The great biologists C. H. Waddington and Jacques Monod, among others, were impressed by the constancy of living things, as was the Cambridge ethologist W. H. Thorpe, who fully realized that the constancy of certain biological forms is more difficult to explain “than it is to account for their evolution”. He notes for instance that
“The Wagtail (Motacilla) there in the garden was here before the Himalayas were lifted up! This constancy is so extraordinary, that it seems to demand a special mechanism to account not for the evolution but for the fixity of some groups.” 
Paul Weiss also realized this. There is so great a preoccupation with change, he noted, that we have totally neglected the less glamorous but more fundamental constancy of the living world.
“In our educational system we are acting very much like newspaper editors, who highlight the spectacular and neglect the far more constant phenomena”.
Thus we accentuate evolution, but we do not impress on our children that the most fundamental features of all living things are exactly the same and “have remained the same from the simplest living system that we know, all the way up to man”. They should all be told that
“all the biochemical mechanisms of macromolecular synthesis, energy utilization, respiration, storage, proliferation, cell division, membrane structure and function, contractility, excitability, fibre-formation, pigmentation, and so forth, have all remained unaltered in essence through the ages.” 
What is true of biological evolution is true of social evolution as well.  The main feature of vernacular societies, within which man has spent well over ninety per cent of his experience on this planet, has been their stability. This is particularly true of hunter-gatherer societies. During the old stone age, for instance, flint-chipping techniques did not change for some 200,000 years, nor did the lifestyle of Australian Aborigines for at least 30,000 years. The anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner writes,
“The Australian ethos appears to be continuity, constancy, balance, symmetry, regularity. The value given to continuity is so high that they are not simply a people ‘without history.’ They are a people who have been able, in some sense, to ‘defeat’ history, to become a-historical in mood, outlook and life.” 
It is probable that the same could be said of all hunter-gatherer societies and tribal societies in general when living in the environment to which they have been adapted by their social evolution.
Biological organisms are self-regulating cybernetic systems capable by their own efforts of maintaining their stability in the face of internal and external challenges – a quality referred to as ‘homeostasis’. The French physiologist Claude Bernard – one of the first scientists to note the capacity of living cells to maintain their constancy in the face of change considered that it was the goal of all living things to do so. The term was later coined by the physiologist Walter Cannon in his seminal book The Wisdom of the Body. He was struck by the fact that organisms
“composed of material which is characterized by the utmost inconstancy and unsteadiness, have somehow learned the method of maintaining constancy and keeping steady in the presence of conditions which might reasonably be expected to prove profoundly disturbing.” 
An obvious example is the ability of mammals to maintain the constancy of their body temperature in spite of external changes.
Interestingly enough, Cannon considered that the mechanisms he found in biological organisms may be operative in other natural systems which could also explain their constancy. A comparative study, he suggests, might show that every complex organization must be capable of “more or less effective self-righting adjustments in order to prevent a check on its functions, or rapid disintegration of its parts, when it is subjected to stress”. 
Eugene Odum notes how ecosystems are endowed with the necessary mechanisms for self-regulation and hence homeostasis.
“Besides energy flows and material cycles, ecosystems are rich in information networks comprising physical and chemical communication flows that connect all parts and steer or regulate the system as a whole. Accordingly, ecosystems can be considered cybernetic in nature, but control functions are internal and diffuse rather than external and specified as in human engineered cybernetic devices.” 
Roy Rappaport was probably one of the first anthropologists to show that tribal societies are capable of such behaviour. In his seminal book Pigs for the Ancestors, he interpreted the ritual cycle of a small social group in New Guinea in cybernetic terms, showing it to be above all a means of controlling its impact on its natural environment so as to assure its sustainability or stability. 
Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, quite independently of Rappaport, interpreted the cultural pattern of the Tukano Indians of Colombia in much the same way. Thomas Harding also sees tribal societies as capable of homeostatic behaviour and thereby of maintaining their stability.
“When acted upon by external forces a culture will, if necessary, undergo specific changes only to the extent of, and with the effect of preserving unchanged its fundamental structure and character.” 
James Lovelock, in his seminal book Gaia: a new look at life on Earth, shows that Gaia herself displays homeostasis. He was also struck by the extraordinary stability of the earth’s relationship with its atmospheric environment. As Sagan and Margulis note, it must have been maintained very much as it is now at least “since the time that air-breathing animals have been living in forests” – or for about 300 million years. Fossil records show that the climate has changed very little since life first appeared on earth about 3,500 million years ago. Yet the output of heat from the sun, the surface properties of the earth, and the composition of the atmosphere have almost certainly varied greatly over the same period. 
What is missing however from the whole discussion of homeostasis is the realization that natural systems are integral parts of the Gaian hierarchy, and that a system cannot maintain its homeostasis and hence its stability unless the hierarchy of natural systems of which it is part is also capable of doing so. There is no stable economy, for instance, within an unstable society, no stable society within an unstable ecosystem, and no stable anything when the ecosphere itself is being destabilized, as is happening today. Hence for a natural system to maintain its homeostasis, its behaviour must be homeotelic to the Gaian hierarchy, which means subordinating all other considerations to that of maintaining the critical order or stability of the ecosphere.
