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Synergy of Ecology of Learning and Health Ecology

Vlad Dimitrov

University of Western Sydney


2.Reasoning, Intuition and Awareness

3.Learning to Solve Problems

4.Holistic Experience versus Partial Reasoning

5.Learning in Captivity of the Global Economic System

5.Learning in Captivity of the Global Economic System

6.Learning that Never Ends




1. Introduction

Ecology of Learning explores the factors and conditions, interrelationships and interactions which stimulate, sustain or impede human learning, and thus helps learners to develop and strengthen their potential for understanding and knowing (Dimitrov, 2002). 

The ability to learn is inherent in every living creature. Plants and animals learn to adapt to the changing environment in order to survive, reproduce and increase their fitness. Some animals easily learn to follow human instructions and develop behavioral patterns classified by people as "clever", "friendly", "faithful", etc. 

Similarly to plants and animals, humans learn also to better cope with changes. What we learn reflects the way we live, and the way we live reflects our health. In each moment of life, the state of health is an integral expression of what we have learned about ourselves and the world, about our relationships with one another and with the other forms of life, be they animate or inanimate.

Human health has as many dimensions as human life has - physical and emotional, mental and spiritual, individual and social, environmental and universal. These dimensions are so intertwined and interlaced that logic alone can hardly grasp their unity. The logic of life (and health) is something different than the logic of brain; the former relates to spontaneity of our living experience, while the latter rules our thinking capacity. Just thinking and talking about health can never make us healthy; we need to experience in-vivo the effect of the health-supporting environments.

2. Reasoning, Intuition and Awareness

Intuition illuminates the wholeness of our experience, while reasoning divides the wholeness in order to study its parts. According to Varela ­ one of the godfather of bootstrapping (self-referential) philosophy of the autopoietic nature of life (Maturana and Varela, 1980), intuition is “a basic human ability which operates constantly in daily life” in tandem with our reasoning. “Intuition without reasoning is blind, but ideas without intuition are empty” (Varela, 1999). Not mental speculations about life and health, but awareness of their unfolding is at the core of the modus operandi of intuition.The higher the degree of one’s awareness, the greater the chance for experiencing those precious moments of ‘convincing clarity’ which characterises every intuitive insight, every spark of human creativity. 

Varela and Vermersh indicated three dynamic phases of human awareness: suspension of one’s habitual thought and judgment followed by conversion of attention from ‘the exterior’ to ‘the interior’ and ending with letting-go or receptivity towards the experience (Varela and Vermersch, 1999).An unusual existential event ­ a dangerous situation, an aesthetic surprise, or a suddenly emerged remembrance ­ can trigger the initial phase of the individual awareness. The attention then immediately turns inwards, distancing itself from the world around; this is the second phase. In the third phase the duality between external and internal dissolves into an authentic state of openness and receptivity, ‘letting-go’ of any voluntary tension. The three phases of human awareness links tightly the reasoning with intuition.


A sad event can trigger an abrupt break in the daily monotony of our repetitive actions. The feelings of sadness arise, stay for a while and then disappear without awakening our awareness.But another development is also possible: we can open our heart and allow the feelings of sadness to enter inside us. Then we can ask ourselves what make these feelings move: amplify or decrease, multiply or disappear? What kind of motivation make them transform into their opposite - feelings of joy? What thoughts they evoke? What stories they bring to life? The inner criticality may grow until the ‘letting-go’ point is reached. Then we stop asking questions, searching for stories, recollecting events. The internal starts to merge with the external and the feelings of sadness disappear. What remains is awareness. We become aware about a change that has occurred with us, about a renewal that has transcended both the internal and the external. We are new beings, cured from the feelings of sadness and empowered to move further in life.

The reasoning is the way of knowing, while intuition reveals wisdom. Knowledge tends to separate the dimensions of life and health when exploring their dynamics; wisdom reveals their unity. Knowledge looks for experts from outside to ‘fix’ the ‘parts’ of health; wisdom keeps our own self-healing capacity at its highest possible level. 

