Man is a seed and the world is his apple; and just as the seed
fares in the apple, so does man fare in the world, which surrounds him.
What is a code? In law, it’s a corpus containing several laws or provisions. In informatics, it’s a system of signs and rules enabling the transmission of a message. Code is law, cryptographic developers say. A jurist would smile and nod in agreement.
Coding, in biochemistry, is the set of rules whereby living cells translate the information encrypted in genetic material. The backbone of DNA interpreted and laid out for us. Used for the right purposes, the process of coding unlocks powerful tools we may employ in our struggle for survival as a species.
Imagine. Just think about it — coding the DNA of life. Eccentric and fantastical as this might sound, the idea of harnessing and applying nature’s laws and patterns of systemic health, renewal, and organization to the design of socio-economic systems is neither new nor farfetched — and, now, the emergence of crypto as a new language is offering us our best chance of success.
Laws are, by definition, universal. The laws of life, the patterns, and principles of regenerative vitality are no exception. And, by this tenet, it would be possible to design a better organizational system by which to lead our lives — a system that is regenerative in and with nature. Understanding life’s principles –its “DNA”– could allow us to craft a new socioeconomic order, shaped in the mold of living systems.
Just imagine prospering without struggle, thriving without violence, “untroubling and untroubled”, as the peasant poet John Clare yearned to live — “the grass below, above the vaulted sky”. A commons of life’s abundance.
Not Cockaigne, though, or a gift — but the result of looking to nature, of deploying hitherto neglected resources, of subjecting ourselves to a strict rule of respect and humility to reach our goal. And the rewards are huge, generous, and all-encompassing. In the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley, we can be “made one with Nature” — not through death, as in his haunting work Adonais, but through its very opposite. A world, enhanced and magnified, coming to us even as we go forth to meet it.
Consider again. A seed that has found fallow ground, the right place in which to thrive. After a winter buried in darkness and unknowing, spring has given its permission — the womb in which the little seed lies may trigger the latter’s full potential. A fragile stem peeks out of the earth, then reaches upwards tentatively. Life.
The challenge, then –and let me not deceive you, it can feel like a daunting one–, is to foster growth and create a healthy ecosystem for life to prosper. Animals, vegetables, fungi — all are needed and all are to be nurtured. The code instructions (some would say “algorithms”) for this are simple and rely on the principles of regenerative vitality. Let us take a look at them, as laid out by John Fullerton several years ago.
The first principle requires us to be innovative, adaptive, and responsive. The path towards sunlight is not easy, coming, as we do, from the damp darkness of the earth. Life, if it is to take hold, must twist and contort itself through the cracks, squeeze between stone and clod, grope towards the warmth it senses but cannot see. It needs to shape its rhythms to the humidity of the ground, growing resilient to floods and dry periods.
As per the second principle, our system must honor community and place, be these ever so humble. It must acknowledge its origins in the blind earth where it will unfold its roots, braiding the earth below it, creating space for insects and mycelia and fungi to develop too. This is the ancient notion of entelechy — from the Greek entelécheia, a term coined by Aristotle and transliterated into Latin as entelechia. According to Oliver Sachs, the word combines entelēs (ἐντελής, “complete, full-grown”) and echein (hexis, meaning “to be a certain way by the continuing effort of holding on in that condition”) — with perhaps also a pun on endelecheia (ἐνδελέχεια, “persistence”) by inserting telos (τέλος, “completion”). Is this Greek to you? It shouldn’t be.
Following the third principle, the system we are envisioning should respect holistic wealth creation — heeding and remembering its ambition to bring forth life, but doing so in a healthy manner, by filling the plains and slopes of this valley with fellow trees, all of them the fruit of its seeds. The hubristic and irresponsible seeking of individual goals has no place in a harmonious society structured around the vital principle, as countless legends and myths from all times and cultures will tell you.
Fourthly, the growth of the stem, later a trunk, that seeks the sky is a quest for balance — our system feeds on harmony and respect for natural rhythms. The sap of our plant is a perpetual search for balance, for the concord and unity that interconnect every part of an ecosystem. This plant knows it is a portion of something bigger and instinctively plays its part in the whole. Mind you do not fail to see the forest for this one tree.