In spite of the basic tendency in nature towards relative immobility, living things are changing dynamically all the time. Thus a fertilized egg develops into a foetus, a child into an adult, a pioneer ecosystem into a climax ecosystem and unicellular organisms (sometimes) into multicellular organisms. How does one reconcile this tendency towards change with the thesis of overall stability?
From the evolutionary point of view these processes of change do not violate the principle of stability so long as one sees them holistically. Individual generations or ontogenies can be regarded as feelers enabling the long term evolutionary process – the Gaian process – to monitor its interactions with and thereby permit its adaptation to its spatio-temporal environment. 
Seen cybernetically, ontogenetic development occurs along a closely integrated constellation of set paths which Waddington refers to as “chreods” (from the Greek root chre (it is necessary), and odos (a route or path)). The total constellation of chreods along which a system develops constitutes what Waddington refers to as the “epigenetic landscape” – the developmental path the system is constrained to follow by virtue of the instructions with which it is endowed and the homearchic (26) constraints imposed upon it by the larger systems of which it is part. A developing system thereby displays “a certain lack of flexibility”; its development has “a strong tendency to proceed to some definite end point”.
This ability has been noticed by many students of development, among them Driesch who noted the remarkable “equipotentiality” of the sea urchin embryo. He and others also pointed to the ability of a fertilized egg to develop into a normal embryo even after undergoing severe amputations. This goal – seeking behaviour of a developing embryo remains inexplicable in terms of mechanistic science.
The tendency of a developing system to maintain itself on its preset path along its constellation of chreods and to correct any disturbances that might divert it from its path, Waddington refers to as “homeorhesis” (from the Greek homeo (same) and rhesis (flow)). Homeorhesis is the principle of homeostasis applied to a predetermined path or trajectory rather than to a fixed point in space-time.  The ecologist G. H. Orians refers to it as “trajectory stability”, which he defines as “the property of a system to move towards some final end point or zone despite differences in starting points”. 
Of course, this process is subject to homearchic control by the Gaian hierarchy. It is Gaian homeostasis which homeorhetic systems seek to achieve – since this is a prerequisite of their own stability. In this essay I shall seek to show that all life processes are homeorhetic regardless of the level of organization at which they occur. It is with those occurring at the level of a vernacular society that I shall be particularly concerned with.Back to top
As we have seen, natural systems, as differentiated parts of the Gaian hierarchy, share the common goal of maintaining its critical order or stability, for only in this way can they maintain their own critical order and hence their own stability. It is significant that there is no word in the English language that makes explicit the essential purposive and whole-maintaining character of life processes, so I have had to coin a new word – ‘homeotely’, from the Greek homeo (same) and telos (goal).
The principle of homeotely must clearly apply to all natural systems. Thus von Bertalanffy accentuates the “whole-maintaining character” of life processes at the level of the biological organism:
“The most convinced representative of an ateleological point of view must admit that actually an enormous preponderance of vital processes and mechanisms have a whole-maintaining character; were this not so the organism could not exist at all. But if this is so, then the establishment of the significance of the processes for the life of the organism is a necessary branch of investigation.” 
He cites E. Ungerer as being so impressed by the “whole-maintaining” function of life processes that he decided to replace the biological “consideration of purpose” with that of “wholeness”. 
The same principle applies to a community and a society. At least some anthropologists of the ‘functional’ school saw cultural behaviour as ensuring the integrity and stability of social systems. For Radcliffe-Brown the function of a behavioural trait is the contribution it makes “to the total activity of which it is part”, while “the function of a particular social usage is the contribution it makes to the total social life as a functioning unit of the total social system”. 
It must be clear that the teleological nature of life processes only becomes apparent when one sees them holistically in terms of their relationship with the spatio-temporal whole of which they are part. Mainstream scientists, who insist on looking at them in isolation from the whole, continue to insist that they are random, goalless and self-serving. This could not be better illustrated than by the preposterous writings of Professor Richard Dawkins at Oxford University.
The coordination of homeotelic processes is particularly impressive. Radcliffe-Brown saw the essential “functional unity” of a society as
“a condition in which all parts of the social system work together with a sufficient degree of harmony or internal consistency, i.e. without producing persistent conflicts which could neither be resolved nor regulated.”
He notes that this view of society is in direct conflict with the view that culture is no more than a collection of “shreds and patches” for which there are “no discoverable significant social laws”.  Without the coordination required to prevent “persistent conflicts,” life processes, however, could not conceivably achieve their common goal of maintaining the critical order of the Gaian hierarchy.
