What needs rewilding?
"One cannot master set research tasks if one makes a single part the focus of interest. One must, rather, continuously dart from one part to another — in a way that appears extremely flighty and unscientific to some thinkers who place value on strictly logical sequences — and one’s knowledge of each of the parts must advance at the same pace." (K. Lorenz)
In this excerpt from “The Foundations of Ethology”, Konrad Lorenz suggests that, when studying an animal, one should try to grasp the whole before focusing on its individual parts. He called this approach Ganzheitsbetrachtung (holistic contemplation), and argued that animals can only be investigated effectively by looking for an intuitive understanding grounded in love and respect.
I believe we should push this idea forward, and rather than contemplate the whole of an animal, a plant, a fungus or a microbe, start to contemplate the entirety of the ecosystem they (and we) belong to.
Ecology is the study of the relationships among living organisms, but it has the potential to be the study of living systems and their dynamic complexity and self-regulating diversity.
In my experience, if approached holistically, the study of living systems deals with processes rather than organisms, flows rather than sources, relationships rather than identities, beings rather than individuals. The observer's mind is recognised as part of the system and its biases and function openly explored.
To observe a whole, one needs to observe with the whole, that is, with a balance of sensorial, intellectual and emotional faculties, without letting one overcome the others.
If man is to undergo this paradigm shift, a radical humbleness is needed. When it comes to studying the ecosystems we are part of, it is helpful to realise that we may not be intelligent beings, but just part of an intelligent system - as Ernst Götsch likes to say.
Human agency on entire ecosystems or even the planet is just an emergent property. Three eminent astrobiologists recently pushed this idea even further, by arguing that intelligence is a planetary scale process. The anthropocentrism that is so central in our civilisations and cultures is probably the main obstacle to our full integration within the natural systems we are part of.
What needs rewilding is our mind.