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A Glossary of specialised terms and concepts used on this website. To get here you can also highlight any word or phrase on a page and select the appropriate option from the popup menu.
ANIMISM. The worldview common to all chthonic societies, whereby the world is perceived as quintessentially alive, intelligent, possessing initiative and capable of ordering itself purposefully. Animism developed, through totemism and polytheism, into monotheism—which, in turn, was replaced (in industrial society) by mechanomorphism. (c) vital force
ANOMIE. A broken, atomised form of society composed of individuals alienated from one another due to a lack of shared values or common codes of conduct. A concept developed by Durkheim. (c) egotely, individualism, socialisation
ANTHROPOGENIC CLIMAX. An ecosystem that is altered in some way due to human interference. An artificially engineered ecosystem. A term coined by Arthur Tansley. (c) disclimax, climax
ASOCIALISED. Absence or failure of the socialisation process resulting in anomie. See socialisation.
ASSOCIATION (ecological). An ecological community. The variety of organisms belonging to an ecosystem. (c) symbiosis
ASYSTEMIC. See heterotely.
ATOM. A discrete, indivisible and (in some versions) undifferentiated unit existing independently of other units within an equally undifferentiated void or vacuum. An isolate. The Greek philosopher Leucippus and his student Democritus are credited with the original concept, although their follower Epicurus adjusted their deterministic thesis to accommodate free will. This ancient Greek concept has been adopted, in one form or another, by most disciplines of science. The “selfish gene” is an example of the atom concept made to fit biology; the “engram” an example in neurology; and the “bit” in information theory—the concept has lost a considerable amount of its authority in physics however. (c) holon, continuum, causality, logical positivism, mechanistic, individualism
BEHAVIOUR. Used in phrases such as General Theory of Behaviour to refer to the activities of living things in general (i.e. any living process).
BIOSPHERE. The sphere of influence of living things—the entire world of living things taken together with its geological substrate and atmospheric environment. The general concept was first proposed in the modern era by Hutton and also Lamarck. It was later termed biosphere by Suess, and the concept was further elaborated by Vernadsky. Similar to Lamont Cole’s ecosphere or James Lovelock’s Gaia. Note that some narrow disciplines, and Lovelock himself, tend to use the term biosphere in the much more limited sense of meaning the earth’s biomass alone. (c) ecosystem, animism, ethnosphere, technosphere, mechanomorphism
BIOSPHERIC PROCESS (singular). Evolution, where the unit of evolution is considered to be the biosphere as a whole—organisms, populations and ecosystems being but its differentiated parts. (c) phylogeny, ontogeny
CAUSALITY. The notion that events can only be explained in terms of other events immediately antecedent to them in time, and immediately adjacent to them in space. Exclusive faith in causality (determinism) implies a rejection of the idea of endgoals, purpose or final cause as well as any kind of non-local, irreducible, indeterminate, or innate cause—the concept having lost some of its authority in physics as a result. (c) teleology, homeorhesis, mechanistic
CHAOS. In Greek mythology, the formless void out of which emerged the cosmos. Synonymous with disorder. (c) random
CHREOD. The developmental path along which an organ or tissue needs to proceed in order to achieve its appropriate endstate. (c) succession, climax. A term coined by Waddington, along with epigenetic landscape which he used to refer to the total constellation of chreods along which an organism needs to develop. By extension, the path or Way of all developing natural systems, including human behaviour, cultural forms, ecosystems, and so on. (c) equifinality, homeorhesis, cybernism
CHTHONIC RELIGION (“k’thonick” or “thonick”). The religion of the earth or biosphere. Chthonic religion could also be referred to as the worldview of ecology or the Way. It is still the popular and indeed the effective religion of tribal and peasant societies that have largely remained outside the orbit of the modern world or technosphere. (Chthonos was the Greek god of the earth.) (c) vernacular peoples, hylozoism, animism
CLIMAX STATE (ecological). An ecosystem that has reached maturity. The endstate of the process of ecological succession and the most stable state under the existing biospheric conditions. (c) pioneer ecosystem
COGNISE. The process of forming cognitive models or internalised representations of the world, and thus the process of forming subjective, qualitative, and ineffable knowledge or insight. A term coined by Roy Rappaport. (c) worldview, cybernism
COMMUNITY (ecological). An ecological association. The variety of organisms that form an ecosystem.
COMPLEXITY. The intricate, differentiated organisation of a living system, as distinguished from the haphazard details of a mechanically arranged or random system. The greater the complexity of a system, the greater its ability to resist and hence remain immune from predictable insults. (c) diversity
CONTINUUM (environmental). The total ordered environment of a living system seen as a continuous dynamic field of interaction (existing both in space and time). The ordered external environment of a living system is formed by the larger system of which it is part, while its ordered internal environment is formed by the smaller subsystems of which it is composed. (c) spatio-temporal, field, holarchy
Also, the related concept that the successful development of a child after birth can only occur within a nurturing environment that reflects that under which the species has evolved, and which must therefore be passed down intact (continuously) from one generation to the next. This “continuum” of child-rearing practice has broken-down in modern societies resulting in widespread social maladjustment and consequent behavioural disorders. A concept formulated by Jean Liedloff.
