Richard Register

Search for a Science of Unification

Written by Richard Register

Editor’s Note:

Today’s multi-dimensional crises require the social sciences to think outside their individual boxes and work toward a more inclusive, integrated and comprehensive “science of society.” So argue three authors (Garry Jacobs, Winston Nagan, and Alberto Zucconi) in a paper entitled “Unification in the Social Sciences: Search for a Science of Society” published in the October 2014 issue of Cadmus, the journal of World Academy of Art and Science. The following article illustrates the significance of this subject to Ecocity Builders. The article retains the style and format of its original form: a letter from Richard Register to author Garry Jacobs in response to reading the Cadmus paper.  


Dear Garry:

Let me share with you a few themes that come up for me when reading your paper then try to make sense of your thoughts and mine at the same time. My themes you might call them to put before you here are:

1. Dimensional pairs

Perhaps a helpful new perspective I’m offering related to the “yin-yang symbol” and your unities coming together.

2. Emergence

A notion not mine but fitting much that I’m discussing in this letter, sparked in my thinking herein by your thoughts.

3. Exaggerated gamesmanship

And the implications of becoming involved in exaggerated gamesmanship, going astray from the meaningful activities of our times that would be helpful actions in bringing about a sustainable or ecological civilization. If “dimensional pairs” is a good way of looking at things, exaggerated gamesmanship explains some solutions.

4. Total economics

Finally, I think a “Total Economics” made up of the all-embracing natural economics of physics, chemistry, ecology and biology and the later-to-evolve human economics is a helpful construct providing useful insights getting closer to the “true.” Seeing human economics also in transition from nature’s economics through “gift economics (Marcel Mauss and Karl Polanyi), which overlaps both natural and human economics, I believe also has great potential to explain things and resolve conflicts. Economics claims to be a social science, but as some have said, resembles more a religion. Nonetheless there may be a way of looking at economics in the way you look at social sciences that could help a lot. Seeing that sequence, early part linked to latter by gift economics, leading to monetized economics that could be called capital economics, and realizing the “poles” of capitalist vs. socialist economics amount to a new dimensional pair competing and cooperating in a game that can get exaggerated to destructive ends, might also help toward deciding what games make sense to engage – and make healthy, better ways of life into the future. We can endure and sustain if we play the games that fit our times and our position in evolution in time and that don’t get distorted by exaggeration.

But let me start with your start:

Title too narrowly drawn considering the paper’s ambition! I’d have called it not “Unification in the Social Sciences: Search for a Science of Society,” but rather “Unification in the Social Sciences: Search for a Science of Unification.” Of course I know a little of the context in which the paper appears, and your title is appropriate to that, but the other is just the way my mind works.

1. Dimensional pairs

Yes, so much evolutionary progress – emergence – in philosophy, science and religion is in finding the unity in diversity. But the devils and the gods, not to speak the murderers and lovers, are in the details. That rich and ever so personal stuff. One wonders where it will all end.

My guess it’s in 1+1=1.

That’s not conventional math in the strict rules of the physics, relativity, quantum mechanics (despite “fuzzy numbers” constantly turning up new patterns that seem true, read, ultimately, permutations and judging proportions) in our apparent mass/energy universe. It’s more like the ancient Chinese yin-yang opposite black and white tadpoles swirling around one another with oppositely contrasting dots in their middles.

But 1+1=1 recast in language, I just recently noticed, could be described as a phenomenon I call “dimensional pairs.” I think the thought adds clarity and comprehensiveness to the venerable symbol from long ago. It came to me, by the way, studying economics, a social science, (capitalism vs. socialism) and emergence in physics in looking at the work of Robert B. Laughlin in “A Different Universe – Physics from the Bottom Down.”

