Wales’ Harmony

HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World Blue Door 2010.

Harmony 1

The various subjects that the Prince opines about:

… suffer the same problems because they have become detached from important principles – the principles that produce the active state of balance which is just as vital to the health of the natural world as it is for human society. We call this active but balanced state ‘harmony’ … .

It is very strange that we carry on behaving as we do. If we were on a walk in a forest and found ourselves on the wrong path, then the last thing we would do is carry on walking in the wrong direction. We would instead retrace our steps, go back to where we took the wrong turn, and follow the right path.

Crisis of perception

… If we simply concentrate on fixing the outward problems without paying attention to the central, inner problem, then the deeper problem remains, and we will carry on casting around in the wilderness for the right path without a proper sense of where we  took the wrong turn.

Ancient wisdom

… The increasing tendency in mainstream Western thinking to ignore [the dimension which is related to our intuitive feeling about things] comes from the growth in cynicism during the latter half of the twentieth century and the wholesale dismissal of the big philosophical questions about our existence. The dominant world view only accepts as fact what it sees in material terms and this opens up a very dangerous state of affairs, not least because the more extreme this approach becomes, the more extreme the reaction tends to be at the other end of the scale, so we end up with two fundamentalist reductionist camps that oppose each other.  [The] search for mystery appears to give way to a vain search for certainty.

[Our] outlook in the Westernized world has become far too firmly framed by a mechanistic approach to science … . It is called ’empiricism’ … a language not able to fathom … the meaning of things.

[This] is the consequence of doggedly following Galileo’s line that there is nothing in Nature but quantity and motion. … We are persuaded … to follow a way of being that denies the non-material side to our humanity even though … this other half of ourselves is actually just as important as our rational side, if not more so. … We have come to function with a one-sided materialist approach that is defined by … its dismissal of things that cannot be measured in material terms.

… Nature replaces and replenishes herself in a completely efficient manner, all without creating great piles of waste.
This entire magical process is achieved through cycles. … Built into these many cycles are self-correcting checks and balances whereby the relationships [and] rate of growth … and replenishment are all subject to factors that facilitate orderly change and progress … and keep everything in balance. No single aspect of the natural world runs out opf proportion with the others – or at least not for long.
What is more, Nature embraces diversity. … The result is a complex web of made up o many forms of life. For this web to work there is a tendency towards variety and away from uniformity, and , crucially, no one element can survive for long in isolation. There is a deep in mutual interdependence within the system which is active at all levels, sustaining the individual components so that the great diversity of life can flourish within the controlling limits of the whole. In this way, Nature is rooted in wholeness.

[The] world view which prevails in Western societies, and in an increasing number of others which follow its flawed logic, pursues priorities that are almost diametrically opposite to those I have just described. There is an emphasis on linear thinking rather than seeing the world in terms of cycles, loops and and systems, and the intention is to master Nature and control her, rather than act in partnership. Our ambition is to seek ever more specialized knowledge rather than take a broad or ‘whole-istic’ view.

The eighteenth-century enlightenment, based predominantly on the pursuit of progress through science and technology, is so much a part of the furtniture today that we do not even question it as an ideology. And yet it is as if [we believe] that what our science reveals to us is the whole picture even though science doe not itself deal with the meaning of things, nor does it encourage a very joined-up way of working. As a result, time and again one problem is solved, but in its wake many others are created, often far worse than the one we set out to resolve.

This fragmented view of the world extends to the way people are expected to behave.

Nature 2

This is mostly about land use, the things that are going wrong and why,  and HRH’s various remedial projects.

Eco-nomics

    One problem with GHDSP growth as central measure of progress is that it only measures certain things.

It measures neither intangible benefits nor the costs, liabilities and depletions of resources.

We have inadvertently created economic signals and measures that disregard many natural forms of capital as valueless, not lkeast the stability of the climate.

I am sure that those pioneers of the scientific revolution … and th fathers of the enlightenment … would be horrified at the scale of things today … they would be reluctant to condone what has happened in their name, for they never intended that the world be subjected to the sort of giant experiment we now conduct …  we are travelling along a very wrong road.

The Golden Thread 3

The high points of human civilization have all been framed and shaped by what Ihave come to see as ‘shared insights’. These … belong to humanity as a whole.

