Epilogue 2. Ten questions
and answers about my understanding of 'inclusionality'
Alan, you've developed what many people might
regard as a revolutionary way of understanding nature and human
nature, especially considering where you're coming from as a biological
scientist. What on Earth has possessed you to think like this?
Well, I suppose that at the very heart of my
soul is a feeling that I am indeed possessed, not by some evil
demon, but by the Life and Love of Nature, which I can regard
both as Divine Creativity and as Evolution, Everywhere, without
contradiction. Creativity is amongst us, not beyond us.
I therefore feel myself to be not apart from
Nature but a fluid expression OF Nature, a flow of creative possibility
- at least on a good day! This feeling brings with it an extraordinary
sense of empathy for all life. I love to use and communicate this
empathy in my work as a biological scientist, artist and educator
as I imagine myself inside the variably extensible, permeable
and transient skin of the life forms I study in order to appreciate
the world from their viewpoint. I commonly ask students to 'imagine
you're a fungus, like I often do' and they giggle delightfully.
But my request is serious as well as humorous - because I think
that only through this kind of empathy is it possible to gain
real depth of understanding of our natural human neighbourhood.
I have found it to open up huge vistas of opportunity for new
kinds of research enquiry, which, amongst other things have led
me to depart radically from orthodox Darwinian explanations of
This feeling of possession BY Nature is very
different, of course, from the desire for ownership of and dominion
over Nature that has been characteristic of much human thought
and ambition for thousands of years, perhaps traceable to an original
Fall from Grace. Even today, as we face the potentially catastrophic
implications of this desire in environmental, social and psychological
crisis, we tend to ask not 'How can we help the World to Save
Us?' but 'How can we help ourselves to save the World?' We, by
which I mean many of us, still imagine that somehow we're high
performance automatons fully in charge of and therefore fully
responsible for our own destiny, as if we're each independently
driven by some internal command centre, regardless of our dynamic
situation. That, for me, is the kind of thinking that gets us
into a global mess, not what gets us out of it.
How can what you call 'inclusionality' help
us out of global crisis?
First I should perhaps emphasize that you really
don't need to be incredibly clever or sophisticated academically
to understand inclusionality. In fact, being too academic, as
people often say that I am, can be a real obstacle to understanding
Inclusionality is in many ways a very obvious,
very simple, common sense awareness, which corresponds with our
everyday experience of life and our relationships with one another
and the world about us. It is also consistent with modern scientific
findings implicit in relativity, quantum mechanics and non-linear
theory. All it amounts to in physical terms is envisaging all
form as flow-form, a fluid dynamic inclusion - not an occupier
- of space, which cannot be completely defined in an unfrozen
world. In other words, life isn't permanently fixed in discrete
boxes and neither is love.
What proves difficult is seeing this natural
simplicity through all the clutter of abstract logic, detailed
information, academic scholarship, technological wizardry, financial
game-playing and environmentally unsustainable activity that many
of us have come to take for granted as inescapable and even desirable
ingredients of modern civilization. Even more difficult is to
see how this simplicity lies at the heart of the complex and unpredictable
manifestations of natural dynamic geometry. It involves seeing
the implicit spaceyness or holeyness of the WOOD both through
and via its explicit and diverse manifestations, the TREES. This
spaceyness is what may be described in various cultures and belief
systems as 'Holy Ghost', 'Tao', 'Brahman', 'Buddha Nature', 'Maasauu',
'Wankan-Tanka', 'Tirawa' and 'Kwoth'. It is the receptive Mother
aspect of Nature, which provides possibility for creative transformation,
communication and relationship. It is like the solvent, water,
in a solution of salt. When the solvent is removed, the solute,
salt, remains as a dry precipitate.
The rationalistic logic upon which modern civilization
has largely been founded has had the effect of removing the solvent
Spirit from the solution of Nature, by isolating matter from space
and regarding the latter as 'nothing', an immaterial emptiness
devoid of meaning. What is abstracted by this logic is the desiccated
material objects that many of us imagine is 'all there is' to
life and our individual, independent, free-willed selves, deprived
of the receptive solvent that pools us together in co-creative
relationship. No wonder we find ourselves leading deeply de-spirited,
conflicted and paradoxical lives, utterly unable to understand
or heal the damage that we inflict upon one another and our living
So, to put it very briefly, inclusionality can
help by restoring loving receptive spirit to our lives. Hence
we can dissolve and overturn the very basis for human hubris and
enmity that resides in the either/or logic of opposition, and
work empathically - receptively and responsively rather than actively
and reactively - together on a programme of renewal, undistracted
by the compulsion to conflict amongst ourselves. Just imagine
the possibilities of investing the resources that we currently
allocate to war and counter-terror, instead to the restoration
of our natural neighbourhood!
Many people might think that your talk of empathy,
shared responsibility and possession BY Nature is foolhardy talk,
the kind of irrationally subjective, sentimental projection of
human feelings onto Nature that objective reasoning and the Scientific
Revolution helped us to escape from. Couldn't the acceptance of
inclusionality make a drama out of a crisis and knock us back
into the Stone Age, if not Oblivion?
Well, I have to say that what I think really
is foolhardy is to delude ourselves into thinking that we have
more control over our destiny and ability to predict the future
than is realistic in a complex, ever-changing world without fixed
boundaries. This delusion is a product of objectivity, not subjectivity.
It comes from thinking that nature is divisible into fully definable
material units that can be singled out from one another, measured
and counted out of the context of their natural, fluid dynamic
relationships. The naturalist poet, William Wordsworth, recognised
this delusion when in challenge to Erasmus Darwin - Charles Darwin's
grandfather - he said that 'in nature everything is distinct,
yet nothing defined into absolute, independent singleness'. Sadly,
however, the significance of this challenge seemingly went unrecognized.
And so the delusion that 'life is a struggle for existence amongst
absolute, independent singlenesses, in which winners and losers
are discriminated through the external force of natural selection'
became deeply entrenched in the modern mind. It was an easy concept
for this mind to grasp, enthralled as it already was by Isaac
Newton's mechanical Laws of Motion based on the logic of the excluded
middle, rooted in Aristotle's philosophy, whereby everything either
is or is not.
