Bridging Complexity and Ecology:
Outline of Health Ecology

Dr Vladimir Dimitrov

Dr Vladimir Dimitrov
School of Social Ecology and Lifelong Learning
University of Western Sydney, Australia

1. Introduction: Emergent Dynamic Ecologies
2. Medical Model versus the Model of Health Ecoogy
3. Human and Environmental Health: The Approach of Health Ecology
4. The Vital Role of Nature
5. Culture as a Key Factor in Health Ecology
6. Paradox of Sustainability through the Prism of Health Ecology
7. In Search of Universal Principle of Harmony in Nature and Society References

1. Introduction: Emergent Dynamic Ecologies

In 1982 Stephen Wolfram pointed up a new direction in the human inquiry: development of a general theory of complexity in nature (Wolfram, 1982; Wolfram, 2002). When projected on the conceptual space of ecology, this direction reveals a new unifying framework for ecological studies: the framework of emergent dynamic ecologies. This framework includes environmental ecology, human ecology, social ecology, deep ecology, ecology of mind, ecology of learning, and is widely open to embrace new ecological discoveries.

The term 'ecology' is rooted in the Greek word oekos meaning 'house'. In the same way as the house provides a shelter for people to live, the universe provides a 'shelter' for the infinite manifold of unanimated and animated forms to exist and evolve together. The house - oekus - is a place where its inhabitants relate to one another and dynamically interact; ecology studies different aspects of these interrelationships and interactions. In this sense, ecology is similar to complexity science, as the latter is also focused at studying dynamic interrelationships and interactions.

While ecology explores the astonishing variety of the outward manifestations of the dynamic interactions in nature and society, complexity science tries to reveal their inner secrets: what propels them? what sustains their emergence? where does their self-organising ability comes from and how it manifests? in what kind of patterns the interacting entities self-organise? how these patterns influence each other? what are the factors that reinforce or impede the dynamic interplay of the self-organising patterns? what makes them evolve, transform or dissolve?

The unified framework of the emergent dynamic ecologies serves as a bridge between the two holistic branches of human inquiry: ecology and complexity, ecological exploration of the existential dynamics and the study of their self-organising power. The unified framework does not lead only to mutual intellectual enrichment of ecology and complexity, it gives birth to new exciting areas of research.

In this paper we outline the emergence of Health Ecology - a new holistic inquiry into human and environmental health - in the general framework of emergent dynamic ecologies, where

  • Environmental Ecology deals with the dynamic interactions of all the existential forms of nature (unfortunately, the number of these forms decreases as a result of the ecological ignorance of those who have power in today's society),
  • Human Ecology focuses on the interrelations of humans and their natural and artificial (human-made) environments,
  • Social Ecology considers human society as a bearer of infinite dynamic relationships between individuals, groups, organisations, nations, states, cultures, machines, etc., in their inseparable interconnectedness with nature,
  • Deep Ecology pursues the development of systemic conceptual frameworks to assist personal and social decisions emerging out of the spinning web of human interactions and affecting the natural environment and life (Næss, A. and Rothenberg, D., 1990),
  • Ecology of Mind studies the process of human thinking as a continuous dynamic emergence of thoughts, feelings and experiential phenomena out of the dynamic interactions of an infinitum of inner and outer factors (Bateson and Bateson, 2000),
  • Ecology of Learning explores the factors and conditions facilitating the process of learning and searches how to increase its efficiency, in the sense of opening new possibilities for realisation of the self-organising impetus of the living entities, at any level of the web of their interrelationships and interactions (Hill et all, 2001; Dimitrov, 2002).
The theoretical discoveries and practical insights of complexity science are applicable to the study of each of the above ecologies, as well as to the whole edifice of emergent dynamic ecologies.

At the focus of Health Ecology is the unique web of life- and health-supporting interactions at all the levels of their self-organising emergence - intrapersonal and interpersonal, between the individuals and the environment as well as between the individuals and society, between society and nature as well as between society and the whole evolving universe.

2. Medical Model versus the Model of Health Ecology

The existing medical practices are primarily concern how to fight with diseases; the diseases are considered as 'enemies' for people. People must be prevented for being invaded by these enemies; once invaded, people become 'patients' from whom the diseases must be removed so that they can be cured. ëCuredí is the key term in the medical model used in our days; there is no much discussion about health in this model.

The medical model absorbs most of the money in health expenditure, its prestige is almost unchallenged, especially in ëdevelopedí nations, but contemporary thinkers about health are increasingly aware that this model is limited, inadequate and often dangerous. The largest part of the medical interventions become ever more complex and costly, and produce unwanted side effects which produce litigation, which raises the costs of the treatment and reduces its availability in a vicious circle.

Many people today look for alternative approaches based on holistic methods of healing rooted in the wisdom of the ancients. ëHealí comes from the same root as ëwholeí and ëholisticí: restoring wholeness, restoring health, which has nothing to do with fighting with or removing disease.

In the medical model, practitioners cure patients of diseases. In the healing model, a range of agents can heal the patient, who is always a dynamic part of the process. This crucial part of the process can be understood as ëself-healingí.

The model of health ecology is centred at one of the main conceptual roots of complexity science - self-organisation. When projected on health, self-organisation refers to self-healing - self-sustaining, self-restoring - ability of Mother Nature, which she has passed to each and all living creatures.

In humans, the self-healing is built around the tandem of nature and culture (Tellness, 1996), each understood as a holistic category of human thinking.

We can either strengthen and realize our natural self-healing potential, or weaken and destroy it, depending on our culture. Death in the health-ecology model is an inevitable manifestation of transitoriness of the physical bodies of the living forms; the occurrence of the moment of death in humans is accelerated by various traumas, including diseases that emerge as a result of living consciously or unconsciously under conditions that are destructive to health and impede the ways of realizing our self-healing potential.

