Can design become a form of healing?

Transcript from his talk at the colloquium on metadesign on 28th June 2007

By Otto Van Nieuwenhuijze (external link)

What I would like to address is basically that everything comes down to human beings. We are talking about design, which is about the use of materials in a context, but now, as Naomi already pointed out, design is done by designers, science is done by scientists, and we are at the moment living in a kind of culture which has sort of abstracted everything, as if it was an idea, but at the same time materialised everything as if it is to be an object, and at least to a material object, that sort of lives separated from us, for what I know, that is a reality we do not live in, and practically, technically speaking, that is the kind of reality that traditionally is called hell. Hell being an old english word for “helling off”, to separate, to set apart. That basically is a non livable system, you cannot live in that. So anything that is locked in a hell - a closed system - is basically non-existent for our purposes of being, because we cannot know it, and if we live in one - we die.
So, the only thing that we know of is a semi-closed system, or something that is leaky but tries to be closed. Like people trying to cave themselves in, or seal themselves off, but that is very expensive to do, because you cannot live like that, and I will come back to this. In fact, our body system shows how this works, and how the body demostrates all the principles of trying to live separately from the context, and not managing to do so is called disease. So, basically I would like to present the idea that all the solutions that we are looking for are already there and built into our body. For those who don’t know me, I have a background in engineering, where I learnt to look at materials as science does, and of course I also discovered that science has no way to describe the undescribable, it cannot know the unknown. And yet like religion, it tries to understand that. So, what is it that we can learn about the things that we don’t know? How can we deal with that, how can we cope with that? So after my engineering studies, system theory was the most sound language on that. I was living in London for a while, (as a result I don’t have to speak Dutch with you) and I Iearnt that there are many cultures and that they are each in a different context, in a different language, try to address living in the same body, in the same universe, and I came to the conclusion that all these cultures are like organs in the body. They have different perspectives, they have different views but together they are able to do more than alone. It is the organisity, and that is the point which I would like to bring up - that we need this difference in perspective, because that extends the scope of what we can cope with.
And again, we see that in the body, in the way that organs work together, and can, as a result, build our body as we experience our daily lives. Evidently, everybody has a body so what I talk about is easy to understand, but that I came to understand when I went to medical school later. Basically because I was working with some four dimentional logic: yes, no, maybe and I don’t know. And that is the logic of what happens if you go into the boundary of the yes/no. At the boundary itself you have yes and no, but at the same time you take a right turn, whichever right way you want to turn, and you are in the boundary, and suddenly the separator is a connector, and so that is a logic by which you can open all closed systems. It’s the magic key and in fact, our body is an example, and every cell membrane is one of those magical keys. So this is the kind of background that I would like to use in presenting some of the ideas, and presenting a view which John knows, because I have presented it in his classes: If designers create something which is successful, and they have a concept or an object that works very well, it is perhaps produced by the millions, and then: does it harm or heal the planet? So I invite them to be healers and consider themselves as doctors, and in that way design could be the quickest way to heal society and the planet.

So, the starting point is that these ideas which I carry can be easily connected to this notion of design and designers. And designers are people who create concepts and products, but in doing so they use their mind, so they need to have the cultural code of consensus creation, so they need to understand the language of the people they talk with, and talk by, and the more they understand that and they can integrate it within themselves, the more they can come out with creative solutions in this other language that we use, not the spoken language, but the technology language, the creation of objects. So designers create objects which, basically, everytime, add a new word into the language of technology, by which we humans interface into our context and the culture and nature. And if they understand that well and the more they understand how they are connected to the universe, the more whatever they produce does that as well. One of the wonderful things that John presents in his course is that the students learn to think in that way, and when they actually operate in that way, when they can connect to the way they are part of nature - everything they produce will be part of nature and automatically it will be healing.

The idea which I would like to present now is that the integrity that you would like to have also at the benchmark level. If a design product is actually healthy for nature and culture, is it based and does it actually reflect the way we function and not to put us in the center or pivot role that we are the Gods, creators of the universe. We can create Gods and that makes us more powerful than Gods, but as in our body, we actually experience the connectedness of mind and matter and in our body we see how we are a part of creation and as a result we can create.