Dancing with the wind, finding its own kind of balance between roots and canopy, our living system –this plant or tree we are so lovingly nurturing– needs robust circulation of CO2, nutrients, and the humidity its roots capture. This is the fifth principle and it relates to interaction and the back-and-forth movement between elements.
The sixth principle, empowered participation, sets the conditions for life by engaging in a meaningful involvement with the whole. Through photosynthesis, our plant converts light into oxygen and chemical energy. This plant is not passive, but an agent in its own transformation and continued hold on life. To quote again from Shelley’s beautiful words, “Through wood and stream and field and hill and ocean / A quickening life from Earth’s heart has burst / As it has ever done, with change and motion”.
Seventhly, this blossoming plant, the new socioeconomic order in which we put all our trust for a sustainable future, needs to be in right relationship with others of its kind. In our example, trees communicate with each other, exchanging nutrients and information through their roots and sending messages to each other via the secretion of chemicals. In Shelley’s poem, this complex involvement is a form of energy, “bursting in its beauty and its might / From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven’s light”. The virtuous interaction of all the system’s elements create a sustainable environment, thus ensuring our survival as a species and that of our planet — “Heaven’s light” shining at last on humankind and its embattled abode.
The eighth and last principle of regenerative vitality, edge effect abundance, involves the good consequences that arise and spread whenever the system functions correctly. In the case of our fictional plant, its beautiful flowers will attract insects and birds that will pollinate them or feed on them, thus setting in motion a cycle of endless possibility. The plant’s seeds will travel enormous distances to bring life to other valleys, eventually creating whole forests, coded at the core to ensure continuity and nourishment. In the same manner, a non-predatory economy allows different agents to thrive and “pay it forward”, creating a golden cycle of positive enabling and improvement.
These eight principles work in an interdependent, comprehensive combination to create conditions for emergence. It is easy to see how a system built around such a code would be capable of reproducing and sustaining itself by creating its own parts and, eventually, further components. This is what Nora Bateson has called aphanipoiesis (from aphanis, Greek for “obscure” or “unseen”, and poiesis, Greek for “to bring forth” or “to make”, which is also where the word “poetry” comes from). From the darkness –the earth, but also our own inner serenity, responsibility and lack of selfish turmoil– harmony is bound to come.
This aphanipoiesis is also an autopoiesis, given that the seed’s code triggers this continuous cycle of life, rebirth, and emergence — an ever-evolving syntropy, but not exactly “breaking news”, since nature has been doing it forever.
Biologist and Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi refers to syntropy as an “innate drive in living matter to perfect itself”. It is this tendency towards life that, we posit, can and should be applied to human economy and social organization structures.
The opposite of syntropy is entropy, which involves energy dissipation and disorder and is also at play in living systems and other forms of organization. In a balanced organization (such as the dual-energy solution first described by mathematician Luigi Fantappiè), entropy could be controlled as well as harnessed towards better human structures, minimizing crises and enhancing cohesion, unity, and order. Synchronicity between syntropy and entropy is key, and, most relevantly, attainable.
“As mentioned in an earlier post, a new language, crypto, is stemming from the previously unseen and demanding that we deploy all our capacity for coding, building on our resilience and drive for regeneration, in alignment with the DNA of life”.
Our way of life is at a crossroads. This fork in the road involves a choice, and the choice we make will have a direct impact on our future and our very ability to remain on this planet. It is imperative that we turn to the eight principles of regenerative vitality and apply these very ancient and at the same time very real rules to the systems around which humans build their societies and economies. Nature is showing us the way to be free from “that unrest which men miscall delight” and to shed predatory and loot-based systems in favor of “that Power … Which wields the world with never-wearied love, / Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above”.
Ernesto van Peborgh
Entrepreneur, writer, filmmaker, Harvard MBA. Builder of systemic interactive networks for knowledge management.
Unconventional economist, impact investor, writer, and some have said philosopher..