I’m also not sure the formula for everything, the general field theory in some sort of formulation, is best formulated in math as attempted/executed by Einstein and Hawking and maybe getting close. Maybe better in common language. I tend to think common language that admits the fuzzy logic of intuition emerging with life in evolutionary time might work better. Common language generalizes “fuzzily” but often correctly according to what’s most important in our human world, as well as uses crisp logic. It employs higher pattern recognition of wholes as well as recognition of smaller “scientific” “certainties” attained through controlled experiment within nearly pure artificial environments or from observing the massive quantitative relationships of objects and motions like planets, stars and galaxies so large and general, details are like microscopic echoes of distant static. Actually, life on this planet and others, if there, is that microscopic relative to measuring such mega phenomena. But exist life does, another, the biological step, in emergence beyond the emergence of chemistry in the cauldron of physics of the early universe of almost exclusively hydrogen in the gestating stars cooking up then blowing out the heavier elements. All that is why, looking at social sciences, I’d bet you tend, like me, to think common language (refined for the task) would be even more appropriate to seeking a general field theory than math, law-giver of the universe when physics, without chemistry, much less without life, was the all and everything. I’d also think all us mere mortals unstudied and bereft of the gifts of math-oriented brains would breathe a sigh of relief approaching these larger problems of truth seeking, if science be one of my favorite definitions for it, simply: “the search for reliable information about our world.”

So 1+1=1 or the yin-yang symbol may do – a little in our post physics and chemistry only universe – but “dimensional pairs” are much richer and seem to be the dance of universal dynamics in the largest – all time and space – universe, down to us relatively microscopic life forms, and within us down again another many magnitudes through and beyond the literally microscopic in our bodies and in everything else including the smaller beyond the subatomic.

A dimension is something, without another, nothing. We can’t conceive existence without dimensional pairs, that is, just one of a pair at a time, simply because nothing exists in that construct or could in the universe we seem to be part of. For example, take these dimensional pairs: Time and Space, or, Energy and Matter. Try to imagine Time taking place in a universe without the dimension of Space. Or imagine Energy disembodied of the Matter with which to express itself. Certain ways of viewing the “all and everything” of the universe turn up those grand dimensional pairs too, though in a somewhat different way I haven’t been able to articulate in a satisfactory manner yet. Take “the Universal” and the “Unique.” Applicable both together to all things or… no things.

2. Emergence

Then there are the emergent dimensional pairs that appear in the “little universes” we see all around, the sub-sets of the universe that the old total universe spawned in evolutionary time, such as in the life of us mammals within the life of all life, within and following temporally the laws of chemistry, within and following temporally the laws of physics. For example, no male and female within our mammalian universe, in short order, no human. (Though we could possibly cook up artificial means to the end that is reproduction; but then we’d be having artificial facsimiles of male and female anyway.) I’ve already mentioned in the world of economics, capitalism and socialism, which define the “economy” as the whole system as an interplay between free markets, which work beautifully in many ways, and regulation that also works beautifully in many ways. Only together can we have a decent capital – not capitalistic – economics. (Capital economics is an elaboration of the gift economics that preceded it. It is an economics with a neutral medium of exchange – money, or capital – involved in exchanges. More in a minute.)

So what’s the beef there, between capitalism and socialism? Why price wars, lowest possible pay and angry demonstrations, attempts at monopoly and stunningly greedy executive pay, class wars, cold wars and hot, people taking sides as if one side were 100% right and virtuous and the other 100% wrong and evil?

3. Leading into exaggerated gamesmanship

That’s where I started thinking in terms of “exaggerated gamesmanship,” while studying for my new book: “World Rescue – an Economic Built on What We Build.” I explain also that human constructs, both physical and mental, are built on nature’s economics, what nature builds from minerals, water, air and sunshine and comes to us animals largely via soil and chlorophyll in plants as wood, fiber and various foods, then with us predators, also bone for tools, skins for clothes, including the belts, shoes and jackets we still wear, and so on. I try to describe the connections between nature’s and human’s economics in my writing therein. And, as the title indicates, I try to do that by emphasizing the role of actually making, building, creating things, many of them as we go about the process, new to this little corner of the universe called Earth, of a nature/human unified economics. Architect/philosopher Paolo Soleri called these created things “neomatter”. I prefer “neomatter/energy, as matter/energy is the total dimensional pair. (Maybe call the “pair” as a whole “mattergy” and as created by humans “neomattergy”? Actually, animals create neomattergy too: think beeswax hives for example.)