COSMOS. The subjectively held view of the biosphere or universe as seen by vernacular people. From the Greek, meaning order and form as opposed to chaos.
CYBERNETICS. The study of self-regulating systems.
* CYBERNISM. The internalised information that regulates and coordinates the behaviour and development of any living system. All organised information integrated into a living system that serves to maintain its stability and fulfil its developmental goals is considered here as forming a cybernism. The living biosphere thus embodies a vast and singular organisation of immensely complex and dynamically integrated information—structural, behavioural, and cybernismic.
Cybernismic information should be distinguished from the kind of information represented by the resulting physical structure and habitual behaviour of a living system. Cybernismic information is that specifically involved in the coordination of this development and behaviour. It provides an updated model of the living system’s internal and external environment together with a dynamic set of instructions, allowing it to interpret and strategically plan responses to changing conditions in order to maintain its stability and fulfil its goals. Goldsmith thus considers a genome, a gene pool, the mind of living things, the religio-cultural pattern of a vernacular society, and the very diffuse information which coordinates ecosystem regulation, as all falling into this category.
The more complex a cybernism the more complex the range of predictable (as opposed to random) conditions it is capable of negotiating successfully, and so maintain its overall stability. The more diverse a cybernism the greater the variety of unpredictable (i.e. random) conditions it is capable of negotiating. This is in addition to the complexity and diversity which is embodied in the physical structure and habitual behaviour of a living system. (c) chreod, ontogeny, general theory of behaviour
DARWINISM. Darwin put forward two associated theses. The first, originally referred to as “transformism”, tells us that living things have slowly evolved from very simple organisms to more and more complex ones. Darwin also proposed a mechanism for explaining how evolution has occurred. Darwin was impressed by the great store of variations displayed by living things. He took these to be of a purely random nature. He was also struck by the competitiveness of living things, as a result of which he saw them as subjected to “natural selection”. Those which displayed those variations which enabled them to be the victors in the struggle for survival, he described as “fit”. They would procreate and transmit their characteristics to their progeny so that surviving living things became increasingly “fit”. This means that evolution, rather than occurring as a result of the efforts of living things—as suggested by Lamarck—was seen instead as stage-managed by the environment, and living things, rather than being seen as dynamic and creative, were instead seen as passive and robotic. (c) neo-Darwinism, Synthetic Theory, Sociobiology, mechanomorphism
DEVELOPMENT. Within a living system, a succession of organised changes which proceed towards an endgoal or climax. This must be distinguished from the kind of development characterised by “progress” which involves random or heterotelic change, having no definite endgoal, and imposed by external agents such as the state, church, or corporate institution (gesellschaft). (c) epigenesis, ontogeny, homeorhesis, spatio-temporal
DIFFERENTIATION. The development of more specific or divergent features from more general or common ones, as demonstrated by the cells of a developing embryo for example. An increase in the organised complexity and diversity emerging within a larger, integrated unit or whole. The concept of the differentiation of a whole or continuum may be distinguished from that of “division” within a “void” (see atom). (c) development, qualitative, quantitative
DISCLIMAX. A malformation or reversal of the development of an ecosystem. (c) anthropogenic climax
DIVERSITY. The number and variety of differing things organised into a living system, and with which it insures itself against unpredictable insults and injuries and other discontinuities. The greater the diversity of members, the greater the range and variety of unpredictable insults the association may recover from. Diversity is sometimes referred to by the misnomer “redundancy”. (c) complexity
ECOSPHERE. Biosphere. Lamont Cole’s term.
ECOSYSTEM. An association or community of organisms together with its geological substrate and atmospheric environment. A term developed by A.R. Clapham and Sir Arthur Tansley. (c) biosphere
* EGOTELY. Behaviour directed solely towards self-interest, in contrast with “* oikiotely” – behaviour directed towards the benefit of the family – and “* ethnotely” – behaviour directed towards the benefit of the tribe or nation. The former is selfish or sociopathic behaviour, the latter are forms of mutualism. The terms are used to indicate the degree of social integration or disintegration typically found within a society or subgroup. Egotelic adj. (c) anomie, individualism, symbiosis
EMBRYOGENESIS. The origin, formation and development of the embryo. (c) morphogenesis, ontogeny
EMPIRICISM. The notion that knowledge can or should be based upon observations alone, without regard to any theoretical premises or interpretation, i.e. without prior knowledge or prior notions. (c) causality, logical positivism, scientism
ENCULTURATION. See socialisation.
EPIDEMIOLOGY. The study of epidemics or other conditions spread throughout a populace.