Ignorance is the greatest enemy of health (and life); it is an enemy that constantly pushes us towards ‘attractors’ which ruin our health ­ alcohol, drugs, gluttony, lack of movement, stress, anger, hatred, greed, jealousy. As the only way to decrease one’s ignorance is through learning, there is direct linkage between learning and health, between ecology of learning and health ecology.

Complexity thinking sees learning and health as expressions of one and the same human urge: urge for self-fulfillment. We learn in order to realize our potential, and the level of its realization vitally depends on our health; therefore, human learning for self-fulfillment is, at the same time, learning to be healthy. But learning to be healthy means learning to strengthen our self-healing capacity. While being a powerful factor of health, the self-healing capacity is at the same time a powerful expression of our potential for self-fulfillment. In this sense, learning and health are two aspects of one and the same drive - the inner self-organising drive of human dynamics; this drive propels itself if the external conditions do not suppress it. 

3. Learning to Solve Problems

Unfortunately, the ecology of learning in our ‘civilized’ society is oriented against the health of nature and humans. It pushes us towards aggressive exploitation of natural and human resources, consumption, making money and exercising power. We learn to compete and fight with those who oppose our will to power. In today’s world, the system of education puts people on a way, which is fatal for their survival ­ a way that leads to social and moral degradation, irreversible environmental destruction, wars and death.

Society teaches us to acquire various kinds of expert knowledge aimed at solving problems. The acquisition and use of problem-solving knowledge crucially depends on development of ability to rationalise and analyse, extract cause-and-effect relationships and generate hypotheses, test them experimentally and draw out logical conclusions, build theories and make them work in practice. 

Powerful military, industrial, nuclear and cosmic complexes have been developed in the world as results of problem-oriented learning. Cloning, genetic engineering, creation of artificial life and intelligent machines also relate to this type of learning; the intelligent machines amplify its effect. They learn to do things, which are hard or impossible for people, like processing large files of data and recognizing patterns in them, solving problems with high computational complexity, moving and working in dangerous environments, etc.

The goal of problem-oriented learning is to reduce or eliminate fuzziness imbedded in our knowing. In artificially designed systems, subjected to precise description and control, this goal can be achieved. When dealing with nature - with life and health, this goal can never be achieved; the deeper we go into processes of life and health, the larger becomes the field of our inquiry, as we constantly come across phenomena and features which we were initially unable to see. It is like zooming into infinite numbers of scales (fractals) nested into one another (Dimirov, 2002).

"Life is not a problem to be solved but reality to be experienced" - these words belong to the Danish philosopher S. Kirkegaard (1813-1856). Neither health is problem to be solved, fixed or deleted! Infinite is the number of levels through which reality manifests - from the macro level of the whole universe to the micro level of a single quark. And all the levels project on human experience - not only because everything relates to everything else in the impossible-to-separate web of existential dynamics, but also because it is through our living experience that we learn to actively participate in and deal with these dynamics. Moreover, it is through our living experience that we can learn to ride on their inexhaustible power. 

We are endowed with a limitless potential for awareness ­ potential to recognise, understand and intuit the meaning of the events emerging out of the flow of life, not only because we are in this flow, but also because we create it. Who else is responsible for the unfolding of one’s life if not the person through whom this life unfolds. We create the flows of our lives every single moment with our actions and projections, emotions and feelings, words and thoughts, beliefs and expectation. In the same way, we create our health, although many of us remain unaware about this creative process and drift unconsciously with its realisations.

The awareness of being creators of our health empowers and inspires us when learning to sustain it through our own efforts. 

Today’s system of education does not teach people to be creators of their health; it prepares ‘specialists’ to fix our health in the same manner as it prepares specialists to fix our computers. The development of human intuition is not in the list of subjects studied in the high schools or universities. Neither is the development of our self-healing capacity. They both are classified as esoteric and mystical; their voices are too subtle and subjective, too soft and fuzzy in comparison with the loud and ‘objective’, sharp and determinate voice of reasoning seeking control and power. 

