Make your own free website on


Haeckel coined the word "ecology" and used it in his Generelle Morphologie in 1866 to refer to the science of the relations between living things and their environments (Bramwell, 1989), but there is a deep opposing tradition built into the foundations of modern science of that separates living things from their environments, and is, as a consequence inimical to an ecological science. It was Descartes, who, promoting a psychology vs. physics dualism (the "first postulate of incommensurability" Swenson, 1997a) where the active, epistemic part of the world (human "minds") was incommensurably separated from what was taken to be the "dead", mechanical, physical part of the world ("matter" or "other"), provided the world view that became the basis of modern science, and which, at the same time, supernaturally separated humans from the world (see also Dyke, 1997).
Later, arguing that the active end-directed striving of living things in general could not be accounted for within the dead, mechanical world of physics, Kant, calling for the autonomy of biology from physics, promoted a second major dualism (the "second postulate of incommensurability" Swenson, 1997a), the dualism between biology and physics, or between living things in general (not just human minds) and their environments (Swenson & Turvey, 1991). The Cartesian tradition was carried into evolutionary theory with the ascendancy of Darwinism, which, making no use of physics in its theory, provided an explanatory framework where "organisms and environments," in Lewontin's (1992, p. 108) words, "were totally separated." Strong apparent scientific justification for these postulates of incommensurability came with Boltzmann's view of the second law of thermodynamics (the "entropy law") as a law of disorder. The world, in this view, was supposed to be running down according to the laws of physics, but biological and cultural systems seemed to be about "running up", about producing as much order as possible. It is "no surprise," under these circumstances, in the words of Levins and Lewontin (1985, p. 19), "that evolutionists [came to] believe organic evolution to be a negation of physical evolution." As Fisher (1930/1958, p. 39), one of the founders of neo-Darwinism expressed it, "entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world...while evolutionary changes [produce] progressively higher organization." This view is still found at the foundations of the Darwinian view today, as evidenced by Dennett's (1995, p. 69) definition of living things as things that "defy" the second law of thermodynamics.
Cartesian incommensurability precludes an ecological science, and as a consequence, ecological science, if it is to be about what it purports to be about, about living thing-environment relations, requires a theory that dissolves it. The postulates of incommensurability came into modern science on the issue of the active, epistemic dimension of the world, and this is precisely the battle ground where they must be defeated. In particular, the confrontation must occur at the interface between physics, psychology, and biology (Hoffmeyer, in press; Swenson, 1997a; see also Matsuno, 1989), and the distinguishing characteristic of this interface, the living-thing, or ecological relation, is that it is epistemically defined. It is through meaningful relations or intentional dynamics that it is constituted. By intentional dynamics, I refer to end-directed behavior prospectively controlled, or determined, by meaning, or information about (of which "end-in mind" behavior is a lately evolved kind) (Swenson, 1997a, in press-a, b), and without a principled account of these dynamics, and their constitutive relations, ecological science is left with the recurrent problem of the Presocratic Parmenides who had a fully coherent theory of the world which, however, could neither account for, nor even accommodate, his own existence (Swenson, 1997a).