EPIGENESIS (not to be confused with epigenetics). The term widely adopted to distinguish the modern notion of embryological development (by differentiation) from the earlier notion of “preformation”. (c) spatio-temporal
EPIGENETICS (not to be confused with epigenesis). Developmental information stored above and beyond the genome. “Epigenetic inheritance” involves the inheritance of biological traits, the origin of which, and mode of transmission, lies outside the genetic code.
EPIGENETIC LANDSCAPE. Those factors outside the genome (such as the cytoplasm) which influence the course of embryological development after conception. (c) chreod, cybernism
EPISTEMOLOGY. A theory or study of the nature of knowledge. (c) metaphysics
EQUIFINALITY. The ability of life processes to seek or return to the same endstate from very different starting points. (c) homeostasis, homeorhesis, chreod, cybernism
ETHNOCIDE. Cultural genocide. The deliberate destruction of a whole people (an entire culture or way-of-life). Originally coined by Raphael Lemkin as an alternative term for genocide (mass ethnic murder), it was later adopted by various groups to refer to deliberate cultural destruction per se. (c) ethnosphere
ETHNOSPHERE. The earth’s rich heritage of cultural diversity which faces the same threat of extinction from the unrelenting expansion of economic development as does the earth’s biological diversity, or biosphere. A term coined by Wade Davis. (c) vernacular society, biosphere, technosphere
EUKARYOTES. Plants and animals. Specifically an organism composed of cells characterised by the presence of a nucleus and organelles. According to “endosymbiotic theory”, eukaryotes have themselves evolved from associations of simpler prokaryotes. (c) prokaryote
FEEDBACK. Any activity which, in turn, affects itself. “Negative feedback” reduces the activity; “positive feedback” reinforces it. The self-limiting process of negative feedback is fundamental to the maintenance and stability of all living processes. (c) homeostasis
FIELD. A living system considered along with its natural habitat, which, together with others, comprise a continuum. A term adopted by biologists Weiss, Gurwitsch, and Waddington. (c) spatio-temporal, community, symbiosis
FOUR-DIMENSIONAL. See spatio-temporal.
GAIA. James Lovelock’s term for the biosphere adopted at the suggestion of the novelist William Golding. Gaia was the Greek goddess of the earth—(c) chthonic. Lovelock’s Gaia thesis sees the earth as a single, unified, self-regulating entity adapting its environment in order to maintain its own homeostasis or stability in the face of solar, geological and other externally determined changes. (c) hierarchy of the biosphere, biospheric process
* GAIAN HIERARCHY. See Hierarchy of the biosphere. (c) holarchy, hierarchy
GEMEINSCHAFT. Ferdinand Tönnies’s term for natural human associations such as the family, community and tribe, as contrasted with gesellschaft or artificial institutions such as the state, church and corporation. Equivalent to Illich’s vernacular society. (c) gesellschaft
* GENERAL THEORY OF BEHAVIOUR (or model of behaviour). Goldsmith’s “systems theory” approach to understanding society and the living world postulates that the biosphere as a whole—embodying various sub-units (ecosystems, populations, societies, individuals, organs, etc.)—is best considered in terms of a “behavioural system” composed of various sub-systems of behaviour, all of which have certain underlying processes and structures in common (i.e. they collectively act according to a set of general laws or principles). This in turn allows predictions to be made about the behaviour and development of living systems at all levels of organisation, including about the kinds of conditions in which those systems will remain stable, and those in which they will likely destabilise and break down. From this understanding (or model) improved strategies may be realised for restoring stability after a disturbance. Goldsmith first published his general theory of behaviour under the title of “Towards a Unified Science”, later as “The Behavioural Basis of Culturalism”, and finally as “The Way: an ecological worldview”. (c) cybernism, way
GENOME. The totality of genes (in the form of sequences of nucleotides) that make up the chromosomal DNA of an organism. The “genetic code” of an organism. (c) genotype, epigenetics
GENOTYPE. The particular characteristics of an individual’s genome. (c) phenotype
GESELLSCHAFT. Ferdinand Tönnies’s term for artificial associations held together by the force of legal contract (institutions such as the state, the church, corporations, etc.) as opposed to gemeinschaft or natural associations held together by the familial bonds of custom. (c) gemeinschaft
GESTALT (“gesh-stalt”). “Gestalt psychology” (not to be confused with “Gestalt therapy”) noted the tendency of the mind to perceive the whole pattern (or gestalt) as distinct from its component parts—the forest from the trees, the melody from the notes, the face from the features. (c) holism, reductionism
* GREAT MISINTERPRETATION, the. Using the problems caused by industrial “development” as a rationale for pursuing further industrial development to try to solve them, thereby only exacerbating the original problems. Goldsmith argues that the only kind of problems development can solve successfully are technological ones. The biological, social, and psychological problems caused by development—through its disruption of living processes—do not have a technological solution, only a life-based or ecological one (the “Great Reinterpretation”). This requires a move away from industrial development (the “Great Takeover”), and a return to the Way (the “Great Transformation”). The “great” appellation indicating a processes of general behaviour. (c) general theory of behaviour, way
* HETERARCHY. From the Greek “hetero”, different, and “archos”, to rule. The term is used here to mean the control of the parts of a system by an agent that is external to it, just as people are controlled by corporations and state institutions, as opposed to the families, communities and societies of which they are the innate and homeotelic constituents. (c) homearchy, hierarchy
* HETEROTELY (“hetter-otter-lee”). From the Greek “hetero”, different, and “telos”, goal. Asystemic behaviour, i.e. abnormal or misdirected behaviour which, though it may, partly at least, satisfy the requirements of the individual, does not satisfy those of the larger systems of which it is part, i.e. of the hierarchy of the biosphere, and which thereby reduces its stability and integrity. Heterotelic (“hetter-oh-tellick”) adj. (c) homeotely, random
HIERARCHY. In the sciences the term is generally used to refer to information arranged into classes and ordered with respect to their level, scope, precedence, and so on (e.g. taxonomy). In the humanities and social sciences, on the other hand, the term is often used quite specifically to refer to a system of top-down, autocratic social ranking. Much confusion arises out of this. Here the term is used closer to the former meaning, and may be substituted with the term holarchy.