[Our] modern approach has lost sight of them … and become disconnected from its important anchors.

[At] the heart of the matter lies a crisis in our perception – the way we see and understand how the world works. Grasping the causes of this ultimate crisis is a first and important step if we want to find solutions to the problems … . For we have to understand what is missing from our present picture of the world in order that we can put it back again so that any solutions are well rooted and work in the long term.

Tradition

[Ancient] civilizations … saw the same shape to things – the essential, cyclical process of growth that is limited by the need for decay, which in turn renews itself into another cycle of creation. … Only the seductive allure of materialism … has distorted this perception of the way the world works.

The force of chaos

   Pythagoras’ teaching was based upon the essential kinship of all living beings … However, it is the central cosmic importance he gave to number which has always fascinated me – a scheme which it is not difficult to understand, but one which states quite clearly that we live in an integrated and harmonious universe.

For Pythagoras … the nearest the human mind couyld get to the Divine Mind was through number and thereby, the principles of proportion and harmony. … Number had a living, qualitative value and was symbolic of the higher realms of reality, those levels of reality that lie beyond the touchable ‘actual’ world. … Not only is the natural world constructed according to a precise mathematics … if we contemplate its patterns deeply we are led into communion with the very source of number itself, which is unity. This makes the study of number as much a meditative process as a ‘scientific’ one – which is an aspect of mathematics the modern maths class certainly does not explore.

Pythagoras is describing … how life ‘becomes’ … from an indivisible unity … into a multiplicity of many, all of which can only be connected by there being a third element of relatedness. In other words, for one thing to be known by another there must be a linking relationship, a ratio or ‘joining together’. The Greek word that means ‘joining together’ is harmonia.

The double ouroboros [∞] originally made up of two interlocking serpents, each one consuming its own tail and symbolizing the renewal that creates the unity of creation. This is used for our modern symbol for the endless loop of infinity [∞].

Hearing and seeing the grammar of harmony

[Some hammers] had a harmony to them. This was because one turned out to be half the weight of the biggest, another was two-thrirds the weigth and the next was four-fifths the size of the largest … .In this way Pythagoras is thought to have defined the octave and how it relates to the third and perfect fifth.

Plato’s One and the Many

“There is one orderly, graceful disposition of the whole. … There is one substance, one law and reason common to all intelligent beings and one truth, as there must be one sort of perfection of all beings who are of the same nature and partake of the same rational power.” [Marcus Aurelius]

The weave towards modernity

“The world and its particles are not separate, isolated things but rather, one small particle contains the nature of the world just as the world contains the nature of each small particle: the nature of each is the same. The apparently single event is but a variation and segmenbt of the great whole and the great whole is the combination of all single events.” [Lau Tzu]

Building the cathedrals

[The] difference we tyend to see between the outside, material world and what we might think of as our own personal, mental space within is an artificial distinction We experience them both as a whole and therefor the balance we achieve within us dictates how balance our behaviour is without.

The way of patterns

HRH commends the work of the architect Christopher Alexander.

The golden thread of inner learning has undoubtedly grown weaker as the West’s emphasis on the outer world has become greater. The depth of knowledge revealed … became depleted as she began to be studied as a machine.

… Fashionable ideas, clever ways of manipulating public opinion and specific mdoes of thinking hav e all altered our daily outlook on life.

The Age of Disconnection 4

There are two sciences: the science of manipulation and the science of understanding” [Franz Schumacher]

Historians of ideas often report that, as this happens, the original, fluid observations made by the pioneer get exaggerated so that when principles become fixed they are fixed according to those exaggerations. And so a particular way of looking at the world that was never quite what was original intended becomes more concrete and th pressure to conform overt. This happened in the way scientific thinking developed … .

I am happy to be considered … ‘anti’ the kind of science that fails to see the whole picture … . [Discoveries] in things like quantum physics and in consciousness studies are kicking over the traces of the mechanistic view.

Revolution and reduction

[The][ scientific revolution established the authority of a mechanistic approach to thinking, often called ‘reductionism’.

[Education] began to break apart … the integration of scholarship ceased to be the central aim of learning.

