Contributions to Self Clarity, Wholeness, & Health

Introducing: Foundations for a New Civilization by Will Crichton

(Parts of Chapter 10)


Individuality is the principal analogue of the discreteness of change and structure (separateness of minimal parts, themselves being strictly single with no distinction of parts).
Individuality of persons is a matter of great importance to all of us. Individuality has two aspects: distinctiveness, or contrast with neighbouring things (it is important to us not to be a “carbon copy” of anyone else but a distinctive individual), and wholeness, or being like a single thing rather than a multiplicity (a person who is “falling apart” is losing their wholeness or integrity). But individuality has much wider importance than its importance for persons. A comprehensive list of the necessary patterns and their analogues shows that the dominant tendency of nature is the maximization of individuality, both in individual processes and in the universe generally. This tendency underlies the way the universe is structured into individual processes from the smallest to the largest (nuclei of atoms, atoms, molecules, cells, organs, living bodies, stars, solar systems, galaxies, groups of galaxies).

Individuality (wholeness and distinctiveness) is not only the dominant tendency of nature. It is also the foundation of the difference between good and bad, desirable and undesirable.

To get some sense of this connection, you have to consider how individuality figures in functionality. For something to perform a definite function it has to be an integrated structure or system, such as a hammer or a clock or a heart — this is wholeness or unity. Such an entity must also be a distinctive thing, something that stands out among other things (the way the blood vessels do among other parts of the body) — the definiteness of the function presupposes the distinctiveness of the functioning entity.

Individuality is on the one hand what a thing is — its unique makeup that makes it individually distinctive and whole — its being. On the other hand individuality is a quantity — something can be more or less distinctive, can gain or lose distinctiveness (its boundaries can be penetrated, for example), and it can be more or less whole and can gain or lose wholeness (eating a meal improves blood sugar level, restoring the functional integrity or wholeness of the body). Individuality as a quantity is a criterion of evaluation — a work of art is said to lack unity, a person is said to be falling apart, an orchestra is said not to be together — this is wholeness as a criterion of functionality and value.

Complex Systems:
To understand the role of individuality in complex systems such as animals, it is necessary to think of their relationships. Relationships are not something added on to the system; rather, they contribute to its individuality and therefore belong to what it is. What you are as a person includes your interactions with your environment, your affiliations, your dependencies, and your responsibilities. This is the principle of complementation — the relationships of a system complement its body as features of its individuality.

Relationships are both external and internal to the body. The internal relationships are relationships between the body as a whole and its internal organs and systems. Think of what it means for an organ such as the heart to function properly. It means not only to pump blood but also to pump blood at the appropriate rate moment by moment. Appropriate for what? For the functioning of the body as a whole. So this is a relationship between the heart and the whole body.

External relationships are just as important as internal ones. For example, for the functioning of the body, breathing is essential, and breathing is an active relationship between the body and the air around it.
But external relationships are important in another way. The person is more than the body; it is the body with its external relationships — the complemented body. Personal relationships, business relationships, relationships with the nonhuman environment such as the skill of a technician or a tradesman, or a habit of walking in the woods — all these are features of what the person is.

For a human being, functioning is functioning of the complete person, not only the body.  The external relationships are more definitive of what the person is than the body or its internal subsystems. The reason for this is that the external relationships, more than anything else, define the person as a whole. Thus, those who abuse their body, making it serve external relationships (business for example) are living more functionally as persons than those who make bodily health the primary aim of life. Ideally, the most functional state is a balance that cultivates bodily health as a means towards the functioning of the whole person. The body is to the person somewhat as the heart is to the body. But under practical circumstances and the demands of duty this may not be feasible. And in a case such as the care of children, it is more functional for parents to sacrifice their bodily health if necessary in order to care for their children.
However, although the external relationships primarily define the person as a whole, the body primarily identifies the person.
All these relationships, external as well as internal, are relative to the body — the body is the focus of complementation. Why is this? The animal body has the greatest concentration of individuality of any class of entities that we know. The individuality of the body itself combines the individualities of its internal organs with the individualities of its functional and structural relationships with those organs and the body’s individuality as a whole — the body’s total individuality. This very great total individuality is what everyone marvels at about the functioning of animal bodies.