Mind and matter have been put apart as if they were separate. This basically, is not a design flaw. It is just a primitive approach, starting to learn something that is very complex. When science was created because there were some people preaching a religion and said “if it is not in a book, it is not so”. There were people who discover that perhaps that was not so that it wouldn’t be so. So they started to experiment for themselves what it is reality like, and how can reality be if we find things which are different than what is written in this book.
So empirical studies came out of that, people started to explore things, they started to have correspondence with each other, they came up with findings, they shared ideas and they published that, and that was the starting point of empirical science, and the creation of consensus on things that were not printed in this book - the bible. So basically there were these other books that were printed with the views of what reality was like, and interestingly enough, now people say that if it is not in that book, it is un-scientific so the circle has come to a closure.
But the basic idea of science and sciencing is the same as that of religion trying to find out: can we know the unknown? Can we learn about the things that otherwise we wouldn’t know how to deal with? and that learning ability requires that the world that we have within us, our experience, our understanding, our knowledge, our concsiousness, is somehow linked to the physical world around us.
Intriguinly enough, science has come to backtracking from where we are: it turns out that the Earth is just a frozen globe of sun, the sun is just a liquid bit of cosmic gas, and cosmic gas was created out of polarization of something which is totally immaterial. And so the space phase which is actually before the Big Bang is actually the basis of information and the basis of coherence of everything we know. So by the fields of science now, everything material is fundamentaly immaterial. Now you see that also the way that classical theory went back to the theory of relativity, which basically describes the chemistry of the universe, and after that it was refined as the quantum theory, which is basically the nebulous formation and deformation of the universe, and field theory now esentially describes that everything material is inmaterial.
We live that, and so science, in a way, has not yet managed to describe that in a very explicit sense, although they already know it, and medicine which is supposed to be able to deal with this, because it is supposed to be able to heal us, and thus being able to integrate the way we understand things with the way we live things, and correct it if we have errors in our computation, if we have errors in our understanding. But it can´t, because the medicine that is being used here bases itself on a very antique form of science - material objective science, which basically reduces people to cadavers and the difference between a living being and a dead being is that living beings have fredoom of choice as is that integration of information in matter which makes life so intriging.

So, designers actually cannot use science as a model, they cannot use medicine, as it is presented here, as a model, but they in themselves already are the model, if they only know how their body integrates those two. And basically at a level of healing you can say that, at the moment that somebody is connected into their context, so the universe repeates or replicates itself within the living being - then they are healthy, and the moment that that connection is lost - they start to be separated from that - then they have a disease.
In our body we experience that conection all the time. In our body we see what science and religion cannot separately describe. In our body we see how what each aims for and can actually be is experienced by everybody.
Our body always integrates mind and matter. If the information part is no longer connected to the material part - you are dead. It always links the unknown to the known. Our body is not a machine, it is like a super computer which actually computes the body as it goes along. And so, the body that you have is composed out of individual cells who learnt to synergise. … has described this wonderful work of how the symbiosis of different cells made it possible for our first cell to originate and as a result, different kind of cells could work together in what we now call the organs, and create a body much larger than that one of the microbial cells, with which we started, and thus how organic functions with organs of different types working together, but as a result we can bridge differences, we can relate the known and the unknow but also, we can relate subject and object, we can see what it is to be in both sides of the boundary because we have more than one cell in our system.