We do not take into account in an immediate way the impact … on the entire system … .

The great divorce

Quantum physics … has blown some interesting holes in the classical mechanics of Newton’s theory. … Th structure … conform to certain rigid principles of mathematics.. They create a dance of form and matter, a dance that has been described … as geometry itself , involving trillions of particles that constantly flip between existence and non-existence on so small a time scale that it happens between what physicists actuall call ‘a moment’.

[The] Cartesian approach was to imagine the world as a vast and complex mechanism.

Nature became completely objectified.

[Human] wilfulness had adopted the name of ‘Reason’ and Nature was being plundered and spoiled in the name of Reason.

For Rousseau, society exists to defend against threats and dangers, not for the attainment of the universal good.

[The] enlightenment caused wonderful things to happen, but I do wish that the champions of mechanistic science would be more prepared than they are to accept it also brought downsides with it.

The industrialization of the mind

“Why are there so many species ion nature?”… numerous species maximize the chances of creating what are called ‘reciprocal relationships’.

We believe what our science tells us to believe, even though the majority of us do not understand the science at all.

Machines for living in

Modernists were tremendously excitesd by the idea that the twentieth century would be a gleaming age opf progress in which engineering and technological advances would open up all kinds of new way so living. In many respects it did and there are many today who would fully agree with those early pioneers who wanted to see a halt tro the aping of what they considered tired, historical styles and called for the abandonment of tradition.

By the late 1960s, in the UK alone, 47,000 of these [‘modernist’] new flats had been built … hardly any of them by architects, mostly by engineers.

Keeping the voters happy

Edward Bernays … had been involved in a wartime propaganda exercise to persuade a reluctant American population to support the war effort. He took these techniques and applied them for commercial and, indeed, political purposes, describing them as ‘the engineering of consent’. … He pioneered the use of third-party authority of experts. “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”

Wendell Berry … observed that industrialization and the impact of mechanistic thinking shifted our notion of progress onto a straight road that promises we can somehow reach the horizon, as opposed to our true situation, which is part of the natural process of ‘revolving in order to dwell’.

Complexity within coherence, diversity with unity

Despite this nightmare scenario there is hope, and it comes from science as it does from elsewhere. Some of the recent discoveries of science have revealed the reverse of what the mechanistic view of reality has always taught us to expect … there is a deep-seated interconnectivity present at every level of the physical world. Heisenberg … would tell his students … to see the world as being made of … music. Particles ‘dance’ from order to disorder and back again, expressing their dance in a diverse set of movements that always happen within the defining boundaries of unity. Holding the very fabric of Nature together there is the pull of order and an integration that is balanced and harmonic.

David Bohm … said … that ‘in m y scientific and philosophical work my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of conciosuness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and enfoldment’.’

It is a fact of history that humanity will never wake up to the dangers until the crisis actually hits us between the eyes. Until then, vested interests will stave off the warnings by shooting the messenger or destroying the sanctuary that holds the wisdom of the heart, either by suffocating it with ugliness of all kinds or reducing the argument to the level of a tabloid travesty – anything rather than face the darkness of the soul. At such a crucial moment in our history it is vital that we reignite the lamp and illuminate what has lain in the shadows

Renaissance 5

Asked what he thought about Western civilization [Mahatma Gandhi replied ‘It would be a very good idea’.

[Looking] at the world based on ‘the principles of harmony’ … would be to approach things with a clearer sense of proportion and balance. It would require whole-istic, joined-up thinking; a deeper appreciation of natural beauty and the willingness to see the connections that hold the web of life together. We would need to value Nature’s capacity to self-order her complexity; to recognize Nature as our guide, rather than seeing her as a machine that we can abuse to breaking point.

Well-being

For an organism to be healthy it must be in harmony. The converse is that a body is ‘dis-eased’ – it does not enjoy an equilibrium. [Our] health depends upon harmony and that extends to the impact of those external things that influence and shape our experience of and responses to the world.

Communities for health

[Ill] health occurs when the ability of the body to adapt to a situation is disrupted.

[Many] of the functions that control balance, self-regulation, and restoration are located in the more primitive part of ur brin and neural structures that are beyond our conscious control.