* HIERARCHY OF THE BIOSPHERE. The total differentiated and self-organised structure of the biosphere. See holarchy. (c) holon, holism
* HIERARCHICAL MUTUALISM. The mutual relationship between a natural system and the larger natural system of which it is an integral part. Both must contribute to the maintenance and integrity of the other in order to maintain their own stability. A necessary condition for the maintenance of the wider hierarchy of the biosphere. Hierarchical mutualism is but another way of stating the principle that both homeotely and homearchy are prerequisites of homeostasis. (c) holarchy
HOLARCHY. The differentiated structure of a self-organising system or life form. The larger elements of a holarchy being formed from nested organisations of smaller, modular elements or holons.
The more general (or common) features of the holarchy contribute to the maintenance and integrity of the more particular (or divergent) features, and vice verse, thus ensuring their mutual stability—(c) hierarchical mutualism—or, if this is not possible, with priority given to the maintenance of the more general and thus more critical features.
A holarchy exists in time as well as space, forming a total dynamic life-cycle or continuum, consisting of longer term processes composed of sub-units of shorter term processes. (c) spatio-temporal
The original term was coined by Arthur Koestler. (c) continuum, system, whole, homearchy
HOLISM. The tendency in nature to form integrated wholes (organisms, bodies, entities, systems) from the self-organisation and differentiation of constituent parts. From this, the notion that natural systems are not determined by their component parts alone (reductionism) but must also be determined by the influence of the larger four-dimensional systems of which they form a part. A term coined by Jan Smuts. (c) holon, holarchy, organicism, symbiosis, gestalt
HOLON. A sub-unit of a holarchy, being itself both a whole composed of further sub-units and, simultaneously, a sub-unit of a larger whole. A term coined by Arthur Koestler, which distinguishes a holistic entity (i.e. one integrated as a part of a larger continuum) from an atomistic entity (i.e. one isolated from all others in a vacuum). (c) atom, field, holism, hierarchical mutualism
* HOMEARCHY. From the Greek “homeo”, same, and “archos”, to rule. Used here to refer to the regulation of natural systems by the holarchy of larger systems of which they are an integral part. For instance, the regulation of people (much of which is likely to be internalised and thus subconscious) by the natural units to which they belong, such as families, communities, and ecosystems.
Whereas homeotely is the maintenance of the whole by the parts, homearchy is the coordination of the parts by the whole. Thus homearchy may be understood as holistic causation (also referred to as “downward causation”) as opposed to reductionistic causation—the whole coordinating the stability, predictability and end-goals of its constituent parts. (c) heterarchy, homeotely, teleology.
HOMEORHESIS. Homeostasis applied to a developing system—one seeking to maintain itself along its chreods or epigenetic landscape or, in the case of a human or human social system, along the Way, and to correct diversions from it caused by internal or external challenges. A term coined by Waddington, from the Greek “homeo”, same and “rhesis”, flow. The term has also been adopted by ecologists to refer to the way in which natural systems maintain their overall stability through adaptation—rather than stasis—within a certain “tolerance range”. (c) cybernism
HOMEOSTASIS. The ability of a system to return to its previous state after a disturbance, or in the case of a living system, the reduction of discontinuities to a minimum in the face of internal or external challenges. It is essential to Goldsmith’s thesis that a living system can only properly maintain its homeostasis by maintaining that of the holarchy of larger systems of which it is part. In other words, homeotely is a precondition of homeostasis. The term was coined by the physiologist Walter Cannon in the 1920s from the Greek “homeo”, same and “stasis”, standing. (c) equifinality, homeorhesis, hierarchical mutualism, reciprocity, feedback, teleology
* HOMEOTELY (“hommy-otter-lee”). From the Greek “homeo”, same and “telos”, goal. Systemic behaviour, i.e. that which serves to maintain the critical order of the whole, more precisely of the total living continuum or hierarchy of the biosphere. Such behaviour can be cooperative in that it serves at the same time the immediate interests of the constituent parts—hierarchical mutualism. It can also be competitive, serving the critical interests of the whole, but to the detriment of some of the less well differentiated and less adaptive parts that may fall victim to such competition.