This 'to be or not to be', 'something or nothing'
logic, which leads us 'to take arms against a sea of troubles
and by opposing end them' is, I think, at the root of human conflict
and human tragedy, as Shakespeare's Hamlet might testify. It makes
us think more simplistically, not more simply, about natural dynamics
- in effect to collapse the natural world of relational flow-form
into a concrete world of fixed form securely contained within
the 3-dimensional Box of Euclid's abstract geometry of widthless
lines and depthless planes. This simplistically straightforward
way of thinking cannot adequately represent what it means to inhabit,
as we do, the ever-transforming curved surface of a more or less
spherical Earth, which in turn inhabits the curved energy-space
of the Universe. But we, many of us, continue to act as though
it does, whilst using profoundly inadequate mathematical, scientific
and philosophical tools of enquiry. And so, in many ways, we force
ourselves to bear the suffering that comes from alienation, living
out our lives within a concretely constructed reality that we
impose brutally upon the fluid geometry of Nature. I think we
can escape this alienation by allowing ourselves to develop and
express a more empathic, inclusional understanding of our natural
But here I must emphasize that the kind of empathy
I am talking about is very different from the kind of subjective
sentimentality and projection of human emotions that some may
imagine. It is about imaginatively letting go of our individual
and collective human agendas in order to experience how it feels
to be in the place of another. Of course, what we imagine may
be quite inappropriate, but as long as we're aware of and ready
to experiment with this possibility, what opens up is a much greater
receptivity to others. I see this receptivity or openness as what
has been largely ignored or even rejected by objective logic.
I see it as no more and no less than Love.
So, no, I don't think that the restoration of
life and love to our forms of reasoning and enquiry will deliver
us back to the Stone Age. I think it will liberate us from the
Concrete Age. I think it is vital.
Is inclusionality your own idea and have you
found that many people agree with you?
No and not yet.
It couldn't be my own idea, because proprietorship
is the first notion to dissolve when we accept ourselves as expressions,
not owners of Nature. I express inclusionality: she's not my baby
- if anything I'm hers. Moreover, there are many mystics, shamans,
sages and prophets, even a few philosophers and scientists, who
I think have endeavoured to express something similar, although
their efforts have generally been ignored, misunderstood, rejected
or rationalized. And I didn't develop and couldn't have developed
the idea of inclusionality in isolation - my form of expression
of this awareness emerged in co-creative conversation with a small
sharing circle of others, most notably my friend and regular correspondent,
Ted Lumley. Where there is originality in my expression, this
arises from my uniquely situated identity as a local inclusion
of everywhere, what I call a 'complex self' with inner, outer
and intermediary aspects, like a river system whose stream both
shapes and is shaped by landscape through its shifting banks and
valley sides. This originality includes the label - nothing more,
nothing less - of 'inclusionality', which I made up with others'
prompting and acceptance, as an indicator of departure from the
division of nature into factions and fractions implicit in the
I have encountered much opposition to and incomprehension
of my expression of inclusionality, which has obstructed my ability
to communicate with a wide audience. Nonetheless there are some
encouraging signs of a gathering momentum. In spite of several
efforts to close me down, I have managed to run a final year undergraduate
course about inclusionality, called 'Life, Environment and People',
for six years, to growing numbers of biology, natural science,
psychology and management students at the University of Bath.
The course includes an invitation to use of artwork to express
and challenge scientific ideas in a critical and creative way.
With few exceptions, the students have loved and deeply understood
it, finding it to have a transforming influence on their lives
and career choices. I am beginning to get papers published in
journals and books, and have written or almost written two books
of my own, not yet properly published. Four PhD theses based on
inclusionality have now been accepted in the University of Bath.
I have found great receptivity for inclusional thinking in an
international educational movement inspired by my colleague, Jack
Whitehead's 'Living Action Research Theory'.
If you admit that inclusional thinkers are
in a tiny minority at this time, an exception to the rule, isn't
it too much, even rather arrogant, to expect people to follow
you? Aren't you yourself too exceptional or eccentric a kind of
person to make sense to the common man?
Actually, I am no exception to the rule that
everyone's personal situation and life experience is exceptional
because no one can inhabit exactly the same locality and so view
the world in exactly the same way as any other. What seems to
be unusual is my recognition that this exceptionality is not only
what shapes the uniqueness of my individual view, but also what
all of us have in common, the source of difference or distinct
identity through which we can evolve together in a spirit of co-creative
For many people these differences appear to
be what gets in the way of our community feeling, making them
feel obliged to conform with some single, objective view of truth
that all can be led by and compete to express in spite of their
subjectivity. But this pressure to conform can actually be a source
of the great over-simplification that devalues our individual
experiences and diminishes our ability to contribute to the common
good. We miss out on the sense of belonging that comes with love
and respect for our differences and in our distress strive instead
to join one group or another in which we pretend to be all the
same whilst discriminating between 'you' and 'me', 'us' and 'them'
and 'here' and 'there'. We divide ourselves up into warring factions
rather than loving partners cognizant of one another's unique
and complementary perspectives.
What the way of thinking that I am expressing
offers to the common man is the liberty to be uncommon, indeed
exceptional, and through that exceptionality discover what we
really have in common with one another and nature. At the very
heart of inclusionality is an awareness of exceptionality and
how by pooling exceptionalities together we make exceptional teams
and communities, capable of highly innovative solutions to problems
through our co-creative agreement to differ. Sooner or later,
I feel this awareness has to catch on, so that we can become a
majority of non-conformists working together through love and
respect for what both distinguishes and unites us in both individual
and collective enterprise.
As to the question of whether I expect people
to follow me, the short answer is no, but I hope people may be
inspired by and able to learn from my mistakes and accomplishments.
I merely want to express my understanding as well as I can and
offer this to others in a spirit of common passion.
But this question does allow me to make a distinction
between rationalistic and inclusional ways of providing guidance
to or for others. Rationalistic leadership is based on the imposition
of powerful authority and is the predominant form of human governance
that we see today, arising from the logic of opposition. It cannot
provide true democracy in the sense of governance for all by all.
Rule by elites, even elites elected by majorities, are forms of
oppression, not democracy. Inclusional craftsmanship, by contrast,
is about the acquisition and communication of skillful practice
through learning and creativity within the context of natural
neighbourhood as a true democracy, where every learner is simultaneously
an educator and vice versa through shared experience. Such opening
up of creative possibility for one another is what I like to participate
Is there anything unusual in your personal
background or life experience that has led you to inclusionality?
I guess my story emerged from my early childhood
in Africa. During this phase of my life, when I didn't go to school
much and roamed a large semi-wild garden full of delights and
dangers, I developed an intense love and respect for the natural
world. And I saw my humanity as being OF this world, not apart
When, back in Britain, I did eventually attend
school and university, the disparity between what I found myself
expected to learn and what I felt from my childhood experience
could not have been more strident. I sensed a terrible collision
between my compassionate feelings and the dogmatic views of human
and non-human nature that I was being presented with in science,
mathematics, history and religious education lessons. I remember
coming home from school one day and writing, 'the world has cancer
and the cancer cell is man', an indication of my dismay about
the imperialistic thinking of what I sometimes call 'the Vampire
Archetype', which declares independence from its host space whilst
draining it of vitality.
This collision led to a deep internal conflict
between my head, which wanted to excel intellectually and conform
with the expectations of my family and peer group, and my heart,
which wanted simply to live, love and be loved. Eventually it
led to breakdown - or breakthrough - when at what many regard
as the zenith of my academic career. I was diagnosed with the
quality known as 'obsessive-compulsive disorder' (OCD), for which
the standard treatment is 'anti-empathy' drugs like Prozac and
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This lifelong quality - I
refuse to call it a disorder, unless it be openly creative disorder
- has led me to search desperately for a kind of understanding
that would dissolve what I sometimes call 'the clot between head
and heart' by including love in logic: in other words, inclusionality.
