TAOISM: SCIENCE-BASED CONCEPTS FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL ECO-SYSTEM
Keywords:Taoism, sustainability, Eco-system, neuroscience, social science
Increasing wealth disparity, polarization of discourses, move into the Anthropocene epoch, people’s migration, terrorism…are all pieces of evidence that our worldview ought to evolve quickly if we want our eco-system, our humanity to survive and to keep claiming we are the smartest species on earth.
The elements of ancient Chinese wisdom like wu-wei, the power of de, and practicing meditation, echo many of the principles which have emerged in recent years, such as spiritual leadership, and are also expressed in organizational models such as Holocracy, Sociocracy, or Teal, and in economic concepts, such as enlightened capitalism, all seeking at making our world more sustainable. So, what can we learn from the school of thoughts of the Warring State period, 2,500 years old, and can this help us address the wicked problems we are facing both in the West and the East?
In this article I will look specifically at Taoism through the lens of Clare Graves’s human development model. Graves defined eight levels of human consciousness, six defined as needs-based systems and two as being systems. According to Graves’s research, only when thinking at the latter two levels can we develop sustainable systems. When analyzing some key Taoists concepts through that lens, looking also through Ken Wilber’s trans fallacy concept, it is hard not to conclude that the Taoist philosophy operates at Tier 2 level and offers many keys to develop a more functional eco-system.
Yet, are these Taoists assumptions and concepts plausible and viable in today’s world? Can they really support the development of a more sustainable society? To answer these questions I will look at the latest research in neuroscience and social science. Focusing on Taoism, I will look at three principles.
First, the cycle of reversion, that is nothing should be taken to extremes or it will turn back to its original state, causing the opposite effect, a concept illustrated by the design of the Yin and Yang symbol. I will explore this principle through the work of Wegner on the ironic effect of conscious efforts and of Frankl on paradoxical intention therapy. Both showed that conscious pursuit of a goal often leads to missing that goal and it is what the Daodejing refers to as the quests of opposites. In any dyad, Laozi wants one to pursue the part one does not want: choose weakness rather than strength, darkness over brightness.
I will then look at the research on downregulation of the prefrontal cortex to explore the validity of the state of wu-wei. The state that Laozi wants one to enter into is similar to what cognitive neuroscientist Arne Dietrich referred to as transient hypofrontality, that is, the downregulation of our prefrontal cortex. His work on the physiology of athletes being in the zone, that is, in wu-wei, showed that due to the intensity of the exercise the prefrontal cortex is literally shut down for a while, giving a sense of peacefulness, of living in the present, of flow, of oneness with nature and the universe. Reaching this state allows one to be more authentic, spontaneous.
Next, I will look at the notion of categorical rigidity. Zhuangzi was very concerned by the risk presented by language. This categorical inflexibility hinders what is often referred to as divergent creativity. This human limitation has now been proven scientifically, for instance, by the work of Guilford on the development of unusual alternative task.
I will finally present an environmental project showing how Taoists principles, based on system thinking, can enhance biodiversity.
I will conclude that Ancient Chinese wisdom, Taoism in particular, provides very valuable elements to help humanity develop a more sustainable world.