Is There A Scientific Basis For Kindness?

Dr Claudius van Wyk, founder of the Holos Project, explores some reflections upon the scientific foundations of a philosophy of kindness – from chemistry and biology to psychology and society. [i]

The survival of the fittest relationships!

Recent holistic scientific perspectives show bonding and collaboration to be a driving force behind human evolution, so much so that a more accurate interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution could be seen as the survival and flourishing of ‘the fittest relationships’ !

As a Christian, had he been alive today, Darwin would have been saddened and surprised, to find his theory of evolution, has been mechanistically reduced to the simplistic idea of the ‘survival of the fittest’ and consequently used to justify, life-degrading and unethical practices and worldviews. This misrepresentation has surely been a factor in society’s fixation on power and control rather than on reciprocity and shared purpose.

Kindness

The root word of kindness is ‘kin’ which refers to ‘kinship’ and ‘family’. ‘Kindness’ is usually described as behaviour marked by the ethical characteristics of concern and consideration for others and is considered a virtue in many cultures and religions. The root of the word kindness is ‘kin’ which refers to ‘kinship’ and ‘family’. ‘Kindness’ is usually defined as a behaviour marked by the ethical characteristics of concern and consideration for others and is considered a virtue in many cultures and religions.

A process resembling ‘kinship’ – the clustering into constellations for risk minimisation and synergetic benefit– is evident even at the level of organic chemistry through the process of bonding. Chemical ‘synergy’ is when chemicals form such bonds that the whole no longer resembles the parts.

Chemistry

A phenomenon resembling ‘kinship’ – the clustering into constellations for risk minimisation and synergetic benefit – is evident even at the level of organic chemistry through the process of bonding. Chemical ‘synergy’ is when chemicals form such bonds that the whole no longer resembles the parts.

Biology

In biology, symbiosis occurs when organisms form mutually beneficial relationships. A further development – endosymbiosis – begins to resemble the synergetic effect found in chemistry when the parts get enfolded in a greater whole – such as in the cell.

Ecology

Organisms within ecosystems are interdependent for survival. Symbiosis and interdependence form the basis of forest ecologies for example, where plants animals, microbes, fungi and soil form a supportive web of life in differentiated roles of energy producers, consumers and decomposers – to such an extent that it is not possible to understand a tree without understanding the complex interrelationships, exchanges and communications that go to making the forest as a whole.

Until recently during the first three industrial revolutions, mechanical metaphors and linear thinking have dominated our thinking. But over recent decades eco-literate thinking and new disciplines such as systems thinking, and complexity science, have emerged to provide a more effective and holistic perspective. [ii] 

Holism

The little-known originator of holism, Jan Christian Smuts, [iii] whom Einstein and Churchill held in high regard, spoke about ‘affinities’ of attraction and opposites of repulsion. For his holistic science, this demonstrated the drive to greater integration, through collaborative relationship, as the driving force of evolution.  

In contrast to populist misinterpretations of Darwin’s idea of evolution, Smuts suggested that evolution was rather the realization of potentials through collaborative processes. In the human, social world the greatest achievements have been made by collaboration and sharing – of which science itself is the foremost example. Smuts suggested a further step was justified and built upon Lamarck’s controversial suggestion, that there was some kind of intention behind evolution. Both richness of diversity and symbiotic affinities account for the evolutionary ascension of matter into life, and life to mind, mind to personality, personality to society, and society to the generation of universal ‘values’.

Social Systems

In human social systems, the concept of bonding, or kinship, and therefore expressions of kindness, can also be considered as evolutionary.

Evolutionary cultural psychology [iv] has suggested there is a process of maturity – an ascending spiral of human, psychological ‘archetypes’ based on different types of increasingly effective bonding motivations.

For example ‘cavemen’ bonded for survival, whereas ‘clansman’ did so for security. In reaction to the collectivism of the clan, ‘Warrior archetypes’ bonded for power and control. In contrast to such excessive individualism, ‘Lawmakers’ bonded to protect the civil or religious rules of a prevailing societal worldview, faith or ideology. In a further stage of cultural reaction, Entrepreneurs developed relationships and perspectives focused upon achieving individual goals, whereas increasingly today Humanists bond around human solidarity and mutual respect.

Pyscho – Social Stages Of History

These psychosocial perspectives represent the stages in history that we have collectively reached to date. However, we are currently readying ourselves for a further leap towards a new stage of evolution represented by Systems-Thinkers – who are able to see [the whole] from multiple perspectives and strategically share information about existential challenges.

Systems Thinkers and even more evolved archetypes have reached a level of consciousness called ‘second-tier thinking‘ that is able to look back over our previous forms of motivation from a meta-level of thinking.

Yet more evolved higher perspectives, exemplified by ‘Universalists’, such as the Dalai Lama, for example, express a re-generative relationship with all beings and with the entire living milieu, for deeper self-realisation. Finally one might say, even from a secular perspective, that enlightened avatars such as the Buddha and the Christ, transcended self to experience totality-of-being in order to become agents of universal self-realisation. And whether we consider it attainable or not, in our imagination we can individually and collectively aspire to the hope that a future society can develop to become ‘Ecologists of the Cosmos’ as a further development in the process of the evolution of being.

Conclusion

We can say that ‘kindness’ therefore can be considered as an evolutionary behavioural expression of nature’s holistic drive to self-realisation, through evolutionary collaboration and the realisation of ever greater wholeness.

Kindness can thus be seen to be enfolded into the universal evolutionary process.

NOTES

[i] Claudius van Wyk has a doctorate in holistic medicine and a master’s degree in ethics as well as being an authority on complexity science and the origins of holism.

[ii] Through writers such as Donnela Meadows, Peter Senge, Dave Snowden

[iii]In 1926 Jan Christian Smuts wrote ‘Holism & Evolution’. Following a presentation to the Royal Scientific Society in 1931, Einstein is believed to have said Smut’s work would come to dominate the 21st century and beyond, along with his own work on quantum physics that he innovated with others.

[iv] Professor Clare Graves in his theory of Spiral Dynamics that was later developed by Don Beck and others, showed that ‘mind’ and ‘personality’ was also evolutionary in its internal representation of reality that informed behaviours such as kindness.

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