Living With Opposite-Mindedness
The Emergence of a Natural Inclusional Guide to Self-Sustenance
By Alan Rayner
Alan Rayner is a British scientist and originator of a scientific-philosophy called ‘Natural Inclusionality’ . Here he wears his heart on his sleeve and in-so-doing shares with us his trials, tribulations and profound insights.
Since childhood, I have been one of those people who is quick to recognise and appreciate the truths and falsehoods on both sides of an argument, rather than feel obliged to favour one over the other. Possibly I developed this ability through being the offspring of an acutely analytical yet nature-loving father and a broadly intuitive yet socially and politically active mother. Despite their deep and lasting love for each other and for me, their sometimes violent arguments and actions often left me feeling stranded in the middle and sometimes a target of their opposing attitudes of mind. This led me to ‘see’, through my child’s eye view and peace-making efforts, the need both for a way of distinguishing between individual identities and a way of including them within each other’s influence as co-creative partners, not opponents. Nothing could be more natural and obvious, I have always thought and felt.
In the process of growing up, and throughout my adult life in a prevailingly adversarial culture, I have therefore been bewildered and concerned that what came to appear so natural and obvious to me seems so readily ignored, invisible, obscured or denied by most people. I have wondered what stops people (including my dear, late parents) either from seeing what I see or from giving voice to and living in accordance with my vision of the natural world and our human place in it. Is there something unusual about my perception, and if so, what? Do most people have a ‘blind spot’, or do I? Could it be that most people actually perceive in the same way as I do, but are somehow dissuaded from acknowledging it? Is there some imaginative leap that I am naturally able to make that other people can’t or haven’t yet made? Have other people been cajoled or misled by tradition or authoritarian leadership (as were my parents) to accept as ‘true’ what is clearly not consistent with my observations and does not make consistent sense? Are they so bewildered by the contradictions of opposing attitudes that they prefer not to think about it and just get on with their lives as best they can? Following that path leaves it to an ‘elite class’ to hoodwink, divide and overrule those who are bewildered (this is a very common condition, I suspect, alluded to by Noam Chomsky as ‘the bewildered herd’). Whatever the reason may be, it has been and is deeply troubling to me to have learned about, witnessed and experienced how it feels to be a casualty of the needless cruelties and conflicts that arise between intransigently opposed attitudes of mind. Such hostility is evident throughout ancient and modern human history to the present day. Surely I am not the only person to be troubled by it, and to recognise its origin in a restrictive way of seeing, which overlooks the natural source of continuity throughout the cosmos and imposes a false barrier or gap between one identity and another in its place?
Aware as I have become of the profound paradox that arises when an individual identity is mentally cut off from or completely subsumed within the company in which it occurs, a pressing and persistent question for me continues to be ‘how, honestly, i.e. with due respect for natural truth, can anyone live with this non-sense?’ This question arises from the fact that no-one can live entirely outside or sealed off from the influence of the natural or cultural context into which they are born. The notion of individual independence upon which analytical opposite-mindedness (and, for that matter, the Darwinian notion of ‘survival of the fittest’) depends cannot hold true for any life form that needs to assimilate energy from its surroundings in order to sustain itself. There is a life-inviting context that simply goes unrecognized by analysis alone. By the same token, no distinctive self- or group-identity can be completely dependent upon or interconnected with others if it is to have any room for individuation, growth and movement. The receptive, intangible space into which that self or group is free to grow and move cannot be excluded from its reach.
As a young life-form, dependent on my parents to feed, clothe and protect me, my own first and inevitable recourse was simply to ‘play along with’ their opposite-mindedness – to try to bend my will towards whatever they each expected of me. Unfortunately, quite a lot was expected, especially by way of my father’s ambition for me to ‘follow his masculine footsteps’ into a career in plant and fungal science via King’s College, Cambridge. This I duly and dutifully did, for I shared and delighted in his love of the natural world, in spite of and perhaps also because of the hefty dose of ‘feminine’ intuitive feeling for living form, and associated disrespect for exactitude, that I may have drawn from my mother (she played along with my father’s ambition at the same time as she questioned its social, environmental and psychological relevance). I learned the analytical and Darwinian ‘rules of the game’ of objective, reductionist science, gained a first class degree, followed by a PhD, a University Lectureship, a Readership (when such titles still meant something in the UK) and Presidency of the British Mycological Society.
Then I came to a full stop in 1999 at the age of 49. I finally lost my nerve and willingness to keep playing the game. Looking back, I think this was due partly to the ambition and carelessness of some of my peers – even ones I had caringly learned from, taught and nurtured – which prompted them to promote their work by deprecating mine. Such practice was and is considered ‘fair play’ in this ultra-competitive, Darwinian world, and I can’t pretend that I was entirely innocent of it myself. But there was also something else about the way the game is played that had always appalled me – a profoundly unscientific willingness to overlook natural truth for the sake of ‘winning’. I wasn’t honestly prepared to do that. Indeed much of my own scientific research had involved revealing what I see as the natural and obvious truth that the ecological sustainability of life-forms in natural communities arises qualitatively, from the fluidity and presence of their boundaries as dynamic interfacings. It does not and cannot arise from the quantitative definability or absence of their boundaries as rigid partitions. Many scientists, both previous and present, have been and are predisposed to overlook this reality in their pursuit of academic success.