Towns, plans and buildings

[The] trend towards sameness was driven by a combination of competitiveness, a monocultural ideology and top-down globalization.

[Perhaps] the most important resource … is the knowledge, relationships, values and perspectives held in communities.

HRH commends ‘Enquiry by Design’.

The design revolution

[Nature]holds so many real solutions to our crisis of sustainability … . It seems that recent advances in various branches of science rather vindicate my instinctive feeling, but what stands in the way of their really playing a helpful role is the way business looks at them, through conventional economic glasses.

[Changing] our approach to economics goes hand inn hand with how we shape our cultural outlook and that means the way we educate children and adults.

Foundations 6

This recommends Integrated Reporting. as a way of reflecting long-term issues in company reports.

Crisis or Opportunity?

I wonder if we might see the wisdom in the Chinese word for ‘crisis’, which also means ‘opportunity’? [We] could be more positive and forward-looking and consider another approach that would create … a framework that is more sustainable: an economic that recognizes the need for harmony.

Teaching and ideas fit for purpose

The leading anthropologist, Gregory Bateson … pointed out that ‘the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way Nature works and the way man thinks’.

I am particularly proud of … a different way of working with the arts, one that integrates these with maths, geometry and science so that children learn in a different way.

… They ask the students what … circular forms they see in Nature, how these forms have been used symbolicvally by different traditions, and also what it means to be centred within themselves.

… I feel that knowledge is emphasised over wisdom, and specialism is promoted over whole-istic thinking…. This is … a consequence of the system and values that underpin the criteria of success, so often measured numerically against specific targets and on the basis of how much information is transferred and remembered.

Recent research for the New Economics Foundation found that, once basic needs … are secured, our happiness is fulfilled through:

  1. Connections with other people.
  2. Activity and exercise.
  3. Appreciating beautiful surroundings and reflecting on such experiences.
  4. Continued novelty and meeting new challenges.
  5. Well-being from giving and from being a member of a community.

[The] examples reflect … the risk of teaching out of us – not to say, deliberately excluding – the intuitive aspect of being by concentrating purel;y on the rational.

Culture

I have been consistently impressed by different movements such as Transition Towns … .

I want to encourage everyone not only to see the threat, but also the opportunity.

‘be the change you want to see in the world’ [Mathatma Gandhi]

A Good Idea?

[There] are still opportunities to forge a new way forward that cherishes different priorities; one that values wholeness and the interrelated elements of Nature; one that seeks natural harmony and strives to minimize social and environmental stress … with new, more sympathetic technologies, business models, new cultural values, and dynamic transformations generating millions of new jobs.

The renaissance … will in part be built on our technical knowledge of how the world works and how our machines work best, but its economic and cultural foundations have to sit firmly within a … love of wisdom.

Relationship 7

[Part] of the answer could lie in … ‘knowledge’ and relationship’.

[The] processes of Nature … form our entire experience of the world.

[Ancient] learning points to this need for balance within and without and I remain certain that this missing element of our relationship with the world contains the kernel of the cure to the many problems that its absence has created. [The] legacy of the Age of Reason and then the European Enlightenment … has done this.

Reading the world

 Perhaps if we listen to our intuition more we might embark on more sustainable and harmonious ways of living.

The eye of the heart

A central principle taught in the [better] universities … was that things cannot be understood in isolation. Subjects were not taught separately as they are today. … It is not by accident, but as a direct result of this, that [good] art and architecture are so very mathematical.

[If] we fail to reinstate a much deeper awareness of how the world we inhabit really works … we must expect an even wider disconnection, both from the Earth and within ourselves. … I believe that we can halt this course of events if we properly recognize the difference between a world based purely on knowledge and one that balanes this knowledge with what we gain from our relationship with the earth.

A right and beneficial relationship is the purpose of process. The exercise of knowledge is merely the means.

Playing a Part

Perhaps we would start:

  • to see organizations as organisms that work to restore and safeguard diversity in our economy;
  • to reward collaboration ands interdependence;
  • to build skills that nurture complexity rather than obliterate it with monocultures;
  • to stress the use of materials that can be recycled so as to eliminate waste and to maintain all of the subtle chcks and balances that could keep an economy, as an ecosystem, vibrant and healthy.

