that can’t be reduced to the movement of “parts”) reveals and displays itself at each level, so that each level has its own integrity, beauty and meaning. No level is more “important” than another, and neither the cosmic nor atomic levels have any prior or essential standing, because the essence no longer lies in the manifest material world and so physical size does not have the significance it had.

These are the ideas that come out of a view that better fits what we now know of the material world. It should be stressed it is a view to be judged pragmatically as to its value, usefulness and clarity in comparison to other views. In the course of time a better view will no doubt emerge, to keep up with our ever-changing knowledge and experience.

The consequences and implications of this change in our scientific view could be a significant factor in the change needed for our culture to move to a less destructive worldview. For this to happen, it seems to me that individually we will need more than merely intellectual interest. We will need to have the courage and creativity to go beyond the reductionist habits of our normal thinking, and begin anew with the sense of wholeness that one needs to be able to look at the world completely differently.

Colin Foster, Staff from UK

as published in The Link No 18

0 Responses to “Worldviews and Wholeness”


  • No Comments

Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.