The individual person is a complex system; a society is also a complex system; an ecosystem is also a complex system. If any of these systems of individual processes is to survive for very long, its components must be mutually functional over the system as a whole — they must not only maintain their own individualities but also be so organized in their external relationships that they contribute to the individualities of the others. Otherwise, their actions in maintaining their own individualities will be at the expense of factors in the individualities of others. In other words, mutual non-functionality as a tendency amounts to mutual counter-functionality in its effects
This statement may seem implausible with reference to an ecosystem, where predation against other species and defence of territories against other members of one’s own are common. But these seemingly counter-functional relationships are combined with other factors to make an overall mutual functionality. Prey species are mostly very prolific in reproduction, and without predators would exhaust their food supply. Territorial defence has the same effect of preventing the overuse of resources, which would result in either a general condition of ill health or a collapse of the population.
But nature is very imperfect in terms of mutual functionality. In general, what is necessary for viability does not necessarily occur. Catastrophes are common in wild life. Epidemics periodically decimate particular species, predators over-hunt their prey and consequently suffer starvation themselves, following which the prey recover, and so on. Nature is not geared to making life pleasant or prosperous for its participants but to realizing the immediate potentiality with greatest individuality. But the same tendency leads to recovery from catastrophes, either for a species or for the ecosystem.

The tendency to make life pleasant and prosperous for its participants is a peculiarity of moral communities, which are peculiar to the social animals.
Opportunistic Individuality: 
Individuality is not a global tendency to maximize individuality but a locally opportunistic one, that is, the immediate potentiality with the highest individuality tends to be the one that is realized (in accordance with the principle of causality by patterns). The tendency is to climb the steepest immediate gradient of potentialities for individuality. This is not a tendency for things to “work out for the best” but for immediate opportunities for individuality to be taken, regardless of their larger-scale or longer-term effects. As we all know, if a person is to pursue their long-term benefit, they must have learned to have that benefit immediately in view, so that the attraction of the long-term benefit outweighs the attraction of incompatible short-term pleasures. In other words, the long-term potentialities have to be turned into immediate tendencies by conceptual means.

This basic tendency can take pathological forms. For example, if one has developed a self-concept as a failure, or as one whom the world is against, an opportunity that would normally hold out a prospect for a gain of individuality may be rejected in bitterness. How does this follow the maximum gradient of individuality? The answer is that confirming one’s self-concept provides a greater immediate gain (or a smaller loss) of individuality than taking an opportunity at which one expects to fail.

The emergence of new individualities is governed by the same opportunism. When an animal body is weakened through stress or malnutrition, microorganisms find niches where they can thrive at the expense of the animal. When an animal dies, carrion feeders and microorganisms quickly feed on the defenceless carcass. In a large organization, if serving the interests of the organization does not fully realize the individuality of individuals, they begin to find other ways of doing so, such as building their own small empires within the organization. In society at large, if the opportunity to live as parasites rather than as contributors to the common welfare presents itself, many will take that opportunity (from a cost-benefit point of view, disregarding ethical considerations, it is more efficient). And most will take the opportunity to live as partial parasites.

The issue of sustenance is important here. What gives living organisms their very high levels of total individuality is their functional complexity, including a rich set of functional external relationships. A function is a process passing from one process to another (or to itself). Therefore, these external relationships involve the passage of materials and energy into and out of the body or the person. That being so, an external supply of the needed materials is necessary to maintain the individuality of the body and the person. I put it in these terms to point to the fact that sustenance is not only food in the ordinary sense, but whatever needs to be imported into the body or the complemented body in order to maintain the individuality of the body and the person, as, for example, new furniture for one’s house. For the person, what that sustenance is depends on the particular acquired needs of the person’s individuality.
In human life, whenever sustenance for the body and the person is available and existing circumstances leave an apparent deficit of individuality of the body or the person, the person will tend to avail itself of that sustenance to develop a new and more effective means of maximizing its individuality. This tendency varies widely because of the complexity and wide variety of human individualities.
That variety also takes the form of the changing individuality of an individual person moment by moment. This is the individuality of the person’s relationships and is governed by the need for individuality in relation to other persons and also to inanimate things, for example in the exercise of a skill. Its opportunistic character consists in the fact that it is a response to changes in other persons or things.

What holds for individuals holds also for communities, but for a somewhat different reason. Communities do not have the high levels of total individuality that individual animals have. But the shared interests of individuals are vested in communities and their institutions, so that through the actions of the members and the dynamics of their individualities, communities in effect act so as to maximize their individualities, that is, to maximize the individualities of their members (perhaps of certain privileged members).

Thus, when a nation appears (to its leaders) to be threatened as to its vital interests, it seeks ways of counteracting the threat, by war if other means appear ineffective. General peace will be achieved when no nation or tribe feels threatened as to its vital interests.

