The circularity of Life

| 4th November 2014
The Circularity of Life by Jane Cull  - front cover illustration.
The Circularity of Life by Jane Cull - front cover illustration.
We must accept the reality that human beings, nature and cosmos are interconnected in a vast circular system, writes Jane Cull. To sustain ourselves on this planet, we must sustain the web of life of which we are part, and construct another kind of world that based on that understanding.
We need to understand how we do what we do as biological living systems, how we construct worlds, realities and experiences - and how we can construct another kind of world that is socially and environmentally sustainable.

In order for humanity to live sustainably on this planet, we need to see ourselves and the world differently - not separate and removed from the web of life, but instead intrinsically interconnected and interdependent with it.

This perceptual shift becomes the basis for living life in a sustainable manner. In sustaining the web of life, we sustain ourselves because without that nothing would exist. It is a circular view.

We depend, as do all living systems, on the ongoing continuity of both living and non-living systems and the planetary cycles for our continued living and existence. We are mutually interdependent and systemically interconnected with them. We are not separate, or removed from the web of life and the planetary cycles that sustain us.

Our present cultural worldview does not reflect this. Instead, it is a worldview that is linear, dualistic, mechanistic and based on separation. Our present worldview, what we construct about ourselves, the environment and the planet, puts humanity at the center. The world revolves around us.

The environment is perceived as 'natural capital', a resource that we own, control and manipulate, something that is here for us, and us alone, not only to use up and pollute, but also to destroy. This is at the expense of other species that we co-exist with on this planet.

Our planetary reality

The planet we live on is a circularly closed system. It has a boundary, the atmosphere. Matter circulates via atmospheric winds and oceanic currents and is continuously being recycled, flowing through all living systems (human beings, animals, plants, organisms) and non-living systems (rivers, streams, oceans, soil, air, etc). What goes around comes around. Matter does not escape off the planet.

The Earth is not an 'open system'. All living and non-living systems, including ourselves, contribute to and are sustained by the ongoing circular flow of matter around the planet. All species play a role. Lee Smolin, author of Life of the Cosmos explains: "each species plays a role in the great cycles that circulate material around the biosphere ...

"Oxygen now in the biosphere was rather recently produced by them. This holds, not only for the oxygen we breathe, but for the nutrients we eat and for the other gases in the atmosphere: the nitrogen, carbon and so forth ... There can be little doubt that it is necessary to understand life on this planet as an interconnected system to have any sense of what life is."

Our present view of life is unsustainable

Our present view of life is inadequate for humanity to live sustainably. At the core of this view lies our inherent problem. We perceive ourselves to be separate and independent from life. We do not see our inherent interconnectedness and interdependency with life.

We are part of an ongoing circular flow of life, not separate and removed from it. The awareness of circularity is essential for understanding life. Without circularity and other essential life cycles, we do not exist.

We need to understand how we do what we do as biological living systems, how we construct worlds, realities and experiences - and how we can construct another kind of world that is socially and environmentally sustainable.

We live in a circular world. We do not see or distinguish the circular and systemic consequences that this entails, particularly in the context of human relations, interactions with the environment and with the planet as a whole.

We cannot escape circularity. It is the core process of existence and living. This is the systemic reality that we live in.

Shift in worldview - our co-existence in the web of life

This shift in worldview is not just environmentalism. It is not just about looking after the environment because we have to. It is literally an understanding of our co-existence on this planet, how we are systemically interconnected and mutually interdependent systems with the web of life.

It is about the big picture, and it is the big picture that we need to see, because, like it or not, that is what we are part of.

All systems, living and non-living, that make up the web of life on this planet, are sustained as part of an ongoing cyclical flow of mutual interdependency. They all mutually depend on one another for their ongoing existence. We are part of this flow of interdependency. Our lives are sustained by this intrinsic web.

Nothing exists in separation. All systems are structurally coupled / connected at their boundary, or surface, with their respective mediums (environments). This can be air, ground, water or other living systems. Structural coupling is how all systems, living and non-living, are interconnected.

To see ourselves as separate is to deny the reality of our co-existence on this planet.

Life is not linear - it is cyclical

Life also is not linear or fixed. It is cyclical and in constant motion. Motion is essential to ongoing continuous cycles - biological, environmental or planetary. Cycles occur as a result of patterns repeating. We can see these patterns not just in human and animal behavior, but also the motion of planets, galaxies, weather patterns, ocean wave patterns, to name but a few.

Cyclical processes are also essential for the formation of living systems. All matter arises from a medium and returns back into a medium. All matter becomes and perishes, arises from and returns. It is an eternal essential life process. All matter exists in ongoing life cycles. Death is merely a transformation of matter. Nothing escapes. All matter remains in the circularity of life.

No living system is ever out of circularity, including human beings. Even in death, the molecules and cells that constitute the biological components and structures of living systems eventually become reabsorbed back into the circularity of life, in the ground, the air, or water, or become the sustenance for another living system.

Death is not something that can be transcended. It is an essential cyclical process for life to exist. Death is just part of the ongoing cyclical continuum of life.

In circularity, there are no end points or starting points, there is just a continuous pulsating rhythm, eternal and long lasting, something that is old, ancient and has been going on for eternity.

Our worldview, our problems

All our social and environmental problems are driven by our worldview. It is clearly not working. We need another view of ourselves and the world that will work if we are to live sustainably on the planet: a worldview that sustains us, the web of life, and the planet.

This worldview is circular and systemic because that is how life is. This shift becomes the basis for living life in a sustainable manner. We need to construct another kind of world that is based on that understanding.

In order to make this shift, we need to understand how we do what we do as biological living systems, how we construct worlds, realities and experiences - and how we can construct another kind of world that is socially and environmentally sustainable, where economic growth and development can continue, but with a different perceptual focus.

Responsible business does not deplete and destroy, but sustains life in all its richness and diversity.



The book: 'The Circularity of Life: An Essential Shift for Sustainability' by Jane Cull.

This article is an extract from 'The Circularity of Life: An Essential Shift for Sustainability'.

Jane Cull is the Founder and Lead Consultant of Life's Natural Solutions. Since 1994, she has developed a range and depth of expertise based on extensive research into the theories of living systems, the work of world renowned Chilean Systems Biologists, Dr Humberto Maturana and the late Dr Francisco Varela.

She has embodied and expanded on their work to provide an experiential and conceptual understanding of biology, human perception, the circularity of life and how we make the shift to construct a more sustainable world Jane was also the Associate Editor of the Journal of Applied Systems Studies, a bi-annual academic journal dedicated to applied systems theory and is part of the Great Transition Initiative (GTI), an international network of scholars and activists that analyzes alternative scenarios and charts a path to a hopeful future. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Barcelona Consensus, a project dedicated to transitioning to a sustainable society.



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