Shae. The paradox of individuality and relationality is also an interesting aspect to think about in terms of evolution. A complexity approach engages the dynamic complexity of both-and instead of either/or. Ironically, there is a strong drive to be different in Western society, and there is also a powerful pressure to conform as well, and people who are different can experience discrimination.

Alexander. To also think about that from an evolutionary context, well maybe we weren’t always so individually oriented; perhaps that kicked in basically five thousand years ago, or take it to the dawn of the Anthropocene, say ten thousand or eleven thousand years ago, when some humans started to develop a sense of individuation that was stronger than relationality. In pre-Sumerian times, the mythos was of an integral type; that we are in and of nature. Indigenous peoples maintained this perspective. Now, in many cultures there is a strong individuation that places us above nature — in a position of superiority from which to control and dominate it and all that goes with it. Francis Bacon talked about individuation in these terms, through extortion and extraction, by stealing the secrets of nature. 

I’m thinking of how, from an evolutionary perspective, we moved into that individuating period, and how maybe now we are moving into a period of integration. It’s mycelial; like being more like a mycelium than being a billiard ball bouncing around on our own. People are remembering that there exists an anima mundi that infuses all things with life; a sacredness that is different in spirit and engagement than the place where we put a price tag on everything and we can cut living things down simply because they happen to be in our way.  This is an entirely different holding of interrelation and interbeing from the very Western rut of strident individualism and self-righteous independence. I believe younger generations are moving aways from that and toward this mycelial notion of manifest interbeing and an underlying anima mundi — even Western generations are moving. Maybe now as a species, and just in time, we are re-connecting and re-membering our wider interconnectivity. 

Mycelial Branching Patterning

Shae. Thank you for mentioning the mycelial nature of extra-individual connectivity. One of the four patterns of Complexity Patterning is a branching tree/mycelial patterning. It is a metaphor for the dynamics of connectivity in the complex phenomenon of focus to which it is analogous. I wonder whether consciousness, as a broad phenomenon, could be thought of in terms of mycelial connectivity, as tree intelligence is connected through mycelial webs, and the largest structure seen in the cosmos, the branes of the BOSS Great Wall, is a vast web of connectivity which, interestingly enough, can best be modeled using a slime mould-inspired algorithm according to the European Space Agency.

Image by Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato – Andrew Pontzen and Hiranya Peiris, UCLA press release, 27 August 2014.

Where is Mind?

Alexander. You were mentioning heading off to the Science of Consciousness Conference. It will be interesting to see if consciousness is seen as limited to being associated with the human mind.  I am thinking of the fascination, especially in the Western mind, with the life of the mind with many books on consciousness dedicated to this subject — even Gregory Bateson’s book, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, is mind-focused. What if consciousness is not relegated to the life of the mind? We tend to see consciousness through the life of the mind, to associate consciousness with the mind. Perhaps there is a bigger perspective of being, and it is not only the consciousness of being but the being itself, in and as a field of consciousness. Just as our larger being doesn’t stop at the edges of our body, our larger being is in connection with the things that are not physically tangible, but are amenable to our presence. Colin Turnble’s books on The Forest People and The Mountain People talk about a sense of being that is coextensive with whatever they can perceive. For them, their sense of Self includes all that is within their perceptive field, so it includes all things that are there now, and it changes as they move around and their social and geographical coordinates change. Who they are changes as they move through the land. Isn’t that wonderful? Each of them is their entire world. That is who they are! It makes so much sense.

Shae. Australian Indigenous people think of identity that way as well, as related to where, when, who and why they are in relationship with, at any given time. It is a very rich and complex perspective of identity and being. A Complexity Patterning view of identity is aligned with these views, through understanding ourselves as an individual and at once broadly embedded dynamic patterning, in broad relationship with everything around, in, and through us. 

Alexander. Yes, what we are in relationship with is so important, because it is in relationship with us! Often we Westerners see relationship as one-way; as ‘I am in relationship with this thing’, but how it might be in relationship with us is unimportant or simply unrecognized.  And yet, there is a conversation there… Relationship truly is a dialogue, and we have to be in the conversation — we have to be introduced to all the things seen and unseen that comprise our reality, and we really should try to foster good relationships with them!

Shae. I like the idea of being introduced! It acknowledges the sentience of all beings. I experienced an Indigenous Australian ‘singing me in’ to introduce me to his Country in accordance with the protocols of relationality with the sentience with the more-than-human world. Rich relationship with everything around us helps us have healthy and clear expressions of consciousness as engaged sentience. To feel and love the trees, plants, and other animals as kin. My aim is to contribute to such relational sentience through pattern thinking and understanding in educational settings.

Mind as Relationality

Alexander. Relational intelligence, yes: the cultivation of relational intelligence can be enabled through practice, through experience. That is, relational intelligence as a means of fostering greater systemic consciousness. It is the systemic consciousness/being… the relational intelligence for fostering systemic consciousness. I am looking at this as a conscious, intentional capacity and capability of being and of interbeing, but I’m wondering… as you were saying with a good proportion of our body made up of non-human cells (microbes and bacteria), we are both human and more-than-human, so our thinking should really shift from interbeing to intrabeing. Expanding our Self identity so as to encompass all of that involves taking to hear that we are all of these things, like Caroline Merchant’s example of the person saying, ‘I am not a human trying to save the rainforest; I am part of the rainforest trying to save and defend itself.’ Ultimately, we are an expression of the entire universe, so how can that sense of identity be encouraged? Instead of saying ‘this doesn’t have my DNA’ (that’s so reductionist!) or even saying ‘I end here where my skin ends’, we are invited to recognize that each of us is an interspecies being and that others are not really ‘other’. Then we get into the understanding that there are no others, which is a big jump for Western mind. Yes, relational intelligence is something to be cultivated in school and educational systems, and I can see it clearly in your postdisciplinary patterning framework.

Bateson, G. (2000). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. University of Chicago Press.

Merchant, C. (1976). Environmental Ethics and Political Conflict: A View from California. In Seeing with a Native Eye: Essays on Native American Religion, Walter Holdon Capps (Ed.).  Harper and Row.

Turnbull, C. M. (1961). The Forest People: A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo, Simon & Schuster.