What would a world
of inclusional thinkers look like - would there be less pain and
nastiness - for you can't deny that Nature can be nastily violent
as well as lovingly receptive, can you?
It might not LOOK very different from what we
see today, although I suspect there would be less intrusive architecture,
agriculture and industry and fewer centres of over-population.
But I'm sure it would FEEL different - far more supportive, forgiving,
companionable, encouraging and above all, FAR MORE RELAXED, pleasurable
That is not to say that there would be no suffering,
but rather a far greater resilience in our ability both individually
and collectively to withstand and grow in creative depth of understanding
through suffering. Suffering is altogether much harder to bear
in an uncompassionate society, intent on competitive performance
and finding, blaming, punishing and eliminating whatever it views
as not good enough, regardless of the fact that no form or behaviour
can be independent of the cultural context in which it is expressed.
Also, to be empathic and aware of one's frailties in such a society
is liable to be deeply painful and unsettling. It's sure to have
us rushing for whatever anti-empathy device or pretence we can
find by way of serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, positive thinking,
behavioural therapy and a multitude of addictions, obsessions
Undoubtedly there are violent, destructive and
aggressive aspects of Nature, but to view these as a sea of troubles
that opposes us and must be defeated rather than navigated or
calmed can only aggravate nastiness. We end up in vicious cycles,
fighting fear with fear, anger with anger, rather than finding
creative ways to transform our situation, recognizing that what
we perceive as fearful may also be vital to evolutionary process
and loving receptivity. Loving receptive-responsiveness does not
defy or deny nastiness; it transforms it through understanding
where it comes from.
What's stopping us from
accepting our inclusional nature and how can this be remedied?
Most fundamentally, I suspect it's the fear
of darkness. I liken this to the fear of the unseen, mysterious
solvent that a solute might feel as the solid certainty of its
boundaries are loosened and seemingly threatened with annihilation.
Faced with the uncertain certainty of expiration
from our bodily boundaries, we, many of us, can become profoundly
attached to whatever barriers we can build or imagine that will
ensure our absolute independence as free agencies and/or collective
security. We encapsulate our egos in survival structures and confuse
this suspended animation or dormancy with real life, resenting
and opposing whatever appears to threaten our solid façades.
We become obsessed with the need for completeness and closure,
and reinforce this obsession with the objective logic of the excluded
middle that defies connection between inside and out.
We cannot see beyond or through the false dichotomy
of 'either you are with me or you are against me'. We devize a
paradoxical mathematics, which treats matter as 'something', which
counts, and space as 'nothing', which counts as zero. We regard
'positive' as 'good' and 'negative' as 'bad', through confusing
the receptivity of spatial solvent with a subtractivity that removes
rather than vitalizes solid solute, and in this way create the
paradoxical 'double negative' of false positivism. We fail to
see the symbolism of the 'plus' or 'cross' sign as 'I', 'ego',
transfigured with the space of loving receptivity and so made
responsive to its natural neighbourhood as a vital aspect of itself.
Hence 'positive' could be regarded as a dynamic inclusion of,
not an abstraction from space.
We continue to treat 'light' and 'darkness',
as discrete electromagnetic and gravitational fields rather than
vital inclusions of one another in the dynamical oneness or bothness
of energy-space. And we try to lock life and love outside of our
dislocated individual bodily selves.
How can all this be remedied? Perhaps by accepting
and learning to love darkness, what Carl Jung called our Shadow
Archetype, recognizing that its receptivity is vital to life,
love and evolutionary creativity. Only by mentally alienating
ourselves from darkness and regarding it as fearful void do we
imagine it to be evil and in this way terrorize ourselves.
Are you calling for a revolution?
Yes, but not in the mechanical sense of the
turning of a wheel or the overturning and replacement of one form
of governance or understanding by another. I am calling for a
revolution in the sense of a re-evolution, an evolution that includes
loving receptivity in its thinking and framing of reality. I am
calling for a transformation from the solid fixtures and oppositions
of the logic of the excluded middle, to the fluid dynamic receptive-responsiveness
of the logic of the included middle, with space incorporated.
I feel this transformation is vital if we are to bring our sense
of human place in Nature back into more realistic proportion and
navigate the psychological, social and environmental troubles
that we have made for ourselves through fearfully disregarding
the enormity of our immaterial aspect.
Where can the re-evolution begin?
Here and now! In fact I might question whether
a revolution really can have a beginning, for that idea is itself
based on a linear view of history referenced to an abstract time
frame. But perhaps, for now, that's another story to be explored
in far more depth than is possible here.
Meanwhile, let's liberate our minds from the
mechanistic, confrontational and competitive thinking that binds
us in old patterns of being, thinking and acting. Let's transform
our scientific, mathematical, artistic, philosophical, governmental,
social, religious and educational practices so as to be more attuned
with one another and the re-cycling processes of Nature. Let's
recall what Leonardo Da Vinci once said: 'Human subtlety will
never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more
direct than does Nature, because in her inventions, nothing is
lacking and nothing is superfluous.'
Let's accept our transient no thingness and
work imaginatively, common-spiritedly and respectfully together
within our natural neighbourhood as our flow-forms emerge and
We might just transform global crisis into a
story with a happy non-ending!
Managing Life and Environment
'Ultimately, it is land -- and a people's relationship
to land -- that is at issue in "indigenous sovereignty"
struggles. To know that "sovereignty" is a legal-theological
concept allows us to understand these struggles as spiritual projects,
involving questions about who "we" are as beings among
beings, peoples among peoples. Sovereignty arises from within
a people as their unique expression of themselves as a people.
It is not produced by court decrees or government grants, but
by the actual ability of a people to sustain themselves in a place.
This is self-determination' - Peter d'Errico
'It is inconceivable, that inanimate brute matter
should, without the mediation of something else, which is not
material, operate upon, and affect other matter without mutual
contact; as it must do, if gravitation, in the sense of Epicurus,
be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason, why I
desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me. That gravity
should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one
body may act upon another, at a distance through a vacuum, without
the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action
and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great
an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters
a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it' - Isaac
'This dream of domination has henceforth lost
all legitimacy and persists for no other reason than our 'mental
inertia'. An historical epoch has come to an end and we struggle
to conjecture what is going to succeed it. Isn't the need truly
well overdue for us to draw on the lessons of the past and recognize
where we now are? I would say that a problem is posed to us by
allowing ourselves to remain within the framework fixed by this
work: to understand the findings of 20th century science. By 'to
understand' I intend this; not to constrain our understanding
to the step-by-step reasoning of physics, but to be able to put
these findings into the context of an interpretation of the world.