Basically, the fundamental part of the whole of medicine is that reality is a realisation, there is no such a thing called reality. Even the consensus about reality, what we call things, reality is not real, it is just an agreement, because everything outside of us is always in evolution, and our own being is part of that evolution. It is not separate from it, and all that we know of it, is in the way we participate and interact with it. So it is our realisation that is at the same time the basis of our experience of reality, and our experience of learning, our exerience of healing and also of forming community.
As a said I went in to medical school because I was working on this four dimensional logic of how the part relates to the whole, and this is a very simple scheme of how you can see that the physical and non-physical are integrated in our body. So, body, mind, soul, spirit are equivalent of what we know as the physical body, the flow processes in the body, the neurochrine and the hormonal regulation of the body. And the self-awareness of the body itself, and the context which is the basis of healing and health. But at the same time, our cells are forming our organs, which together form our body. But in the same way the cells in your body form your body, your body is a cell in the body of humanity. So humanity is the organism that we are part of, and humanity is the organism that we are forming, and humanity is just one of the live forms, as one of the organs on the planet.
It is strange that we have not been educated to have awareness of this. In fact, we have not been educated to have awareness of the different levels of consiousness that are involved, because we are not realizing the enormous extent of reflexes by which we operate, and how that determines our reactions, and thus - our interactions. And that leaves us the choice of what we do in our lives and if you look on a screen like this - just one pixel on the screen is the amount of consciousness that we use in operating what you call life, your life.
In this scheme, there is a view in which you can see that our body is the example of the way in which mind and matter are connected, and in that sense, we can use the body as an example to apply that also in our environment, in creating design, in making objects. We automatically always use these principles in the body because there is no tool that humans have made which is not made by humans, as a result and extension of the way we function.
The way we function is based on very simple principles. If you look at the first cell that your body emerges out of then you can see that it divides: it divides again, and it keeps on dividing until it starts to inter-divide and replicate itself. In the division, you actually see different forms of logic come in, the functioning of a single cell is different than a two cell system, in which point of contact you actually see the emergence, on the basis of anti-nerouronal system, the nerve system, and the hormonal system. Basically, if you see it as one ball, and you rotate it, and you end up with two, that point of contact, if you extend that, that is the nerve system. If you rotate it back just a bit, then you have this duct, which is the base of the hormonal system, so whatever is separate is still connected, and every membrane is not a separator but a connector.
Divide it again and then you can see that within the system you have a choice, and not just going from one cell to the other, but you have different pathways to go there, and in fact, this is the whole basis of our digestive system; how we assimilate and dissimilate, how we incorporate and disincorporate. Once step further and you can see how the organisity of the body is actually there at the level of (in this case) the octave, the part repeats itself at a larger scale, so the organ is the higher level octave of the cell, and the body, later on, is the higher level octave of the organ, and all of that in a simple system, in which degrees of freedom are built into the body. The body becomes more complex, yet always remains simple and always remains in contact with the environment.

Within the body, as we know, we have the mineral system, the vegetative system, the animal system and the cognitive system. In fact they just built up one level on top of the other, making use of what was there before. So, in our body, we actually have the mineral, we have the plant, we have the animal and we have our view on that, and by learning how to use that, we can also see how we connect to everything else in life but also in material realm. In the material realm you see that also, because our body is a very tricky kind of thing, is not a thing at all, it is the result of a computation of living cells, and every material in your body has been succreted by cells, like a house of a snail that has been produced by living cells. Every bone in your body is a result of cells interacting and communicating. In your body there is no material which is physical in any sense, all of the materials in your body are the type that are desired for in super computers. Every material is responsive to what thoughts you have, the bones in your body are re-sculpted by the cells, if you walk or not. And every, for example, I put calcium in here and how the calcium in your food at some point goes into the blood circulation so it can be used in the nerve system to create your awareness of the context. Your bone is just a battery for calcium for your sensory system perception. None of the materials is in any fixed form. So whatever you know as physical, say anatomical, is just a result of a physiological processes, which deposited the material there, like rivers put materials at the side of their bedding, but the flows of these rivers is already adapted to the interactions that we have with our context, and so all of your physiology is regulated by the way you perceive your reality: You are stressed or not stressed, it accelerates or disaccelerates how the flows take place in your body. This regulatory system, however, is based on how you perceive your environment: Do you feel you connected with it or not, and that is the only basis of health and disease. If you experience your connectiveness with it, then the processes of the universe just keep on going on in your body. If you don’t feel that, you separate and the processes inside of your body somehow need to cope with no longer knowing how the rest of your body works. Cancer is a very good example of that. Cancer cells are simply cells that have been stressed so often and so long, that they can no longer communicate with that environment which for them is so stressful. They switch off, go back one level, and just keep on doing what they are doing. They don’t even know that they are blowing up the rest of the system, because they just keep on doing what they are doing. Cancer cells are easily healed by re-polarizing the electrical field around them, re-establishing the connection with the context and they remember. Of course you have to get into another lifestyle because the stresses don’t help for that to happen.
At this level, your physical body is not physical at all. It is physical chemistry, electro-magnetic and it is an information field. That gives you some different view than you got in school probably. In the achitectutre of your body can actually see that. In a way you can say, that the first cell is here, then the second cell level is there, the next division level is there, and then the second division level is on the top. In fact, every time you divide, you get more membranes to have different ways, more ways, to interface with the environment, and as you can see what we consider to be the structure of the body and the way we regard the body are in reverse, and so the basis of the body is the first cell, which is a cell being able to live and survive by itself, and that we see at the bottom of our physical body, and it is called the secrum, the holy bone. In fact, it is a cell living in the holy bone which is able to live on Earth.
At the second level, you see that this cell is able to act and interact in the context, is able to maintain its balance within the context. And this we experience as the vegetative system, considered to be the roots of the tree of your body. In fact, like the tree standing in the soil with the roots, in this case the roots are folded in and the guts in your body is where the soil makes contact with your living system.