4. Holistic Experience versus Partial Reasoning 

Learning for health thrives on human experience; the latter constantly re-emerges out of the complex interplay of the three vital constituents of our nature - body, mind and soul, when interacting with the environment. Mind is only one participant in this interplay; therefore its models of reality - models that underpin today's systems of education ­ are inevitably partial

It does not matter how precisely one can describe and formulate a partial model; the precision can never make it holistic. The effects, which the body and soul have on one's life experience, are hard to be described while using mind models.

The partial models are suitable for studying artificial (human-made) systems; these systems can be dissembled into parts, each part described with a high degree of precision. When applied to study holistic phenomena, the partial models are not of much help; often they lead to delusion and spreading false or distorted views on reality - views which can be easily used for manipulative purposes by those with power in society.

Health is holistic phenomenon. Therefore the partial models cannot grasp the wholeness of its nature

Our educational institutions are competent in teaching learners to digest 'borrowed' knowledge, that is, knowledge prepared outside the learners by socially recognized 'gurus' and 'experts'. The educators do their best to pour the packaged knowledge into the brains of the learners and check how stable it stays there; now it is learners’ turn to apply the borrowed knowledge for purposes outside them, for example, to cure sick people, make computers and genetic mutants, preach philosophies, manage machines and people (Dimitrov and Wilson, 2002). 

The largest part of the learners study to support the artificial brains of the computers and their ever-expanding virtual reality ­ a reality saturated with all kinds of computer-based tools and systems. The deeper we immerse into virtual reality, the narrower becomes the niche for researching ourselves ­ our life and health - and the less able we are to hear and understand the 'voice' of our holistic nature, to interpret the messages of our conscious and subconscious experience, to listen to the whisper of our souls.

5. Learning in Captivity of The Global Economic System 

In our days, the educators and learners are pressed to fit and serve the Global Economic System (GES) - system based on unequal distribution of economic power and therefore ruled by those who have such a power in abundance- rich financial institutions, corporations and individuals. When education and learning are in captivity of GES and pressed to obey it in order to survive, we are constantly taught to contribute in making GES stronger. 

We are rarely taught to live and grow in healthy body, mind and spirit; those who control GES do not care much about this. It is much easier for them to manipulate a herd of narrow-minded 'experts' and 'specialists' than enlightened human beings with broad understandings of social reality; the latter are of serious threat for GES custodians. 

GES attitude to health is mechanistic ­ if you don’ t feel healthy, go to a doctor and s/he will fix your health. If you cannot be fixed or have no money to pay for your health repairing, you are no more relevant to GES. 

Health can never be fixed; it is not a machine or a symbol in virtual reality. It is a holistic expression of one’s life inseparable from the environment ­ individual and social, physical and emotional, mental and spiritual

The holistic phenomena and processes have their own self-organizing drive ­ a drive that cannot be neglected. In the case of health, it is the self-healing capacity of the individual that embodies this drive. The support, stimulation and realisation of the self-healing capacity need efforts of learning, understanding and acting. Just waiting for the self-healing to happen or for doctors to fix us does not help. Conditions activating our self-healing capacity need to be permanently re-created and sustained.

As long as we live under conditions, which supports the realisation of our self-healing potential, we are healthy.

But does our society know what are these conditions? Unfortunately, not! 

Society teaches us to keep propelling the engine of GES and thus to increase the power of those who count in it. If we resist doing this, GES can easily smash us.

When the ecology of learning remains under the power GES, it is no more ecology of learning ­ it is a brainwash ecology aimed at preparing people to better fit into GES requirements, to follow its rules, and to stay in captivity of petty dreams for consumption-centred happiness. This kind of 'happiness' is preached by the GES gurus, and not the happiness of health. 

To reveal the secrets of health as a dynamic attractor of our self-healing capacity needs wisdom and not brainwash. Unfortunately, GES in which the ‘civilised’ and ‘developed’ part of society abides is entirely deprived of wisdom. 

ØIs it wise to spend an astronomic amount of money for the production of more and more advanced tools in order to kill each other? 

ØIs it wise to be constantly involved in wars and to suppress people (and nations) who do not want to obey the orders of those who are thirsty to exercise their destructive military or economic power? 

