Everything Is Connected To Everything Else

Barry Commoner? Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? Leonardo da Vinci? Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.? John Muir? Jean Piaget? Daniel Patrick Moynihan? Solomon Short? David Gerrold? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The universe reflects a pervasive interconnectedness. Here are two versions of a pertinent adage:

Everything is connected to everything else.
Everything connects to everything else.

Ecological thinkers have used this as a guiding principle. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this notion probably occurred in the mind of a primordial philosopher, but this article will center on written expressions from prominent figures.

This adage has often been attributed to the Italian Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci who died in 1519, but QI has only found citations for this linkage in recent decades, and this evidence is not substantive.

In 1769 German dramatist and philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing published “Hamburgische Dramaturgie” (“The Hamburg Dramaturgy”) which contained a match. Below is an English translation[ref] 1889, Selected Prose Works of G. E. Lessing, New Revised Edition, Translated from the German by E. C. Beasley and Helen Zimmern, Edited by Edward Bell, Section: Dramatic Notes, Sub-Section: Number 70, Quote Page 399, George Bell and Sons, London. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref] followed by the original text in German. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1769, Hamburgische Dramaturgie by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Zweyter Theil (Volume 2), Quote Page 140 and 141, J. Dodsley und Compagnie. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

In nature everything is connected, everything is interwoven, everything changes with everything, everything merges from one into another. But according to this endless variety it is only a play for an infinite spirit. In order that finite spirits may have their share of this enjoyment, they must have the power to set up arbitrary limits, they must have the power to eliminate and to guide their attention at will.

In der Natur ist alles mit allem verbunden; alles durchkreuzt sich, alles wechselt mit allem, alles verändert sich eines in das andere. Aber nach dieser unendlichen Mannigfaltigkeit ist sie nur ein Schauspiel für einen unendlichen Geist. Um endliche Geister an dem Genusse desselben Anteil nehmen zu lassen, mußten diese das Vermögen erhalten, ihr Schranken zu geben, die sie nicht hat; das Vermögen abzusondern und ihre Aufmerksamkeit nach Gutdünken lenken zu können.

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

In 1896 influential U.S. jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote a piece in “The Youth’s Companion” titled “The Bar as a Profession” which contained the following passage:[ref] 1896 February 20, The Youth’s Companion, The Bar as a Profession (Part 2 of 2) by Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts), Start Page 92, Quote Page 92, Column 3, Perry Mason & Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

If the world is a subject for rational thought it is all of one piece; the same laws are found everywhere, and everything is connected with everything else; and if this is so, there is nothing mean, and nothing in which may not be seen the universal law.

In 1911 U.S. naturalist John Muir published “My First Summer in the Sierra” based on his travels in 1869. Muir penned a thematic match:[ref] 1911, My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir, Quote Page 211, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow mountaineers.

Prominent Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget published “Le Langage et la pensée chez l’enfant” in 1923. An English translation titled “The Language and Thought of the Child” appeared in 1926. Piaget discussed the limited reasoning capabilities of young children:[ref] 1926, The Language and Thought of the Child by Jean Piaget, (Translation of Le Langage et la pensée chez l’enfant), Chapter 4: Some Peculiarities of Verbal Understanding in the Child Between the Ages of Nine and Eleven, Quote Page 150, Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

The fact that for the syncretistic point of view everything is related, everything is connected to everything else, everything is perceived through a network of general schemas built up of imagery, of analogies of detail and of contingent circumstances, makes it quite natural that the idea of the accidental or the arbitrary should not exist for the syncretistic mentality, and that consequently a reason should be found for everything.

In 1969 the prominent U.S. environmentalist Barry Commoner published the article “Can We Survive?” in “The Washington Monthly”. He described the unintended consequences of short-sighted policies regarding pollution:[ref] 1969 December, The Washington Monthly, Can We Survive? by Barry Commoner, Start Page 12, Quote Page 15, Column 1, Washington D.C. (Unz) [/ref]

Now there is another simple rule of environmental biology that is appropriate here: “Everything is connected to everything else.” The valley towns soon learned this truth, as their drinking water supplies—which were taken from wells that tapped the rising level of underground water—began to show increasing concentrations of nitrate.

In June 1970 Commoner published a piece in the “Boston Sunday Globe” of Massachusetts, and he repeated the saying:[ref] 1970 June 21, Boston Sunday Globe, Biologist examines the question: Pollution: will the sun shine through? by Barry Commoner, Quote Page A3, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) [/ref]

The first law of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else.

The ecosystem is a vast network of interconnections; between animals that use oxygen and the plants that produce it; between insects and the plants they live on; between animals and the insects they eat; between host and parasite; between the air and the water and all living things.

Also, in 1970 politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan received credit within testimony submitted to a U.S. Senate hearing:[ref] 1970, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Education of the Committee On Labor and Public Welfare United States Senate, Ninety-First Congress, Second Session, On S.3883, and S.4167, June 9, 24, 30, July 10, August 11 and 27, 1970, Statement by Rev. John McCarthy, Administrator, St. Theresa Catholic School, Start Page 516, Quote Page 517 and 518, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

Our cities enjoy and suffer from their extensive interrelatedness. To use one of Mr. Moynihan’s apt phrases, “everything is connected to everything.”

In 1971 Barry Commoner published the best-selling book “The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology”, and he mentioned the adage again:[ref] 1971, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology by Barry Commoner, Chapter 2: The Ecosphere, Quote Page 33, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans; Internet Archive) [/ref]

The First Law of Ecology:
Everything Is Connected to Everything Else

In 1980 science fiction author David Gerrold published a book in the “Star Trek” universe titled “The Galactic Whirlpool”. Gerrold assigned the maxim to a fictional philosopher he had created called Solomon Short:[ref] 1980, The Galactic Whirlpool: A Star Trek Novel by David Gerrold Chapter 22, Quote Page 131, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

“Now, I know who said that one first. Solomon Short. Only he said, every thing is connected to everything else.”

In 1991 a piece in the “Regina Sun” of Saskatchewan, Canada attributed the saying to Leonardo da Vinci:[ref] 1991 December 29, Regina Sun, Increase of Awareness by M. F. Wiebe, Quote Page 17, Column 1, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

A rule for developing a good brain is to know how everything connects to everything else.—Leonardo Da Vinci (Italian)

The linkage to Lessing has not been forgotten. The 2012 book “Beyond the Screenplay: A Dialectical Approach to Dramaturgy” by Zachariah Rush contained the following passage:[ref] 2012 Copyright, Beyond the Screenplay: A Dialectical Approach to Dramaturgy by Zachariah Rush, Chapter 2: Dramatic Premise, Quote Page 34, McFarland & Company, North Carolina. (Google Books Full View) [/ref]

The German dramatist and thinker Gotthold Lessing observed: “In nature everything is connected, everything is interwoven, everything changes with everything, everything merges from one into another.”

In conclusion, QI thinks this notion is ancient, but this article focuses on written statements from prominent individuals. Philosopher Gotthold Ephraim Lessing penned an instance that was published in 1769. Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. used the saying in 1896. Jean Piaget employed the saying while describing the thought processes of children in 1926. Biologist Barry Commoner referred to the saying as the first law of ecology in 1970.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration depicting an abstract network of connections from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to IcarFaem whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. IcarFaem located the David Gerrold citation.)

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