Another example: just as rich individuals exploit poor individuals, so rich nations exploit poor nations, so that the citizens of the rich nations may have the pleasures of affluence. In both cases, self-justification motivates a pretence of serving the interests of the poor. In the world of the year 2001, if you look just a little below the surface, you see that the old-style colonialism has not been virtuously abandoned but transformed into a multinational economic colonialism. Here the rich nations are analogous to germs and the poor nations to the weakened body.
The only thing that alters this pattern is ethics. It does so by adding another class of objects of opportunistic individuality to the primary object, so that the basic tendency of following the maximal gradient of one’s own potential individuality includes a tendency to maximize the individualities of other members of one’s moral community.


Health in the fullest sense is the health of the complete person. If we had to define health in one sentence, the accepted definition would probably be that it is the ability to function. To be ill or impaired is to be unable to function fully. On this basis the health of the body would be its ability to function in relation to the person, the health of the heart would be its ability to function in relation to the body, and the health of the person would be its ability to function in relation to itself and external entities.

For the heart to function in relation to the body is to contribute actively to the individuality of the body — to its being, and as Aristotle says, the “being” of something includes its functioning. For the body to function in relation to the person is to contribute to the person’s being or individuality. For the person to function in relation to itself is to contribute to its own individuality — to be functional rather than dysfunctional. To be dysfunctional is to contribute to its own disintegration.

But health is more than that. To be healthy is to be well — well-being. Thus, health is not only functioning but also the benefit of functioning — actual individuality.
This tells us something about the various dimensions of health. They are the levels of functionality and the levels of well-being or individuality.

of subsystems of the body relative to the body
of the body relative to the person
of external relationships relative to the body
of external relationships relative to the person
of the body
of the person

These facets of health are all in the category of the ability to live well. But health is not only the ability to live well but also actually living well — wholeness and distinctiveness of living. Vitality is a suitable word for the quantity or degree of ability to live well, while vivacity is a suitable word for the quantity or degree of actually living well, the degree of individuality of actually living. Actually living is of the present moment, the living present. It is in the category of the creative factor’s action, the category of change. Consequently it does not have individuality in the way that a structure or a process in temporal space does. Its individuality consists of variations of individuality — gains and losses of individuality — gains and losses of wholeness or distinctiveness. As a quantity, vivacity is the sum of the gains minus the losses of individuality in the present moment. These gains and losses of individuality will be gains and losses in one or more of the dimensions of vitality. Positive vivacity is a gain of vitality.

Vivacity = gains of vitality - losses of vitality

Gains of vitality are of two kinds: The course of events in the life of a person is divided into phases which have individuality, and there are individual phases within individual phases. For example, a day is a phase with a degree of individuality; within that phase there are changes of activity separating individual phases of activity, such as working at a particular task, taking a coffee break, working at another task, and so on. Within each of these phases are shorter phases as one turns one’s attention to different things. Within one such phase the activity may be such as to increase or decrease vitality in one respect or another. For example, working when fatigued may reduce one’s vitality.
But the occurrence of a new phase of activity is itself a gain of individuality, since that phase itself has individuality. Its cessation, however, is not a loss of individuality, since its individuality continues to exist and becomes part of the person’s total individuality as that phase recedes into the past. It is lost from the living present, but not from vitality.

A consequence of this is that the exercise of vitality itself increases that vitality, provided it falls within certain bounds beyond which it would be harmful. The implication is that actually living is not only an aspect of health but is healthy in its effects. Vivacity is not only healthy in itself but also healthy for the person.

These facets of health are not all of the same importance. Functionality serves individuality and is for the sake of individuality or well-being. But well-being has the two aspects of vitality and vivacity. Vitality is the capability of living. Therefore, vitality is for the sake of living, and the intensity or richness of living is vivacity.
Moreover, if functionality is for the sake of the individuality it furthers, then the vivacity of the body’s subsystems is for the sake of the vivacity of the body, and the body’s vivacity and the vivacity of its external relationships are for the sake of the vivacity of the person.

So we may fill out the chart of the dimensions of health as follows:

The Dimensions of Health

(Capacity for living)
Of subsystems of the body relative to the body
Of the body relative to the person
Of the external relationships relative to the body
Of external relationships relative to the body
Of external relationships relative to the person
(Individuality as a whole body and/or whole person)
For the sake of
(Actual living)
Vivacity of subsystems of the body
For the sake of
Vivacity of the body & vivacity of external relationships
For the sake of
Vivacity of the person

The Present Moment: 
Vivacity measures changes in vitality in the present moment. What is that present moment? You have to think in terms of processes in temporal space. This means thinking graphically; think of a picture or diagram of past, present, and future. Ideally, this is a four-dimensional picture, but most of us are not able to visualize four dimensions. However, we can compress the three spatial dimensions into one, so that the picture of temporal space is only two-dimensional. This can still convey a useful, though inadequate, impression of processes in temporal space.

