Archive for October, 2014


I recently stumbled across a reference to the paradigm of “relational science”. I hadn’t seen that term before but here are a list of characteristics of “relational science” with each one compared to its “Cartesian” counterpart.

  • PROCESS vs substance
  • BECOMING vs being
  • HOLISM vs atomism
  • RELATIONAL ANALYSIS vs either/or split analysis
  • MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES vs dualistic objectivism/subjectivism split
  • COACTION vs split interaction
  • MULTIPLE FORMS OF DETERMINATION vs efficient/material causality

If you’d like to read about this in more detail google “Fundamental Concepts and Methods in Developmental Science: A Relational Perspective” – which is an article by Willis Overton and Richard Lerner. In that article the authors write –

As a derivation from these relational categories, the relational developmental systems paradigm characterizes the living organism as a spontaneously active, self-creating (autopoetic, enactive), self-organizing, and self-regulating nonlinear complex adaptive system. The system’s development occurs through its own embodied activities and actions operating in a lived world of physical and sociocultural objects, according to the principle of probabilistic epigenesis. This development leads, through positive and negative feedback loops created by the system’s action, to increasing system differentiation, integration, and complexity, directed toward adaptive ends.

Some of this language might be familiar to you from other posts I’ve written on this site, but I’ve never seen them pulled together as “relational science” or come across the concept of “relational developmental systems” before.

If change is the pervasive phenomenon which it seems to be, it makes much more sense to focus on process instead of arbitrarily separated parts. In terms of health, I think this means we need to understand the processes of repair, resilience and effective functioning of healthy organisms, not trap ourselves in the limited focus on pathological change within tissues or organs.

A focus on becoming instead of being also undermines the outcome based approaches to care which are so prevalent. Health is a dynamic, lived experiences, not a series of fixed states.

Multiple perspectives allow to understand illness much more fully – again, not limiting ourselves to the pathological changes within cells, tissues and organs, but taking on board the subjective phenomena of illness (pain, stiffness, breathlessness, dizziness, weakness etc), as well as the narrative of the person who is ill through which we make sense of the experience, and beyond all that, to situate the individual person’s illness within the contexts in which they live – their relationships, family, genes, work, social and environmental conditions etc.

Co-action shows that change comes about not least from the interactions between individuals. This knowledge gives us the opportunity to shift the perspective of health care from that of a doctor treating an object, to that of a doctor and a patient co-creating better health for an individual.

Last but not least, all of this thinking leads us to a consideration of the emergent nature of change in living organisms – which means we can never be completely certain how things are going to go in any individual situation. Something which, surely, should bring some healthy humility to the practice of Medicine.

You’ll see this is all entirely consistent with the features of complex adaptive systems, and of integral theory. And it is also utterly consistent with my blog byline of “becoming not being” which I first encountered in the study of Deleuze’s work.

I really think this “relational science” explains reality much better than the old, reductionist, mechanistic, linear paradigm which is still so prevalent.

Let me finish this post with a re-iteration of Overton and Lerner’s excellent summary –

the living organism as a spontaneously active, self-creating (autopoetic, enactive), self-organizing, and self-regulating nonlinear complex adaptive system


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Autumn leaves


heart in the keystone

I find Plato’s three “transcendentals” of Beautiful, Good and True a very fruitful concept to explore. When I first read about “integral theory” I was very taken by Ken Wilber’s four quadrants of the single-subjective, plural-subjective, single-objective and plural-subjective, and really liked the way the beautiful, the good and the true could be mapped onto that. (read a little more about that here)

Yesterday as I was looking through my photographs of autumn leaves I was enjoying finding the ones I considered to be the most beautiful.

The day before I was listening to a radio discussion about fairness. The concept of fairness seems to be innate, and the panel discussed a video of an experiment which seems to show how fairness is indeed innate in primates.

Last week I was struck again by the observation that most people seem to visit a doctor to make sense of something. In the Medical World, we refer to that making sense as ‘diagnosis’, and I’ve long since preferred to think of it as an understanding. Making sense of a pain, an itch, a dizziness, of anxiety or whatever, involves the co-creation of a credible story by the doctor and the patient working together.