It very much depends on the way we look at the world.

We need far more of this joined-up thinking based, as it is, upon the health of things rather than upon their exploitation.

Harmony

    Studying the properties of harmony and understanding more clearly how it works at all levels of creation reveals a crucial, timeless principle: that no one part can grow well and true without it relating to – and being in accordance with – the well-being of the whole. We need to remind ourselves of this vital ‘eternal law’ again and again … so as to ‘re-mind’ the world, using it as the gauge we apply to all we do.

My Comments

The message

The message is a familiar thesis:

We are threatening Nature to an extent that threatens our continued existence. To be more sustainable we need to pay more attention to Nature and act in harmony with it. In the long run we would probably all be much happier in doing this than in focussing on, for example ‘economic growth’.

The common antitheses are:

  • What is Nature? Are we not natural? Are not our products and ways also natural? How do you make a distinction?
  • If we wanted to look at nature where would we go?  Is the countryside natural? Are the oceans natural? Is anything natural other than some pristine wildernesses, and aren’t they all rather barren and not at all suggestive of the book’s view of Nature?
  • Even if we could go back in time and live in an environment that did exemplify the ideas in the book, would we necessarily develop an adequate appreciation of the ways of Nature, and how would we know when we did?

The book doesn’t address these other than to commend some thinkers of the past. Unfortunately it also points out that their thoughts have been imperfectly transmitted down the ages, begging the question of how we might reasonably interpret their traces.

If anyone knows of a better account of these issues, I’d be glad to hear of it.

Insights

In many ways the book invites comparison with Bronowski’s Ascent of Man. While the message deserves debate much of the insights along the way are more accessible and possibly more important. Like Bronowksi, HRH thinks that mathematics plays a key role in understanding Nature and hence could have a key role in making the world more sustainable. I agree, but which mathematics? It seems to me that mathematics also plays a key role in some important unstainable beliefs and practices. How to sort the sustainable from the too narrowly ‘rational’?

The book mentions whole-ism as an important concept, but without explaining it. Perhaps it means that, as in an Empire, the parts must be subordinated to the whole. Thus a choir ‘being in harmony’ would mean them following their conductor. Alternatively, it may be more like the 1920’s concept of Holism, which is where the parts and the whole are in harmony with each other: the conductor is more a leader than simply a director. This notion became the accepted scientific world-view at the time, and seems compatible with the ideas in the book, while adding useful additional insights. It also links to Bronowski’s ideas. So maybe we need a more Holistic approach. Maybe, as the book details for previous world-views, this scientific world view has become over-simplified and misleading. Maybe we need to rediscover it and reinterpret it for today. But the book doesn’t really do that, unless you are already on its wave-length. But what does?

More to follow.

Detail

I hadn’t come across this detail:

Heisenberg … would tell his students … to see the world as being made of … music. Particles ‘dance’ from order to disorder and back again, expressing their dance in a diverse set of movements that always happen within the defining boundaries of unity. Holding the very fabric of Nature together there is the pull of order and an integration that is balanced and harmonic.

For me, this sheds new light on Heisenberg’s views, making it clear that they were in line with the accepted world-view of the time. In particular, Hersienberg’s uncertainty principle really does seem to invite a very broad interpretation.

The reference to music is also insightful. But I would carry it further. As the book says, musical harmony relies on the fact that an octave is made up of a third and a fifth. But it seems to me worth pointing out that this is not exact ( (2/3)*(4/5) = 8/15 with is only approximately 1/2 ). It seems to me that this discrepancy creates a tension that musicians need to resolve creatively. Thus while some music seems to be written and played as if the harmony were exact, the more ‘musical’ (to me) music seems to emerge out this creative tension, exploring how far the discrepancy can be played with without seeming discordant. Hence I doubt that we all interpret ‘harmony’ in the same way, just as I am doubtful about appeals to Nature.

More may follow.

My views

The book doesn’t challenge the view that ‘rude mechanicals’ have a limited view of life. On the contrary, it seems to me that many engineers I have worked with have a much finer appreciation harmony than do many who attend church regularly or enthuse about Nature.

More to follow?

Reception

I may look at others’ reviews.

Dave Marsay

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