Essence in Appearance: The Emergent Science, Art & Spirituality of Natural Inclusion

Alan Rayner
5 min readDec 6, 2019

When I was very young, so much younger than I am today, I discovered to my delight that I could identify fungal fruit bodies by seeing through the superficiality of their variable external appearance to an underlying essence unique to each species. This essence is also known as ‘jizz’, and it is something that all experienced naturalists are familiar with but is very difficult for novices to ‘get the hang of’ because it only comes with experiential immersion.

I would have been shocked then that anyone could consider the ‘essence’ and the ‘appearance’ of one of these ‘fountains of the forest’, and indeed any natural form, either as ‘separate from’ or as ‘one and the same as’ one another, or indeed as ‘illusory’. It was as obvious to me then as it is obvious to me now that the ‘external appearance’ of these forms is the tangible, manifest, dynamic and variable expression of the intangible spatial and energetic essence within them.

Now those days are gone and I’m not so self-assured, it has been brought home to me that such splitting and conflation and dismissal of the essence and/or appearance of natural forms has not only been commonplace in abstract philosophies of life from ancient to modern times, but continues to be so today.

At least some of the rot started in ancient Greece when Plato taught Aristotle to solidify the intrinsic fluidity of natural forms into idealised, static objects. These frozen constructs had no place for immaterial space within their Euclidean points, lines and planes and so this intangible essence was banished into the great void outside of them. Inside was guillotined from and opposed to outside by a definitive boundary limit. Each was irreconcilably excluded from the other by an Act of false dichotomy and authoritarian prejudgement enshrined in the binary logic of the Law of the Excluded Middle. The latter holds that one thing cannot simultaneously be not that thing. Something cannot be nothing. Material cannot be immaterial. Appearance cannot be non-appearance. The reality of Nature was rendered discontinuous — severed by definition into two completely separate kinds of existence. This kind of thought, detached from feeling awareness of the intangible essence within all natural appearances is called ‘dualism’ and it persists in modern objectivistic science and philosophy as the basis of what is considered to be rational.

Meanwhile in the East, a different kind of awareness developed, which perceived reality in essence as a continuous, non-dual ‘oneness’. In certain kinds of Buddhism and Vedic philosophy, this was taken to mean that distinctive appearances were mere illusions, not ‘real’, and that therefore any perception of a distinctive self-identity, different from others is also not real.

Instead of being reconciled through recognition of their mutual inclusiveness, these two radically different world views of Western dualistic rationalism and Eastern non-dual mysticism have remained largely at odds with one another for millennia. The reality of tangible forms — appearances — has either been cut apart from the reality of intangible essence or dissolved from it altogether.

Only with the coming of the philosophy of phenomenology, pioneered first by Husserl and later by Merleau Ponty, based on directly experiencing the ‘essence’ of natural phenomena (‘appearances’) was some possibility for a realistic reconciliation envisaged, but it was cut short by Merleau Ponty’s early death. In particular, Merleau Ponty recognised the ‘duality within non-dual and non-dual in dual (two-ness in oneness and oneness if two-ness) that occurs in natural phenomena. Nonetheless he envisaged this more in terms of a ‘mutual intertwining’ of dialectic opposites (analogous to the yin and yang of eastern Daoism) than a true mutual inclusion of each in the presence of the other.

For myself, I was unaware of this historical philosophical background twenty years ago when, returning to my childhood awareness of the ‘essence within the appearance’, I first explicitly became aware and started to articulate my comprehension of what I now call ‘natural inclusionality’. This philosophy is based on a fundamental evolutionary principle of Nature — ‘natural inclusion’- which departs radically from the dualism embedded in Darwinian and neo-Darwinian selection theory.

Natural inclusionality goes beyond dialectic opposition by envisaging matter and space to be mutually inclusive: matter occurs locally as dynamically bounded form that both contains space within itself and is surrounded by space all around itself. This is possible only if matter is formed dynamically by energetic circulation around local receptive (i.e. gravitational) centres of space. Hence, as I alluded to in the following poem, ‘every body is a cavity at heart’, both in form and essence:

What May Not Be Obvious

Every body is a cavity at heart

Every figure reconfigures both in science and in art

Every face is interfacing from no bottom to no top

Every faith is interfaith that cannot tell us where to stop

Every lining opens inwards as it brings its inside out

Every curtain closes outwards to conceal its inner doubt

Every story ends in opening from some future into past

Every glory is the story of finding first in last

Every aching is the making of another role for play

Every taking is the slaking of another’s thirst to stay

Every tiding’s no confiding with-out the trust to tell

Every siding is no hiding from the fear of utter Hell

Every flowing is the ebbing of another’s world within

Every glowing is the lighting of the darkness in the spin

Every heartbeat is the murmur in the core of inner space

Every drumbeat is the echo of the dance within each place

Every silence is the gathering of the storm that is to come

When Love comes to Life

So, in natural inclusionality we have ‘oneness, two-ness AND three-ness’: space, energy AND matter, whereby matter is formed from space and energy in mutually inclusive, receptive-responsive relationship.

Unwittingly, I took a ‘step beyond’ Merleau Ponty and in so doing created the post-dialectic foundation for what I think can be a truly natural ‘phenomenological science, art and spirituality’. This brings tangible appearance and intangible essence into mutually inclusive relationship instead of removing or conflating one from or with the other. As a science, this is in essence a radical departure from abstract, objectivistic science (which discounts intangible essence). It is a science that restores emotionality and spirituality from exile back into the heart of its understanding.

The child who saw all this from the start, but couldn’t put it into words, has never really left me. All that’s needed now, is a ‘little help from his friends’ to bring this understanding into a wider circle of human awareness.


Acknowledgement: Thanks to this article for help in understanding the phenomenological background to the above:-

Phenomenology of the Essence and Appearance in Merleau Ponty

Transmission: Journal of the Awareness Field — Vol. 4 Awareness as Existingness, 2012

Rudolph Bauer



Alan Rayner

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