Whereas homearchy is the coordination of the parts by the whole, homeotely is the maintenance of the whole by the parts. Homeotelic (“hommy-oh-tellick”) adj. (c) heterotely, homearchy
HYLOZOISM. The notion that the world is endowed with a vital principle or vital force which expresses itself to varying degrees in different places and in different beings and spirits. See vital force. (c) Way
Also, the more general notion that matter is inherently endowed with an innate self-organising principle or vital intelligence. (c) holarchy, mechanomorphism, animism
INDIVIDUALISM. The atom concept applied to a society or community. The individual is thus regarded as the unit or atom of social behaviour, rather than as an integral member of a natural social unit or holarchy (e.g. a family, hunting band, tribe, etc.). (c) anomie, egotely, atom, holarchy, vernacular society
INDUCTION. The notion that knowledge may be acquired simply by accumulating individual observations of specific phenomena, and noting any apparent cause and effect relationships between them, without the need to apply any theoretical considerations. Deduction is the contrary notion of predicting observations from existing knowledge built-up through induction. Goldsmith emphasises that both induction and deduction are impossible on their own, that is, without the use of theoretical modelling as an integral part of the process. (c) causality, logical positivism, empiricism
INEFFABLE. Knowledge that is primarily nonverbal. A term used in particular by Michael Polanyi. (c) tacit
INFORMATION. Goldsmith emphasised the fundamental difference between information found in the world of living things (biospheric information), and the kind of information conceived of by engineers and mainstream science for the development of communications technology, rendering mainstream information theory a highly flawed and misleading model when applied to the living world. (c) cybernism, system
LOGICAL POSITIVISM. One of the more hardened schools of reductionist thought, ascending to prominence in the 1930′s and 40′s, but losing much of its favour in academic circles by the 50′s and 60′s. Its basic tenets however, very closely reflect those of the paradigm of science and the worldview of modernism which permeate most of our modern institutions. Famously criticised by Popper, Polanyi, Kuhn, among others. (c) scientism
MECHANISTIC. Reduced to the operation of discrete and independent parts, or atoms, interacting blindly with one another, having no intrinsic connection or common purpose. (c) atom, causality, random, anomie, mechanomorphism, animism, holism, continuum
MECHANOMORPHISM. The notion that living things and other natural phenomena have the form or qualities of a machine, i.e. blind, inert, composed of isolated and atomised parts, etc. An idea put forward in particular by Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Laplace, Lagrange and La Mettrie—under the heavy influence of ancient Greek philosophy. (c) animism, atom, organicism, vitalism, mechanistic
METAPHYSICS. A theory of the underlying nature of reality. The fundamental assumptions of a worldview. (c) epistemology, ontology
The term is also employed in a derogatory sense to imply “abstract nonsense”. However, its proper philosophical meaning is used herein.
MODERNISM. The underlying worldview shared by most scientists and other people of influence in our modern industrial society, as contrasted with that held by most traditional societies outside the orbit of the modern world. The worldview common to traditional or vernacular peoples is referred to here as the Way which reflects the values of the biosphere, in contrast to modernism which can be identified with the “anti-Way” and which reflects the values of the technosphere. (c) reductionism, mechanomorphism, individualism, scientism, logical positivism, Darwinism, causality
MORPHOGENESIS. The origin, formation and development of an organism’s features. (c) ontogeny, embryogenesis, phylogeny
MUTUALISM. See symbiosis.
NEGATIVE FEEDBACK. See feedback.
NEO-DARWINISM. A later version of Darwinism developed in particular by August Weissmann in Germany and William Bateson in Britain, towards the end of the 19th century. It differed from Darwinism in that it took on board Mendel’s genetic theories, with which Darwin was not acquainted. This enabled Darwin’s followers to answer a particularly embarrassing objection to his theory—that put forward by Fleeming Jenkin—which had reduced the credibility of Darwinism. Neo-Darwinism was in many respects a hardening of Darwinism. For instance, whereas Darwin saw selection from random variations as just one of the mechanisms of evolution, they insisted it was the “only” one. Neo-Darwinism slowly went out of favour in the 1920s and 1930s, until it was again revived in a slightly different form. (c) Synthetic Theory, Darwinism
* NEUROGENY. A term used by Goldsmith to refer to the kind of neurological development resulting from everyday learning. Goldsmith considers this continuing development of the nervous system as being an integral and extended part of ontogeny. (c) cybernism, ontogeny, phylogeny
ONTOGENY (not to be confused with ontology). The origin and development of an individual organism, or more specifically of a fertilised egg into an adult form. The term is used here to include morphogenesis, as well as the individual’s socialisation during childhood and their continuing enculturation throughout adulthood, encompassing behavioural development throughout the whole course of life—(c) neurogeny. Ontogeny is often contrasted with phylogeny. Goldsmith takes ontogeny to be an essential part of phylogeny. (c) embryogenesis, morphogenesis, socialisation, cybernism, neurogeny
ONTOLOGY (not to be confused with ontogeny). A theory or study of the essential nature of things, the nature of being. (c) metaphysics
ORGANICISM. The thesis that living things are above all living organisations, or natural systems, which by their very nature must behave differently from inanimate things or machines. The great theoretical biologists of the 1940s and 1950s, such as Needham, Waddington, von Bertalanffy, Weiss, etc., adhered to the organicist thesis. It is an alternative to both mechanomorphism and vitalism. (c) holism, mechanistic
PARADIGM. Used here to refer to a theory or model developed by like-minded scholars to explain a particular set of phenomena within their field of study, and which faithfully reflects their worldview. According to Kuhn, a “paradigm shift” occurs as a result of largely unconscious factors precipitating a psychological crisis resulting in what amounts to a conversion of faith.
