The Relationship Between Ecology and Spirituality Part 2/3
Meet Dr. Robert E. Ulanowicz, a professor of theoretical ecology at the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, who shares his insights on the nature of ecology and how it interacts with spirituality and society. Part 2/3
Laura: Dr. Ulanowicz describes the world and ecology as an ongoing interaction between regularity and irregularity. The ecological process is surrounding us are dynamic. They demonstrate change and development at all levels.
This view can be seen as a solution to many of the issues that historically separate materialist philosophy and science from those who believe in an underlying divine process. One such issue is free will versus determinism which is marred in the conflicting regularities and irregularities in ecological phenomenon.
Male: The study of ecology reveals amazing and peculiar phenomena. Rain brings life, growth and even destruction. The death and decomposition of living organisms makes nutrients available for other livings things. What Dr. Ulanowicz refers to as regularity and irregularity combine into regular cycles of day and night, seasons and the beauty of life itself.
Dr. Ulanowicz : What I like about ecology is that at least my approach to it, has been that we can par sound the regular from the irregular, from the non-regular. And that we can do a narrative about why things remain regular. And you’re free to believe that these things are perfectly natural or simply God’s way of making things regular.
Male: Irregularities in events impact human thinking in a unique way. Typically, rain nurtures life but hurricane brings destruction. Tsunamis can shake hundreds of years of tranquility in a region and leave devastation behind. Some events may even cause the extinction of a species. Such catastrophic experiences leave people with the question of why. More than one answer to this question has been proposed over the centuries.
Dr. Ulanowicz : Then you have the irregular over here, and what not. That’s where I believe we have what I call the accustom logical veil, in other words a limit to our knowledge. We can look at these events, many of them unique events, and if you are a non-believer, you say, Ah that’s just chance, that’s just the way it is, it is a dead end right there.
Male: These types of fairly unique events require that scientists think more broadly to not shatter off possibilities. Because of the very uniqueness of these events, the repeat ability that science requires are is unavailable. How do we approach these events then?
Dr. Ulanowicz : If you are a believer, you may say there is possibly something behind that. And there’s no way that we can tell, that we can decide that proposition because science is decoding, requires repeat ability and what not, and here where talking about one of a time chance. So it’s left to be a matter of fait as to what may lay behind some of this mass of irregularity. And that’s if you will the freedom to believe. It allows for free will, it allows for intercessory prayer.
Male: The regularities and irregularities mentioned so far are also recognized as two basic laws of nature. The scientific community refers to them as natural laws. Religious communities may refer to the same processes but by different names and with different conclusions.
Dr. Ulanowicz : Then if you look at the two fundamental laws of thermodynamics. You have the first law which is conservation of energy. And for me, that allows us to look at material and energy in the ecosystem and to trace, where it comes from and where it goes. And the bulk of my career has been spent looking at networks of who eats who and by how much.
Male: The closer ones studies ecology the more clear the connections between species both animal and plant become. Simply looking at what every species eats reveals what type of connection. Within the species, interdependency is evident. Newborns completely depend on their mothers, ant work together and form a colony in order to survive, even parasites depend on a host in order to complete their life cycle.
Dr. Ulanowicz : By describing these networks, using information theory and equations from information theory to characterize how organize, how well developed they are, whether they are developing or whether they are being perturbed. So the first law essentially lays out the network if you will.
Male: The flipside of this is an assumption that disorder increases in the natural world. By disorder is meant the possibility of unique events that disrupt the networks that form. This is the possibility of unique chance, it is not predictable.
Dr. Ulanowicz : An entity that exists are constantly are being eroded if you will by the second law. They are being built up by other processes but they are being eroded by the second law. If other processes have to do with this non living feedbacks. And there’s this constant tension between the two.
Male: However, as pointed out before, ecological systems operate with an over arching stable process that encompasses change. This fact offers reassurance to us that the exchange between order and disorder ultimately results in positive effects. Disorder can actually be understood to provide opportunities to change, to transform and to grow. Perhaps this idea can be applied to human society as well to ecological processes.
Dr. Ulanowicz : What it means to be alive is to change, to react to changing conditions around us and that all requires a degree to indeterminacy. Without the indeterminacy there can be no life. As a matter of, when we are face with a noble threat, okay, within the ecosystem, it has a noble motivation on it, it is not from a repertoire of regularities that it mounts a response. It is from a well spring or reservoir of irregularities and inefficiencies that it can build a new response. And without this indeterminacies and inefficiencies, life will be too brittle and will just fall apart. But it is not, life is robust, it goes on and it goes on because there is some balance between indeterminacy and regularity.
Male: Regularity needs to have some sort of interaction with irregularity in order to progress and grow. From this perspective, unique events carry an inherent value. They are necessary no matter how unsettling they may appear.
Dr. Ulanowicz : What that is, is that there is a tension, an opposition, at one level and mutual necessity at the next level up? And that’s the way that order and disorder, I believe, communicate and the result the patterns that we see in the living world.
The Relationship Between Ecology and Spirituality Part 2/3
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