Today I received through the post Stephan Harding’s Animate Earth: Science, Intuition and Gaia from my good friends at Schumacher College. This was a wonderful present which I had not been expecting, but it gives me a good excuse to mention Stephan’s book, which I use extensively in my teachings on complexity, sustainability and systemic thinking in business.
Stephan is Schumacher College’s resident ecologist where he is also the director of the unique Holistic Science masters degree programme. Stephan has played a huge role at Schumacher College developing this programme over many years, while also being a close colleague and collaborator of James Lovelock, who along with Lynn Margulis developed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s. (For a great introduction to Daisyworld run this simple simulation.)
For Stephan “explanation is rational, understanding is intuitive” and this is the key to what makes this book so special. It is one thing to understand a concept in our intellectual, rational, symbolic and abstract minds, but this form of knowing can make us detached from reality, as the processing is very left-brained, the side of our brains which only presents a representation of experience to us. In order to really connect with reality we need more than just this form of thinking, and for Stephan this means developing the other ways of knowing for which he coined the term “Jung’s mandala”.
Stephan does not limit his teaching to the classroom. He takes us out into nature where we can comprehend nature’s systems for ourselves, connecting with Gaia through his guided meditations he does with his buffalo drum, or via his deep time walks which leave an extremely profound impact on the monumental time scales of the age of our planet and the eons which it has passed through.
In the first part of the book Stephan explores why we need to expand our ways of knowing the world in order to fully comprehend a dynamic and organic system which is Gaia, our self-regulating biosphere. He explains how the history of science was just one path taken, culminating with an almost exclusive obsession with quantities to the detriment of the qualities of experience and life.
To read the rest of Animate Earth is to be taken on an incredible journey as Stephan invokes myth and storytelling to bring the living systems of Gaia to life. After explaining Lovelock’s Gaia theory to us, Stephan then explores every facet of Gaia, from the atoms and molecules which make up the elements, to the epic journey of carbon’s long and short term life cycles, and the dynamic dance and interplay of bacteria, algae, plants, animals, air and rocks.
For this second edition Stephan has included new sections on the fungi kingdom to whom Stephan apologises to for leaving out in the first edition, and a more up-to-date understanding of the climate situation based on Lovelock’s most recent work. These sections complete this uniquely written work, which takes us out of our rational minds, and into our intuition which for Stephan is where we gain “contact with the realm of meaning”. This important for Stephan, since understanding seeks both empathy and a sense of mystery:
Reconnecting these two severed branches of our psyche is a vitally important task if we are to respond appropriately to the vast ecological crisis that our culture has unleashed upon this world.
I have just come back from Joinville where having completed my masters degree in Holistic Science with Stephan I gave a talk very much inspired by his teachings. It was called Making Sense in a Complex World and in this talk I explored Jung’s mandala and what this means for our comprehension of complex systems in both the ecological and economic worlds.
I will be taking a group of students from Sustentare to Schumacher College in March, to study future business models and future enterprise with Stephan, and also Giles Hutchins and Alan Moore. This will be a remarkable week, and personally transformational. If you are in Brazil and wish to find out more please take a look at this article of mine which has more information and contact details. The motto of Schumacher College is Small is Beautiful and there are a very limited number of places, so please get in touch soon if you are interested.