About

This blog relates to a philosophical theory that I’ve been developing called ‘realisation as agency’. Very simply, this theory proposes that ‘realisation’ is the capacity we already have to know what is happening while it is happening, but it is this, and not the traditional idea of a mental deliberation leading to a physical action, that is, in fact, our agency, or capacity to act responsively and responsibly in the world.

The traditional ‘narrative’ of our agency is a hangover from the Cartesian, dualistic understanding of the world, and without knowing that we do so, we still carry that picture of the world as the underlying structure of our understanding. We see ourselves as dualistic beings in a dualistic world and this sense of having a mind and a body, and sometimes even a mortal body and an immortal soul, colours our perception of every other relationship we have.

To shift our thinking in the way this theory suggests requires a radical readjustment of our perspective on what is ‘me’ and what is ‘you’, what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’, and, in the context of the ecological emergency, or the environmental crisis, what is ‘it’ and what is ‘me’. The boundaries we traditionally set between inner and outer world, and even between you and me are not, in fact, as solid or as consistent as we lead ourselves to believe. You and I are not therefore entirely separate, just as I am not entirely separable from context. This has implications for how we act and respond to the context: we are the context and the context, including our relationships with other people, is also us.

However difficult it might be, we need to acknowledge this shift in how we see ourselves. It need be no more difficult or complicated than the Copernician shift, when we realised that the earth does not revolve around the sun, and we had to shift how we saw the solar system, and ultimately the universe. We can only learn about, and just as importantly, respond appropriately to, the world if we’re open to updating our view of how we fit.

The most urgent element of how we fit, in my view, is the ecological context (we normally call this the ‘environment’ but again, that gives a very ‘inside’/’outside’ view of the relationship, whereas we now know that this distinction is not a valid one). If we have to review our understanding of context, and what’s in us, and what we’re in, as it were, we also have to review our understanding of agency, because if we’re not separable in any meaningful sense (though of course in a sense we still have boundaries, but I deal with that in the thesis) from what’s going on around us, then what we do, our activity, our agency, our responsiveness, is also not separable. But we have one capacity that lifts us to a perspective, an overview, and we can call this awareness, or self-awareness, or consciousness of our place in things as they are happening (though that’s a bit clumsy), or, the one I prefer, realisation. We can call it realisation because that implies that two things happen: first, we become aware of what is happening just as it is happening. This isn’t necessarily a profound experience. It happens all the time, periodically, throughout our lives. We can practice drawing our attention to what is going on, as it is going on, and this tends to make us more aware, but this is not an effortful experience. Secondly, however, if we understand ourselves as permeably boundaried beings, beings whose inside/ outside existence and experience is constantly interchanging, and we add to that an understanding that the mind doesn’t operate in a different realm but is all of a kind with the body and the rest of existence, and we take from these two ideas the conclusion that therefore my agency, my ability to make choices and act in and on the world, is also caught up in this web of shifting interchanges, then our realisation of all this becomes our agency, because it shifts us into a mode in which we overview the potential options that could occur, and, particularly if we take a compassionate perspective on what is going on (the reasons for which I give in my thesis), we are inclined to allow the options that offer the most opportunities for the context, that are most considerate of the web of networks, that use energy most optimally for those systems within which we operate and exist, that allow systems that are damaged by exploitative practices to recover and repair, to come into being.

 

In other words, dealing with the kinds of urgent problems we have – deforestation, desertification, exponential population growth, pollution, climate change, and so on – using the dualistic paradigm cannot address the problem. Realisation can.

I’m interested in extending the ideas I developed in the thesis in a number of directions. I’m particularly interested in three directions: one, exploring how this thesis can help to explain and extend the theoretical basis for rewilding, which involves stepping back, in a sense, and allowing areas to recover from exploitative practices; two, exploring how this thesis can explain and extend the theoretical basis for wild therapy, which involves bringing young people, often those most marginalised, into intimate contact with wilderness, so that they can develop an understanding of themselves as being a part of the natural world and therefore learn to respect themselves as complex systems, but also respect the systems that sustain them; and finally, to explore the very difficult subject of how to bring these ideas to people who are most likely to resist them because they are most heavily invested in the status quo. That is, to bring these ideas and this discussion, in a way that does not simply cause conflict, to farmers, agricultural industrialists, aquacultural industrialists, oil industry investors, business and financial managers, multinationals and others whose thinking is likely to be diametrically opposed to the thinking outlined here.

