Overview of organicism:


0) Definitions

a. Vitalism: that living organisms have a "vital spark" or "life energy" which cannot be isolated or reduced to a specific mechanism. Not all organicists are vitalists.

b. Holism: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Living systems and their environments form an interactive whole that cannot be fully understood by logical relations between components.

c. Other associated terms: Gestalt, Emergence, Synergy, Noosphere, Gaia, Biodynamics, Teleology, Morphogenic field, Harmonic convergence


1) Indigenous Societies 

Typically assumed that all indigenous, low-tech societies such as hunter-gatherers use an organicist epistemological framework--not true! Great variation:

a. The Mbuti love the forest, the !Kung love trucks.

b. From Sherry Otner's anthology: the Gimi say only men are associated with nature, and women are more artificial.


2) Ancient Egypt

a. The alchemical tradition, "as above, so below," posits a relation between macrocosm and microcosm that may reflect the (pre-Pharonic) origins of Egyptian culture in sub-Saharan east Africa.


3) Ancient Greece 

a. Pre-socratics: Pythagoras was a strong advocate of harmony, use music as fact/metaphor for cosmology. Egyptian traditions may have influenced some of this organicism.

b. Aristotle: in contradiction to his teacher Plato, emphasized organic function and teleology.


4) Middle Ages 

a. Healers, midwives continue earlier pagan traditions despite increasing authoritarian violence of church and state.

b. Alchemists such as John Dee, Agrippa, etc. try to "scientize" mystical traditions.


5) Enlightenment

a. Isaac Newton continues his alchemical studies in secret.

b. Goethe becomes founder of the German romantic tradition.

c. Rousseau becomes founder of ideological version of organicism.


6) Modern era

a. Mystics: Rudolph Steiner, Theodore Schwank, Theosophists.

b. Fascists: Nazi use of German romanticism (Herder), Hindu mysticism

c. Philosophers: Alfred North Whitehead (in contradiction to his vienna circle colleagues), Henri Bergson.

d. Scientists: D'Arcy Thompson, Peter Kropotkin, Lewis Fry Richardson, Ernest Everett Just


7) High Modern (post ww-II) era: Organicism begins synthesis with "Mechanicism"

a. Turing's post-war work on morphogenesis and coupled oscillators

b. General Systems Theory (Von Bertalnaffy)

c. Cybernetics: McCollugh, Maturana, Varela, Wiener, Bateson, etc.


8) Post-Modern era: Organicism and computation

a. Fractals: Mandelbrot

b. Chaos theory: Lorenz, Rössler, Yorke, Ueda, Smale, Santa Cruz “chaos cabal” (Shaw, Crutchfield, Farmer, and Packard).

c. Complexity