ØIs it wise to commit horrible ecological suicide year after year by destroying irreversibly the natural environment and refusing to take even a small step (such as signing a joint International agreement), in order to initiate restrictions on the spread of our fatal socio-ecological madness?

ØIs it wise to extinguish the indigenous people (in the same way as the white 'pioneers' did with all the aborigines in Tasmania and with Indian tribes in America), or to brutally suppress and force them adopt the 'advanced culture' of the conquerors? 

ØIs it wise to keep for years those who seek asylum in camps similar to the concentration camps of the Nazis, suppress their protests and impassively watch their suffering, as it is the case in the Detention Centres in Australia? 

ØIs it wise to follow politics of discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, culture, gender, political opinions or spiritual beliefs? 

ØIs it wise to force humanity into the establishment of a global economic order which is threatening to turn the largest part of the world population into economic slaves of a handful monstrously rich corporations, financial institutions, organisations and individuals? 

ØIs it wise to interfere with the finest and most complex fabric of the human genetic structure aiming at partial effects while putting at risk the integrity and the evolving potential of the whole structure?

The ecology of learning of today’s society facilitates ‘production’ of thinkers and actors unable to see reality in its wholeness. Such society is not wise. It is unable to help its members to be healthy. 

Wisdom of self-healing is different then the knowledge spread by the medical institutions. Although they both use life as a criterion of health, the knowledge can be transferred, can be borrowed from other, can be imparted and preached. Wisdom is difficult to be transferred from one person to another, it is an individual insight into existential dynamics born while one lives and experience these dynamics.The words of wisdom can resonate with one’s consciousness only if the latter has been already expanded and thus prepared to grasp the meaning of the words of wisdom.

The medical knowledge sets boundaries, hangs labels, separates and tends to generate precise definitions of symptoms, syndromes and diseases. Unfortunately, most of these definitions are not of help when seeking to describe the holistic nature of health. Wisdom is holistic. It accepts the infinite power of the self-healing potential of the individual and recognises that it is impossible to keep this potential imprisoned in formal definitions. 

The medical knowledge prefers logical explanations to paradoxes, while the wisdom of health thrives on paradoxes and puts more stress on the spirit of the healing process than on the search for intellectual solutions. Paradoxes cannot be resolved intellectually - it is the human spirit expressed in the motivation, beliefs and aspirations of the self-healer that make paradoxes dissolve.

6. Learning that Never Ends 

"Know thyself" - this is the apotheosis of Socrates' legacy in learning. For Socrates, the way to know oneself is also a way to know about the others and about everything that happens in nature and society. The way to know oneself is through learning not only from books, teachers and experts, but also through one’ own experience. 

What does it mean to learn from experience? Is it only to make meaning of the flow of everyday events? Making meaning is associated mostly with our mental activity. We already discussed that the mind-centred learning is partial and therefore widely open for manipulations, delusion and control. So, mind-centred learning is not a holistic process. Neither the spiritual learning is, as it is disconnected from our ability for reasoning. Forms of learning concerned only with acquisition of knowledge about our physical health, or about our feelings and emotions, subconscious drives and impulses lead to partial knowledge.

In J. Campbell's book "The Power of Myth" we read: "People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life.I don't think that is what we are really seeking.I think what we are seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."

Unfortunately, "the rapture of being alive" disappears every time when death decides to loudly send a painful signal of its coming closer. Neither the body nor the mind can happily live with such signals. The beliefs in some future resurrection or reincarnation or immortality is of help only if the whole body-mind-soul complex of an alive individual has a kind of an experience-rooted awareness about a possibility to avoid its full disintegration, despite the inevitable disintegration of its physical nature. Otherwise, without such awareness, a bare belief in immortality is similar to a self-imposed delusion. If one can only know how to evoke awareness of being in existence forever, then the rapture of being alive and healthy and the inspiration to learn and know will never end.

The synergy of ecology of learning and health ecology may well assist in bringing forth this empowering type of awareness.

