“Ought we not to consider first whether that which we wish to learn and to teach is a simple or multiform thing, and if simple, then to inquire what power it has of acting or being acted upon in relation to other things, and if multiform, then to number the forms; and see first in the case of one of them, and then in the case of all of them, what is the power of acting or being acted upon which makes each and all of them be what they are?” ~Socrates
In other words, you can’t know a thing without studying its relationships with other things. A chunk of granite may seem like something insignificant when looked at as a stand-alone object, but when it is the cornerstone of a great temple, the relationship it has with the other rocks that make up the temple, and the relationships the temple has with the people who built it and who visit it, and the relationships those people have with others in the world all contribute to what that rock truly is. Suddenly, it is not so insignificant.
A shiny, yellow rock is of little importance until the gold is extracted from it, melted down, and made into a ring for a king. Suddenly, that little yellow rock has become significant because of the relationships it has. A king is killed to get the ring from him by a rival. A king from another kingdom starts a war thinking that, after seeing the ring, this little kingdom must have a lot of gold. And on it goes.
A bug floating on a pond isn’t important when looked at as a simple thing, but when a kid jumps in the water to catch the bug and drowns, and the child’s parents blame the older kid who was supposed to be watching the little one, and a rivalry develops between the two families, that bug is not so insignificant anymore.
Environmentalists have made some steps forward in getting us to understand how everything is interrelated, but only a few small steps, and even they mess us (remember, the mess we are now having with plastic bags is because environmentalists insisted we stop cutting down forests to make paper ones).
Our own bodies are made of many interconnected parts with various relationships. In addition, we have other life forms, specifically bacteria, living in us that we do not consider to be part of ourselves, yet we can’t live without them. The gears importance is only understood by looking at the machine it is part of. The photograph is understood only by looking at the whole, not at individual pixels.
As a retired Software Engineer, I know about and understand the modern type of data base called “relational”. Basically, the idea of this type of data base is that bits of data are only useful if we can relate them to other pieces to form a complete picture. Further, we need to be able to relate them in different ways under different conditions. I may, for example, need a list today of all retired people living in Nevada, and tomorrow one of people who are collecting Social Security. I may appear on both reports, yet I haven’t changed, I am simply being related to other parts of the world in different ways.
Unfortunately, many sciences still study things with little regard for relationships, even on a basis level. One exception is Quantum Physics. One of the basic rules of that fairly new science is that the observer affects the observed, which is saying that when we look at something, it changes and is not the same a it was before we looked. Isn’t that the ultimate statement of relationships and interconnectedness? And Quantum Mechanics has demonstrated that particles are related, or connected, on a subatomic level by a means not yet understood.
Going in the other direction, how do cells, molecules, and the tiny atoms relate to the thing they are currently forming? One would have to conclude that every atom he is made of is part of what he is, and that makes perfect sense. Yet, those atoms existed in physical form long before you were born into the material world. Some of those atoms were previously part of a frog, other were part of a tree, and still others were part of a murderer. One atom in your body was once in the brain of Einstein, but another was in the brain of Hitler. One atom in your nose was part of a rose, but another was part of a stink weed. In short, the atoms that make up your physical body have probably been part of almost every other life form on the planet, as well as supposedly non-living things like rocks. How’s that for relationships?
On the spiritual level, things are different, yet not that different. On that level also, every spirit and soul is related to and interconnected with every other spirit and are all part of the one Great Spirit that most of us call God. St. Francis understood this when he called animals, plants, and even the sun and the moon his brothers and sisters. It’s all about relationships.