Now to look at a point to be examined more carefully in your paper. You have about half way through quoted Carl Jung: “Everything needs its opposite for existence.” Classic dimensional pair. But then he goes on to make an assumption I don’t accept. “The indivisible, whole being that the Individual is, is made completely when he accepts and integrates all aspects of his personality, realizing in the process that contradictions are complements.”

I believe he errs in saying the dimensions are contra-dictions, spoken against one another, more or less like enemies, one to best or get rid of the other in normal understanding of “contradiction,” or that one is simply wrong, contradicted by the other. This may be a quibble because his statement comes to the unity I think is important, but my point: the apparent opposites are not opponents and opposites in that sense but dimensions of the whole. Thinking of them as dimensions instead of fighting opposites solves lots of problems, not the least of which is tendency to drift toward hyper competition, conflict and war where economic, political, religious, racial or other diametrically “opposed” force come to engage one another. Sometimes they are in genuine opposition, sometimes instead, dimensional pairs. Where we are dealing in fact with a dimensional pair (“pair” being a crude representation of what is really going on here, but for the time being I think will have to do) it helps to realize that. Plus it seems to me to be the deeper truth of the matter to understand the distinction and realize the benefits of understanding the distinction. With dimensional pairs it is, again: each, without the other, nothing.

Then, Garry, you say about 2/3rds of the way through, “No social science can be complete or effective that partitions the objective and subjective aspects of social reality, as if they are separate realms of existence that exist and can be studied independently from one another. Valid economic and political theory and practice can never be divorced from sociology, anthropology and psychology.” I’d say this is absolutely true for the reasons above. You continue:

“The psychology of the individual can never be understood without reference to social and cultural context. In his actions as well as his understanding, FDR applied a remarkable combination of subjective powers – superb communications skills and exuberant personal charm – to stop the panic of 1933…” (I deal with him a lot in my book.)

Then more. You say, “The true relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in human affairs does not lend itself to this radical approach. All human accomplishment represents an objectification of the subjective components of reality. [Your italics.] All human creation is founded on subjective truth.”

My response would be: …founded on subjective and objective truth, as clear as we can get regarding both, both together being the whole of those two inextricable dimensions: objectivity and subjectivity. Objective and subjective is a good way of talking about some things, making meaningful distinctions, but there is the higher unity you strive to describe too. In this case, the whole is the universe that social sciences address: our human existence as beings, individually and collectively. Dig in really deeply and try to separate out what seems to be either subjective or objective and I think you’d find in the interrelationship, neither of them – subjectivity nor objectivity – ever isolated from the other. I think it’s one of those dimensional pairs that begins with consciousness of the individual, even early animal individual, if in them, we humans might label that level of awareness subconscious or something else “lower.” But it is some kind of mind function in nervous tissue in whatever species and its social context and also in relation to the ecological, chemical and physics world the individual organism finds itself in.

As implied by that last sentence, this need not be conscious in the human language and manipulative sense as revealed in the making of tools and products, or even in what could be recorded in nerve-like tissues becoming brain and nervous system since down to simplest organisms, genetics hard wires many species early in evolution not to learn and store information but far more importantly to react from genetic programming. That’s coarsely called instinct. It is a matter of survival.

I think it is best described, as far as my reading goes, in a book called “Animal Architects – Building and the Evolution of Intelligence” by James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould. In the intense competition for survival of animals, and even plants and fungi, that have hundreds of offspring or thousands of seeds or millions of spores for every one that lives to reproduce, there is no time for the individual making mistakes. With Darwin and Wallace’s intense competition around every rock, tree trunk and moldering twig down in the leaf litter lurking in wait for the non-fittest, the individual has to be programmed to do its best with as absolutely little experimentation and few mistakes as possible, to be corrected later. Later is not assured. A plan, or at least a “readiness” in the genetics of reaction to the environment is crucial. Also you will note, maybe the early organism’s nervous tissue hasn’t evolved enough for the complex internal tasks of the remembering and learning. The authors do a magnificent job of tying all that together with a brain and nervous system evolving and growing in capacity up to highest levels… such as beavers! Actually of course they rate people more complex and creative in learning and thinking capacity. But it is truly amazing how sophisticated and in many cases how complex non-human animal brains are at remembering and even creating future oriented activities with some real grasp of potential outcomes. Beavers, for example, actually do react creatively and “plan” in an indecipherable mix of instinct and flowing thought, another and evolving dimensional pair in the universe of their selves/environment totality: instinct and learning, nature and nurture, but in early stages of evolution of life, commanded by genetics, not thinking in a brain. Such dynamics pervade nature’s economics.