From this point of view, it is necessary to recognize, in my opinion,
that we have not understood (Not 'we', the specialists, but 'we'
the educated public). 'Chaos' and also 'relativity' and 'quantum
mechanics', for example, remain for all practical purposes impenetrable
to the educated view. It is necessary, I believe, to acknowledge
with Emmanuel Levinas that we are participating in the end of
a certain way of understanding. Will we know how recognize this?
Will we know how to discern the characteristics of another way
of understanding, larger and less constraining? Therein lies another
story that is in the process of unfolding'
- François Lurçat,
Inclusional Implications of the Boundless 'Fifth'
Dimension: Curing Cosmic Cancer
Perhaps it was unwise of Mother Space, in her
everywhere-Divine Wisdom, to enable any of her diverse local expressions
to become aware of its awareness of itself. But if there is to
be creativity at all, any possibility of life and evolution, maybe
such possibilities must also be entertained. The trouble is that
such a form of expression could develop a Mind of its Own to declare
itself an independent entity and so make an enemy of its neighbourhood,
setting the scene for invasion of its birthplace, determined to
take over vacant possession.
Maybe it was this declaration of independence,
through an ever-hardening belief in its own free will or purely
internal purpose as 'first cause' of its own actions, associated
with its ability to make absolute judgemental choices, that brought
about the Fall of One such a form from Merciful Grace. The difficulty
lay in its declaration, as an abstraction of its Mind alone, not
the actuality of its inescapable inclusion in interdependent relationship
by and of All, space included. For, by no stretch of imagination
is this form truly able to act or be acted upon as a superior
or inferior object independent from its dynamic situation. It
cannot be an absolute, independent singleness. Every man like
every form is no more and no less than a transient island of flow,
connected through and undersea with every other, a distinct identity
but never a discrete entity.
The declaration of independence was the product
of a partial and idealistic vision, which led this one such form
mentally to Box reality securely and paradoxically in a finite,
three-dimensional Euclidean frame stretched to infinity, whilst
vaunting its own free agency. By the end of the second millennium
CE, life in this frame was painfully overheating. Was there no
escape from the pressure cooker? What could this form do about
it? Could this form, for so long the World's plunderer now save
the World from depredation? What kind of transformation would
such a noble act of rescue take? Would it be some wondrous new
technology and/or legislation, of the kind that this form was
so good at inventing, again and again, in the nick of time, as
crisis loomed? Then there could be some great collective sigh
of relief, followed by a return to die-hard habits to await the
next crisis of exploitation. Or, perhaps, as one of Man's star
mathematical performers suggested, it was already too late: it
was now time, through the ultimate technological fix of space
travel, to move on like a virus to other host planets, leaving
the wasteland of His own vacant possession behind.
But there always was, is and evermore shall
be a loophole: a window into and out of the solid confinements
of the 'Adverse Square Law', through which the unbounded presence
of space everywhere melts all into coherent, fluid dynamic relationship.
An eye of the needle through which to ask not how to shift the
world from a disastrous course, but how to help the world transform
our sense of individual, active-reactive self-identity into receptive-responsive
neighbourhood. A loophole at the intersection of Vertical ('I')
with Horizontal ('-') outwardly recurving planes, to form an electrogravitational
centre of inference: a centre of dynamic balance in the core and
spread through the surfaces of all tangible, primarily non-linear
form, a zero-point source and receiver of all through all, distributed
everywhere. A core of pure spatial relationship, continually reconfiguring,
and hence utterly different from the fixed-point control centre
of Euclidean geometry upon whose illusory existence so many principles
of human governance have been founded. One place and many where
apparently opposing sides are conjoined and transformed into complementary
dynamic partners via the inclusion of light in darkness and darkness
in light, in vastly unequal proportion. One place and many corresponding
with the notion of 'space' as the '5th element' in Hindu philosophy,
which both includes and is included in the 'melted elemental forms'
of 'Earth, Air, Fire and Water': a boundless 'fifth' dimension
transcending the three-dimensional singularity of frozen space
and extraneous time.
Once 'seen with gravitational feeling', this
boundless dimension utterly transforms and revitalizes understanding
of how we may manage our lives and living space in a loving and
sustainable way. Here boundaries are understood as co-creative,
co-created zones of differentiation, mutual respect and complementarity,
not severing divides between conflicting sides in opposition.
It is the implications of this transformational understanding
of our natural, dynamic human neighbourhood for the way we may
live in harmonious, respectful, co-creative evolutionary relationship
that I wish now to consider in this opening ending chapter.
The Vitality of Imperfection
- From Abstract Concrete Blocks to Natural Evolutionary Neighbourhood
As may be apparent from previous chapters, I
think that the notion of evolution by natural selection is an
oxymoron, a paradoxical 'concrete block evolution'. When we accept
and work with this notion, we assume the role of obstructive 'concrete
blockheads' intellectually out of touch with our feeling, receptive-responsive
hearts. It is a truly compassion-killing notion, Hell-bent on
replacing natural, fluid-dynamic diversity with concrete monoculture.
It is a model of cancerous degeneration, not co-creative innovation.
Set within an abstract, 3-dimensional Euclidean frame, a cubical
cubicle filled to completion with independent cubical singularities,
it leads inexorably to the notion of an ideal form of individual
'unit of selection' - the 'fittest' competitor within a rigidly
walled niche. This in turn gives rise to the idea of perfecting
individuals by selecting out those traits that don't conform to
a prescriptive set of standards - an idea that has become deeply
entrenched in human educational and regulatory systems. It comes
inevitably with an intolerance of those who in one way or another
are judged by fixed standards to be 'not good enough' - 'imperfect'
in some way. Such intolerance can lead to great cruelty and great
distress as we impose rationalistic notions of perfection and
imperfection upon others and ourselves in a conflict-ridden anti-culture
of discontent, as I described in Chapter 1. We actively seek out,
punish and attempt to eliminate whatever we find fault with, whilst
glorifying what we perceive to be flawless in a culture of blame,
shame, claim and gain.
Not only is this concrete block view of evolutionary
perfectionism deeply distressing to those judged not good enough,
but its rigidity results in the exclusion of the enormous creative
possibility of bringing diverse, complementary relationships to
bear as we navigate the ever-transforming world of our natural,
fluid dynamic neighbourhood. It is radically counter-evolutionary;
a bastion set against change other than its own proliferation
and concomitant destruction of diversity. It makes no sense in
an ever-reconfiguring, non-linear, space-including context where
the evolution of one cannot be dislocated from the evolution of
all, and vice versa.
