1: Introduction [and Summary]
All human activities take place within limits of variation set by human heredity and environment.
---- Harold and Margaret Sprout, Foundations of International Politics, 44
Our material culture is inseparable from our society and meanings-values and constitutes no independent environment. Outside this material culture, however, exists a physical realm of dispositions and powers profoundly influencing our mentality, our society, and our culture, and being transformed in turn. I write of physical nature, as commonly understood. I write of our physical environment, the climate, resources, geography, the forests, lakes, and sky, the moon, planets, and stars, the physical laws. While evolving biologically, socially, and culturally, we have formed a mutual system of intimate relations with our physical environment, an ecological space that is part of a continuum with our culture, society, and mentality.
The physical environment limits the range of our cultural development and behavioral potentialities, facilitates others, and in turn is altered and exploited by us. It infuses and orients our culture, channels much of our history, helps structure our society, and constitutes a challenge to the intellect and culture to understand or overcome. It can destroy whole cultures with earthquakes, floods, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, while sustaining us with air, fire, light, water, and soil. And cultures can rape the forests, pillage the land, contaminate the air, and kill the waters.
We do not need to dwell on our ecological space, for there is an indubitable mutual relation between our society and culture and our environment, as a comparison of Eskimo and Polynesian cultures and environments would show. The point is not simply to assert the obvious, but to argue that the environmental powers affecting our life and the powers with which we in turn confront physical nature are united inextricably in the space of our meanings and interactions1 Here or there in the space, physical environment or culture may dominate in influencing us but there is no clear boundary between. It is thus that physical nature shades into sociocultural and psychological natures. It is thus that as a phenomenon we are one with nature.
However, in their physical nature as vehicles, which may materially range from a glance or shrug to stones or stars, they are subject to the same physiochemical laws and processes as all other physical phenomena. As such, they are parts of the same physical spaces that natural scientists have found to locate and describe material phenomena, particularly the Einsteinian four-dimensional space framing many of the laws by which the static and dynamic properties of vehicles are understood and their physical behavior predicted. In this physical space, all vehicles can be located from the point of view of the observer (our station) on three spatial coordinates and time. Indeed, I have argued in Chapter 8 that the station is one aspect which, along with our sensory equipment, cultural matrix, and dynamic field, makes up our perspective transformation of reality.
We thus find two spaces of vehicles, one comprising the meanings it carries and which is identical with sociocultural space, and the other the four-dimensional space of material phenomena.
Rather, the question here is about the nature of this space. First, it should be clear that the ecological space that defines the relationship between us and our environment is not one with our sociocultural space. Although cultural meanings, social statuses, and physical environment are interrelated, climatic and geographical features, among others, do not fully determine (and surely are not determined in turn by) sociocultural space.
Rather, our physical environment is defined by four-dimensional physical space-time. As with vehicles, it is beyond my purpose and our needs here to consider the more complex physical spaces (such as the non-Euclidean spaces, phase and tension spaces, and quantum spaces). Our four-dimensional world is sufficient to define the ecological space in its relation to us. I will return to this point, especially when I integrate the variety of spaces considered into one unified space.
Our biological nature thus forms a biological field affecting our personality and behavior, influencing our society and culture. Just to mention the role that the need for food or sex plays among us is to clinch the point. This biological influence is not one way, however. The sociocultural and ecological fields influence as well the biological. Culture helps determine the genetic mix--who will mate--and thus the very process of selection determining our future biological nature. And among other things, environment influences our diet and biological constitution (size, girth, amount of fat, and so forth) which through processes of selection alter our genetic structure.
Our biological field shades imperceptibly into the sociocultural and ecological fields and forms a continuity that enables us to speak meaningfully of one unified field. Given the integration between our biological being and our sociocultural fields, what is our biological space and in what way is it related to our sociocultural and environmental spaces? As with sociocultural vehicles, our biology envelopes dual aspects: (1) our biophysical nature and (2) our biopsychological mentality.
Taking the latter first, clearly many of our needs, temperaments, abilities, and so forth are biologically based, if not instinctively determined. Our animalistic nature and our more specific heredity surely account for the presence of many of our psychological components, as well as our specific personality. Moreover, it is likely that, through inbreeding and processes of selection, whole societies and cultures show distinctive hereditary traits. This aspect of our bio-nature that loads our psychological field is not separate from our personality space, but is unified with it. Therefore, insofar as our biology influences our psychology, there is no separate space.
However, there is another aspect to biological reality not encompassed by our psychological space. The existence of a sprained finger, an aching tooth, a pimple on our nose will testify to this. And at an unconscious level, there are the complex neural physical channels that transmit external stimuli, including our aches and pains, to the mind's cultural matrix; and of course there is the biophenomena we call life.
These biophysical phenomena, however, are extensions of ourselves into our environment. They are part of our physical world. Although biophysical phenomena may be sui generis, governed by unique biological laws in addition to physiochemical ones, such biological phenomena still share with the rest of physical nature the same four-dimensional space and are located on the same component axes. In this sense, then, biophysical phenomena (as distinct from the biopsychological) are of the same space as our sociocultural vehicles and our geophysical environment. In this sense, thus, we find a spatial unity of biological and material worlds.
* Scanned from Chapter 26 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.
1. This is hardly a truism, as the contemporary ecological debate will testify. Aside from methodological problems, a major theoretical fault of the much discussed Club of Rome study by Meadows et al. (The Limits of Growth, New York, 1972) is in neglecting this reciprocal relationship between environment and the sociocultural field. For example, the book neglects the effects of sociocultural change, particularly, the importance of our values in assessing future ecological projections. To put a fine point on this, a quadrupled population may not be the social and ethical disaster some foresee if sociocultural changes and future values are congenial to such numbers and their consequences.