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The question of what is and is not an individual is fundamental to the study of ecology, evolution, and ecological psychology.
It is a question of relationships.
In his beautifully illustrated book Art Forms in Nature (1904), the biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel portrays a variety of lichen forms. Under his pen, lichens teem with tectures, colors, layers, and elaborate formations like antlers or bat wings.
In 1866, Haeckel coined the term ecology, the study of relationships – entanglement with our environments and other critters that sustain us, such that there are no individuals. Everything is in relationship with some other lifeform, process, and ecosystem.
Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt, the study of ecology emerged as the idea that nature is interconnected assemblages of different forms that all do different things, a system of active, dynamic, agential forces threaded together.
That is, lifeforms could not be understood as isolated indviduals.
Three years later, a Swiss botanist (Schwendener) presented the radical idea that lichens were not a single organism, as had long been assumed. Lichens were composed of two very different entities: a fungus and an alga. The fungus acquired nutrients and provided protection, while the algal partner harvested light (photosynthesis) and CO2 to make energy.
Darwin understood that species emerged by diverging from one another. However, lichens had been diverging for hundreds of millions of years; they were now doing something quite extraordinary: converging. Together, the fungi and its algal partner co-formed the body of the lichen and were able to find homes in places where neither could survive alone.
Lichens opened the scientific floodgates. In 1877, the German botanist Albert Frank coined the term symbiosis (live with) to describe the relationship of fungal and algal partners.
Scientists soon discovered that algae lived with many other lifeforms including corals, sponges, humans, and sea slugs.
A few years later, viruses were found to be living within bacteria. In 1967, the visionary American biologist Lynn Margulis put forward another radical idea that situated symbiosis as the essential role in the evolution of early life. Margulis argued that the most significant moments in evolution had resulted from two different entities coming together to form an altogether new life form.
All multicellular symbiotic life (alga, fungus, plants, animals - including humans) descended from this most exquisite process.
We human symbionts share our bodies with a multitude of others. Our bodies harbor an array of microorganisms: archaea, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
As an ecological body, we are in living relationship with our strange bugs, of which we could not survive without, and at times cannot survive their cohabitation with us.
As an ecological psyche, we share space with our strange psychological bugs – narratives and patterns of behavior, of which we could not survive without, and at times cannot endure their cohabitation with us.
In this sense, we are like lichens; the ecological psyche cannot be understood in isolation.
As a composite lifeform, we too are capable of entirely new possibilities.
Relationship is an ecological process as much as it is a psychological one.
Students at Viridis study relationship and connectivity along with other ecological planetary processes. We extend Margulis's idea that all complex life, which includes our psychological life, is a story of the long-lasting "intimacy of strangers."
Learn about VGI's unique approach to ecological psychology.
Date: Monday, February 22, 2021
Time: 11am PDT
Please register via our Contact form
Each class is 2 hours.
Dates: January 7 - June 3, 2021
Day/Time: Thursday - 4:00pm - 6:00pm Pacific Time
Register via our Contact form
The next 5-week Introduction Course
Date: March 22 - April 19, 2021
Day/Time Monday 2-4pm PDT
Register via our Contact form
An Ecopsychological Exploration of Pan (demic)
The Covid-19 zoonotic virus is as ecological as it is psychological in its communal effect. It pertains to Pan, the god of wilderness and a source of psychic fear, which can attack, strike, and divide. We cannot always prevent or stop viral infection any more than psychic infection; both are afflictive. I hope to offer participants a few ecological and psychological tools for how to reconfigure the "frightener," the unseen but contagious panic into a grounded relationship with uncertainty and unknowns inherent in a shared world. Led by Lori Pye, VGI President.
[Image: Pan, courtesy of www.theoi.com]
A Conversation with Lori Pye (Interview with Nick Shore, New York)