7. Conclusion

Learning to be healthy aims at developing knowledge and experiential skill:

- to understand what means to be healthy at individual, social and environmental levels and what are the factors and conditions which stimulate, sustain or impede human endeavor to be healthy;

- to reveal the power of the individual self-healing capacity and to make it work when the individuals navigate through and deal with complexity of life;

- to rely upon the power of the individual self-healing capacity and not so much on the help from outside;

- to discover, create or facilitate emergence of conditions stimulating the individual self-healing capacity and not suppressing it; 

- to nourish and sustain emergence of vortices of health in human experiential space, that is, sources of health-sustaining energy rooted in human experience;

- to convert the individual self-healing capacity into health-supporting actions;

- to create, share with others and live with health-strengthening thoughts, narratives and beliefs;

- to disclose intentions and actions undertaken by those who try to impose reductionist views on health in society or to establish social, ecological, economic, etc. conditions which are destructive for the health of humans and naure.

Learning to be healthy is learning to be an inquirer into one's own health and the health of the surrounding environment.At present, we all are in the terra nullius between two health paradigms:

* the old systems paradigm in which the health of the individual relies upon external interventions to be fixed and improved, and

* the new complexity-based paradigm in which the health of the individual relies upon his or her self-healing capacity. 

Then where do we go from here; which are the ways to be healthy?This is the inquiry which bridges ecology of learning with health ecology.To conduct this inquiry requires each individual to become a practitioner of his or her own health.

Learning to be healthy is also learning to carry out the task of living healthy at individual level, without undermining the health of the group (family, community, organization, society) and nature.This task needs to be supported by each of us, if we really want to save the life on the planet.


Ecology of Learning and Fuzziology 

Fuzziology (Dimitrov, 2002a) ­ the study of fuzziness inherent in human understanding and knowing ­ and Ecology of Learning share one and the same basic postulate:

Human capacity for learning, understanding and knowing grow from within and cannot be implanted or imposed from without

Human learning, understanding and knowing are self-organising processes, and any self-organising process in nature works from inside out. The universe expands due to forces that emerge from inside of its whirling dynamics. Every single seed grows from inside when the outer conditions do not impede but stimulate this growth; so do our learning, understanding and knowing. They expand and grow from inside following the inner urge to know and self-realize when there are conditions in the external world nourishing this urge and facilitating its realization. So, there is a role for human society to play in the process of learning - not to impede our inner drive for self-realization, but to encourage its outward fulfilment. 

Bootrapping Effect of Learning

Both the Ecology of Learning and Fuzziology are centred in the self-referential nature of human understanding. What does this mean?

For us to learn in order to understand an object (a phenomenon, a process, an experiential event, ourselves, society) means to go beyond the limits of the fuzziness (uncertainty, ambiguity, vagueness, doubt) in relation to what we know about this object. But in order to move beyond the fuzziness of our understanding, the only tool we can use is again our own understanding that carries the same fuzziness. So the process of understanding ­ a process which is at the essence of any process of learning - is realisation of a bootstrapping algorithm expressed in seeding or facilitating emergence of conditions which helps fuzziness to pull itself by its own bootstraps and moves from one level (of one's understanding of reality) to another. The realisation of such bootstrapping algorithm becomes possible because the fuzziness of understanding is dynamic - it moves: shrinks and expands, accelerates and slows, hardens or softens, transforms and transcends its own dynamic patterns (Dimitrov and Hodge, 2002).

By exploring the fuzziness of understanding - its dynamic nature, sources, causes and factors affecting its motion, we are able to succeed in activating bootstrapping algorithms and thus ‘assist’ fuzziness to transcend itself in the process of learning.

The ‘levels of fuzziness' correspond to the levels of our capacity for understanding, to the levels of development (growth) of our consciousness. What is important to be emphasised is that through the efforts of our learning we are empowered to initiate the bootsrapping of fuzziness from one level to another. To say that fuzziness has moved to another level means that our understanding has moved to another level also, and what was fuzzy and incomprehensible for the mind at the level, from where the fuzziness has pulled itself, has become clear and comprehensible. Of course, this does not mean that there is no more fuzziness in our understanding, that we have won the battle with the fuzziness and succeeded to extinguish it once and for all.