There is therefore very good intellectual reason
for feeling compassionately that what we might deem in a perfectionist
framework to be a design fault in human nature, our vulnerability
and proneness to 'error', which comes through the inclusion of
space - darkness - in our make-up, is actually vital. It is an
aspect of our nature that enables us to love and feel love and
so work co-creatively in dynamic relational neighbourhood, celebrating
and respecting rather than decrying our diversity of competencies
Correspondingly I think there is a need for
us to grow beyond the obsessive perfectionism that is evident
in our present educational and administrative systems, governed
by fixed, objective, rules, regulations and standards. There is
a need to recognise that there can be no such thing as an ideal,
fixed, individual form that all can aspire towards. Evolutionary
perfection can only be a property of all in dynamic relationship,
not one in isolation. The exception that seeks to rule can only
create turbulence, not perfection. Our educational and administrative
systems need to help us learn how to flow, by including and loving
the very source of irregularity that makes us imperfect as independently
performing objects but perfect as dynamic relational - receptive
and responsive flow-forms. The standards that we tend to encase
ourselves in need to be allowed to come alive: to flex and transform
as ever-reconfiguring guide-linings in our ongoing evolution.
In this way we can be naturally intelligent neighbourhoods, not
artificially intelligent, concrete blockheads.
So, how can such ever-reconfiguring guide-linings
be formulated and communicated through our educational and administrative
systems? What kind of leadership is required? Is the very idea
of leadership one of the die-hard habits that keep us stuck in
Powerboat Leadership and
There is a form of leadership that does not
call for a careful, creative and reflective consideration of possibilities
viewed from all angles by all concerned. Rather, it demands conformity
with its own vision and specification of destination. In the absence
of others' agreement, it carries on regardless with whatever action
it has planned, convinced in its own mindset that this is the
'right thing to do'. Any leader of this ilk, whether elected by
a supposedly democratic majority or not, considers him or herself
to have a prerogative to do what they know to be best for the
world, regardless of context. Moreover, by exercising their moral
imperialism in the face of opposition they demonstrate the strength
of their authority, a resolve that historical narrative will,
they imagine, in due course affirm and celebrate. But events often
don't exactly turn out as predicted. The real life and death situation
on the ground is far more complex and non-linear than envisaged.
The effects of intervention in complex situations aren't so certain
in the long run. The ensuing tragedies are never more heart-rending
than when a leader decides to declare war upon his neighbourhood.
This is a style that I think is all too commonly the sole form
of leadership recognized in human organizations: a product of
prescriptively definitive (rationalistic) thinking and action
that places deterministic power at control centres or hubs. It
amounts to what might be called authoritarian, dictatorial, proprietorial
or, as my friend Ted Lumley puts it, powerboat leadership. It
entails leadership towards a set destination of a fleet of individuals
that have declared themselves independent of their natural situation
by dint of strapping an outboard motor of technology on their
backsides, which creates one Hell of a wash of collateral damage
for those caught up in their turbulence. It is the kind of leadership
provided by some so-called experts, gurus, presidents and ministers
whose actions primarily serve individual self-interest, whereby
an individual or elite lays down the law or 'codes of conduct'
for others to follow, regardless of circumstances.
Personally, I would hate to provide, or be accused
of providing this kind of leadership, even though I have found
it to be expected of me as a professional academic responsible
for initiating students and non-academics into 'good theory and
practice'. There is another style of leadership, or perhaps more
aptly, craftsmanship, that I do, however, feel more comfortable
with and indeed aspire to, as a cultivator of creative space for
myself and others to air our views and benefit from shared experience.
This is what might be called Arthurian (after King Arthur and
the Knights of the Round Table), co-educational, non-proprietorial
or, as my friend Ted Lumley puts it, sailboat leadership. Such
craftsmanship is based on learning through experience how to attune
with natural processes, in a way that others can learn from. This
is what I try to bring to my role as a University educator. I
have found through experience that all students except those relatively
few most fearful for their qualifications and future prospects
come to love and greatly appreciate this approach as a source
of guidance for their creative and critical development.
Now, as the supposedly 'United Nations' of humanity contemplates
its 'next steps', in the face of seemingly global environmental
crisis, the question of which, if either, of these forms of leadership
is wiser seems very important. Here, it is not a question necessarily
of 'which is better?' in an 'either/or' sense, but how can these
styles best be balanced? I accept that pragmatically, given the
current predominantly concrete mindset of our culture, there may
need to be at least some 'powerboat' leadership by way of technology
and legislation to help us on our way. But I would want to ensure
that it doesn't become exclusive and is balanced by a good and
perhaps increasing dose of 'sailboat' leadership.
How does anyone in this situation who seeks leadership or has
leadership thrust upon them, see their role? Do they see themselves
as co-cultivators of creative space for wise enquiry? Does they
see themselves as Directors and Proprietors of organizations?
Is wise leadership something definable that we can be instructed
about via the 'right kind of training' in a real or virtual Institution?
Is wisdom perhaps identifiable with love, some indefinable presence
that we can open ourselves to and co-cultivate?
I want now to explore in general rather than
specifically detailed terms how different perceptions of leadership,
power and geometric influence affect approaches to three kinds
of life management. These respectively set out to regulate, apply
and mimic living processes.
Management of Living
Here I am concerned with efforts to intervene
directly within the boundaries of a living system to improve,
regulate or remedy its operation. As in subsequent sections, I
will focus on three main kinds of themes. Firstly I will consider
whether the approach is one that imposes upon or brings out the
potential of the system. Secondly I will examine whether it uses
artificial contrivances or draws upon inherent pattern-generating
capabilities. Thirdly I will reflect on the extent to which it
seeks immediate solutions to problems without regard to possible
Why Harness a Horse? Do we wish to impose control
over the animal, to put its potentially erratic ways in check
and make it do what we want? Or are we seeking a way to gain access
to its horsepower, a means of communication that opens up the
scope for many and varied partnerships? Our responses to these
questions will hugely influence the design of any harness we might
manufacture. They are worth thinking about because they indicate
the attitudes we bring to any kind of management that seeks to
draw power from or remedy a natural system. Ultimately putting
on some kind of harness is the way that we influence the boundary
properties of the system. But does this harness constrain or facilitate?
Does it confine movement or does it allow freedom of movement?
Does it make possible new kinds of movement? Does it impose or
Artificial or Natural? To begin with, is the
harness just referred to artificial or natural - and, indeed,
what really distinguishes artificial from natural? Perhaps a good
way of thinking about these questions is by reference to ourselves.