PHENOTYPE. The particular physical features of an organism. (c) genotype
PHYLOGENY. The evolutionary development of species. Goldsmith argues that evolution can only be understood properly if one takes the biosphere as a whole, rather than an individual species, let alone individual organisms, as the unit of evolution. For this reason, evolution may be referred to as the biospheric process. (c) ontogeny, symbiosis, phylogenetic maladjustment
PHYLOGENETIC MALADJUSTMENT. An organism attempting to negotiate environmental conditions which its evolutionary history has not equipped it for, resulting in maladaptation—an example might be malnourishment caused by a diet lacking the vital nutrients found in its ancestors’ diet. Such maladjustments may be physical, physiological, social, and psychological. A term proposed by Stephen Boyden. (c) phylogeny, continuum
PIONEER ECOSYSTEM. The embryonic stage of a developing ecosystem prior to achieving maturation or climax.
POSITIVE FEEDBACK. See feedback.
POSITIVISM. See scientism, logical positivism.
PROKARYOTES. The simplest forms of cellular life, such as bacteria, which are characterised by the lack of a nucleus or organelles. (c) eukaryotes
PROGRESS. The term has become synonymous with economic development, and thus with industrial society or the “developed world”. One of the basic assumptions of this kind of progress is the belief in the benefit of continual, overriding change. It thus represents the antithesis of stability and hence of traditional society. Another assumption is the belief in the benefit of continual growth, and thus the lack of a climax, or stability—GNP (Gross National Product) being but a measure of the extent to which our lifestyle and environment have diverged from those to which we have been adapted by our evolution. (c) homeostasis, technosphere
PURPOSE. An aim, endgoal, function, or meaning. To know the purpose of something is to know how it relates to the larger whole of which it is a part (holism)—a whole that exists in both space and time (see spatio-temporal). By ignoring this larger four-dimensional context the reductionist approach is unable to consider ends or purpose. (c) teleology, holarchy, worldview
QUALITATIVE. Relating to quality or kind, i.e. species, types, patterns. Related together and thus organised. Classifiable. (c) quantitative, holon, gestalt
QUANTITATIVE. Relating to quantity or amount, i.e. number, divisions, partitions. Divided up and thus countable. Divisible. (c) qualitative, atom, reductionism
RANDOM. Not ordered in relation to any other thing, wider context or whole. Not meaningful. Chaos, disorder, disintegration, noise, heterotely. The mechanical systems of the technosphere—institutions and the technologies characteristic of them—are random in respect to the biosphere, as they are not arranged as integral, homeotelic parts of the wider biospheric process. As a result they can only act indifferently or, as is more likely the case, heterotelically towards it, increasing disorder and contributing towards the disintegration of the biosphere. (c) purpose, reductionism, homeotely, heterotely
RECOMBINATION (biological). The process whereby biological traits inherited from two lineages recombine in their offspring to produce a new combination or “variety” of expressed traits. This process of recombination is thought to be the major source of variety found within and between sexually reproducing populations.
REDUCTIONISM. The notion that all phenomena may be solely explained or reduced to the aggregate action of their constituent parts, without reference to the way in which those parts are organised together to form a whole. Analytical science. (c) atom, causality, holism, gestalt
RELIGION. Religio-cultural pattern. The pattern of dominant beliefs, customs and values which regulates general behaviour within a society. Some confusion has arisen over this term due to it being commonly used to refer to theistic beliefs in particular—a use which ignores non-theistic forms of animism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, for example. The term is used here in an anthropological sense—hence why “materialism” may be said to be the religion of modernity, deriving from a metaphysical belief in mechanomorphism, and expressing the values of individualism, “consumerism”, and so on. (c) cybernism, general theory of behaviour, way
SCIENTISM. Science held up as a faith. Positivism. The proponents of scientific positivism, are adamant in rejecting the value of human subjectivity in contributing to legitimate knowledge. (c) logical positivism, empiricism
SERE. A unit of succession. The particular series of communities an ecosystem exhibits as it moves through succession towards climax.