These conditions are deeply rooted in the culture of our society, which involves also the predominant attitudes and dispositions of people. Unfortunately, many of the dominant cultural patterns in the world today value competition and the accumulation of profit and power. Such 'cultural' behaviours increase the chance of severe ecological disasters in nature, intensify the stress at individual and social scale, inducing feelings of hostility and worthlessness in life, and therefore they act against our health.

The start of the new millennium (with horrible acts of terrorism and war in response to these acts) is marked by a contemporary culture that strongly opposes harmony in nature and thus endangers both the human and environmental health, as they are two sides of one and the same coin.

3. Human and Environmental Health: The Approach of Health Ecology

Complexity theory contains a repertoire of models which can be used to explore different aspects of the turbulent space of human existence in which health and 'non-health' interact with each other and with other aspects of human experience and the natural world.

3.1 Integrated Ecological Space

In order to capture a sense of the inter-relatedness of life the concept of Integrated Ecological Space, IES (Dimitrov, 1998) has been proposed - a space of complexly interwoven relationships between living beings and their environment. In terms of this concept, every living entity represents a network of mutually connected 'agents' - interdependent constituents - which constantly interact with one another and with the environment to ensure entities survive and evolve. The networks of living entities are not separated, but build an all-embracing dynamic web of relationships hat covers the whole existential space.

The drive to restore and maintain conditions of wholeness and integrity, completeness and balance in IES can be seen as a fundamental emergent property of the whole dynamic web, a property that underlies the holistic concept of health ecology in the complexity-based unifying framework of emergent dynamic ecologies.

Through the prism of complexity science, the potential for self-healing is seen as an inherent self-organising urge of each living entity towards states of integrity and harmony, both at an internal level (related to the functioning of the constituents of this entity) and at external levels (related to the functioning of the whole dynamic web in IES).

In the model of health ecology, ëdiseaseí is not a self-contained, isolated pathological event with a set of causes acting in a linear way. A predisposition to disease occurs when integrity breaks, either at the level of an entity or at the level of the whole web of relationships in IES. The broken integrity may create obstacles that impede the ability of the living entities for self-healing. In human beings, these obstacles can be rooted in different aspects of their culture - physiological, ecological, social, psychological (mental, emotions-based or/and spiritual).

3.2 Sustaining the Self-Healing Potential

R. Solé and B. Goodwin, biologists from Santa-Fe Institute of Complexity, use the concept of dynamic attractor to understand the surprising and paradoxical phenomenon of self healing: "health is the typical or natural condition of an organism; it is the dynamic attractor to which the self-healing organism tends to return spontaneously" (Solé and Goodwin, 2000, p. 116).

The integrity of the whole web of interrelationships is responsible for sustaining dynamic attractor of health. At the same time, the self-healing dynamics - forces and energies - supported by this attractor play a crucial role in sustaining the integrity of the whole dynamic web of interrelationships in IES.

Because of this vital interdependence, anything in IES that destroys the web of relationships, anything that divides, separates or excludes, appears as an obstacle for realization of the self-healing potential of the living entities.


In terms of the medical model, persons who suffer a headache take a medicine specifically aimed to treat headaches. Many such medicines have some negative side-effects on other organs of the body, say the stomach or heart. Headaches have a complex meaning because they can indicate many different conditions, from stress to brain tumours. To ësolveí a health problem by taking a pill is to neglect the vital interdependence of the attractor of health and IES.

Let us imagine that instead of taking a pill, one embraces the approach of health ecology and goes for a long walk in the nearest park, takes a couple of deep breaths, or consciously relaxes for a while. This approach would stimulate the realisation of the self-healing potential of the organism as a living entity inseparably embedded in IES, and therefore open to the influence of a multitude of factors supporting the dynamic attractor of health. In our example, the health-supporting factors are: walking, breathing, enjoying the scenery, listening to birds, smelling the fragrance of the flowers, relaxing, etc. Even if the headache were to prove to be due to a tumour, a positive attitude will still be beneficial in coping with this serious condition. Moreover, there are many examples of cancer remission due to the conscious strengthening of the spiritual dimension of our self-healing potential.

3.3 Vortices of Health

The realization of the self-healing potential of each living entity depends on the interplay of many factors in IES. Some of these factors emerge out of the dynamic web of relationships between the entities, the rest of them appear as a result of the interaction between the entities and their environment. In order to capture the wholeness of the dynamic interplay of interrelationships under conditions of high energy, it is illuminating to model it as characteristically taking a vortical form, similar to that of a whirlpool or tornado, able to produce self-organizing forces of an immense magnitude.

Our hypothesis is that these vortical forms of interactions between the multitude of factors in IES may be responsible both for sustaining the self-healing potential of each entity and for activating it into a powerful urge towards integrity and harmonious dynamic relations with the environment, and therefore towards better health. We refer to these vortical forms as vortices of health.

While living at the vortex of health, an entity feels empowered to realize its self-healing potential. Living outside the vortex, its self-healing ability may diminish and disappear; various diseases may emerge or take a more severe form, and death comes closer. Conceivably, human beings can learn how consciously to energize the vortices of health and thus facilitate and support the self-healing forces which emerge out of them. These forces keep the dynamics in IES at the attractor of health - a metaphor for the 'healthy area' in IES. The key role for health ecology is to explain people how to 'fire' the vortices of health and thus sustain their lives and the life of nature at the attractor of health.

3.4 Bifurcations in Integrated Ecological Space

In chaos theory the occurrence of bifurcations marks transition from order to chaos in the dynamic model of the population growth in biology. In the model of health ecology, ëbifurcationsí can be used to describe the transition form health to 'non-health' occurring within IES at individual, social or/and environmental levels.

