Living creatures

blue butterfly

Whether we think about this butterfly, think about a tree, or think about a person, we know we are not looking at machines.

Yet the reductionist, mechanistic model seems to retain a dominance in our culture.

Here, I think, is a better way to think of living creatures –

Complex, open, dynamic beings.


All living creatures are composed of millions of cells. In each creature, all of those cells develop from a single fertilised egg. All of those cells interact, but not in simplistic, “linear” ways. Instead the interactions can be described as “non-linear”. (Connections such as positive and negative feedback loops which produce exponential changes, rather than simple changes of addition or subtraction)

An assembly of cells connected in a non-linear manner is a complex being. And complex beings have certain characteristics, not least of which are the abilities to self-repair, self-regulate, defend themselves and to replicate.

We can focus down on the individual elements of a complex being, for example on a single cell, or a group of cells working together to form an organ, but we can’t fully understand any of┬áthose cells or organs until we consider them again as parts of the whole creature.


An open system exchanges energy, materials and information with the rest of the environment in which it exists.

All living creatures are open systems. They are constantly breathing in, breathing out, consuming and excreting (amongst other things!)

We can focus on an isolated single creature but we can’t fully understand it unless we consider it again as part of the whole environment in which it exists.


Living creatures are dynamic. They are constantly (and I do mean constantly) changing. They change because they are open and they change because they are complex. Every day some┬ácells break down and die, and others are created new, but overall they have a direction of growth – becoming ever more complex and ever more unique every single day.

This dynamism in a complex, open being leads to the manifestation of “emergent” properties. They develop, change and behave in unpredictable ways. It is impossible to know with certainty what changes are going to occur at any particular moment in any single individual.

Look again at that lovely blue butterfly I’ve photographed.

Have you ever watched a butterfly fly?

Would you be able to predict which way it’s going to move next? Have you ever met anyone who can even explain how butterflies manage to fly the way they do?

Look at that lovely blue butterfly again.

Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it a work of art? Isn’t it astonishingly more complex and unpredictable than any machine?

And that’s a butterfly. What about a person?



Marx wrote –

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.

What I like most about that quote is the emphasis on the creative power of imagination.

Our imagination is one of our most incredible resources.

It would be a shame to use to to scare ourselves each day with fears instead of using it to dream and to help us achieve our hopes.

courgette stamen

This is a close up of the stamen of a courgette (zucchini) flower growing in my garden.

Doesn’t it remind you of the human brain…..just a little? Picking up on my last post, isn’t it amazing how many echoes there are between the three “kingdoms” of Nature?

And the other thing I thought was how the intelligence of a flower is certainly not found in its brain (it doesn’t have one!) but that doesn’t mean to say it can’t perceive, respond and communicate. Plants do all of those things all the time.

And how true is it that even though we do have brains you can’t find our minds or our intelligence solely in there.

Like all other life forms, we perceive, process and respond with our whole beings.



Have you ever seen them before?

This is a first for me. We’ve a mulberry tree in our garden in France and as this is our first year here, we’re watching it change through the seasons. And here comes the fruit.

Don’t they look like little creatures?

How often do we see that in Nature, where some kind of organism develops the characteristics, or features of another?

I love how we can see such inventiveness and rich variety in Nature.

strawberries ripening

In my A to Z of Becoming, S stands for “Slow”.

This is one of my favourite verbs. I find the “slow movement” very appealing. I’ve no doubt that slowing down, taking your time, allows you to be more fully present and so, to more fully appreciate and enjoy the everyday.

Too often we find our lives are so full of…..what? Stuff, tasks, duties, distractions?? And time flies past so fast. But time, of course, isn’t something that exists outside of us, it’s an experience (as Bergson, I think, says with his idea of “duration”).

So, how to find a way to experience time differently? To find the ways to enjoy life more fully?

I’ve a tendency to look to Life, Nature, and the Body, when I want to learn something. And here’s what a strawberry teaches me.

This photo, taken recently, is of strawberry plants in my garden. Slowly, little strawberries began to appear. Slowly, they started to grow, and now, slowly they are turning red. Only one thing remains – to eat them – SLOWLY!

You can’t hurry a strawberry.

Why hurry anything else?

What a joy to watch the daily growth and ripening of these fruits.

And what a joy to pick them one at a time, enjoying just one each day as it comes to fruition, savouring it, a bite at a time.

What a joy to live, slowly.

Speed of change

cauldron flowers

When you look at this photo you’ll see something living, the plants, and something “inanimate”, the cauldron. Some of you will also say you notice the sunlight and the shadows.

Every day these plants look different as they grow, flower, and, ultimately wither.

Every day the cauldron doesn’t look that different, but if we could see what it looked like on that first day when it was carried from the foundry to the shop, we’d see that it has changed a lot.

Everything changes. Just at different rates. Living organisms change rapidly, whilst inanimate objects change much more slowly, except for moments of catastrophic change where, for example, an object is broken.

We forget that, don’t we? That change isn’t optional, but the speed of change can be.

We are creators, we humans, and when we create we embrace change, we engage with it, we bring our imaginations to bear upon it, and so we make the world we live in.

“All power to the imagination”

sand pit

The world is different with you in it. It wouldn’t have been this way without you.

Each of is alive in this world, and living is a process of change.

Your breathing changes the air in the room where you are now. You breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide.

The heat of your body changes the temperature of the room and the temperature of the room changes your circulation, your consumption of energy and your expenditure of it.

Every action you take, every thought you have, changes the world you live in.

Sometimes we change the world quite consciously – as I did when I took the rake to the sand pit the other day.

But all the time, we are changing the world with our choices, our behaviours and just by living.

Each of us in unique. Every one of us lives in a different place and different time. Every one us thinks our own thoughts, has our ideas, tells our own unique story.

The world is different with you in it.


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