Enlivenment - The Revolution of Biology

by: EJ on 02/25/2016

What is life? In The Biology of Wonder: Aliveness, Feeling and the Metamorphosis of Science  scientist Andreas Weber resolves this fundamental enigma, arguing that humans, like all living beings, are creative, evolutionary forces who cannot exist apart from nature. This landmark work demonstrates that our connection to Earth’s complex web of dynamic, interconnected relationships underpins the entire range of human experience, giving rise to a new ecological ethos.  The following article excerpt was originally published in The Solutions Journal, December 2015, and is reprinted here with permission.  

Fea_Weber_Figure1

One poppy and two red plastic bags between two lanes of traffic.  photo credit:  Andreas Weber

A ground-breaking new vision of humankind is quickly spreading into the mainstream of our self-understanding. Enlightenment thinking, the idea that humans are separate from nature,  is coming to an end. The "Anthropocene" claims to step beyond the dualism of man–nature opposition. Culture is everywhere. This might be an opportunity for sustainable action: saving nature becomes a cultural endeavour. However, the salute to anthropocene stewardship masks the silent enclosure of life within technoculture and bioeconomy. Civilization still operates as if reality is about organizing inert, dead matter in efficient ways. It is impossible to achieve sustainablity with our prevailing "operating system" for economics, politics, and culture if the underlying "bios"—our unconscious assumption about reality—remains tied to an ideology of dead matter. On a profound level, nature is threatened by ignoring the principles of fertile, imaginative interpenetration, which shape existence. The real opportunity of the "Anthropocene" is to create a new bios for our thinking—an Enlivenment. This means to understand that man and nature pertain to a reality creating embodied processes of transformative relationships, expressive meaning, and true inwardness in biological subjects. The scope of the "Enlivenment" perspective is comparable to the shift in modern physics which realized that any observer is entangled with the system being observed. Biological entanglement happens emotionally and experientially through shared aliveness with other living subjects. The according "policy of life" strives for a civilization in which institutions and economic practices follow the maxim that life shall be. A policy of life struggles to liberate subjects from the colonization by the ideology of dead matter, granting them the right to embodied agency and to meaningful experience. This is not easily achieved, as it requires a deep change in our perception of reality. The "bios" of "Enlivenment" will require a long-term commitment comparable to the struggle for universal human rights.

Key Concepts of Enlivenment

  • DocSearls

    photo credit: Doc Searls

    The current ideology of dead matter, mechanical causality, and the exclusion of experience from descriptions of reality in ecology and economy are responsible for our failure to protect aliveness in our world.
  • The challenge of the "Anthropocene" and the end of dualistic enlightenment-style thinking is to install a new "bios" into our concept of reality, putting aliveness, the world as a living process of mutual transforming relationships, subjectivity, and expression, at its center: an "Enlivenment" view.
  • The scope of the "Enlivenment" perspective equals the shift in modern physics realizing that any observer is entangled with the system being observed. Biological entanglement happens emotionally and experientially through sharing aliveness with and relating existentially to other living subjects.
  • Findings in the life sciences, particularly in biosemiotics, cognition research, and developmental biology, show that it is necessary to view organisms as goal-directed agents, who bring meaning and experience into the world as physically relevant powers.
  • We need a "policy of life" as a new political–philosophical attitude to make "deep sustainability" possible. It will supplant the idea of reality as iteration of "empirical facts" by an "empirical subjectivity" of shared aliveness and a "poetic objectivity" of describing and practicing relatedness and mutual transformation.

In one respect, we should feel relieved. The split in our thinking that opens between nature conceived as soulless resources and human agents as the rational actors was what started the ongoing environmental catastrophe, which includes global warming and the current "sixth extinction" wave of species loss.

milkweed

photo credit: Robin

Many claim that the starting point for a new idea of sustainability and nature protection lies in the Anthropocene. Because nature and culture are supposed to be one, humans therefore should become responsible for the Earth-system. As the argument goes, humans must become stewards for the whole natural–cultural Earth because they have totally infiltrated it. Sustainability from this perspective is thought to be a more attractive and convincing concept: it no longer means protecting the "other," but cultivating ourselves.

 

 

The Biology of Wonder demonstrates there is not separation between us and the world we inhabit, and in doing so, validates the essence of our deep experience.  By reconciling science with meaning, expression and emotion, we gain a crucial understanding of our place in the framework of life.

Grounded in science, yet eloquently narrated, this is a groundbreaking book. Weber’s visionary work provides new insight into human/nature interconnectedness and the dire consequences we face by remaining disconnected. - -- Richard Louv, author, The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods

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