One can consider the emergence of the ozone hole, the green house effect, disappearance of certain kinds of species, soil degradation etc. as manifestations of bifurcations occurring in the dynamics of nature. The collapse of health of a drug- (or alcohol-, nicotine-, etc.) addict reveals the emergence of bifurcations in the form of qualitative changes in one's individual dynamics that may be irreversible. An irreversible change is signalled by a chronic disorder that is likely to be accompanied by a decrease in the self-healing potential of the individual.

At minor scales, breaks and restorations in IES occur continuously. Their interplay leads to ëthe edge of chaosí, a concept used in complexity science to explain dynamic behaviour at the intermediate level between order and chaos. When applied to health ecology, the edge of chaos refers to a region in IES where the living entities need to balance themselves so as not to drift into too much disorder on the one hand, and too much order on the other hand. Such balancing requires a high level of self-organising ability of the living entities, that is ability for co-adaptation and co-evolution (Kaufman, 1993).

As far as the self-organising ability of the species, which reaches its highest level at the edge-of-chaos regions in IES, manifests through their self-healing potential, and the latter is maximised when the species dwell at the vortex of health, we can conclude that the vortices of health exist at the edge of chaos. Both the orderly and disorderly patterns of one's individual dynamics are equally dangerous for health; the former leads to repetitive behavioural patterns, stereotypes and addiction, the latter leads to disharmony and break of one's connectedness with the environment. It is the 'edge of chaos' that facilitates the emergence and sustenance of the vortices of health.

3.5 Double Harmonious Resonance

The medical model is linear: X causes or contributes to disease D, Y alleviates or cures it. The experience of being or becoming well or ill often shows a more complex pattern of causality, requiring other ways of representing causality. One of these that comes from theories of complexity is the idea of harmonious resonance (Dimitrov, 2001). If being healthy means to be in a state of integrity and harmony, a living entity may be in a state of integrity and harmony if it functions in harmonious resonance within its own (internal) network of 'agents' and with the larger (external) whole of the environment.

If the agents (organs, cells, systems) of a living organism resonate harmoniously with each other as an inseparable whole and with their environment, the organism is more likely to be healthy. When harmony and integrity are destroyed and agents within the organism 'speak' separately to each other and to the environment, then a kind of disease or illness is under way.

If the influences between the internal agents of the individual organism, and those between the latter and its environment are reciprocal, as is assumed in holistic models of health, then resonance needs to be understood accordingly as a kind of double harmonious resonance, that is, a resonance that is both internal and external.

Is this kind or resonance possible? Yes, it is, as it occurs in IES, where the species and their environment are considered inseparable connected. So, the harmony in functioning of the internal organs of a living entity reflects the harmony of its relationship with the environment, and vice versa: the harmonious relationship of the living entity with its environment is an outward projection of its inner harmony. In the case of human being, the notion of inner harmony has much richer meaning than simply a harmonious functioning of the organs and systems of the human body.

When an entity functions under conditions of double harmonious resonance, it dwells at the vortex of health.

3.6 The Great Delusion

The vortex of health of an individual can be imagined as an energy pattern emerging out of the individual dynamics; it cannot be borrowed from other individuals or implanted from outside of one's inner nature. No doctor in the world, no matter how competent s/he is, can make it whirling; the individual alone is responsible for the functioning of his or her vortex of health. In order to understand this functioning and to support it wisely, we - the humans - need the help of our consciousness, of our experience and of our inner impetus to live and know.

Through studying how to concentrate and relax the mind and the body, through practicing techniques that help us acquire inner peace and harmony, the flow of energy coming from the natural environment can be consciously directed inward and used to activate the vortices of health. Otherwise, our self-healing capacity remains in a dormant state, and we need to rely upon help from outside, when feeling sick. By doing this, we substitute the holistic effect of the realisation of our self-healing potential with short-term partial effects produced by the use of various chemical drugs - medicines.

The more intensively we use medicines (and one cannot help but keep using them, as the effect of each dose is only temporal), the more addicted we become and the stronger the numbing effect that the 'curative' chemical substances exert on our self-healing potential. Eventually, the addiction results in losing the self-healing capacity.

So many people in the world die as victims of the great delusion of our days that the help for our health comes from outside! The society continues to amplify this delusion, because strong economic forces are behind it. The global pharmaceutic corporations make unbelievable amount of money on this delusion; a great number of medical practitioners keep this delusion ever so powerful.

In the context of health ecology, there is an explanation of the ever-increasing massive use of medicines in today's society. The more polluted the natural environment, that is, the more saturated with health-detrimental chemicals, the less efficient the realisation of our individual self-healing potential, as the latter crucially depends on the support of such basic natural resources like air, water, sunshine, plantation, etc.


  • the air is full of carbon dioxides produced by our cars and the industrial complexes spread all over the world;
  • dangerous chemical wastes, including nuclear, continue to be released in monstrous amounts;
  • the soil and the water are irreversibly contaminated;
  • the process of deforestation and extinguishing natural species goes with an ever-increasing tempo
  • the ozone holes make the sunshine spread cancer in our bodies instead of healing them;
  • the rains are acid, and the fruits and vegies are full of chemicals or 'genetically engineered' to look commercially attractive but detrimental for our health,
the efficiency of our self-healing capacity goes down, and we look for the use of medicines to help us.

So we are entrained in a kind of health-damaging vicious circle: we continue to pollute nature with one kind of chemicals and at the same time fight the effects of this pollution on us by using another kind of chemicals. The more we pollute nature with the first (technological) kind of chemicals and thus gradually convert it into a source of new emergent illnesses, the more we use the second (medical) kind of chemicals to fight the illnesses and thus become gradually addicted. In the both cases, the result is one the same: serious destruction of our health.

Is there any way to go out of this vicious circle? Health ecology can reveal such a way, only if we take care about the natural environment and help it restore its own self-healing capacity; this will facilitate the increase of our self-healing potential (as we are 'children' of nature and our health totally relies upon its support!) and help ourselves reduce our dependence on medicines.

