The relationship between organism and environment is one in which there is an unnecessary duality. As humans we often take the environment to be of the third-person. Put in another way the consensus has been one in which the environment is seen as a big “it” we all live in. This ‘it’ has behavior from hurricanes and ocean waves to the formation of planets and stars. Most importantly for us, it has a behavior we call human beings. This ‘it’ is also seemingly governed by laws which when observed show an order we are still uncovering and may never be able to fully explain. There are multitudes of transactions between variables in the environment which reveal that what is at first two very independent forms with hardly anything in common, secretly need each other to exist. These transactions are at times even unconscious.
Humans need oxygen as we all know. We also know that trees produce this oxygen. Trees produced the oxygen we breathe but that is not the entire story. In turn trees need CO². I’m sure it is of no surprise to you all that we, as living things, are a source of a large portion of the natural CO² trees need. This type of situation is like the left and right hand. With both working together we can get along pretty well. If one of them goes away however, without any sort of replacement, the survival of the other becomes much more difficult. In the same way if trees and other oxygen producing parts of the environment were to somehow be removed, we might find our own potential to live in jeopardy. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, we typically find a way to make things happen and we could possibly develop some replacement. The fact of the matter is that a part of an ‘it’ we call an environment, is much closer to our own left hand than it is to a third-person pronoun.
We can take this left hand example and apply it to nearly anything in the environment, even something as non-living as the motion of planets. It seems to me this is a system, which depending on how it is operating, looks very different. No trees? Well, everything changes in order to correlate with that new bigger picture. Potentially new forms of life which do not rely on oxygen. If motions of planets somehow are shifted? Same thing, maybe the Earth becomes a desolate place charred by the heat of the sun. This isn’t about the trees however, or the motions of the planets, it’s about us. We treat ourselves as if we are not a part of this system, an absolutely fundamental one.
If we were to take humans out of the picture, the environment would have to change in order to adjust according to the harmonious nature of the universe. Now, some may say that seems like a pretty nice picture for everything else, but that’s not the discussion here. The point is, the organism-environment picture is one that is possible to be seen as a unity. The problem is, this is not common sense. We don’t feel it in our gut that we’re a necessary piece of the way things are, we’re taught to treat ourselves more like a victim to the way things are but it just simply isn’t necessarily so. The laws which go together, the way things just seem to work out, have an extremely intricate relationship in order for anything to be the way it currently is. One part of this relationship, an absolutely necessary part, is you.
Think of every person you’ve ever met. The important ones, the non-important ones, which helped shape you into the person you are today. Now imagine every person you haven’t met, who shaped those people in order for them to create the impression on you that they did. Wonder about those that have died, who in their time shaped the world in the same way leading up to everyone alive today. You are without a doubt, even just mentally speaking, an important process in this universal puzzle. As humans though, we don’t feel important. Much of philosophy is done because of the idea that we’re rather insignificant. A lot of that has to do with the observation that ‘it’ is so big, and ‘we’ are so small.
We have drawn a line in the sand my friends, of which we ourselves are but grains. If we can start to take note of the lines we have drawn between us and it, and see how transparent they are, we can begin to see through our insignificance and it’s deadness which are a result of such lines. We can become aware that we are more enmeshed with the environment than we are enclosed in it. That the environment is alive and we are living proof.