Next level up, is where the leaves of the tree are folded in, your heart and your lung is the exchange, that is where the cell, not only is able to preserve its membrane but is actually able to follow the tides of the change of the environment.
One level further up, the systems inverts and you actually have a world view within your system, the cell can actually anticipate to some extent what happens outside, it has its picture of the outer world and as a result can incorporate that. You have knowledge of the unknown so that the known in your body can anticipate and interact with that. Our body is a very clever thing indeed.

These different levels of say, the holy bone, the hara, the heart and the head, they relate to different cell functions. The sake of the holy bone is a cell living by itself, the hara is the membrane of the cell and the heart is the cell communicating and interacting with the environment, the head is the cell knowing of itself in the context, and thus, being able to regulate these other functions. But they are associated with totally different levels of consciousness. In knowing our environment, we have our conscious perception, but these feed into the subconscious processes of what your body already does to relate and interact with the environment. The brain doesn’t direct, it corrects the way you interact with the environment. It helps say, steer the horse of our body on which we ride to make it tune-in with the changes of the environment. The subconscious processes, however, and this is where we know what happens in the environment. Processes already take place in the body, subconsciously, but at the organ level, where we are not conscious of what happens, because it happens all the time, it is the foundation of how we interact with the environment. We have the unconcious levels of awareness and they basically determine how your organs function by themselves and how the organs interact and communicate with each other. There is a deeper level yet where the function of the cell is already determined by the nature of the context and the basis of your living cell is the same as that of the universe. To link that in, when a designer knows that and uses that, automatically, as I said before, the design will reflect that.

Basically it all boils down to understanding how we function because our body is that connector by which we are one with the context. If we don’t have that connectedness, we go sick, we die. It is a self-eliminating procedure.

The way that design needs to fit into the context is the same way that we need to fit into the context. Our body, what I described before, is how that at a physical level and the functional level integrates. But we have the same at the social level. So, the cell from which we emerged through symbiosis. It managed to create an organ system which then symbiosed to the next level that we can actually work as an organism. But as I said before, humans are the cells of humanity, and so humanity is, in fact, the organism that we are dealing with, and the differences of perspective of the different people and the different cultures, are just as important as the unique existence of the individual cells in the body. What we, however, lack, is a language in which we can describe this. The reason for that is what I mentioned before, these different levels of consciousness. How we are no longer aware how all these things are happening automatically, the things we take for granted, because they are granted. Because in our four million years of history as human beings, that has already been incorporated into our cells. We know how to survive in our context, all the things your pre-ancesters were dead from, they could not pass on in your genes because at that time they were already dead. You have your near-death experiences of them, and all that, but you know how to live and survive on the planet because that is built into your cells, and that is when we apply that for humanity, then humanity can get a different function, which is that of the steward for Earth, not the care-takers but the care-givers to the environment. For that, you need to know the environment, and that again, is based right on the way we function, and the cells already do that, so the cells have membranes, and they are the brain of the cell, and the sensory cells, capture the information of the environment, they respond to that, they relay that into a neuron. The neurons meet up into this plate of spaghetti which is called the neoronal plexis, and there it sort of goes into a balance, and the things which are different are relayed on to the brain, and the brain integrates this information. It doesn’t make decisions - it just looks at what is new, what is different, and in which way should we know.