3.7 Holistic Nature of Self-Healing

One essential aspect of the multi-faced mission of health ecology is to show the fatal danger of the reliance on the help of medicines, while neglecting the vital factor for our health - our potenyal for self-healing. The Mother Nature has endowed us with this potential at the moment when we emerged out of her womb, and it is a grievous failure not to develop and use it to the full. Nature is the main supporter of the self-healing potential. It is her generous and free supply of energy - her sun and air, water and soil, flora and fauna, harmony and beauty - that help the vortices of the human health move and generate their healing forces.

Self-healing is a holistic phenomenon - an expression of the self-organising ability of the individual as a whole, and there is only one way to stimulate it - through holistic means. Such are the means of nature! Thousands of years ago, this was fully understood by the creators of Ayurveda - the ancient Indian system of health ('ayur' means life and 'veda' means knowledge in Sanskrit), according to which no single agent by itself can brings health. Ayurveda views the person as a composite of the same primary forces - air (force of expansion), water (force of adhesion) and fire (force of transformation) - which compose nature as well. When these forces act harmoniously in the individual, that is, in the way as they act in nature, they fulfil three functions: digestion (generating inner energies), absorption (sustaining the inner energies) and elimination (release of worked-off energies). These functions when considered holistically - in their simultaneously physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realisations - create health. Ayurveda defines health as soundness of three inseparable wholes: body ('shrira'), mind ('manas') and soul ('atman') (John, 2001).

The earlier in life we understand the wisdom of the ancients about the vital role of nature in the conscious developing and strengthening of our self-healing capacity (which is in abundance when the organism is young and full of vigour), the more efficient the realisation of this capacity.

So, another aspect of the mission of the health ecology relates to the health education of the young people; this kind of education is a key factor in the health promotion.

4. The Vital Role of Nature

Nature embraces the whirling complexity of dynamics - forces, energies, substances, forms and processes - that create, sustain, change or destroy all animate and inanimate forms. These dynamics supports the self-organising potential of nature.

"Everything in nature tends towards fulfilment of its potential" wrote Aristotle, who called this property of nature 'entelechy' (from Greek en telecheia - 'be in fulfilment or completion'). Examples of entelechy are the capacity of a seed to unfold its potential to grow when appropriate conditions arise, and the capacity of an organism to heal itself. These processes are inexplicable in terms of mechanistic causality, but it is evident that they happen all the time in biological life, including human existence.

Through its urge to move and self-realize, nature represents an all-embracing wholeness where no thing and no being exists in itself or for itself but only in dynamic relationship with other things and beings. This is a basic premises of the science of complexity (and hence of any emergent dynamic ecology), which directly relates to the integrity of existence considered as a complex of dynamics, whose creative, sustaining or destructive powers are constantly demonstrated in nature. It is through these dynamics that everything that exists - emerges, moves, changes and transforms - from an elementary particle to a gigantic galaxy, becomes connected in an inseparable web of mutually dependent, intricately interwoven and co-evolving relationships. It is at the same time something that can only be grasped and thought about with an appropriate kind of fuzziness; fuzziology - the study of fuzziness imbedded in human knowing - reveals the secrets of understanding the meaning of complex holistic concepts like health, harmony, rhythm, self-organisation, nature (Dimitrov, 2002A; Dimitrov and Hodge, 2002).

4.1 Rhythm and Self-Organisation in Nature

The rhythm of nature beats through us. The closer our connection with the natural environment and the more aware we are about its forces and life-supporting energies, the clearer is our perception of its rhythm.

From the digesting activity of our intestines to the firing of the neurons in the brain, every single function of the organs and cells in our bodies reflects the beat laid down by the cardiovascular system, the heart and the lungs - beat which mirrors the rhythm of nature. The state of our health - physical, emotional, mental - is entirely dependent on this rhythm. When the rhythm stops beating through the vital trinity of each individual's nature - body, mind and soul - the individual dies.

The health of the natural environment, with all its variety of animated and non-animated entities is entirely rhythm-dependent. The rhythm of nature maps into its fractal geometry, discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot (Mandelbrot, 1983) and its self-organized criticality, firstly described by Per Bak (Bak, 1996); both fractals and criticality can be characterized by power law distributions. In this sense, the power laws describe mathematically the rhythm of 'how nature works'.

The rhythm of natural environment mirrors the rhythm of Gaya - our living planet (Lovelock, 1995); the rhythm of Gaya mirrors the rhythm of the galaxy, and thy rhythm of the galaxy mirrors the rhythm of the whole universe, because Gaya and the galaxy and the universe are only different scale - fractal levels - of one and the same dynamic existential wholeness.

Rhythm is an inherent characteristic of the self-organizing dynamics of nature. The way nature self-organizes - unfolds and evolves - is through rhythmic patterns.

The self-organizing capacity of nature's dynamics is sustained through the constant interactions of the astonishing variety of the living creatures and their environment. What is crucial to be underlined in the context of health ecology is that

every single entity existing in nature, be this entity animate or non-animate, is equally important for the realization of the dynamic interactions of the living creatures and their environment, and therefore for the support of the self-organizing urge of nature and its all-pervading rhythm.

Every single entity in nature is endowed with equal right to exist, interact and evolve, and thus to contribute in its overall self-organization and rhythm. And vice versa, the self-organizing urge of nature and its rhythm manifest through the motion, interaction and evolutionary potential of every existing entity, without assigning ranks of priorities among them; they all are equallyopen for this urge to make them move, interact and evolve in synchrony.