Down the ages, there have been many ways in which we have sought
to enhance what we can do by embellishing our basic bodies with
varied forms of clothing, tools and housing. In so doing, we have
greatly extended our phenotypic range. Moreover, some of us continue
to entertain longings for immortality through reconstructing ourselves
from a set of bionic replacement parts that dispense with the
vulnerability of our flesh and blood. We might have artificial
limbs, artificial hearts, artificial guts, artificial circulation
fluids and digitized brains. But would we lose some vital aspect
of ourselves in the process? Could there come a time when Human
Being becomes pure Machine, alienated like Cybermen or Daleks
from our natural context and inhabiting a world populated by biomachines
of our own making? Personally I doubt whether such a time or such
a world could ever be possible because of the intrinsic limitations
of non-biological materials and processes. Time and again bioengineers
attempting to design an artificial heart, or suchlike, experience
the problems of assembling devices that no matter how precise
or intricate fail to work in the long run because of their inability
to keep in tune with a changeable context. Imprecision is a vital
ingredient in the attunement of living systems with their context,
and it is now widely recognized, for example, that an irregular
and complex heartbeat is healthy, whereas a regular, predictable
one is deadly. The best substitute for a living mechanism or process
may ultimately be another living mechanism or process of the same
kind. It may be better in the long run to grow than to make replacement
Once again, the fundamental issue here is the
kind of attitude that underlies the thinking that we bring to
bear on the problem. This time the question of attitude concerns
the light in which we view living substance. Do we see the latter
as something that needs to be replaced with something more dependable?
Do we idealize it as something with mystic powers that must be
good in the long run and must remain pure, uncontaminated by the
human quest for knowledge and control, if it is not to turn against
us? Or do we try, in all humility, to understand it both from
inside out and from outside in, finding ways to relate to and
augment its possibilities by merging its boundaries with the human-made?
Human beings are, after all, expressions of
nature and so any things we make are also, in a sense, expressions
of nature, even though we might regard them as artefacts. Would
we call a snail's shell, a beaver's dam or a bird's nest 'artificial'?
No. Why treat what we might make as any different? In the end
it is not the question of the distinction between natural and
artificial that is at issue, but rather the relationship between
what is within a natural system and what the system makes of the
world through transformation. Is this relationship complementary
or adverse, such that one gains at the expense of the other or
both lose out? Do human beings become enslaved, liberated or rendered
useless by their own constructions? Do other life forms gain or
lose power through their interactions with human beings?
How about human institutions, organizations,
industrial, agricultural, horticultural and arboricultural systems
- how natural are they? Again, the question is not so much how
natural they are, but how well attuned they are with natural fluid
dynamic processes. Do they relate dynamically with the flow or
do they stick out like a sore thumb or blot on the landscape?
Clearly, most if not all fall into the latter category due to
their walled in security, fixed point-centred design, formal structures
and strictures, adversarial governance and majority-favouring
bias. All in all they make splendid systems for the culture of
dis-ease and energy-inefficiency.
Short term or Long Run? The idea of empowerment
through fusion of the self with the self-made or indeed non-self-made
is implicit in the concept of the 'cyborg' - that synthesis of
the human and the machine that we have all become due to the now
virtually seamless relationship between our selves and our accessories.
It is also implicit in the very idea of interdependence between
the insides and outsides of dynamically bounded systems and hence
evolutionary creativity. So to attempt to ignore or prevent it
is both unrealistic and to forestall our evolution. On the other
hand, to think that its outcome can be fully circumscribed in
advance, or that this outcome will necessarily prove to be beneficial
is foolhardy in the extreme.
In an inherently unpredictable context, short-term
gain may very possibly turn out to be long run pain, and vice
versa. Like a marathon runner we may come to regret our initial
unsustainable burst. For example, making cars, boats, trains and
planes as high-powered extensions of our selves may well take
us to exotic destinations, but it may also damage our environmental
context and bring in its train all kinds of compulsive drives
that disturb our peace and unsettle our relationships.
Faced with such uncertainty, perhaps the best
we can do is to follow what has become known as 'the precautionary
principle' and keep a weather eye open. We should neither assume
that all will be fine nor indeed that all will be devastation,
but rather tread carefully, continually alert to possibilities
and prepared to question the outcome of our endeavours - whether
we really are getting what we want or need. Do we, for example,
really need to live longer and longer, thereby denying scope for
rejuvenation? Do we want the things we make to last forever? What
will we do with them when they have reached the end of their useful
life? Is built-in obsolescence a sensible way of maintaining employment?
Do we really need more food production to fill an ever-burgeoning
number of mouths that increase in direct response to supply? Or,
rather, do we need better quality and distribution of food to
sustain the population we already have, whilst preventing those
disparities that divide us into obese and malnourished? Do we
need more roads to carry more vehicles over longer distances,
or more effective local distribution programmes? Is it good to
become locked in to the virtual reality of computer networks whilst
losing sight of the real world in which we live? Are our relationships
between 'self' and 'other' turning out as we might wish, or are
they leading into unforeseen restrictions and misadventure?
Here, I have little personal doubt that the
greatest threat to human and other quality of life comes not from
attempting to manage our environment, which is quite 'natural'
in its own way, but in the arrogance of 'assuming control'. Sadly,
this is the arrogance that has become increasingly characteristic
of a kind of science and technology that alienates itself from
its context by not allowing for relationship and concerns itself,
like an ephemeral life form, only with the short-term exploitation
of plenty. This is the arrogance that preens itself as 'objective'
and 'value-free' and 'pragmatic', whilst casting aspersions on
any attempts to be more inclusional or long-sighted. This is the
arrogance that assumes it will be fine to breed and plant monocultures,
apply herbicides and pesticides, remove habitats, alter growth
parameters, feed sheep's brains to cattle etc on an unprecedented
scale, only to be found out by disease, malnutrition and environmental
destruction. It is this arrogance that has finally, if belatedly,
aroused public concern of the kind recently expressed in the adversarial
debate about the development of genetically modified organisms
in which DNA is transferred, 'unnaturally', across species boundaries.
The public is right to be concerned, if not about the technique
itself then about the context in which it is being applied in
a state of wilful ignorance. But to allow the alienating approach
of some scientists to be a reason to alienate science, to assume
that the entire scientific endeavour is tainted and should therefore
be thrown out, would be to discard the baby with the bath water.
There is much that is good and creative in the baby if it is nurtured
in a condition of questioning awareness. But for good nurture,
it is vital to grow beyond our current obsession with time scales.
When, in order to impose control, we lose sight
of their deeper, contextual, flow-form nature, we render all organisms,
including ourselves, clockwork automatons, driven by the abstraction
of time. Our lives become frantic - a mad rush to 'achieve' more
and more in less and less time. In our haste to get better all
the time, to become more efficient survival machines, we begin
dispensing with what doesn't appear to fit with our abstract future
projections. In attempting to cut costs, by excising or disregarding
those needy aspects of ourselves that we deem too costly - requiring
care and affection - we cost ourselves dear in the long run, forsaking
what's vital to both our individual and collective quality of
life. Our lives become arid, unsustainable wastelands as we forsake
the connectivity and fluidity that enables us to attune with our
ever-changing living space. That is the madness of being driven
by abstraction - we end up getting nowhere fast, like the demented
Red Queen of 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' and neo-Darwinian
It all has to do with how we regard what we
call 'efficiency' and can confuse this with other measures of
'performance' such as efficacy and productivity. When we measure
efficiency in terms of speed or productivity, what we and other
organisms 'do' in a fixed time frame, we lose sight of the energy
cost of increasing performance. Correspondingly, we lose our compassion
both for ourselves and for our neighbourhood when we rank one
another as 'clockwork machines', regardless of context. Taken
to extremes, we can literally kill one another and ourselves in
our pursuit of the savings that we envisage to be the basis of
evolutionary fitness and social and commercial success. In the
latter case we equate 'time' with that other great abstraction
of space-excluding logic, 'money'. This is the essence of unsustainable
In nature, 'efficiency' is more about 'ergonomics'
- conserving energy - than the 'economics' of human productivity
in discrete intervals of abstract time. And conserving energy
is about inner-outer attunement - correspondence of content with
context. The distinction and relationship between 'time costs'
and 'energy costs' is evident in the difference between a 100
m sprinter and a marathon runner. The former cuts time costs by
disregarding energy costs, allowing a short high performance run,
but consequently cannot sustain him or herself for the long run.
