Discerning the Difference between Natural and Fictional Occurrence

Y do U turn away?’ (Pen, ink and watercolour sketch on paper by Alan Rayner, 2018) A visual commentary on the disjunction between abstract, hard-line geometry and natural flow-geometry

Recognition has been increasing in recent years, and especially in recent months, that a great many of the problems we face in modern culture arise from a confrontational human relationship with the natural world. Calls to ‘connect’, ‘reconnect’ and ‘work with rather than against Nature’ are commonplace. But what do these calls really signify and what do they imply in practice? How could we have imagined humanity to be separate from Nature in the first place? What stories about Nature and ourselves do we tell one another and how many, if any, of these are actually true? How can we discern the difference between truthful and fictional stories, and how do these stories affect the way we live and relate to one another and our natural surroundings?

Let’s begin by asking ourselves what we think of when we speak of Nature. If you look the word up in a dictionary you’ll find any number of definitions and shades of meaning, depending upon whether and where Nature is thought to begin and end and whether human beings and artefacts are included or excluded.

So the answer we give depends on what we think. Which raises the further question of what does what we think depend on? Do we rely on what have been told to believe is true by others? In which case what do these others base their thinking upon? This is the route through which fictional stories arise and spread across and between generations. Do we rely on personal experience and perception? In which case, how can we overcome the limitations of our local situation and perceptual abilities? And to what extent are our individual perceptual abilities limited by the ways in which we have been brought up and taught to perceive?

Clearly there is a need for us to combine our own personal perceptions with those of others with different experience and abilities, if we are to gain as comprehensive an awareness of the reality in which we are situated as possible. We need both to hear and be heard, both individually and collectively. Unfortunately this is easier said than done in human cultures that become dominated by fictional stories promulgated by authority figures and groups. Consider just how long it took for the Copernican view of the solar system to replace the geocentric Ptolemaic view.

The most comprehensive description of Nature I can offer is all actual occurrence. Notice that this description has no physical limits in extent or duration and includes both tangible substance and intangible space and energy. As an occurrence it comprises more dynamically than what is present instantaneously and more spatially than exists within local material boundaries. Hence Nature is truly continuous and non-definable, including all temporary material form and eternal void space.

In these terms it is inconceivable that anywhere or anyone separate from Nature can actually exist other than in the human imagination, and neither can the human imagination itself. Yes, material bodies can be distinguished from one another and their surroundings as distinct identities but they cannot be defined as separate entities within discrete boundary limits that isolate them from one another and space.

Calls to ‘connect’, ‘reconnect’ and ‘work with Nature’ are all indicative of believing the fictional story that Nature is a separate entity from human self- and group-identity, instead of recognising that human identity is a local dynamic inclusion and expression of Nature. By the same token, claims that ‘We are all One’ — a solitary Union as distinct from a diverse natural Communion signifies belief in a fictional story that denies individual uniqueness.

My description of Nature as all actual occurrence — hence implying that all actual occurrence is natural — signals what I feel to be our urgent human need to be able to distinguish natural occurrence from fictional occurrence in a culture where belief in the latter has become so prevalent, diverse and complex in its many forms of expression. To emphasize the point, I will suggest now that all currently widely accepted scientific concepts of Nature are founded at least partially in fictional stories — hardly what most truth-seeking scientists would want to believe!

To be clear, fictional occurrence occurs only in the human imagination as the result of a mistake or fantasy, and nowhere else. Unicorns are fictional occurrences. So too are the hard lines and surfaces that form the definitive fixed limits of abstract geometry, as distinct from the dynamically formed boundaries of natural flow-geometry, which are freely permeable to intangible void space. This doesn’t mean that fictional occurrences are unworthy of our attention. As imaginative, emotional human beings we all naturally make mistakes and have fantasies, but so long as we don’t confuse these with natural occurrences, this is no problem and can even be a source of great insight, creativity and pleasure as well as telling us much about how our minds work. How can we discern the difference, and what is the result of not doing so?

The first sign of danger — but also an invitation to deeper enquiry — is paradox. Paradox occurs when what we believe or are told is definitively true contradicts what actually occurs. We then have a choice as to whether to accept that Nature is intrinsically ambiguous, or attempt to understand how the paradox arises from a false supposition. This is indeed the basis for dialectic enquiry, which seeks to reconcile two mutually contradictory suppositions — ‘thesis’ and ‘antithesis’ — through a ‘synthesis’ that shows how both can be true, or at least both partially true and partially false.

It is the task of any truth-seeking intellect to discern the difference between actual and fictional occurrence in order to recognise and attune with the reality of the natural situation in which we are dynamically included as living beings. Not to do so gives rise to false beliefs and mistakes, which, if acted upon, can seriously restrict and damage our human understanding and ability to thrive.

This can be done by rigorously questioning whether any supposition is consistent with actual experience and makes consistent, non-paradoxical sense. If it is not, then the supposition cannot be accepted as comprehensively (i.e. impartially) true (even though it may be partially true), and further enquiry is needed to identify the source of falsehood. If there are inadequate grounds for answering the question, then the supposition will need to be regarded with an open mind, and further evidence sought. If the answer is affirmative, then the supposition can provisionally be accepted as true, until or unless counter-evidence comes to light.

Many fictional views of Nature arise fundamentally either from supposing material substance and immaterial space to be mutually exclusive, as in ‘dualism’, or indistinguishable, as in ‘monism’. Neither of these suppositions is consistent with or capable of making consistent sense of our actual human experience. If they were, we would have to accept either that a material body can exist without volume or that the ‘appearance’ of material bodies distinguishable from one another and their surroundings is ‘illusory’. This has not, however, prevented these suppositions from being assimilated on the one hand into objective scientific and mathematical theory and practice or on the other hand into various bodily self-negating spiritual traditions. Both, in actuality, arise from a partially fictional and partially true perception of Nature.

Awareness of what I call ‘natural inclusion’ does not make these suppositions because it accepts the comprehensive description of Nature that I gave earlier, as ‘all actual occurrence’, both tangible and intangible. In other words this awareness (which gives rise to the philosophy of natural inclusionality) recognises that natural void space both includes and is dynamically included within material form. Material form is a co-creation of void stillness and energetic flux in mutually inclusive, receptive-responsive relationship. Nature is a flow of energy within and between receptive centres of space, neither a set of independent objects nor a singularity of all as one.

For further exploration of natural inclusionality and its implications for human understanding and flourishing, please visit http://www.spanglefish.com/exploringnaturalinclusion.


When understood as all actual occurrence, both tangible and intangible, it is clear that Nature is inherently self-organising, not a discrete whole object or ‘box-frame’ created and controlled by external or internal executive force. How does this understanding affect the way we seek to govern or be governed? See:- https://ia803204.us.archive.org/27/items/the-gamma-principle/The%20gamma%20principle.pdf

Alan Rayner is an evolutionary ecologist, writer and artist, who is pioneering the philosophy of natural inclusion

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