I recently stumbled across a reference to the paradigm of “relational science”. I hadn’t seen that term before but here are a list of characteristics of “relational science” with each one compared to its “Cartesian” counterpart.
- PROCESS vs substance
- BECOMING vs being
- HOLISM vs atomism
- RELATIONAL ANALYSIS vs either/or split analysis
- MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES vs dualistic objectivism/subjectivism split
- COACTION vs split interaction
- MULTIPLE FORMS OF DETERMINATION vs efficient/material causality
If you’d like to read about this in more detail google “Fundamental Concepts and Methods in Developmental Science: A Relational Perspective” – which is an article by Willis Overton and Richard Lerner. In that article the authors write -
As a derivation from these relational categories, the relational developmental systems paradigm characterizes the living organism as a spontaneously active, self-creating (autopoetic, enactive), self-organizing, and self-regulating nonlinear complex adaptive system. The system’s development occurs through its own embodied activities and actions operating in a lived world of physical and sociocultural objects, according to the principle of probabilistic epigenesis. This development leads, through positive and negative feedback loops created by the system’s action, to increasing system differentiation, integration, and complexity, directed toward adaptive ends.
Some of this language might be familiar to you from other posts I’ve written on this site, but I’ve never seen them pulled together as “relational science” or come across the concept of “relational developmental systems” before.
If change is the pervasive phenomenon which it seems to be, it makes much more sense to focus on process instead of arbitrarily separated parts. In terms of health, I think this means we need to understand the processes of repair, resilience and effective functioning of healthy organisms, not trap ourselves in the limited focus on pathological change within tissues or organs.
A focus on becoming instead of being also undermines the outcome based approaches to care which are so prevalent. Health is a dynamic, lived experiences, not a series of fixed states.
Multiple perspectives allow to understand illness much more fully – again, not limiting ourselves to the pathological changes within cells, tissues and organs, but taking on board the subjective phenomena of illness (pain, stiffness, breathlessness, dizziness, weakness etc), as well as the narrative of the person who is ill through which we make sense of the experience, and beyond all that, to situate the individual person’s illness within the contexts in which they live – their relationships, family, genes, work, social and environmental conditions etc.
Co-action shows that change comes about not least from the interactions between individuals. This knowledge gives us the opportunity to shift the perspective of health care from that of a doctor treating an object, to that of a doctor and a patient co-creating better health for an individual.
Last but not least, all of this thinking leads us to a consideration of the emergent nature of change in living organisms – which means we can never be completely certain how things are going to go in any individual situation. Something which, surely, should bring some healthy humility to the practice of Medicine.
You’ll see this is all entirely consistent with the features of complex adaptive systems, and of integral theory. And it is also utterly consistent with my blog byline of “becoming not being” which I first encountered in the study of Deleuze’s work.
I really think this “relational science” explains reality much better than the old, reductionist, mechanistic, linear paradigm which is still so prevalent.
Let me finish this post with a re-iteration of Overton and Lerner’s excellent summary -
the living organism as a spontaneously active, self-creating (autopoetic, enactive), self-organizing, and self-regulating nonlinear complex adaptive system