The latter minimizes energy costs by attuning inner with outer
context (unless you're collapsing in sweltering heat) and so has
the stamina to keep going and go further and faster in the long
run, which includes space.
So 'short-term' economic management, based on
cutting 'time costs' at huge energy-cost, in a high performance
dash spurred on by relentless competition is grotesquely wasteful
and unsustainable. We might 'get there fast' but can't stay there.
A homogeneous community selectively constituted in the short term
solely of high performance dashers through the discarding of those
judged 'not good enough' is dysfunctional in the long run. Yet
that is what our focus on time management in modern human organizations
is producing. By contrast a community where there is a place for
all kinds, operating and communicating over diverse functional,
spatial and temporal scales, guided by the relative (but not absolute)
opening up and closing down of opportunity can keep going indefinitely.
If it can keep going indefinitely, there is no absolute time frame
to judge the collective or individual performance of its membership
within. Such is the nature of the natural communities and ecosystems
of Earth's Biosphere. Such could be the nature of sustainable
human communities attuned with the natural economy of conserving
energy rather than obsessed solely with saving time. They could
be places for compassion, work, rest and play. Places for acknowledging
one another's unique idiosyncratic contributions as complex flow-form
selves with inner, outer and intermediary aspects, both in the
short and in the long run that includes the space that is inseparable
from time, which is inseparable from energy. Places where death
feeds life rather than where we feed death with life to serve
our obsession with perfecting ourselves as clockwork machines.
Managing With Nature -
Putting Living Process into Practice
By their very nature, living systems can manage
as well as be managed. Here, what can be done with, rather than
to, living systems is contingent upon the kinds of special properties
discussed in an earlier chapter regarding the example of bamboo,
and how these properties are harnessed, as discussed above.
Biomaterials Depending on circumstances and
type, biomaterials can have the advantages (or, from another perspective,
disadvantages) of flexibility, heterogeneity, convertability,
resilience, digestibility, degradability, renewability, aesthetic
appeal and low environmental and economic cost of production.
They are not uniformly reproducible or permanent. They are not
suitable, therefore, for industries in which compatibility of
components depends upon an exact match with prescriptive specifications
that do not change. On the other hand biomaterials may be the
appropriate wherever precision is not called for and may indeed
be ineffective in the longer term, leading to inevitable deterioration
of performance. In fact it might be appropriate to question how
much longer precision engineering, with its attendant high production
and maintenance costs and lack of margin for error, can continue
to hold sway as understanding of and demand for dynamically responsive
Bioproduction As I have said, the great thing
about biological systems is that given adequate nurture, they
grow. All we have to do is ensure that they get what they need
and they will elaborate a wondrous array of physical and chemical
forms. All that creative potential, all that sophisticated wizardry
of molecular, cellular and community structure is at our fingertips,
without us having to make or assemble any of it! All we have to
do is learn how to apply this creative potential to our own needs.
But there comes the rub! We have to understand the relationship
between their needs and ours and between what they can do and
what we can do. To begin with we need to know our selves and their
selves from inside-out and from outside-in. Without such knowledge,
without such understanding, our relationship is liable to be superficial,
unproductive and abusive. Indeed, that is how our current relationship
may stand - a long way short of fulfilling its potential.
The pharmaceuticals industry illustrates the
issues at stake. Following upon the long tradition of herbal remedies
for ailments, the discovery of penicillin triggered an enhanced
appreciation of the biosynthetic power of organisms and how this
power might be harnessed for mass production. Natural product
discovery became the order of the day, and much effort was invested
in devising the best methods for large-scale cultivation of producer
microorganisms in particular, culminating in the design of complex,
submerged liquid 'fermenters'. The latter are, in effect, large,
stirred tanks containing growth medium in which conditions of
aeration, nutrient supply, mineral ion content etc are precisely
monitored and regulated in order to optimize production.
At first all seemed to be very well, with the
success of the natural product discovery and production systems
contributing in no small measure to the expansion of some pharmaceuticals
companies into the multinational organizations that they are today.
New products and new producer organisms were regularly discovered
Nowadays, however, the future for biological
production of pharmaceuticals is seen by many as much more bleak
and threatened by the quicker, more 'precise', more 'controllable'
methods of 'recombinant chemistry' and purely chemical manufacture.
Organisms, if they are valued at all, are used more as 'leads'
in the discovery of biologically active compounds than as agencies
for production of these compounds. Faced with the vagaries of
biological production, required to be competitive in the short
term, disinclined to innovate or replace old plant with new plant,
lacking a deep understanding of why, when and where organisms
produce compounds and what to do about it, the industry becomes
conservative. It falls back on what it thinks it already knows
This situation may partly have arisen because
the methods for discovery and production that at first were so
successful are not suitable for the vast majority of potential
producer organisms. In fact these methods of 'high throughput
screening', whereby large numbers of candidates are tested over
a short time scale, and submerged liquid fermentation, which favours
rapid proliferation as dispersible units rather than interconnected
systems, favours organisms with ephemeral traits. Little opportunity
is allowed for a candidate organism to develop and display its
full range and repertoire. As in human societies dominated by
short-term economics, 'late developers' are rejected before they've
had a chance. A huge potential like that below the exposed tip
of an iceberg languishes untapped, beyond conscious apprehension.
The importance of self-integrative processes and of dynamic contextual
boundaries that both create and respond to heterogeneous conditions
via a complex, free-radical chemistry dependent on the balance
between oxygen and fuel supply, is overlooked.
But there are more problems for the pharmaceuticals
industry than those of understanding the potential and needs of
producer organisms. These additional problems relate to our understanding
of our selves, of our own needs, and what unexpected repercussions
and 'side-effects' might arise from incautious use of biologically
active compounds. Bitter experience has made us wise after the
event, forcing us to recognize that the seemingly incisive 'magic
bullet' of the chemically purified 'wonder drug' might not be
as precisely targeted within the complex, fluid dynamic systems
of our bodies as we might have expected. Moreover, the target
can fight back through drug-resistance - in fact we encourage
it to do so through the drug over-use that creates the space,
the new context, for the innovative microorganism, virus or cancer
cell to move in. In effect the agent of disease brings about its
own evolution by eliciting a human response that changes the context.