If some entities were favoured by nature at the expense of others, the integrity of nature - its unity, wholeness, interconnectedness - would be immediately destroyed and this would destroy its rhythm. Nature can never act against its integrity, as far as the latter is sine qua non for its existence, but we can, when our minds immerse in egoistic pursuits and forget that our natural environment and we are inseparably connected through the rhythm of the universe. When the finite - our ego-centred thinking - clings to existence for its own sake, without reflecting the infinite - it carries the seeds of destruction, disease and death within itself.

4.2 Rhythm and Health

Although we are able to reflect the rhythm of nature, we are able also to act against it. This happens, when

  • we do not focus our awareness on the natural rhythm, as if it does not deserve any consciously directed attention and 'works' only automatically until it destroys because of a disease or death;
  • we are aware of the rhythm, and yet do not care about providing conditions to support its constant 'work' through the body-mind-soul integrity of our human nature.
In the first case, we usually become aware of the rhythm when it is destroyed, often irreversibly. For example, a sudden heart attack or haemorrhage or cancer, etc. can loudly announce that the rhythm has been destroyed. Usually, we hurry to 'fix' it by using medical drugs. As far as the rhythm is a holistic characteristic of our natural self-organizing ability rooted in the body-mind-soul integrity, it can hardly be fixed by an artificially made chemical drug. Any drug acts in isolation and directs its effect upon a certain organ or a function only; but the rhythm is essentially holistic, it cannot be restore by a partial intervention. A drug's intervention remains alien to the rhythm of self-organization imbedded in the human nature and tends to produce numbing effects with destructive consequences for one's health and life. Much better approach is to try to stimulate the self-healing potential of the organism using some holistic health practices (originated in the wisdom of the ancients) and healing resources of nature.

In the second case, the physical body simply follows what the mind pushes it to do. As far as our minds are preoccupied with much more 'important' thoughts than listening to the natural rhythm - thoughts how to earn more money, to exercise more power, to pursue achievements and higher social status, and to indulge in all kinds of pleasures, we are usually able to notice that the rhythm goes wrong when it is too late to restore it.

4.3 'Rhythm' in Society against Nature's Health

When looking back in history, we see that nations and states follow periods of development and downfalls. Both the periods of economic growth and the periods of crises are inherent in the capitalist system. These periods have little to do with the rhythm of nature. Their underlying causes remain in the fundamental contradictions on which any process of exercising political or/and economic power in human society is based. "The crises are never more than momentary, violent solutions for the existing contradictions, violent eruptions that re-establish the disturbed balance for the time being" (Marx, 1981).

Chaos theory or stochastic analysis might help the experts to build chaotic attractors or long and short-term economic cycles, which can mathematically map the chaotic or stochastic dynamics of a selected set of economic and social indicators, but their 'rhythm' is entirely different than the rhythm of nature. For example, the frantic ups and downs of today's market economy are reflections of the pressure of the largest financial corporations and their aggressive striving to establish global economic power

According to Hardt and Negri, the establishment of global economic power means emergence of a global Empire - "a decentred and deterritorialising apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers" (Hardt and Negri, 2000). The 'rhythm' of the social dynamics in the Empire becomes nothing but a "pure exercise of command, without any proportionate or adequate reference to the world of life".

While the world of life must reflect the rhythm of nature and the universe in order to exist and reproduce, the global order in the Empire recognizes only one kind of 'rhythm' - the rhythm of the financial transactions directed to increase the wealth of the economic giants.

The distribution of power in society has become so drastically unequal and the gap between the powerful corporate minority and the majority of people existing in hard-to-bear economic conditions has become so big that the humans belonging to these two polar parts of society started to resemble two different kinds of species.

The high power differential in society impedes the self-organizing capacity of human society. The latter can manifest only if the social interactions are between individuals, each with an equally open space of opportunities for self-realization. In the global Empire, this is impossible.

The rhythm of social self-organization can sustain only in societies where the power differential tends to zero.

This proposition relates to the social dimensions of health ecology and is analogous to the proposition about the rhythm of nature; the rhythm of any process of self-organization of the all-embracing web of interrelated and dynamically interacting agents in nature and in society requires both recognition and realization of their equity. When human species strive to dominate in nature, and the richest strive to dominate in society, the rhythm of natural and social self-organization becomes distorted. Then ecological and social disasters emerge with negative effects on the human health, on the health of the society and on the health of the whole planet.

5. Culture as a Key Factor in Health Ecology

Culture in general use refers to patterns of behaviour peculiar to humans, not to bacteria, but in its deeper sense it can still refer to both. Culture is the set of attitudes and behaviours expressed in the normal functioning of a society, human or other. These patterns create the harmonious set of self-organized forms we admire in nature, where plants and animals follow their natural drives to create the intricate and functional systems of 'natureí.

The culture we humans have developed seems to be a second nature opposed to nature itself, responsible for the continuous worsening of the ecological conditions on the planet today. Our scientific and technological inventions create serious ecological problems impeding the process of self-organization in nature. And as far as we are product of this process and vitally depend on it for our survival as species, the obstacles rooted in our culture at the same time obstruct the unfolding of our lives and our potential.

5.1 Will to Power

Like all other animals, we use resources of nature to sustain our physical existence, but these resources are incomparably less than the resources utilised for establishing power over nature and in society. An ego-centred human mind is obsessed with the idea of exercising power everywhere. The highest realisations of the human intellect were and continue to be directed towards accumulation and realisation of military, economic and political power in society: creating advanced tools to kill each other, to exploit each other, to make those with less power follow the will of the strongest, and if they resist, to teach them lessons, seek revenge and eventually extinguish them.

How can health - as an expression of harmony and integrity of nature - be sustained within a culture that wills to power? In the developed capitalist world, the will to power is often masked by charismatic political speeches about democracy, freedom and equal rights for everybody. At the same time a vast propaganda machine keeps the consumption drive in society at its highest possible level and thus reinforces the establishment of a hard-to-oppose global economic order.

