Anatomy of Change


The Five[1] Degrees of Change

Change in a society, and ultimately change in the human society as a whole, can be induced at five levels:

Level 1. Systems and structures

A system is “a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole”. A structure is “the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex.” From the subatomic particle to the universe and beyond, everything is organised in systems and it forms structures.

Humans also do it. We form families, groups and societies to satisfy our needs and further evolution. Economic systems guarantee the material needs of societies, with structures such as corporations and non-profit organisations. Political systems define how decisions are made. While spiritual systems nurture our search for transcendence.

Human systems and structures are constructs limited only by our available knowledge and level of understanding. Hence, without applying new knowledge, a group is destined to conceive the same old systems, build the same structures, and interpret both in the same ways. Thus, the conception of new ways of organising ourselves and our surroundings require the expansion of knowledge and a higher degree of understanding.

Level 2. Knowledge and Understanding

Knowledge is true and justified belief, as opposed to opinion. It is up to a society or a group to decide what to consider true knowledge. To assist in the process, a model or pattern is used, with the beliefs that best align with the established model being more easily accepted as knowledge. The resulting models are called paradigms. This means that without changing paradigms, the beliefs to be accepted as knowledge will remain essentially the same.

Level 3. Paradigms and Worldviews

There are several definitions for paradigm; with the most popular one being that “A paradigm is a set of common beliefs and agreements shared between scientists about how problems should be understood and addressed”[2]. An example of paradigm in science is positivism, which believes in the existence of an objective reality and emphasises observation and reason as means towards its ultimate understanding. A different paradigm is constructivism, which puts the emphasis on the subjective interpretations of that “reality”, without pretending that there is a right way of perceiving it common to all of us.

Worldview constitutes the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world, which results from a collection of beliefs and values held by an individual or group.” For example, the anthropocentric worldview of the West is based on the split between humans at the centre, with Nature occupying the periphery. Nature is believed to be there to satisfy our needs. In contrast with this view, the indigenous worldview stands from a completely different set of values and beliefs, one in which humans are part of Nature instead of separated from it and in which the same value is given to any of its expressions, whether be tangible or non-tangible, human or non-human.

From these two definitions it can be inferred that without changing values and beliefs, we are going to look at the world (worldview) in the same old way, and conceive the same type of models (paradigms). This constitutes the fourth level at which change is possible.

Level 4. Values and Beliefs

Values are judgements of what is important in life. Beliefs are the things we accept to exists and to be true.

Current Western society is based on three predominant masculine values of competitiveness, formality and rationality. The article Current Imbalances argues that those three words can be easily negated with a prefix (incompetent, informal and irrational), but the same it is not possible with their feminine complementarities, which are:

  • Collaboration, as the complement of competitiveness
  • Spontaneity, as the pair of formality
  • Intuition, as the companion of rationality.

This is how language leads us to compare those four masculine values with their negative polar expression rather than with their feminine pair. As a consequence, we come to perceive these opposites as the only possible counterparts and hence the masculine attribute as the only viable option. This makes our current society biased towards an extreme built on competitiveness, formality and rationality.

There is another value, one associated with the dominant economic system. It is the value of money, this is, the commoditisation of everything by giving it a value always expressed in monetary terms. This trend is discussed in the article “A Number of Man“.

In regards to beliefs, this article considers that the Western paradigms and worldviews are mostly based on the following ten beliefs:

  1. Time as lineal; which creates the illusion of everlasting progress.
  2. Space as external, discontinuous, and without substance (as emptiness); whichleads to the perception of things as separated and the illusion of “objectivity”.
  3. Reality as an abstraction; which results in a tendency to categorise and schematise everything, reducing it to models not only detached from “reality” but also confused with “reality”.
  4. Intangibility as illusory; which encourages the perception of the tangible as the only real substance.
  5. Effects as lineal, mechanical and quantifiable; which creates the impression that outcomes can be manipulated by acting upon its parts and can be quantified if the inputs are known.
  6. Union as the result of homogeneity; which creates the impression that heterogeneity is a source of conflict.
  7. Duality perceived as an absolute rather than as a relative idea; which leads to the negation of the shadow.
  8. Nature as hierarchical; which brings about an anthropocentric worldview that perceives evolution as linear and bottom-up, from simple to the complex, with everything except humans deprived from consciousness.
  9. Evolution as competition; which justifies conflict and the survival of the fittest.
  10. Maximisation as desirable; which breaks the natural balance of things by notrealising that nature does not maximise, but instead optimises.

Without changing those ten beliefs, the Western paradigms and worldviews will essentially remain unchanged. However, it is possible to go one step deeper when considering that those values and beliefs are mostly justified by a given set of laws of thought. Therefore, without changing those laws, the values and beliefs will mostly remain unchanged.

Level 5. Laws of Thought

The concept has different meanings depending on the author[3]. Russell considers that the most important thing “is not the fact that we think in accordance with these laws, but the fact that things behave in accordance with them; in other words, the fact that when we think in accordance with them we think truly.”[4].