So, playing the game didn’t work out for me in the long run, and I began my next phase of ‘trying to live with it’ (and continue to have an income) – rebellion from the sidelines. Now it was my mother’s turn to have her footsteps followed. I began to ask questions about the social, environmental and psychological relevance and impact of objective science. I pioneered a trans-disciplinary final year undergraduate course called ‘Life, Environment & People’ that encouraged students to do the same. Some of my colleagues and external examiners didn’t approve and tried to ‘stamp it out’ or at least ‘tame it’ into subservience to their status quo. Nonetheless, I managed to keep it going for 11 years, and I continue to hope that its influence will persist and eventually find expression amongst some of the 400 or so students who passed through it.
During this phase, the iniquities and false premises of opposite-mindedness finally became utterly clear to me. I recognised that for thousands of years we human beings have been teaching ourselves to think along mutually exclusive paths of ‘individualism’ and ‘collectivism’, ‘materialism’ and ‘spiritualism’, which contradict how we naturally are in the world as it naturally is. This exclusivity – this opposite-mindedness – leads to different kinds of ‘identity-abuse’. In a nutshell, I realized that these exclusive paths arise from a loveless interplay between fear and lust. This results either in a domineering egotistic quest for control over what is perceived as ‘other than self’ or a submissive self-subjugation to other. These come respectively with an unrealistic sense of either absolute responsibility and freedom or absolute passivity and security. They encourage and are reinforced by the abstract reduction and severance of ‘somewhere’ (as a naturally dynamic locality) and ‘everywhere’ (as a naturally limitless openness), into ‘something’ (as a discrete ‘point mass’) and ‘everything’ (as a collective aggregate), surrounded by featureless void. In effect, the infinite, ubiquitous natural presence of invisible, immaterial space is squeezed out of or confined within material form. This exclusion or confinement destroys the mutually inclusive relationship of energetic mobility and spatial receptivity and sets the stage for what I call ‘opposite-mindedness’ to self-perpetuate as the root source of an adversarial way of life.
My scientific enquiries affirmed that life forms simply cannot be isolated from or confine their spatial context but are by their very nature receptive, responsive and reciprocating to others in a continuous process of natural energy flow. For many years now, I have been struggling to find a way to make this as clear to others as it is to me, so as to help bring about both my own and their release from the abstract abusiveness of opposite-mindedness. But it has proved extremely difficult, not least because opposite-mindedness has ‘built-in intransigence’, a psychological refusal to hear what it doesn’t want to hear – no matter how ‘reasonable’ and/or ‘truthful’ – in order to sustain its false premises. Moreover, opposite-mindedness is built in to the very foundations of abstract logic, language, mathematics, science, religion, education and governance that have supported its façade for millennia. Even today, with the advances quantum physics has made in uncovering the intangibility within matter and locality, our philosophical-scientific-cultural assumption rests on matter being exclusive from space – false dichotomy (i.e. severance of one from other) is deeply woven into our historic and present mind-set.
To point to a flaw in the foundations of objectivist science is to invite fear of collapse of all that humanity has perceived as the ‘progress of human civilization’ over the ages. Yet, actually, it is what is desperately needed to prevent collapse by bringing the fluidity and flexibility of natural form as a dynamic inclusion of receptive space into due consideration. Rigidity of logic and vision belie the dynamic quality of Nature.
I try every verbal and non-verbal means of communication I can muster, but still find very little by way of a receptive and responsive audience ready to help convey the message more widely. In this situation I find it difficult to resist the temptation to become resigned and/or embittered and either succumb to or fight opposite-mindedness with opposite-mindedness. But to do that would be to follow my parents’ footsteps into the very trap that has held humanity bound either in the vindictive dynamics of ‘tit-for-tat’ antipathy or the sterile oppressiveness of dominance-submission between what are and have been complementary worldviews for millennia. There is an option that evades this trap and is consistent with evidence, through acknowledgement of the mutual inclusiveness of continuous receptive space and mobile form. Now that we know this, we need to embrace it.
So, what might we call this natural and obvious truth that I have been banging on about? For the sake of having a convenient, yet adequately descriptive label to attach to it, I have called it ‘natural inclusion’ (or ‘natural inclusionality’ as the associated ‘way of thinking’). The label, in itself, doesn’t matter, of course – what does matter is what the label is attached to. The simplest introduction I have managed so far (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CGvQX3eNjI ) is to ask the question: what, most fundamentally is needed to make natural form distinguishable from its surroundings?’ If that question is addressed honestly and imaginatively, without prejudice, the simple answer is inescapable. But its social, scientific, environmental, mathematical, theological, psychological, educational, social and political implications are profound: we simply have to loosen the foundations of the way we have been teaching ourselves to perceive and engage with each other and our natural neighbourhood for generations. We are all pooled together within a limitless receptive presence and yet distinct in our own right. We are inclusive and reciprocating beings yet differentiated and special – as William Wordsworth poetically recognized: “in nature everything is distinct, yet nothing defined into absolute, independent singleness”.
Meanwhile, I have to continue to consider how anyone like me can honestly continue to live with opposite-mindedness if natural inclusionality doesn’t catch on in the foreseeable future? I can only be sure that I won’t play along with the logic of opposition and I won’t oppose it even as I resist it and help others to resist it as long and as ably as I can. Meanwhile, I will continue to be inspired and enthused by immersing myself in the wildness of the natural world, and encourage others to do likewise. For here, such opposite-mindedness as has been perpetuated by Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins and others simply does not occur, notwithstanding all the territoriality, aggression, and loving and living that really and truly are present in Nature.
I would like to thank Grethe Hooper-Hansen, Giles Hutchins, Mona Kreipe, Yaqub Murray and Roy Reynolds from their comments and suggestions, which have contributed to this short essay
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