From Madhva to Capra


A full organismic conception of biology, or the belief that in every complex system the behaviour of the whole can be understood, essentially from the properties of its parts, is central to Cartesian thought, and Descartes’ celebrated method of analytic thinking. Modern science has reversed the relationship — sort of. Systems, as we now understand them, cannot be understood by analysis. Which also implies that properties of the parts are not intrinsic entities — it’s something that can be understood only within the context of the larger whole.

Madhva’s Dvaita [Dualist] philosophy envisages that scientific descriptions are generally postulated to be objective, and quite independent of the human observer, including the process of knowing. Writes Fritjof Capra, one of the world’s foremost theoretical physicists, in his landmark book, The Web of Life: “The new paradigm implies that epistemology has to be included explicitly in the description of natural phenomenon...” Reason?  Systems, according to Capra, are all interdependent. They also encompass, Capra adds, a web of relationships, including nature, with a corresponding network of concepts and models, none of which is any more fundamental than the others. [It is also — more or less — cognate to what noted US biologist Edward O Wilson describes as consilience — the basic unity of all knowledge. Of the proof that everything in our world is organised in terms of a small number of fundamental laws — one that also encircles the particles underlying every branch of learning].

This ‘new-fashioned’ thinking, Capra contends, recognises the fact that all scientific concepts are limited and approximate; and, that science can never provide any complete or definitive, or total, understanding.  According to Capra, the process of living is not the world, but a world — one that is always dependent on interdependent structures, including the genetic information encoded in the DNA.  Which also means that consciousness, in essence, is a social phenomenon — no more, no less.

To be human, therefore, contends Capra, is to be endowed with reflective consciousness. Of body movements which become tightly linked in a complex dance of behavioural co-ordination. Of the numerous forms we perceive, all brought forth by the divine actor or magician, which also includes the dynamic force of play that is called karma.

If this isn't a new vision of reality — a grid of life, and living systems — that envelops us all, what is? Go figure.

Writer, editor, critic and columnist, Rajgopal Nidamboor, a philosophy buff, is the author of "Cricket Pastoral," the first e-book by an Indian in the genre. "Cricket Pastoral" was published February 2000 by Zeus Publications, Australia [].

Read Rajgopal Nidamboor's Meditations on Madhva.

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