SOCIALISATION. Social differentiation. The process by which a child develops the specific knowledge, skills and values required for it to function as an integral member of the particular society and culture in which it is raised. The failure of the socialisation process leads to anomie. Socialisation is considered here as being an integral part of ontogeny. The alternative term “enculturation” is generally found in anthropology. (c) continuum, phylogenetic maladjustment
SOCIOBIOLOGY. This is seen as a field of study, though it is in reality a school of thought or even more so, a movement among theoretical biologists. It sees society as having a primarily biological basis. However, it is a biology that is fundamentally mechanistic and reductionist and which faithfully reflects the paradigm of science in its most basic form. Closely related to evolutionary psychology.
SPATIO-TEMPORAL. Relating to both space and time, e.g. space-time continuum. Used here with regard to Maxwell’s “unified field” concept as applied to living systems by such biologists as Gurwitsch, Weiss, Waddington, and others. Four-dimensional.
A purely spatial perspective only takes into account static structure, whereas a spatio-temporal perspective takes into account the whole dynamic process of development. Things are thus considered as having a history and a context, rather than as having simply appeared fully-formed out of nowhere. (c) field, continuum, epigenesis, holarchy
STABILITY. Continuity. This must not be mistaken for stasis. Stability in the natural world is dynamic. A stable system is one whose behaviour is marked by the smallest possible discontinuities. Such a system will, by the same token, seek to preserve the more general features of its critical order by adapting its more particular features. Sustainable. (c) homeostasis, homeorhesis, traditional, hierarchical mutualism
STATE, the. See total state.
SUCCESSION (ecological). The sequential process of development of a pioneer ecosystem. (c) chreod, climax, pioneer, sere, ontogeny
SYMBIOSIS. Organisms living under the influence of one another, thereby forming a continuum resulting in their co-adaptation or co-evolution. There are usually considered to be four kinds of symbiotic relationship – “parasitism” whereby one party in the relationship clearly benefits at the expense of the others; “mutualism” whereby all parties benefit from the relationship; “amensalism” whereby one party in the relationship exerts a harmful influence upon the others but remains unaffected itself; and “commensalism” whereby one party in the relationship benefits while the others remain relatively unaffected. Note how these definitions are made only with regard to the other parts and not to the wider whole of which they are integral members. (c) hierarchical mutualism, association, egotely
SYNTHETIC THEORY OF EVOLUTION. Biologists tended to lose interest in neo-Darwinism in the 1920s and 1930s. It was revived by Julian Huxley, Dobzhansky, Simpson, Mayr and others in the early 1940s. This still later version of Darwinism took into account population genetics, which had been developed in the meantime, and also sought to express the theory in more quantitative terms, making it correspondingly more respectable in scientific circles. This meant defining the “fit”—until then a vague term—as those who best succeeded in proliferating their genes. (c) Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, Sociobiology
SYSTEM (natural). Natural systems must be distinguished from the sort of systems that engineers manufacture, which are only superficially similar. Natural systems include cells, organisms, non-human animal societies, human vernacular societies, ecosystems, and indeed the biosphere itself. The generalities of the structure and function of all these natural systems are taken to be the same, which justifies the use of the term, defined by Paul Weiss as “a complex unit in space and in time, whose sub units cooperate to preserve its integrity and its structure and its behaviour and tend to restore them after a non-destructive disturbance.” (c) general theory of behaviour, holon, atom, holarchy, whole
SYSTEMIC. See homeotely.
TACIT. Knowledge that cannot easily be expressed, if at all. (c) ineffable
TECHNOSPHERE. The surrogate world of human industrial artefacts, as contrasted with the biosphere, the world of living things or the natural world. The artificial growth and development of industrial society or the technosphere is achieved directly at the expense of the natural growth and development of the biosphere.
As animism was the principle worldview of the biosphere, so mechanomorphism has become the effective worldview of the technosphere.
The term arose in the 1960s and was later employed by Max Nicholson, who contrasted “. . . the ancient biosphere or realm of all living things”, with “the new impersonal ‘technosphere’ of flows of energy through man-made structures, devices and economic or social channels.” (c) total state, biosphere, ethnosphere
TELEOLOGY. Aristotle’s “final cause” as distinguished from “antecedent cause” (causality). A goal, aim, end, function, purpose or directive. “Downward causation”. As with causality, an exclusive faith in teleology can be equally deterministic. (c) teleonomy, causality
TELEONOMY. Used instead of teleology by adherents of positivism—“The conception of ‘teleology’ has been associated with that of a final aim of life, implying metaphysical or religious beliefs. To avoid this, recent authors have used the word ‘teleonomy’ to describe the directional character of living activities . . . But words of this sort confuse many people and one is enough, let us keep to ‘teleology’.” (J.Z. Young, Programs of Brain, iii, 16, 1978 (quoted in OED)). (c) teleology
TEMPORAL. Relating to time. (c) spatio-temporal
TOTAL STATE, the. Totalitarianism. The doctrine that state institutions (gesellschaft) are the sole unit of society, and that citizens are merely wards of the state. Benito Mussolini defined “fascism” in similar terms. Whatever the nuances of the various forms of totalitarianism, they generally result from the breakdown of traditional forms of social organisation (gemeinschaft) and the subsequent rise of mass society. The resulting anomie provides a breeding ground for despotism and ruthless institutional control. (c) individualism, technosphere, gesellschaft, vernacular society
TRADITIONAL. Perennial. Surviving the test of time and hence adaptive, sustainable, stable. In particular indicating societies and their traits which contribute most successfully to maintaining their stability and long-term viability and thus which succeed in being handed down to successive generations. Continuity. (c) vernacular society, tribal society
TRIBAL SOCIETY. A stateless society—organised solely through familial associations, social custom, and lore. (c) gemeinschaft, vernacular society, traditional
TROPHIC STRUCTURE. Food web.