4. Total economics

Stepping now into human economics, imagine very early peoples engaging in early stages of what could be thought of as human’s economics in particular. Recognized by not that many, the sociologists Marcel Mauss and Karl Polanyi have played a very important role in noticing what they call “gift economics.” They say barter as conceived by capitalist and socialist and probably before them all other economists in the medieval to mercantile to capitalist vs. socialist tradition projected into the past a system in many ways like their own system. In fact, Mauss and Polanyi claim, there is little evidence such barter ever took place in ancient tribal scale economics, of pre-monetized economics. Looking deeper and deeper into evidence of the economics of pre-monetized material and services exchanges they found not perfunctory and matched equal value trades but gift giving going back and forth of a very different character. Such exchanges were based on the social meanings in reciprocal generosity/obligations sequence punctuated by appropriately “long” time gaps and associated socializing, making personal friendships and group treaties or, in failure, breaking them off.

But I get ahead of myself. Gift economics start way before humanity appears on the scene, millions of years before in fact there were even humans. That means gift economics are a sort of transition bridge between nature’s and human’s economics linking the two. It starts in animals in symbiotic relationship between species and family care within a species. Think cleaner shrimp, spiny little delicate things darting about the gnarly teeth of enormously larger fish, cleaning their teeth of jammed pieces of food, cleaning their teeth while, like humans in the dentist’s chair, the big ancient fish waits patiently – like a patient. Think mother mammal with infant attached to modified sweat glands enlarged, specialized and called breasts by people these days. Think male human out killing some poor other mammal, while mate suckles offspring, male killing the animal to bring it home for food, tools and clothing, even proto tents for proto architecture: gift economics. Everyone is just plain giving and receiving all the time. The participants just give to one another as appropriate. (Interesting side note: does this mean the Communist maxim “from those according to their ability, to those according to their need” is a throwback to earlier essence of pre-money gift economics, or maybe a premonition of a more ecologically tuned economics of the future? Or maybe neither? Or maybe both?)

The basis of all this, again, is nature’s economics: the actual physical changes and exchanges derived from sun, earth, air and water through photosynthesis to human economics “manufacturing” scrapers, “hand axes,” arrows, baskets, pots, longhouses, pueblos… nuclear weapons, the Internet…

At a certain point when various cultures develop ever-longer getting-to-be-quite-unwieldy “artifact lists” – I’ll let you figure out that one – a neutral medium of exchange becomes necessary and money and market economics are born more or less together. Suddenly we have a new dynamics with new positive potential and new problems.

This is not capitalism. It is capital economics defined by the dynamics liberated by its grease – money’s lubricating capacity – that radically speeds everything and makes the handling of vastly increased numbers of products and services possible.

But early on, with the tendency to monopoly and the rich accumulating ever more due to the compounding of many powers that accumulate that capital makes possible, we have a class division that defines a new polarity in some people’s terminology but a new dimensional pair in my terms making up the whole that is capital economics.

One pole or dimension of capital economics, represented generally by capitalists, champions maximum profits as reward to the invention, production and management skills of owners and/or managers by featuring and promoting freedom of action, wealth accumulation in private hands of a small elite and reinvestment of part of that wealth in growth. Capitalists promote low taxes and few government services and regulations all in a context where competition is king and the result is supposed to be the common good – after all, the people buy the products and services and thus have noteworthy responsibility in the existence/maintenance of the system.