As I have already mentioned, living things behave homeotelically towards the Gaian hierarchy because it is the only way of maintaining its integrity and stability and hence their own integrity and stability. This is clear if one realizes that they are but the differentiated parts of such systems in isolation from which they have no meaning, cannot survive or, in the case of a loosely integrated system, can survive only imperfectly and precariously. As Eugene Odum writes,
“because each level in the biosystem’s spectrum is integrated or interdependent with other levels, there can be no sharp lines or breaks in a functional sense, not even between organism and population. The individual organisms, for example, cannot survive for long without its population, any more than the organ would be able to survive for long as a self-perpetuating unit without its organism.” 
From another perspective, they must behave homeotelically to the hierarchy of larger systems of which they are part, because the latter provides them with their ‘field’, i.e. the environment to which they have been adapted by their evolution and upbringing and which, as Stephen Boyden points out, must best satisfy their most fundamental needs.  For these reasons, one can go so far as to say that in a stable biosphere, behaviour that satisfies the requirements of the whole must also be that which best satisfies the requirements of its differentiated (as opposed to random) parts. I refer to this as “the principle of hierarchical mutualism”.
Of course, with the increasing social and ecological disintegration that occurs under the impact of economic development or progress, behaviour ceases to be homeotelic; it becomes misdirected, and though it may continue to serve, superficially at least, some of the interests of the parts, it no longer serves those of the whole Gaian hierarchy. I refer to such behaviour as heterotelic (from the Greek, hetero (different) and telos (goal)).
I think we can say that just about all the policies adopted in our modern industrial society fall into this category. All are technological and institutional, and though some may seem superficially to serve the interests of individual people, they are designed above all to serve those of the state and the corporations, without any regard whatsoever for their invariably destructive effects on society, the natural world and the ecosphere as a whole.
The critical distinction between homeotelic and heterotelic behaviour, or between normal and abnormal behaviour, is foreign to the paradigm of science. If behaviour is looked at reductionistically, there is no way in which its purposive and “whole-maintaining” function can be established, and hence no way of distinguishing between behaviour that serves to maintain the critical order of the ecosphere and that on the contrary that serves to disrupt it. Reductionist science is thus above all an instrument of scientific obscurantism and mystification-among other things, it prevents people from understanding the true nature of the conflict between their interests and those of their political and industrial leaders.Back to top
Education in a normal vernacular society is socialization and ecologization (if such a word exists) i.e. a process whereby a child born with a potential for becoming a member of almost any family, community, society, or ecosystem, learns to become a member of a specific family community, society and ecosystem. From the point of view of the society it provides the means of renewing itself, or progressively reproducing itself by integrating successive generations into its critical spatio-temporal structure.
A functionally similar process occurs at all levels of organization. Thus a cell, immediately after division, is endowed with the potential for becoming a member of a large number of possible tissues or organs, and slowly learns to fulfil its specialized functions within that tissue or organ in which it is situated. The process of cell development or differentiation is also the means whereby the organ or tissue, and indeed the organism itself, can reconcile the necessarily short life span of its constituent cells with its overall goal of maintaining its stability and that of the biospheric hierarchy of which it is part.
Not surprisingly, the educational process is governed by precisely the same general laws that govern the differentiation of a cell, the development of an embryo and indeed all other homeorhetic life processes at different levels of organization. One such law is that behaviour proceeds from the general to the particular. It is during the earlier phases that the generalities of a child’s behaviour pattern will be determined. It is these earlier stages which are the most important and that is why the mother is the most important educator and the quality of the family environment the most significant factor in determining a child’s character and capabilities.
Another complementary law is that behavioural processes are sequential, their various stages occurring in a specific order. If one is left out, it must follow then the subsequent ones will either not be able to occur at all, or will occur at best imperfectly. Thus what a child learns during its formal institutionalized education cannot make up for any deficiency in the earlier phases of its upbringing. This is the conclusion that most serious studies have revealed.
J. S. Coleman for instance, whose massive study led him to examine the career of 600,000 children, 6,000 teachers and 4,000 schools, reported in 1966 “that family background differences account for much more variation in achievement than do school differences”. 
As the educational function has been usurped by state institutions and increasingly today by corporations, it has been disembedded from the social process and ceases thereby to serve its normal social and ecological functions. Instead children are imbued with the world view of modernism which must necessarily lead them to adopt a heterotelic way of life, disrupting rather than preserving what remains of the critical order of the ecosphere.Back to top
The structure of the settlements of vernacular man reflected above all that of the societies whose physical infrastructure they provided. The basic social unit was undoubtedly the extended family and it is this that must first of all be accommodated, but the settlements must also accommodate the lineage group and the community. Each of these social groupings, moreover, must have the element of privacy required to maintain its identity and integrity, which is essential to maintain the critical order of the ecosphere.
In an Australian Aboriginal encampment, for instance, we find that each family has its own space-the area that the family sweeps several times a day. This place is protected by a windbreak (wiltja) and at the edge of it there is a fire. The family spaces are grouped around a larger central space. In the darkness of the night they cannot see each other and thereby have the privacy they require, further enhanced by the custom that once it is dark people do not leave their family space – for fear of malignant spirits that lurk around it. Back to top