Bridging Complexity and Ecology: Outline of Health Ecology

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In 1982 Stephen Wolfram pointed up a new direction in the human inquiry: development of a general theory of complexity in nature (Wolfram, 1982; Wolfram, 2002). When projected on the conceptual space of ecology, this direction reveals a new unifying framework for ecological studies: the framework of emergent dynamic ecologies. This framework includes environmental ecology, human ecology, social ecology, deep ecology, ecology of mind, ecology of learning, and is widely open to embrace new ecological discoveries.

The term ‘ecology’ is rooted in the Greek word oekos meaning ‘house’. In the same way as the house provides a shelter for people to live, the universe provides a ‘shelter’ for the infinite manifold of unanimated and animated forms to exist and evolve together. The house – oekus – is a place where its inhabitants relate to one another and dynamically interact; ecology studies different aspects of these interrelationships and interactions. In this sense, ecology is similar to complexity science, as the latter is also focused at studying dynamic interrelationships and interactions.

While ecology explores the astonishing variety of the outward manifestations of the dynamic interactions in nature and society, complexity science tries to reveal their inner secrets: what propels them? what sustains their emergence? where does their self-organizing ability comes from and how it manifests? in what kind of patterns the interacting entities self-organize? how these patterns influence each other? what are the factors that reinforce or impede the dynamic interplay of the self-organizing patterns? what makes them evolve, transform or dissolve?

The unified framework of the emergent dynamic ecologies serves as a bridge between the two holistic branches of human inquiry: ecology and complexity, ecological exploration of the existential dynamics and the study of their self-organizing power. The unified framework does not lead only to mutual intellectual enrichment of ecology and complexity, it gives birth to new exciting areas of research.

In this paper we outline the emergence of Health Ecology – a new holistic inquiry into human and environmental health – in the general framework of emergent dynamic ecologies, where

Environmental Ecology deals with the dynamic interactions of all the existential forms of nature (unfortunately, the number of these forms decreases as a result of the ecological ignorance of those who have power in today’s society),

Human Ecology focuses on the interrelations of humans and their natural and artificial (human-made) environments,

Social Ecology considers human society as a bearer of infinite dynamic relationships between individuals, groups, organizations, nations, states, cultures, machines, etc., in their inseparable interconnectedness with nature,

Deep Ecology pursues the development of systemic conceptual frameworks to assist personal and social decisions emerging out of the spinning web of human interactions and affecting the natural environment and life (Næss, A. and Rothenberg, D., 1990),

Ecology of Mind studies the process of human thinking as a continuous dynamic emergence of thoughts, feelings and experiential phenomena out of the dynamic interactions of an infinitum of inner and outer factors (Bateson and Bateson, 2000),

Ecology of Learning explores the factors and conditions facilitating the process of learning and searches how to increase its efficiency, in the sense of opening new possibilities for realization of the self-organizing impetus of the living entities, at any level of the web of their interrelationships and interactions (Hill et all, 2001; Dimitrov, 2002).

The theoretical discoveries and practical insights of complexity science are applicable to the study of each of the above ecologies, as well as to the whole edifice of emergent dynamic ecologies.

At the focus of Health Ecology is the unique web of life – and health-supporting interactions at all the levels of their self-organizing emergence – intrapersonal and interpersonal, between the individuals and the environment as well as between the individuals and society, between society and nature as well as between society and the whole evolving universe.

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