The notion of continuity is one of the central ideas of modern biology and philosophy. It is based on the view of the natural, cosmic and atomic world is a set of interconnected and inter-depended entities that exist as a whole and should not be divided in parts. When applied to human actions it erases the boundaries between nature and culture, between human and other forms of life, between the individual and the system, between the mind and the body, between living and objects.
It questions Descartes mechanistic thinking that looks at the world, nature, and man as a machine made up of parts that need to be disassembled to be understood and assembled to function. The classical analytic method that has become the basis of scientific reasoning, which has led to many advancements of the humankind, but that has also put the reason, which can think (the famous Descartes “I think therefore I am”), above the body and man above nature, which at that time has not been considered as intelligent. This new status has then given the humans the right to dominate, control and manipulate nature, and other humans on the way, a philosophy that has over 400 years transformed itself into a social and natural disaster we are faced with.
The notion of continuity has arisen with scientific developments of 20th century physics, biology and psychology. The discoveries of atomic duality in quantum physics, in which every quantum entity may be described and a wave and as a particle, has put the notion of uncertainly and subjectivity in our description of the physical phenomena. Simultaneously theory of relativity has shown that certain properties, like mass, time and space, are not absolute values but are defined through their relationship with each other (the notion of spacetime). In parallel, Freud and Jung have popularized and developed the notion of unconsciousness in human psychology.
Not only the functioning of atoms and the universe, but our own way of reasoning was dethroned from its predictability and objectivity.
Finally, ecology and systems biology have shown the limits to observing natural systems as assembled parts of molecules and individuals. For example, emergent behaviors such as intelligence of an ant colony cannot be understood as a simple sum of intelligence of all the ants. Rather it emerges through the interactions of individuals ants and manifests itself only at the level of the whole colony. The new science of systems thinking has pointed out the importance of understanding the whole through interactions of its parts, as much as the need to understand parts through the their relationship with the whole. For example, functioning of a tree can only truly be understood through its interactions with other threes in the forest with whom it shares food and exchanges information about predators, with the fungi network that provides it with nitrogen sources and that connects all the trees in the forest, with the bacteria on its leaves and lichen on its bark, with ants that are protecting it from the predators, with rivers that provide it with water, etc.
Our reasoning of a food chain, as a linear and hierarchical process, has been replaced with the notion of a cycle of life, where all life is interconnected and interdependent in the cycle of nutrients and energy. To illustrate this, let’s remember the famous example of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowston National Park (USA) in the 90s that has changed not only the population of elks (which are their main food source) but also birds, beavers, threes, mosses and eventually diverted the flow of the entire river.
In a similar way, today’s COVID-19 crisis has shown us the extent to which our economic, medical, medical and geopolitical system is linked to the bat population in central China.
Looking at chemical, physical and natural processes through the lens of interactions and relationships dethrones the man from its statue of the dominator of nature and positions him as one, among many, elements in the web of life.
Now, if man is an inseparable part of the ecosystem and the biosphere, then design, which is in his service, also becomes part of that ecosystem. This is a powerful notion because it puts design not only in the service of humans, but also in the service of the ecosystem.
Practically, it obliges designer and engineers to start integrating ecosystemic services in the design.
So that a building is not just home for humans, but also for other species, and as such purifies air, generates energy and manages water.
So that a trash bin is not only a recipient for waste, but also transforms waste in nutrients, just as decomposers do in the soil.
So that a company that makes furniture regenerates forest it is using to build chairs.
So that urban communities are platforms that reconnect people with nature rather than to separate them.