Fuzziness is still 'alive' on each new level - full of vigour and potential to become denser and to expand wider. One can call the new level 'higher' or 'deeper', it does not matter; what matters is that one's understanding has become deeper, that one's consciousness has been expanded, that the limitations which fuzziness used to impose on the process of thinking at one level of one's understanding have been transcended. The inquiring mind will soon encounter the limitations that fuzziness brings with to the new level of its evolving dynamics; these limitations challenge the human mind to explore the fuzziness further and in this way cause it to move again.

Paradox of Fuzziology Projected on Ecology of Learning

Learning does not mean fighting with the fuzziness of our understanding in order to eliminate it. To eliminate fuzziness would be equivalent to stop developing not only our learning capacity but also our ability to perceive, experience, think, feel, understand, know and act, as fuzziness is inseparable from each and all of these vital processes. 

The same motivation and urges, which support the self-organisation of human consciousness, support the self-organisation of the fuzziness - its ability to expand, shrink or 'pull itself by its own bootstraps'. The dynamics of fuzziness inherent in one's understanding are, at the same time, dynamics of this very process of understanding, as understanding (and learning associated with it) means nothing but overcoming - going beyond, transcending - the limitations of fuzziness embedded in this understanding, in its motion, changes and evolution.

How easy it would be, if it were possible to separate the fuzziness from the process of understanding, to isolate it and then learn either to eliminate or keep it in captivity, while victoriously moving outside its boundaries. Unfortunately, this is impossible! Fuzziness permeates the whole process of one's understanding and not only this, it permeates one's whole life, experience and consciousness. 

The more we try to push fuzziness into only one region in our mental space - the space of our thoughts and ideas - or in our experiential space - the space where the trajectories of our lives unfold - the wider and denser its unexpected emergence in other regions. 

Through learning we create (seed, facilitate) conditions to energise and strengthen - broaden and deepen - our understanding. But at the same time, through this very process of learning we create conditions for new kinds of fuzziness to emerge and grow. Here lays the paradox of fuzziology projected on the ecology of learning:

The more intensive the process of learning, the more vigorous the expression of fuzziness in learner’s understanding.

This paradox propels the development and application of a joint approach of ecology of learning and fuzziology ­ an approach of:

ØCareful exploration of the sources, nature, dynamics, causes and effects of fuzziness imbedded in learner’s understanding;

ØNot fighting with fuzziness, but learning to grasp its self-organising (bootstrapping) dynamics and to 'nudge gently' from within, in an almost unnoticeable manner. Such gentleness and secrecy is necessary in order to avoid any vigorous emergence of undesirable psychological reactions associated with resistance to changes in the human mind (and ‘production’ of fuzziness), as these are inevitable if there are well-established patterns of one's understanding and knowing (unfortunately, such patterns always exist);

ØLearning to activate realisation of bootstrapping algorithms in human understanding by stimulating emergence of conditions which help fuzziness to 'pull itself by its own bootstraps', withdraw its limitations from a certain level of development of one’s capacity to think, feel and experience, and move to another level.

The above-formulated paradox puts emphasis on the significance of the practical realisation of the joint approach of the ecology of learning and fuzziology; each step in expanding the field of realisation of this approach has a greater value, as it deals with fuzziness of more potent nature. 

At the same time, the paradox acts in favour of increasing the applicative power of the described approach: the more 'virile' the fuzziness, the greater its capacity to transcend itself. This is of prime importance for the evolution of human thinking - for deepening of our understanding and expanding of our consciousness.

The paradox of fuzziology projected on the ecology of learning requires a high level of alertness at every stage of the process of learning in order to avoid ‘absolutizing’ of what is considered known. According to this paradox, one can expect that the higher the level of consciousness (that is, the wiser an individual), the easier the fuzziness can pull itself from that level, and yet it is clear that learning efforts need to be applied and conscious actions to be undertaken for this to happen. With no learning efforts applied and no actions undertaken, fuzziness can never be made move, no matter how high its self-organising potential


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©V. Dimitrov, 2002