  Past Future
  ==============|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
  Structure Space
If you think of a structure growing into the empty space in front of it, the future is the empty space in front of it, and the process up to that point is already in the past. So on this basis (leaving out tendencies), the present moment is only the instant of the coming into existence of another particle. This is thinking in terms of structure and change only.

However, when you bring tendency into the picture, the present moment suddenly acquires size and substance. The present moment is the time when tendencies are active — when forces are alive — in the past they are dead.

Tendencies are the tendencies of processes in temporal space, processes with histories and potential futures. For example, you have a tendency to stop working and go for lunch; this is a tendency of someone who has worked through the morning and looks forward to a leisurely lunch. In other words, the scope of the tendency extends back through the morning and forward through the lunch hour.

Tendencies are both short-term and long-term; for example we make plans covering our lifetime or beyond. And at the other extreme, the tendencies of microscopic processes extend only minute fractions of a second into the past and future.

This shows that the present moment is not just one single thing. Rather,
there is a present moment for each process or sub-process that has an active tendency, one for the person, one for the body, one for each relationship of the body, one for each molecule-process, one for each atom-process, one for each particle-process.

The present moment of a complex process such as a person is made up of the many present moments of the many sub-processes within it. Its overall extent is that of the longest-term tendency.

========={={=={={=|- }- - }- - }- - -}- - - - - -

  Past { Present Moment } Future

Change is ongoing, and as minimal events go by, the sub-processes or phases of sub-processes with active tendencies are altered, new ones begin, and others are terminated. These changes bring gains and losses of individuality. These phase changes, with a variety of frequencies, amount to a complicated variation of individuality, somewhat resembling “white noise” but organized rather than random. The effect of this is normally a net gain of individuality, and the higher the average frequency of the variations the greater the net gain.

Argument for this: The termination of a process does not reduce its individuality. Just as death does not eliminate the individuality of a person, so the termination of a distinctive phase of a sub-process does not eliminate its individuality nor constitute a loss of individuality for the larger process.
However, the occurrence of a new sub-process is a gain of individuality, by the amount of the individuality of the new sub-process.
Consequently, the more frequent the changes of phase are, the greater is the vivacity (provided the phases themselves are not losses of individuality). This is related to the significance of excitation, excitement, and subtlety for the understanding of vivacity, health, and stress.
Excitation is a continuing stimulus that generates changes in the activity of a process (the person being the process of interest), such as a situation in which interesting things are happening. The effect of such a stimulus is a variety of distinctive phases in the activity of the person, hence a high state of vivacity. This is an effect on the various sub-processes of the body and its external relationships. Consequently, it involves a variety of overlapping phase sequences of various frequencies.
We have seen just now that the higher the frequency of such an effect the higher the vivacity. What this means in practical terms is that the subtler forms of excitation result in higher vivacity than the cruder forms.

Excitement is excitation of a comparatively crude sort, characterized by powerful stimuli on a fairly large scale (in comparison with the range of time-scales of the human body). Sensational entertainments are exciting, but they are not productive of high vivacity, comparatively.
But of course there are exceptions to that statement. The key word here is variety. Variety in the environment calls for changes in the character of the person’s responses. This starts a complex train of internal processes, with phase changes on a variety of time scales. The result is the maximization of the frequency of changes of phase and the maximization of the increases minus the decreases of individuality.

The implication for health is that a variety of situations (work, play, entertainments of a variety of sorts, emphasizing the subtler ones) is healthiest. And this is because the level of vivacity of the person is the final criterion of health. The functionality of the system is functionality because of its contribution to the vivacity of the person.
There is an important difference between externally driven excitation and internally driven excitation (relative to the body). Either of these may be due to factors that are either functional or counter-functional relative to the body or the person. Externally driven excitation imposes the individuality of external relationships and of the person on the body. Internally driven excitation is excitation driven by the body’s own tendency to maximize its individuality; this is recuperation from the stress of work or play. When that recuperation is accomplished, that same tendency leads the system to seek external excitation.

