Our customary perception tells us that we live in a world made up of separate things. We have been trained to see reality as a collection of objects. Hence we use the word ‘everything’ to signify the totality of what is. So you can see that this view of a world made up of separate thins is built right into the structure of language. We have learned about different categories of things. There are physical objects like trees and automobiles, mental objects like memories and idea, and social objects like marriages and countries.
The brilliant twentieth century anthropologist and philosopher Gregory Bateson taught that all of the lines that divide the seemingly separate objects of our world are merely lines of human convenience. Have you ever been in a conversation when you realized that you were making a distinction because it was helpful to your purposes even though you knew it wasn’t ultimately real. We often do this when trying to generalize people into categories. We say there are X kind of people and Y kind of people, but we feel compelled to add that we know that know one is either all X or all Y. We are making a distinction because it is helpful for whatever point we are trying to convey and yet we acknowledge it is not ultimately a real line of separation.
Bateson was simply saying that all of the lines that dive things in the world are lines created for human convenience. They are not ultimately real lines of division, but for some reason or other it is useful to think in terms of them. In truth, beneath all of these imagined divisions, everything is connected and even more everything is part of one continuous whole. Bateson believed that all of the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way we think and the way the world works. As long as we think in terms of a world of separation then we are constantly acting in ways that break the very real continuity that sustains existence.
When we treat an ecosystem as a collection of parts we find ourselves destroying elements of it without realizing that in doing so we are damaging and ultimately damaging the whole. It would be like thinking that a finger is separate from the body and not realizing what affect that will have on the body, not to mention the person whose body it is. This is one way to understand the ultimate challenge that we face as a civilization. We have been operating with a consciousness designed to understand by chopping reality up into identifiable pieces when in fact we live in a reality that is one continuous whole. It is critical at this point in our history that we embrace a new way of thinking that can embrace wholeness and continuity.