Part II- Decoding Sustainability

How can we harness creativity and inventiveness that last? (2 of 6)

Introducing the concept of ‘balance’ as a fundamental law of nature.

This is part 2 of a 6-part series, where I share accounts of a journey I have embarked on to understand the true ingredients of ‘inventiveness’ and ‘sustainability’. To build my argument, I have looked at patterns from history, concepts of neuropsychology, the philosophy of science, and anything that has resonated with me to find a reasonable explanation. Follow this link to go to the first chapter.

Photo by: Ash from Modern Afflatus

Chapter 2 | Decoding Sustainability

Hypothesis: Those who truly absorb the meaning of nature’s philosophy of ‘balance’ will uncover the secret of winning the longevity race.

One can see examples of ‘balance’ in history, philosophy, literature, the arts, science — pretty much everywhere in the universe. Newton’s Third Law of Motion states: ‘To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. isn’t he talking about balance? The Hindu Philosophy of Karma speaks of the supreme potential of harmony. Balance? Even at the atomic level when the positively charged protons equal to the number of negatively-charged electrons, an atom is electrically neutral. Furthermore, chemical equations need to be balanced to satisfy the law of conservation of matter.

When the universe itself is dealing with systems where charge neutrality is so important and relies on the concept of balance for sustainability, to survive and progress, you can look no further to conclude that balance is a fundamental law of the universe. Anything that defies will break the law and cease to progress. But, just how easy is it for us humans to achieve this kind of balance in our daily lives that the universe has mastered over millennia. Let us start with the basics and try to understand what ‘balance’ really means.

Understanding the concept of ‘balance’

The dictionary definition of the word, ‘balance’, says, ‘It is an even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady’. Be it applied to an organization or an individual, this simple definition alone speaks volumes about growth and survival through time. Keeping this premise as a focus, this article will explore various instances from nature, science, history, and philosophy.

Nature’s sense of balance has captured our human imagination since ancient times and plenty of reflections on it can be found in almost every domain of human endeavor. Among all the basic shapes found in nature, a triangle is the most structurally stable and strong. Highly balanced in appearance, it has inspired man to build the most structurally strong and long-lasting monuments and buildings, using this basic shape in the three-dimensional world.

An illustration to demonstrate how triangle is structurally more stable and strong than a square
An illustration to demonstrate how triangle is structurally more stable and strong than a square

The ancient pyramids are the best example. They are derived from a triangle and can inherently handle extreme vertical and lateral forces. Most importantly, unlike many other ancient man made-structures, the pyramids have retained their original geometric form through thousands of years. How many modern-day structures can beat this feat?

Photograph of pyramids from Egypt
Photograph of pyramids from Egypt
Photo by Pradeep Gopal

As humans, as we progressed we have also managed to expound the concept of balance in many philosophies in our quest for meaning. Yin and Yang is an ancient Chinese philosophy of balance. It demonstrates the concept of balance between two complementary elements in movement rather than hold them in absolute stasis, with a portion of the other element in each section. To me, the ‘movement’ here also represents ‘change’- an inevitable part of growth and progress. The philosophy also talks about the paradox of simultaneous oneness and duality present in the natural world and the importance of interconnectedness and interdependence of complementary forces in creating an indivisible whole. For instance, a shadow cannot exist without light. In principle, balance is the state of equality and not a state of lack nor excess. In its pure form, it is the achievement of homeostasis.

An illustration of the Symbol Ying and Yang
An illustration of the Symbol Ying and Yang
An image of Ying and Yang by Nicolas Raymond

The martial arts legend, Bruce Lee, clearly understood the philosophy balance and put it into practice. He reinvented a century-old martial art into something relevant for modern times and called it Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee’s teaching, based on Yin and Yang, also gained millions of followers across the globe. This made him not unique but also placed him way ahead of his contemporaries in achieving unprecedented success in the history of the martial arts.

‘Symmetry’ — An elementary technique in Nature to achieve structural efficiency

“The most general law in nature is equity — the principle of balance and symmetry which guides the growth of forms along the lines of the greatest structural efficiency.”

— Sir Herbert Edward Read (renowned art historian)

Symmetry is an elementary technique used to achieve structural efficiency and balance. Symmetry is nothing but the repetition of elements to form a mirror image to create a sense of balance through the equal distribution of weight or by visual effects on both sides of their vertical center. It is all around us and an integral part of the evolution of the strongest structures found in nature.

Images of Bird, Plant and an Elephant to demonstrate the symmetry found in nature
Images of Bird, Plant and an Elephant to demonstrate the symmetry found in nature
Examples of symmetry found in Nature

There are proven mathematical concepts such as Noether’s Theorem that traces nature’s symmetry and its relationship to conservation laws in physics. In its simplest version, it says, “For every symmetry, there is a corresponding conservation law.” Could it be nature’s little secret to surviving through time? I doubt if anyone has a single answer to the mysterious behavior of evolution in nature.

A scan report of Human Brain showing symmetry of its structure
A scan report of Human Brain showing symmetry of its structure
A cross-section (CT scan image) of the human brain by Andy Powell

From atoms to galaxies, there are plenty of examples of symmetry and balance that have seen the test of time, but among all the species that have walked on the earth, human beings seem to have an extraordinary ability to survive and prosper. In fact, the evolution of the dual-hemisphere human brain tells a quintessential story of sustainability with no parallel. After surviving through millennia, why did the human brain evolve into two almost identical tangible physical parts? Even its intangible cognitive abilities have a predominant dual nature — creative and analytical thinking. Every thinking skill we have is not only a subset of one of these two, but it also has a complementary opposite — Intuitive vs Logical, Emotional vs Rational, and Imagination vs Sequence to name a few. (More details in the next chapter…)

It would be hard to find an example that could outclass the human brain in terms of sustainable growth having gone through an ever-changing physical environment and socio-cultural and spiritual hurdles to survive over many millennia, and it is only getting better with time. Hence we would be greatly benefited from going deeper into the physiological and neuro-psychological evolution of the human brain. Even looking at it from a vantage point of a cosmic spy camera that captures the bigger picture in millennia than centuries to understand why the human brain has taken such a journey to come to this point would possibly throw enough light into the concept of sustainability and uncover some great insights about the building blocks of inventiveness.

In the next chapter, we’ll explore a bit of evolutionary history, the role of ‘dual nature of thinking’ proposed by the modern-day scholars, and the concept of ‘harmony’ for better implementing the learnings. I believe, the insights from the evolution of the human brain and the extraordinary story of its survival could potentially reawaken or enhance our ability of true inventiveness, but the core principle and vision remain the same — balance!

Next Chapters

PART IV. | The signals from the past: The world after the industrial revolution- An era of imbalanced thinking with irreversible consequences.<to be published>

PART V. | The golden age of technology: A new world order of corporate leadership and the rise of hyper-growth.<to be published>

PART VI. | Conclusion: It’s time to unlearn, and reawaken the true human potential to build better sustainable systems.<to be published>

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