What is stress?
In the scientific sense of the word, stress is an action applied to a system that the system must respond to so as to avoid suffering a loss of individuality. Taking the word in that sense, stress may be either beneficial or harmful. But taking the word in its popular sense of a harmful stimulus or activity, stress is an excess of some one kind of excitation — that is, beyond the point of positive vivacity into negative vivacity, a net loss of individuality. It is most commonly understood as an excess of some form of externally driven excitation — work or personal troubles. But excessive relaxation can also be stressful, the symptom being boredom and restlessness. This harms the person and even the body.

Again, the key word is variety; we need a variety of situations and activities in order to optimize health. But variety can also be excessive; it must be variety within the scope of a repetitiveness that defines what the person is, individuality in the qualitative sense.
An important point here is this: the higher the level of individuality, the wider the variations of which it is capable (since there is more of it that can vary). Consequently, the greater one’s vitality is, the greater vivacity one is capable of. The higher one’s level of functionality and individuality are, the greater is one’s capacity for excitement as well as for the subtler forms of excitation. The person who is constantly seeking sensational excitements thereby develops a lower level of vitality of external relationships than the person who seeks a wider variety of excitations, emphasizing the subtler ones. Consequently, the sensation seeker has less capacity for excitement than the person who usually seeks subtler pleasures.

External Relationships:
External relationships more than other aspects of the person define what the person as a whole is (you are your personal relationships, your work, your position in society, your responsibilities). And the other aspects of health are for the sake of the vivacity of the person — for the sake of the intensity of actual living.

When people think of living in an emphatic sense, they usually (it seems) think of it as self-indulgence and seeking excitements and powerful sensations.

This is not a very perceptive notion of living intensely. Living intensely (as a person) is maximizing the vivacity of one’s external relationships. Those relationships are relationships in both directions. How you act in relation to other persons, institutions, or the non-human environment, affects how any of these act in relation to you. So the vivacity of the relationship is not only a property of your actions but of the response of the other relata as well. If you are a parent, neglecting your children to pursue other “pleasures” is not the way to maximize the vivacity of your relationships. Maximizing the vivacity of your relationships is maximizing their functionality, their tendency to increase the individuality of the other relata, which will then tend to increase your own individuality as a person (and vivacity is gains of individuality). In the case of personal relationships, facilitating the individualities of the other persons also increases your own. Think of a number of individual processes interacting in complex ways. If they relate to one another in predominantly functional ways, the result is a general maximization of individuality. But if they relate to one another in predominantly counter-functional ways, the result is a general minimization of individuality. And in the latter case, each of them, faced with enemies all round, will defend itself by relating to the others even more counter-functionally. Each of these is a self-reinforcing condition, with no stable intermediate condition. The tendency of functionality is to move to greater functionality; the tendency of counter-functionality is to move to greater counter-functionality.

Why, then, would anyone ever act counter-functionally relative to others? The primary tendency is to maximize one’s own individuality, and this is first of all serving the needs of one’s body. This may be in competition with the same tendency in others. Consequently, for the mutually functional behaviour to prevail the individuals need to perceive that the mutually functional behaviour will better serve the needs of their bodies than a selfish mode of behaviour that ignores the question of its effects on others.

Mind & Body: 
The common distinction between mental health and bodily health is pretty clear: mental health is the capacity for functioning in the outside world, as well as actually functioning in it — bodily health pertains to the internal relationships of the body, and mental health pertains to its external relationships. On this basis, the distinction between body and mind is the distinction between the body’s internal relationships and its external relationships.

Nowadays the common conception is that the mind is in the brain. This is about a half-truth at most. If you think about the actual content of a developed mind and where that content is stored, books, computer disks, and other repositories of information come to mind. Information in these repositories may be more accessible than much of what is stored in the brain. But apart from such intellectual information, a vast amount of information is contained in the common environment in the form of vegetation, stones, streets, buildings, animals, and other not easily classified things. A good deal of that information is mirrored in our brains in an abbreviated form, but by far the bulk of it is accessed by us through ongoing perception.

What then? If the mind is where its information is, we have to say that it is both internal and external to our bodies, and the more developed the mind is the more of it is external.

But if we understand the mind to be active in managing the information of interest to the person, then we have to locate the mind in the relationship between the body (with emphasis on the brain) and its environment. Certainly, a lot of that activity takes place in the brain, but equally important are the sensory functions and the body’s motor functions in orienting itself to objects and manipulating them. So the mind is an aspect of the body’s external relationships.

I am refraining from offering a definition of “mind”, because I think the concept is more useful in its vague and ambiguous popular form.