Science of a Living Universe


  • John Kineman University of Colorado


Relational Complexity, R-theory, Evolution, Gaia


According to R-theory, a new meta-theory of whole systems based on the work of mathematical biologist Robert Rosen, the “Gaia hypothesis” may be better understood as a holistic worldview than a mechanistic hypothesis. The new perspective on nature provides a framework for studying closed systems, which has already yielded a definition of life itself, four organizational types of life, and sustainability as a systemic property of causal closure typical of organisms. These results raise the possibility of “Systemic Gaia”, the possibility of ecosystem sustainability and autevolution (influence of a system on its own evolution). This paper asks if the Earth as a whole can be modeled as a self-sustaining and self-evolving system. R-theory’s concept of causal closure in modeling relations (‘holons’), as a meta-model of natural organization, may be the key to answering such questions. Extension of this model to the global level addresses many of the criticisms on both sides of the Gaia debate. Rather than challenging the dominant mechanistic understanding of nature, it preserves that established territory and gives it a relational foundation capable of adding new factors of organization. With such new factors, the theory addresses many concerns that led to spiritual or theological speculations such as “intelligent design” and pre-destination, instead placing creative process inside natural systems rather than forcing external origins. Consequently, the theory supports causal explanations for stasis and punctuated novelty (punctuated evolution), apparent gaps and emergence in the evolutionary record that would be of concern from a gradualist perspective, and the impression of end-directed evolutionary processes (teleology) as implied by Gaia. Modeling relations are claimed to be a fundamental law of nature involving cyclical causality that had been known since Vedic times, but re-interpreted, for example by Aristotle, as a hierarchy of causes. A cycle of these four causes naturally requires that form and function co-evolve, as do mind and body, as unified dual aspects of holistic self-defining systems. The theory supports convergence of Western and Eastern science within a Vedic ontology of “cosmic order” (Rta). 

Author Biography

John Kineman, University of Colorado

Senior Research Scientist Wessman Research Group Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences



How to Cite

Kineman, J. (2020). Science of a Living Universe. Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2019 Corvallis, OR, USA, 63(1). Retrieved from