5.2 Fatal 'Cultural' Attractors

Besides the obsession with power and its destructive social and ecological consequences, health ecology points to other serious obstacles in our culture that impede the fulfilment of human potential. The hardest obstacles to remove relate to addiction, to all kind of unhealthy habits, prejudices and dogmas, as well as to activities centred mainly in individual selfishness (like avarice, greed, craving for luxury, self-praising, gluttony, envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, evil-doings to others, revenge). While showing tendency to self-propel and grow in magnitude, these obstacles absorb enormous amount of our physical, mental and emotional energy. Day after day our self-organizing capacity is wasted in 'cultural' attractors, which have very little to do with the growth of our intelligence, with the urge to understand the secrets of our inner nature, expand our consciousness and open our spiritual potential.

"To open your spiritual potential means to remove the obstacles on its path. If you remove hate, love starts flowing. You are not to create love, nobody can create love. If you were to create love then it would be impossible. Love is already in you; you just remove the hate with the power of your heart and you will see love streaming. Remove the unconsciousness with the power of your awareness, and you will see your capacity to know arising in you. Remove the negative with the power of your mindfulness and the positive starts unfolding itself. It is almost as if a rock is blocking a tiny little stream of pure water; you remove the rock and the stream starts moving. When the rock blocking its path, it may not ever be possible for the stream to come. We are carrying many rocks within our culture - call them blocks in your energy - and those blocks have to be dissolved and removed, if you want to let the tiny little stream of your spiritual endeavour come. Then nourish and care for it with all your love and all your knowing until it becomes a mighty river hurrying to unite with the ocean..." - speaks the spiritual master to those disciples who are thirsty to know.

6. Paradox of Sustainability through the Prism of Health Ecology

The concept of sustainable development dates back to the early 1970s, and the Club of Rome report "Limits of Growth" was probably the cornerstone piece of literature that got the whole freight train rolling. In 1987, the authors of the United Nation's Brundtland report "Our Common Feature" (prepared to examine how human activity impacted the world's natural resources) gave a definition of sustainable development as "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs."

Today, the range of groups who have adopted the slogan has become incredibly wide - universities, local communities, non-profit organizations, states, even some industrial companies. Generally, groups who say they are working toward sustainability aim to mix values of social equity, environmental responsibility and economic viability. As sustainability moves into the mainstream, the largely amorphous concept gets bent into many different shapes.

The typical words used to characterized sustainability are quite very positive and charismatic: sustainable programs should be democratic, equitable, environmental-benign and holistic - while allowing for a healthy economy. Many advocates say true sustainability will require a systemic shift in how society addresses issues ranging from resource allocation to urban planning. Other more radical 'fighters' for sustainability appeal for immediate changes in thinking, in societal values and beliefs, even in human nature.

Academics consider sustainable development as an interdisciplinary science, the subject of which is composed of contribution from ecology, economics, anthropology, sociology and psychology, and computer science. Its repertoire is bolstered by other cross-disciplinary work such as system science and nonlinear dynamics; chaos, catastrophe, and complexity theory and showing up regularly in the literature. So far sustainable development does not have a core theory from which everything else proceeds. Rather, it lives in an open-textured definition, and is defined by the topics researchers have an opportunity to delve into. Neither has it a transparent set of principles to which scientists and social activist organizations agree. People seem to agree on the notion of fair distribution of the earthís resources, on the vital need of environmentally-friendly practices, on the essential role of corporate responsibility and accountability for social and environmental costs and benefits beyond the monetary balance sheet, but agreements break down when we consider what "fair" and "environmental-friendly" mean, not to mention such a controversial topic as "corporate responsibility and accountability for social and environmental costs".

6.1 Is Sustainable Development Possible?

Does sustainability exist or are we kidding ourselves? Is it not simply an oxymoron? "Development" implies instability and change - typical state of matter, both animated and unanimated; "sustainable" implies a notion of equilibrium - only as a momentary and transient state in the process dynamics. Development can not be stopped - science and technology will continue to self-propel. Sustainability sounds like a paradox in the context of health ecology: to have society and nature co-evolving in the one-directional arrow of time, simultaneously maintaining their relationships and not depleting their potential resources. In other words, to change while not changing. "Na ca ço, na ca año" say the enigmatic Sanskrit scriptures written more than 5000 years ago: "neither the same nor a different one".

To impose radical changes in human nature in order to resolve the paradox of sustainability is unrealistic. Communist regimes in Europe intensively tried to eradicate competition, private initiative and individual spiritual drive, and to impose everlasting comradeship and social equity, cooperation and collective norms of life. The results were (and still are) disastrous.

If sustainability is understood mainly as:

  • holding companies liable for environmental damages,
  • implementing charges on unsustainable practices,
  • putting the burden of proof on potential polluters to prove that their activity will do not harm,
  • enforcing laws requiring regular company reports on their pollution releases,
  • asking for independently verified reports from all companies involved in production processes regarding their progress towards environmental friendly goals,
  • providing mechanisms for public input and participation in company decisions that may have negative environmental or social impacts,
then we are miles away from understanding the paradox of sustainability. To oblige people to act in a sustainable way is to try to find a simplistic, linear and, therefore, wrong solution to the complex puzzle of sustainability.

6.2 Message from the Ancient Times

The ancient wisdom provides powerful hints for dealing with enigmas and paradoxes of human existence. "There was a time when, in a small strip of the worldís land surface, man achieved an almost total equilibrium with his environment and created a society as near perfect as he has so far been able even to dream about..." (Rice, 1991). Greatest philosophers of Ancient Greek like Pythagoras, Plato, Hippocrates, Thales of Milet, Galen and Homer visited Egypt in search of Wisdom.

