Western scientific method is dominated by specialisation in disciplines and by “reductionism” – the idea that natural phenomena can be explained and understood in terms of their smallest parts. Specialisation and reductionism have been highly successful and have led to a great many major scientific breakthroughs. But the dominance of this approach in science is now being called into question.
Schumacher College’s MSc in Holistic Science explores new transdisciplinary methodologies that are gaining success in explaining natural systems. These recognize that complex systems have “emergent properties” that describe their characteristics as wholes and that these properties are conditioned, but not determined, by the system’s constituent parts.
The course offers methodologies that go beyond reductionism in understanding the dynamics of whole systems, which are explored at all levels from individual organisms to organizations, and from ecosystems to the Earth. Integrating qualitative and quantitative approaches which include, for example, chaos and complexity theories, computer modelling, intuitive perception and co-operative inquiry, students develop an holistic understanding of these systems and learn to work with them creatively.
A reductionist explanation of nature is not only incomplete, it can also be dangerous. It leads us to assume that by analysing the “mechanical” workings of nature we can predict and hence manipulate it. In genetic engineering, for example, conventional scientists believe that genes are of primary importance in determining all the characteristics and behaviour of organisms. Holistic science recognises that a methodology that ignores the ecological context, complexity, emergent properties and intrinsic value of life, cannot capture the whole story.
The new paradigm may be called an holistic world view, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a disassociated collection of parts. It may also be called an ecological view, if the term “ecological” is used in a much broader and deeper sense than usual. Deeper ecological awareness recognises the fundamental interconnectedness of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature.
Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, Harper Collins, 1996
The MSc in Holistic Science advocates a participatory science of qualities, values and interactions which underpins an ecological world view. This approach is more capable than traditional science of relating to the problems of environmental degradation, spiritual decline and collapsing communities that face humanity today.
Holistic thinking is already revolutionising many aspects of science. It is generating increasing interest from scientists in fields such as physics, earth system science, ecology, evolutionary biology, management and economics, health studies and design, and is especially significant to those concerned with issues relating to sustainability. This is the first Master’s programme to present a coherent methodology of holistic inquiry, providing a rigorous and ethical framework for a mature science.
Graduates of the MSc in Holistic Science will be able to take a broad, integrated, systemic approach to, for example, environmental management, education for sustainability, biological research, business management or health issues. They will be equipped with skills ideally suited to self-employment or professional consultancies.
Schumacher College is a uniquely appropriate place for the study of holistic science. The learning environment at the College has been designed to embody and nurture holistic and ecological values. As a practical expression that living and learning be part of one whole, staff and course participants are jointly responsible for daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning, and gardening and land management. MSc students also engage in these tasks, as full members of the learning community.
As well as having access to first-rate educational resources, students benefit from interaction with internationally renowned visiting teachers, and a diversity of short-course participants, who bring with them a wealth of professional and personal experiences.
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