As these three strands came together for me this morning, I got to thinking of the beautiful, the good and the true once more and two things occur to me.

Firstly, all three of these qualities are dynamic and relative. None of them are fixed. And none of them are universal at the level of the individual or particular. What is beautiful to me, might not be experienced as beautiful by you (on the other hand, we might agree!) And I don’t see beauty as a category either – at least, not as a yes or no kind of category – not as an either/or way of thinking. It’s not a box to tick.

Secondly, for me, I think the Good has a strong element of fairness. We tend to think of Justice as being about fairness, and it strikes me that I can ask myself how fair my judgements and actions are, as a way of considering how good they are. I do also think that the quality of integration is a key characteristic of all complex adaptive systems i.e. all living organisms, so an action or choice is better if it is more integrative (if it increases the mutually beneficial bonds between the well differentiated parts)

Thirdly, I see Truth as being about sense making. In some ways, the sense I make of my experience is the truth of it.

So, my current exploration of the beautiful, the good and the true, centres around wonder (émerveillement), fairness and integration, and sense-making.

I discover beauty through wonder. I am motivated to promote fairness and integration in the world. I make sense through the creation of narratives.

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I’ve taken lots of photos of autumn leaves over the years, but this one remains one of my all time favourites. I thought about it today because with the sudden drop in temperature coupled with pretty wild gusts of wind over the last couple of days here in Scotland, there are autumn leaves covering the ground everywhere. So, just before they all go from the trees, I thought I’d share this spectacular burst of colour again.

This particular forest is in Kyoto where the autumn colours really are spectacular, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find similar spectacles near you.

I love the vibrancy of LIFE which shines through these leaves almost as if the glow is from within the leaves themselves…

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Right through to the vieux port

Herman Daly, senior economist at the World Bank, 1988 – 1994, who is a Professor at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, writes in the current issue of “Resurgence” magazine, about the need for a steady-state economy. He argues that the current pursuit of growth is neither sustainable, nor sensible, pointing out that there has been no growth in the quantity of the physical material of the Earth since it was formed, but that it continues to grow, evolve and develop despite that. This is an interesting perspective. It shifts the agenda towards evolution and development rather than acquisition and consumption and challenges us to think about qualities not just quantities. I was particularly struck by his closing sentences though –

So, in closing, I will only mention what seems to me to be the deeper issue. Is Creation the purposeless, random consequence of multiplying infinitesimal probabilities by an infinite number of trials, as taught by the reigning paradigm of scientific materialism? I say Creation with a capital C advisedly, and certainly not in denial of the well established scientific facts of evolution. Rather it is in protest to the metaphysics of Naturalism that everything, including evolution (by random genetic mutations selected by a randomly changing environment), is ultimately happenstance. It is hard to imagine within such a worldview from where one would get the inspiration to care for Creation, which of course Naturalists would have to call by a different name – say, “Randomdom”. Imagine urging our fellow citizens to work hard and sacrifice to save “Randomdom”! Intellectual confusion is real, but the moral nihilism logically entailed by deterministic materialism (Naturalism), uncritically accepted by so many, is probably the bigger cause of environmental destruction.

It’s one of those strange synchronicities of life that the new issue of Resurgence came through my letter box two days after writing a post about connections which provoked a discussion about randomness in the universe.

And, just to complete the synchronicity experience, I was discussing medical practice with a friend and colleague this week, where we agreed that “co-creation” was the way to go. There is a shift in the way doctors and patients relate to each other, and maybe one of the best ways to understand that, and develop it, is to consider one of the characteristics of all living organisms (as seen through the lens of complex adaptive systems) – that is the characteristic of “co-evolution”.

Co-evolution is a term used to describe how every organism inextricably exists within a context or environment, and as it is an open, dynamic system, there is constant exchange of energy and information which produces complex patterns of linked changes. Think how a group of human beings settling to live in a particular part of the world begin to change the physical environment by living in it, and how the physical environment in which live influences the way they live.

Co-evolution is a creative process, and isn’t this the characteristic which runs right through the entire story of the universe? Isn’t it the story of Creation? Aren’t we the co-creators?

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Old rope


In the second part of the A to Z of Becoming, Q stands for the verb Quit.