VERNACULAR SOCIETY. Synonymous here with traditional society, or, the misnomer, “primitive society”. From the Latin “vernare”, to sprout, hence something that springs naturally out of a local culture—indigenous; grass roots; native; home-spun. The term is usually applied to a social group’s local dialect or architecture. Ivan Illich extended the use of the term to refer to all features of a society’s culture that have not been imposed on it by the state, the church, the corporate institution or other external agent (gesellschaft).
Of the 186 distinct societies profiled in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS) approximately eighty percent are purely stateless societies. Such vernacular societies (gemeinschaft) have sustained their order, stability, vital needs and traditions for countless generations without recourse to any state institutions.
The common-place languages, customs and rituals of vernacular societies are often highly complex and involved when compared with those of modern, state-based societies. In this respect, industrial state-based societies tend to exchange social complexity (social wealth—i.e. vernacular life, artisan skills) for technical and institutional sophistication (economic wealth—i.e. institutional life, industrial technology).
Such state-based societies arise primarily by preying upon, and subsequently breaking-up existing vernacular cultures in order to exploit their landbase (capital), and people (labour)—a process known as “development”, or more accurately, ethnocide. (c) progress, technosphere, total state
VITAL FORCE. The notion that the natural world is endowed with a vital principle, and that this vitality may become diminished, intensified or transferred in various ways, beings, objects, places and situations. It is to the extent that these possess “vital force” that they are considered sacred. This was an essential part of the belief systems of vernacular people and in particular chthonic people. It still is among many vernacular societies that have remained outside the orbit of the modern world. Goldsmith attempts to demonstrate that the organisation of this “vital force” throughout the world, as seen by vernacular people, directly reflects their understanding of the critical order of the cosmos. (c) hylozoism, Way
VITALISM. The notion that life processes cannot be explained without reference to some supernatural principle distinct from ordinary matter, such as the “entelechia” of Aristotle, the “entelechy” of Driesch, or the “élan vital” of Bergson. The alternatives to vitalism are seen to be mechanomorphism and organicism. Goldsmith’s thesis is related to organicism.
WAY, the. A term found in use around the world to refer to the natural order of things or cosmological law—the way in which natural systems behave and develop when not interfered with by external (heterotelic) agents. Those things which follow “the Way” are said to be endowed with vital force, “virtue”, holiness (see whole), sacredness (“tabu”), and so on.
“Ma’at” in ancient Egypt, “R’ta” in the Vedas, “Asha” in the Avestas, “Dharma” in Buddhism, “Themis” in ancient Greece, and “Tao” in China all reflect a closely related concept fundamental to the worldview of these traditional peoples—the belief that human society must also adhere to the “Way”, remaining in harmony with the wider cosmos on which it depends for its survival, or invite certain calamity by neglecting or even deliberately straying from the Way (i.e. following the anti-Way or “Isfet”, “An-R’ta”, “Druj”, “adharma”, “ou Themis” respectively). (c) hylozoism, chreod, general theory of behaviour
WHOLE. A system. An organised and integrated body or entity. A holarchy. The totality of a thing as distinct from either its general or particular features. By derivation—heal, hale, healthy, wholesome, holy. (c) holarchy, holon
WORLDVIEW. Belief system. The body of fundamental assumptions that form the basis of how an individual or social group interprets and thereby perceives their world—and thus ultimately how they interact with it. “Weltanschauung” (German). “Cosmovisión” (Spanish). “Metaphysical epistemology” (Jacques Monod).
In general terms, the modern worldview—the worldview of the technosphere derived from a metaphysics of mechanomorphism—sees the Earth as merely a jumble of raw materials to be exploited for personal gain. Whereas, the older worldview—the worldview of the biosphere born of a metaphysics of animism—sees the Earth as a vast sacred being or divine order to be protected and maintained at all cost. Each worldview thereby rationalises the opposite attitude, and thus opposite behaviour, towards the natural world. (c) paradigm, metaphysics, epistemology, cybernism