One other pole or dimension of capital economics, represented generally by socialists, champions hard work and cleverness down in the trenches of labor, features freedom to bargain toward high levels of equality of income with ownership and management shared by the many and reinvestment of part of that wealth in growth – in that rare exception, there has been considerable agreement, humans agreeing to exploit nature. Socialists promote high class-distinction reducing, benefits-sharing taxes and numerous government services and regulations all in a context where cooperation is king and the result is supposed to be the common good – after all, the people are not only those buying the products and services but also those working hard to provide them.

We are all familiar with this basic pairing and sparring.

In other words, along comes gamesmanship. We can get swept away by it. Most people love games, from card games to sports engaged in or just watched, to politics unto vast economics projects to win “Progress” or war. Games follow various rules, making it possible to rate skills and accrue glory, generally in proportion to how impressive the competition in the game is. That is, there is a tendency toward extremes to heighten the stakes and excitement level. Of course everyone in the game also cooperates by playing by the rules, and the rules change usually, if at all, only very slowly and by broad consensus over generally long periods of time, enough time for lots of games to happen, establishing broadly accepted standards. This applies to board games, gambling, sports, economics, religion – all sorts of fields of action. And the generally more high pressure and active, or high stakes and clever, the more glory to the winner.

The politician getting strident, the fundamentalist becoming terrorist, the leader agitating for war gets a disproportionate amount of attention. Life and death contests and violent action attracting human attention goes back through evolution as a priority for self-defense. We tend to focus most intently on such games and players. Votes, sales of papers, television sponsorships and growing wealth as prizes go up as the game intensifies. It is a natural tendency based on prioritization for survival going way, way back in time. Accepting the game also means the one time loser can, maybe, come back to win next time. The allure is there on all sorts of levels.

The problem is that the gamesmanship can become quite extreme as soccer matches morph into post game riots, as one nation state, ethnic group, economic dogma or religions group feels it has to knock out the opponent in the game forever or push them way, way back and goes to war. In economics, though, as in most games, by definition the game needs both sides to exist at all, and is thus a dimensional pair with vicissitudes of fate and skills swinging back and forth – if we are to survive in a healthy world, within reasonable limits. Yes, play games – it is only natural – but realize what we are all doing.

If we are aware of this dynamic, I believe, we have a much better chance of healthy coexistence of all players. We can then say, “Is anything but its more mild forms really worth it if the damage amounts to collapsing of natural systems at the basis of nature’s economics: climate change, resources depletion, extinction of species?” Shouldn’t we stop wasting our time with games like this and switch to others? In fact James Carse in a short and wonderful book called “Finite and Infinite Games” points out that there is another game, which one might think looks a lot like life itself – but I don’t have the time to get into it. But we should try it out. One hint only: Finite games have an end and winner, infinite games don’t and we might all be winners.

5. In conclusion…

Don’t all the sciences including the social sciences suggest that, if we are serious about any kind of healthy planet, games have to radically change, get mellowed out or changed, completely shifted to other fields of competition and cooperation working together in dynamic mutual action and resonance? Dancing is a good analogy, as compared to wrestling – or dueling. Games are needed like rebuilding our agricultural systems and cities for sustainability, competing and cooperating to see how we can build soils best and restore maximum biodiversity as effectively as possible. These new games, part of life evolving and infinitely alive, games that don’t come to a close with a victor and a vanquished, the infinite games, are not to produce dead opponents like the games of extreme exaggeration. They would seem to require none other as a very major step at this time in a history, even evolution, clearly seen and scientifically addressed, with the values of striving for ultimates that religions and philosophies have traditionally embodied for millennia.

So your paper has set me to reviewing and expanding some of my thinking on a couple constructs I’m developing, that I think help me better understand the role of the built environment that I’ve been dealing with as perhaps my main preoccupation for three quarters of my life. Thanks!


Sculpture of a disabled gun in front of the United Nations Building, New York City. Gamesmanship OK; Exaggerated gamesmanship – not so much. Results in the need to work hard for peace and ecological good sense.


Image uploaded by ZhengZhou on Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Richard Register

Richard Register is an eco-pioneer and founder of Ecocity Builders. He lectures and consults internationally and has authored several books of illustrations and ecocity design principles. Get his latest book, World Rescue – an Economics Built on What We Build online or directly from the author by emailing ecocity (at) igc (dot) org.