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11 thoughts on “About

  1. I’m hopeless at this. I’ve just found your comment, weeks later! Thanks yourself! I’ve enjoyed your openness and honesty. I wish you well with all that you are dealing with. And I’ll look forward to reading more from you!

    1. Thanks yourself! I enjoy your blog, having hailed from the Highlands myself and feeling homesick, even now, for the high tops and the sense of space that only Scotland seems to satisfy!

    1. I was living in Samarinda, Kalimantan Timur. Thanks for your kind comments. I was in Java for a few weeks on orientation, and we had a conference on Bali (which was amazing). I also sailed from Jakarta to Balikpapan, and between different islands and visited another volunteer on Sulawesi, so I saw a fair amount in the time I was there (just under a year). It was a very strange time for me, personally, and lots of the things I saw were deeply disturbing, but I found the people amazingly generous and kind (on the whole) and I feel very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend time in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I visited the Dayak and got to know some displaced Dayak and Transmigrasi in Samarinda and that was hugely influential and I also got involved in protesting about illegal logging, which is probably why I was asked, eventually, to leave…

    1. I’m doing Tough Mudder in Colorado next year, noticed you’d done it, and were extremely cool, and decided to follow you. I love your posts. Well grounded, shooting from the hip – excellent and healthy stuff. Thanks!

  2. I like the way you explain respect in terms of systems of energy exchange which biological systems exhibit. It reveals how organisms can come to recognise in each other the imperative to negotiate and perhaps cooperate, without necessarily using language. Do these attitudes extend to artificial systems too (e.g. computers?)

    1. Dear Russell,
      Thanks for your comment. What I’m trying to get at is really that information exchange and energy exchange are processes that operate throughout the universe, including in living systems, and that all processes incline towards equilibrium, so that in Zen terms, behind and beyond the vortices of energy patterns that become repetitive and recreate themselves (from constellations to cockroaches) is a teleological pull towards equilibrium. When we create systems that cannot interact, exchange energy or information, or otherwise participate in this flow, equilibrium is less probable, less possible. The principles could, therefore, still apply to artificial systems, in the sense that energy and information still flows through the system, but it does so in a closed-loop way, not in the open loop way that naturally evolved systems work (although I think that recent work in cybernetics is now blurring the boundaries, and in a sense, the information exchanges are becoming more ‘natural’ in artificial intelligence systems and so on). Anyhow, I think you probably took my fundamental point: symbiosis and the inclination towards reciprocity and open exchange allows these flows to take place in a more dynamic, less stultified way. I think this means that we can use this information to understand ourselves as systems of energy that operate most effectively when we step back from the inclination to refuse to exchange, and when we become more inclined to understand that what benefits is symbiotic behaviour, then we actually liberate ourselves from some of the closed loop patterns that prevent open exchange. Artificial systems are not ‘bad’. They are, however, closed to participation with energy flows and matter cycles and cannot, therefore participate in the overall flow of energy. We need to think about how we create artificial systems right back to the materials we create them from, where we get these materials, who’s involved, what systems are interrupted or destroyed by their extraction, and so on. I know that this is too whacky for most people – how can we possibly reform the entire structure of our interaction with the world, and of course we have to use stuff in order to survive. But I think all I’m really doing in questioning such fundamental interactions is what people have done in any generation since thinking began: seeing that the model is a default one, and that there are other possibilities that would achieve what we say we want: more peace, more security, more beauty, more health, more of a sense of wellbeing. Next question! (Sorry for the wordy answer – I’m in a rush, to paraphrase Mark Twain).

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