The life and work of Pythagoras - perhaps the most famous ancient philosopher at all, who spent more than 20 years in the sanctuaries of Egypt, provides an important clue if we wish to get insight from the Egyptian Wisdom. Pythagoras established a doctrine of unity, which encompassed the physical and the spiritual. He shows us a holistic Philosophy - an essentially Egyptian perspective.

The variety, complexity and multiplicity which we see never implied separation; unity was ever present. Life in the heavens and life on earth were considered to be one, an indivisible unity. Human beings considered themselves indistinguishable from their environment, products of the same forces of nature responsible for creation of the heavens and the earth. To learn and acquire knowledge was to observe these forces at work. In the great Egyptian temples all branches of learning were housed under the same roof, regarded as aspects of the single Wisdom. All diverse branches were encapsulated within this sacred Wisdom. It is in it where people looked for insights to deal with enigmas and paradoxes of their lives. The essential preoccupation of the Egyptian thought was to know the origin and matter of existence.

In our fragmented world, knowledge has become also fragmented. Our society has become insulated from nature. When discussing sustainability, we speak about environment as something separated from us, something 'over there' with which we need to establish friendly relationship. We say that the cars pollute the air outside of us, forgetting that it is the same air inside of us without which we simply can't survive. We speak about waters somewhere there around us, totally neglecting the fact that water is essential ingredient of our cells.

So far from us is the idea of unity - a central idea of all ancient Wisdom, that even such a simple and transparent truth that the same forces which work at the universe work in us seem strange for us. Can we use this truth to make money out of it? No? Then forget it! Think about something more serious - for instance, think about sustainability: how to continue to exploit the environment, and at the same time live healthy and happily? Or how to continue current predatory processes led by us in nature and society and at the same time to preach about governmental and citizen-based mechanisms designed to ensure greater accountability of business and industry? Before organizing citizen-based mechanisms we must have those citizens. Does somebody teach us how to be citizen? Without understanding the concept of unity and living with it, we can not be citizens. Do we have governments, which are honest stewards of the public interest related to contemporary environmental issues? One of the pathologies of our fragmented social reality is that in their efforts to hold on to power, politicians and political parties rely on crucial financial support from wealthy corporations which are not environment-friendly when making money.

We can talk a lot about precautionary principles, preventative approaches, extended producer responsibilities, clean production, corporate accountability, national public hearings, community participation and many other issues related to sustainability, but the effect of all these talks will be insignificant unless we are able to grasp to idea of unity and work with it in our every day life. The society needs education in this regard - at schools and universities, in local communities and global corporation. The simple message from the ancient wisdom - the message of unity can save us from self-destruction. Or at least make it not so painful.

One of the endeavours of Health Ecology is to spread the message of unity; there is no health out of the integrated ecological space, in which the humans and nature are liked forever.

7. In Search of Universal Principle of Harmony in Nature and Society

In a search for justice it seems clear that existing levels of inequality are unhealthy, yet nor is it the case that equality is possible or even desirable. Something else is needed which is not as precise and definite as equality, but nonetheless meets the human craving for balance; a key concept here is harmony (Dimitrov, 1989). This was a key concept for the Greeks, a conjunction of 3 strands of meaning. Its root meaning was aro, join, so 'harmonia' was what joined. Another meaning was proportion, the balance of things that allowed an easy fit. The quality of joining and proportion then came to be seen in music and other arts.

The precondition for 'harmony' for the Greeks was expressed in the phrase ëNothing too muchí. It also had a mysterious positive quality, which became the object of enquiry of their finest minds. Thinkers such as Pythagoras sought to capture the mystery of harmony as something both inexpressible yet also illuminated by mathematics. The mathematics of harmony explored by the ancient Greeks is still an inspiring model for contemporary scientists. Crucial to it is their discovery of its quantitative expression in astonishing diversity and complexity of nature through the Golden Mean (Golden Ratio), Phi for short:

Phi = [1 + sqrt(5)]/2 = 1.6180...

which is approximately equal to 1.618. It is described by Euclid in book five of his Elements : "A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater, so is the greater to the less". Any quantity Q can be divided in golden ratio, if its greater part Qg is chosen in such a way that it relates to the smaller part Qs exactly in the same proportion as the whole quantity Q relates to its greater part Qg , that is,

Qg/Qs = Q/Qg = Phi

where "/" means "divided"

As later scientists have discovered, Phi pervades both animate and inanimate forms in nature, from galactic spirals to chromosome threads. Leonardo da Vinci characterised Phi as a 'divine proportion' and used its aesthetic appeal in his consummate masterpieces. While natural forms undergo permanent changes, Phi is preserved in their topology. For example, the unfoldment of the galactic spiral preserves Phi in its geometry; the growth of the human body preserves the golden ratio in placing the organs; the dynamics of the arrangements of leaves, seeds and petals also follow Phi , etc.

7.1 Harmony and Energy

The Golden Mean, Phi, as an image of harmony can be applied as a ratio, which is itself mathematically precise, although it may not be clear what precise quantities are involved or how those quantities could be determined in practice. In this form it will express in a precise and clear form an idea of harmony which is in other respects indeterminate, to produce insights which are clarifying and enabling and can be translated into practice. We will illustrate this with reference to the theme of energy.

Our planet is like a huge collector, producer and reservoir of energy. Partly this energy comes from outside the planet, from the sun and other cosmic sources, and partly from sources of energy accumulated in the depths of the Earth and on its surface. The so-called 'energy crisis' is bound up with the many other crises facing the planet, seemingly presenting insuperable obstacles on the path to health, for individuals, nations and the planet. It is another situation where we can look to the wisdom of Phi as image of harmony.

Let E denote the whole amount of energy available to our planet at an arbitrary moment t. The planet needs this energy not only for supporting the natural drift (co-evolving) of all living forms of its biosphere, but for supporting also an enormously complex physico-chemical "metabolism". Because of this gigantic metabolism, James Lovelock referred to Earth as a living entity called Gaia, the ancient Greeksí name for the goddess of Earth.

