A few months ago, a Brazilian colleague urged me to join a webinar on “Saving the System of Life- a Dialogue with Fritjof Capra”. I had never heard of Fritjof Capra although I was aware of his best-selling book, The Tao of Physics. During the webinar, while addressing a set of inter-related global challenges, Capra called out COVID-19 as an intrinsically ecological crisis. How many people perceive the pandemic similarly?
For those of you who do not know Capra, he is an eminent physicist and world renowned systems thinker whose forte is in unravelling how things, phenomena, people and planet are inter-connected. During the webinar I learnt of the Capra Course, the brainchild of Fritjof Capra, and I immediately signed up.
About the course
Thanks to the pandemic, the Capra Course, at least for now, has gone virtual. In the recent batch, we were 252 participants from 50 countries all from varying backgrounds. I don’t know of any other program that beholds such diversity, for we were a motley lot consisting of engineers, designers, educationists, social sector and communications professionals and even visual artists, dance choreographers, students’ et al.
The Capra Course is based on the book The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. It consists of twelve video lectures delivered weekly and supplemented by a discussion forum which is as wide-ranging as it can get. Each of the course lectures are profound and serve as dot connectors to a larger view consisting of the biological, cognitive, social and ecological dimensions of life. In doing so, Capra weaves a vision of unity and attempts this at three levels a) for the individual, the oneness of body, mind and spirit, b) unity between human and human and c) harmony between humanity and nature.
The course commences with the portrayal of the world witnessing a crisis of perception as in the failure of the global political and corporate leadership to realize that unlimited growth on a finite planet is delusionary. Energy shortage, environmental degradation, climate change, economic inequality, violence and war cannot be seen as different problems but in fact are different facets of the same problem.
The four dimensions of life
On the biological dimension of life, Capra explains the difference between living and non-living systems and presents an insightful view of what constitutes life and a contemporary view of evolution. Describing the cognitive dimension of life, Capra demonstrates how the human body, mind and spirit are one composite. He elaborates on the distinction between mind and consciousness and why consciousness is a biological, cognitive and social phenomenon. He presents how quantum physics and mysticism converge and that science and spirituality can be partners. He then goes onto describe the social dimension of life, and builds a narrative around social networks and the similarities and differences with biological networks. Covering the ecological dimension of life, he narrates how our planet got recognition of being akin to a self-regulating, living organism and how the Deep Ecology movement came about and its implications for our planet.
Putting it all together
Capra is averse to modern day specialization and is aware of the limitless nature of human potential. Using a systems thinking approach, Capra addresses key systemic problem and shows how these can be applied in economics, management, politics, design, medicine, and law. According to Capra, the foremost global challenges are environmental destruction and economic inequality. Like developmental economists, he distinguishes between good and bad economic growth and shows us the interlinkages in U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] and how these can be leveraged.
He throws open the possibility of organizations – be they business, political or religious – to be modelled along the lines of an organism to unleash creativity and to make them life enhancing. To achieve this to-be state, he recommends a new kind of leadership where power is assumed to help empower others.
He reminds us of our common ancestry and that human progress has arisen because of symbiosis and not combat. He brings out how health depends on social and ecological factors too and champions the case for prevention and integrative medicine.
To be clear, the Capra Course is a space for understanding and is not a primer on personal self-transformation although Capra recognizes and supports the need to instill values and ethics in our actions. Having some exposure to systems thinking is helpful but not a pre-requisite for this course. While the initial part of the course is high on academics, the beauty of this program is its ability to paint a big picture that depicts the web of life. Critics may say that the course lacks niche expertise but therein lies the real value of the course. After all, if we have to deal with the current pandemic and avert the next one, breaking down silos and adopting a multi-disciplinary approach are the inevitable answers.
Feature image credit; Capra Course
Shakti Saran is an Inclusive World Citizen, Writer and Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. All views expressed are his own
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