I think change is inevitable and constant, but there are forces of conservation and continuity to. We are creatures of habit. If you’ve ever been to a two or three day course or workshop I’m sure you’ll have noticed how many people choose to sit in exactly the same seat in the classroom, or lecture theatre, every single day. These habits develop so quickly. Habits can be helpful tools. They can bring us the experience of continuity and the security which comes with that. They can also free us up to make choices about other things, not feel we have to choose everything every time. But habits can be traps and constraints to. We can become quite easily entangled in our habits and they can then become ruts, stuck loops, chains even.

If we want to become consciously involved in change, then we need to be able to develop new patterns of behaving and living….new habits. If we want new habits we might have to create the space for them to exist, by stopping some current habits! That’s where the verb, to quit comes in.

It’s pretty tricky to stop a habit. It can be hard to quit something, and we often get the feeling that the more we focus on what we want to quit, the more tenaciously we hang on to it! So, one  good way to quit something is to replace it with something else. If you create a new habit, a new pattern of eating, or exercising, say, or a new pattern of thinking, then the current habits “naturally” get replaced.

So, I think sometimes, we do need to grasp the nettle and choose to stop something. Choose to quit. But other times we need to approach the issue of quitting rather more obliquely…focusing on the creation of new patterns to allow the old ones to fade away.

What do you think? Is there something you want to stop doing, stop saying, stop thinking? Are you going to decide to quit that pattern? Do you want to change direction? Go ahead then. Make the decision. But you might find you manage to quit more easily by replacing the behaviour with another one which you consciously, deliberately, and preferably, enthusiastically choose!

Red arrows Stirling

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Celtic knots

I’ve always found Celtic knots attractive. I think they are both beautiful and fantastic symbols of important characteristics of reality – the indivisible inter-connectedness of everything, and the dynamic, flowing qualities of Nature.

Alan Watts, that great teacher of Zen principles, talks about the reality of inter-connectedness in one of his essays. He says –

interdependence and virtual identity with all other forms of life which the divisive and emboxing methods of our current way of thought prevent us from experiencing……….The so–called physical world and the so–called human body are a single process, differentiated only as the heart from the lungs or the head from the feet………..our intellectual and scientific “establishment” is, in general, still spellbound by the myth that human intelligence and feeling are a fluke of chance in an entirely mechanical and stupid universe—as if figs would grow on thistles or grapes on thorns………wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvelous neural organization which, shall we say, sponsors it?
 I love that word he uses – “emboxing”. I’ve never seen that word before. Maybe he invented it, but it’s great. The way we label and classify after focusing on only certain aspects of any phenomenon separates and divides. It puts whatever we are looking at into a box. When we apply this technique to ourselves we divide ourselves from the Nature, from the Earth, and even from the Universe.
Dividing ourselves from Reality produces a dangerous delusion. As Watts says, “wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvelous neural organization which, shall we say, sponsors it?”
I particularly like his reference to the human body – because if we really did understand ourselves as intimately and inextricably connected to the universe then maybe we’d stop classifying whatever is not “us” as “them” or “it”. Then we would have a chance to create a world which was more like the human body – made of well-differentiated parts which relate to each other in mutually beneficial ways – the reality of integration, not the delusion of division and separateness that seems to result in exploitation, plunder, killing and rape.

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Honey bee

Swan reflecting



Alan Watts wrote, in his collection of essays, “Does it matter?”

an enormous amount of current intellectual, philosophical, and even scientific discourse strikes me increasingly as absurd. It is an attempt to translate a nonlinear and multidimensional system of vibrations into a linear (alphabetical or mathematical) system of symbols; and it just can’t be done

Human beings have learned to do amazing things using mathematics, technology and our advances in materialist, reductionist sciences. But these advances tend to fool us into thinking that we can approach all of Life with the same ideas, concepts and methods. Alan Watts nails this error with his usual focused clarity. He wrote that back in the 1960s but 50 years on we are still making the same fundamental mistake.

Living organisms are not machines. Natural ecosystems are not elaborate mechanical technologies. We can’t squeeze open, dynamic phenomena into the same mechanical models which work in the fields of engineering and technology.


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