Consequently, they define the only level of the five which is not a human construct but a set of natural principles. They could be described as axiomatic rules of formal ontology. That is, a set of self-evident or easily proven propositions; applicable to everything; which can help us to reason and understand the nature of “reality” and the relationships it defines.We could define them as the intersection point between logic and ontology or, said another way, that which is common to them both.

The philosophies that in the West have been most influential in defining those set of principles are:

  1. Ancient Greece, especially the works of Plato and Aristotle,
  2. The Judaeo-Christian tradition.

The three traditional laws of Western thought began with Plato, were further developed by Aristotle, and refined by the scholastics of the Middle Ages [5]. Russell[6] defines them as:

  1. The law of identity: “Whatever is, is.”
  2. The law of contradiction: “Nothing can both be and not be.”
  3. The law of excluded middle: “Everything must either be or not be.”

The law of identity tells us that things are composed by their own unique set of qualities or features, which the ancient Greeks called “essence”. Considering the laws of thought as “axiomatic rules of formal ontology” and defining ontology as “a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them”[7], it becomes self-evident that the three previous laws are dealing with the properties of things (a.k.a. their essence) instead of the relationships they define with other things. This results in the first essential trait of the dominant ontologies: their attempt to define things by their essence, instead of by how they relate to the rest.

This tendency to define things by their essence is also present in Judaic, Christian and Islamic belief. The three monotheistic religions describe God as One, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. As such, God cannot be related to anything else, because nothing falls outside His or Her domain. The result is an ineffable God. According to Boulding, “we always pay for generality by sacrificing content, and all we can say about practically everything is almost nothing”[8]. Therefore, not much can be inferred from a God that is everything, and whatever is said will necessarily fall under the domain of blind faith and doctrinal belief.

In scientific thought the same idea dominates. Science talks about the Universe, a word that etymologically means: everything becoming (versus) one (uni). It talks about the Singularity, from which everything emanates and which comes from the Latin singularis, meaning alone.

Therefore, whether be God or the Singularity, for both Western religion and science everything emanates from one single principle. And whether be the Absolute or the Universe, everything is perceived as being One or moving towards One.

In contrast with the Hellenistic philosophy and the monotheistic worldview, there are traditions which focused on the relationships between things rather than their essence. As a result, they do not define one principle, because The One cannot relate to anything else than to itself. Instead, they define two principles, thus creating a duo-verse (everything becoming two). The name they give to those two principles is not relevant, because their nature is not defined by what they are but by how they relate to the other and how each relationship seeks balance. Thus, it is the type of relationships formed with their surrounding environment that define the essence of things and not the other way around.

To mention but a few of the names given to those two principles, there is: The Yin and Yang of Taoism; the Shiva and Shakti of Tantrism; the Pachamama and Pachatata of the Andean worldview; the Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl of the Aztecs; the Upper World and the Underworld of many shamanic traditions, and the Isis and Osiris of Ancient Egypt. As it can be observed, most of those traditions are either from the East or originating among the Indigenous Peoples.

This need to put the emphasis on the relationships is also starting to permeate Western thought. Western science is currently developing a General System Theory, understood as “a scientific discipline concerned with the explanations of various phenomena, regardless of their specific nature, in terms of the formal relationships between the factors involved and the ways they are transformed under different conditions”[9]. The result is what Boulding has called “a new language of theory; a mathematics of quality and structure, in contrast to the well developed “classical” mathematics of quantity and number”[10].

This gives hope for change. However, we cannot wait for science to conceive a General System Theory and for that theory to permeate other scientific fields to the point that its starts defining new beliefs, paradigms, knowledge and systems.

Therefore, overcoming the present environmental crisis requires humanity to radically change its current social, economic, political, and spiritual systems; its existing paradigms and worldviews; and the things we value and hold true, because we are disconnected and alienated from Nature, from each other, and from ourselves. By radically I mean that we should change them “from their root” (radic = root).


  1. There are seven levels or layers. The article only deals with 5 of them.
  2. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (pp. 1–222). Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Audi, R (ed.) 1999, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy Second, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  4. Russell, B 1912, The Problems of Philosophy H Fisher, G Murray, A Thomson, & W Brewster (eds), Williams and Norgate, London, UK, p.113
  5. Hamilton, W 1860, Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic, in Two Volumes. HL Mansel & J Veitch (eds), Gould and Lincoln, Boston, USA.
  6. Russell, B 1912, The Problems of Philosophy H Fisher, G Murray, A Thomson, & W Brewster (eds), Williams and Norgate, London, UK, p.113
  7. Oxford Dictionary 2017b, ‘Definition of Ontology’, Oxford Dictionaries, accessed October 26, 2017b, from
  8. Boulding, KE 1956, ‘General System Theory’, Management Science, vol. 2, pp. 1–13\. p.197
  9. Masarovic, MD & Takahara, Y 1975, General Systems Theory: Mathematical Foundations, Academic Press, New York, USA., p.1
  10. Boulding, KE 1956, ‘General System Theory’, Management Science, vol. 2, pp. 1–13, p.197