This kind of repercussion, or co-evolutionary resonance, is in
fact relevant to any human attempt to control a living, responsive
system by biological or other means, and so needs to be borne
very clearly in mind. The way to counter it is through cautious
integration of a multiplicity of complementary approaches. Consciously
or unconsciously, this has been, and may yet increasingly once
again become the way of many empirically based remedies.
Biodegradation As well as being productive,
biological systems also have ways of being destructive, ultimately
breaking down even the most elaborate physical and chemical structures
into small molecules. This destructive power is often regarded
as a problem when it affects materials of practical value to people.
These materials include the food we eat, the fabrics we wear,
the structures we house ourselves in, the glass we see through,
the machinery that we equip ourselves with and the fuel and lubricants
that power and service that machinery. They also include the cosmetics
that we make ourselves up with and the medicines we treat ourselves
with. In fact, given appropriate conditions of moisture, temperature,
aeration and nutrient supply, just about anything we use can be
rendered useless by other life forms, and the economic losses
resulting from such 'biodeterioration' are enormous. The best
way of minimizing this deterioration is by prevention, through
understanding the needs of the causal organisms and not allowing
these needs to be met: for example if we don't want timber to
decay, we keep it dry or non-aerated.
This very same destructive power of living systems
that can engender such losses when allowed to occur in an inappropriate
context is, however, vital to the sustainability and rejuvenation
of natural ecosystems and to our own efforts to dispose of, remedy
or recycle waste or hazardous materials. Such beneficial application
is termed 'biodegradation', and, having only recently developed
much environmental concern, we are no doubt at the bottom of a
very steep learning curve as to how to make best use of it beyond
keeping a compost heap in our back yards. As ever, the aim should
be to understand as much as possible about the context in which
the needs and potential of the degrader systems can be met. Then
it may be possible to develop new or improved approaches to fertilizing
soils, reducing pollution damage, revitalizing water, producing
foods and medicines etc.
Following Nature - Imitating
Look carefully enough and it is generally possible
to find a biological precedent for just about any human discovery
or invention. Examples range from the sonar equipment of a bat
or dolphin to the magnetic compass of a migrating bird or bacterium,
the microscopic hearing aid of a parasitic fly and the genetic
manipulation of its host by a crown gall bacterium. It doesn't
take much wit to appreciate the likelihood that there could be
a great many more innovative forms of engineering to be copied
from the living world - this is the growing interest of the field
known as 'biomimetics'. That is, there could be if only we knew
how to look for them and recognise them when we see them. Perhaps
a good place to begin is simply through being aware of the problem-solving,
opportunity-finding capacity of living systems, and hence to look
to those systems for insight whenever we encounter a problem or
But first, a word of caution may be necessary.
It is widely considered, as a by-product of neo-Darwinian thinking,
that the solutions to problems found by living systems are 'optimal',
i.e. the best possible product of cost-benefit analysis. If that
were so, however, life would have stopped evolving significantly
long ago. But it hasn't. Life continues to change and to be changed
by its dynamic context. It works within the constraints and through
the opportunities opened up by the dynamically bounded watery
medium in which it is expressed. So, in looking to life for insights
into how to do what's 'best', it's important to realize that this
'best' may only be 'best' in the context of a specific set of
boundary properties that may change. If this context-dependence
is not understood, there is a danger that our search may be limited
to specific, 'right or wrong' applications closed off from the
possibilities embedded in the indeterminacy of living systems.
Indeed it may be that it is this indeterminacy and resultant capacity
to bring about and cater for change that might be most opportune
for us to emulate.
Design for Responsiveness and Resilience By
emulating the capacity of life forms to vary their boundary properties
of deformability, permeability and continuity according to circumstances
it may be possible to increase our ability to design versatile,
resilient systems that are not rendered dysfunctional or outmoded
by changes in conditions.
Design for Innovation, Renovation and Efficiency By incorporating
self-integrative processes, it may be possible to produce creative
designs with capacities for learning, recall and efficient switchover
from dissipative, assimilative structures to energy-conserving
distributive and redistributive structures.
Design for Decommissioning By emulating the ways in which living
systems degenerate and reconfigure we can design structures that
don't become disposal problems.
Life-cycle review By taking account of all the
energetic demands of a design throughout the dynamic trajectory
from its inception to its decommissioning, rather than at a snapshot
in time, a more inclusional picture of its environmental impact
Perhaps, for all that I may talk about my feeling
and intellectual comprehension of belonging in the natural community
of others I have always been more of a goat than a sheep. This
is my paradoxical position in a conformist culture dominated by
the view that we are all individuals. Like the non-conformist
character at the back of the crowd in Monty Python's 'Life of
Brian', I have to stand up and shout, 'no we're not!' For better
or worse, and with all due respect, none of my work, not least
this book, has ever been intended simply to provide another brick
in the wall of academic knowledge, constructed upon the secure
concrete foundations of others' enterprise and scholarly exposition
and assumptions. I have never been able to work in that way. Rather,
I have always felt more comfortable in trying to make sense of
my personal observations and experience without placing too much
initial reliance on others' findings or expectations. I find this
is the only way that I can truly appreciate, both creatively and
critically, what others express, through finding points in common
and points in contrast with my personal experience and understanding.
Perhaps it is the only way of true discovery and rediscovery,
without getting bogged down in small print, or perhaps it is just
my way. But I have also often found it a troublesome, difficult
and lonely way, inviting accusations of arrogance, ignorance and
re-inventing the wheel, especially when challenged to cite chapter
and verse concerning my 'sources'. I prefer conversation to reading
and don't readily recall who has said what, when and where, as
I seek neither to find nor claim authority: besides the scholarly
literature is stuffed with contradictions. I seek only to share
my observations and sense-making in communion with others.
What this all means, of course, is that when
it comes to providing bibliography or 'further reading', I generally
find myself at a loss. Do I provide a great mountain of indigestible
material or a resounding echo of emptiness? Do I, in citing any
particular work, appear to support its authority, even though
I may disagree with it profoundly?
So, here are just a few works that I have enjoyed
or found challenging in one way or another, as I have worked with
the ideas and information described in this book.
P. Ball (1999) H2O A Biography of Water. London:
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
D. Boyle (2000). The Tyranny of Numbers - Why
Counting Can't Make Us Happy. London: Harper Collins.
S. Kumar (2002) You Are Therefore I Am - A Declaration
of Dependence. Green Books.
C. Landry (2000) The Creative City. Comedia,
W. Pryor (2003) The Survival of the Coolest.
Bath: Clear Press
R. Spowers (2002) Rising Tides. Edinburgh: Canongate
C. Spretnak (1999). The Resurgence of the Real:
Body, Nature and Place in a Hypermodern World. New York: Routledge.
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