Part of E is used by animate and non-animate nature to keep going the processes of emergence, sustenance, evolution and destruction of the living forms on the Earth. Let us denote this energy by E(n), where 'n' stands for 'nature'.

Being an inseparable part of nature, we, the human species, also use this energy, which is essential for our survival. It is this energy that supports the dynamic attractors and vortices of health discussed in the previous chapters. Much more intensively, however, we use energy for purposes which have nothing to do with our health. On the contrary, some of those purposes are directly opposed to the sustenance of life. For example, an incredibly huge amount of energy goes to support military-industrial complexes on the planet. This includes highly energy consuming production of more and more sophisticated weapons, rockets, planes and bombs, more and more sophisticated military technologies to demonstrate power and exert control. Huge amounts of energy support satellite espionage activities and cosmic experiments of the industrially developed countries. Ever increasing supplies of energy go to produce ecologically disastrous chemicals, to support huge air-conditioning areas, and to satisfy continuously growing desires for luxury and comfort, to amass wealth and fame.

Let E(h) denote the flow of energy used by humans for purposes like the purposes indicated above, where 'h' stands for human, although it would be more appropriate to use 'ah' (standing for 'anti-human') for this kind of monstrous energy expenditure.

As human existence strongly depends on the energy flow supporting the life on the planet, E(n) must be greater than E(h), otherwise the biological survival and the sustenance of health of the species, including people, would not be possible. We assume that the energy flows responsible for the dynamics of Earth as an inseparable living entity in the solar system, naturally tend to self-organize in such a way as to preserve the Golden Mean in their relations to each other, which implies

E/E(n) = E(n)/E(h) = Phi

Consequently, E(n) is equal to E divided by Phi, and E(h) is equal to E divided to Phi squared. With 1.62 as an approximate value for Phi, the following expressions are valid:

E(n) = 0.62 E

E(h) = 0.38 E

This is what the Principle of Harmony in human drift (co-evolving) with nature requires:

Human existence is in harmony with nature, if the energy E(h) used by human society is less than 40% of the whole amount of energy E available for supporting the gigantic 'metabolism' of our planet as an inseparable entity in the solar system.

The larger part of E, that is, more than 60%, is needed for supporting life on Earth.

Natural drift of species, including humans, is under a threat of destruction every time the energy available to nature E(n) falls below the critical value of 60% of E, or equivalently, when the energy used by human society becomes greater than 40% of E.

The Principle of Harmony directly relates to Health Ecology.

7.2 The Way of Health

'Harmony' as a fuzzy concept and has mathematical and non-mathematical dimensions. There is enough evidence in life today that the harmony of people's co-existence with nature has being destroyed. Mass extinctions of species, deforestation, degradation of soil, expansion of the ozone-hole, rapidly increasing pollution of air and water on the planet, global warming, frequent occurrence of large scale natural disasters and emergence of new severe diseases caused by environmental problems are but a few manifestations of an ever growing disharmony in nature-human co-existence.

In pursuit of technological advancements our society does not care about the energy supply of other than human living forms. Whether E(h) is higher or lower than 40% of E - who cares? Everybody knows there are no 'objective' ways for measuring energy E, and therefore no scientific method can be used to raise the alarm when E(h) reaches a critical value. Moreover, many people continue to think that our planet has an unlimited supply of energy, that the use of solar energy and energy contained in the atoms' nuclei will provide people with never ending energy flow. Unfortunately, the energy capable of supporting the natural metabolism of our planet is limited.

The human drive for technological development cannot be stopped, so E(h) will permanently increase, and therefore, humanity will move further and further away from what the Principle of Harmony requires. If this is the case, why do we bother to speak about harmonious co-existence, 'divine proportions' and health ecology? Is it not better to learn how to adapt to ever-deeper disharmony of human life?

Unfortunately, living forms cannot adapt to ecological catastrophes and disasters. If disasters occur, species die. And in our days, ecological disasters clearly demonstrate a tendency to increase in number and magnitude.

We know that we are inseparably connected with nature. We are its products. We know that when we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves - our health and survival - at the same moment. When we pollute its air and water, its plants and animals, we pollute the air, the water and the food sustaining the integrity of our physical, emotional and mental lives. Nature is not over there, while we are staying here. It is in us as much as we are in it.

To preserve nature means to preserve all its forms of life including our human form. And vice versa, to preserve our human form means to preserve nature. This is the way of co-drifting with nature in accordance with the Principle of Harmony. This is The Way of Life, The Way of Harmony - The Way of Health. All other ways breathe diseases and death. We cannot divide among us and nature: its air, water, sunshine, etc. in the 'divine proportion'. But we can share these precious natural gifts with each other and with the other species. We all are Nature. What matters are the acts of sharing, sharing with other people not only material goods, knowledge, skill, experience, but also humanness: good will and warmth, respect and love.

The wisdom of the Ancient Vedas reminds us that everything that we try to hold on to, be it air or food, possession or knowledge, turns into poison not only for our physical health, but also for the health of our mind and soul, for the health of nature.

Every act of sharing with 'others' is an acknowledgment of our interdependence and inseparability - from each other and from nature. Every act of sharing has a strong spiritual connotation. The more we share, the more united we feel with each other and with the spiritual essence of the universe. When the acts of sharing are in accordance with the Principle of Harmony, they have an immense transformative power - they change us from ego-centred to eco-centred, from ill to healthy, from destroyers to co-creators of the whole evolving ecological universe.

And to help for the realisation of this transformation is the main mission of Health Ecology.


The author acknowledges the help of Prof. Bob Hodge in the preparation of the present version of this paper, and particularly in the work on the second chapter.


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