Sentient Evolution

Alan Rayner
6 min readOct 3, 2020


Honeysuckle Sharing Circle’ (Oil painting on canvas by Alan Rayner, 2003). The painting is centred around a candelabra of honeysuckle blooms. Each bloom is unique in its own sweet way and at a different stage of development — some unopened, some freshly bursting, others yellowing. The blooms face outwards in a representation of combined receptivity and responsiveness towards an inward facing fringe of other flowers, interleaved with grasses: white rockrose; red campion; orange hawkweed; yellow-wort; green hellebore; bluebell; a mystery plant (actually an artistically licensed version of woad, original source of indigotine); violet. The stalk of the honeysuckle winds spirally outwards and then back inwards and downwards to its self origin, creating a pool of reflection, black in the middle and transforming through shades of blue to silver around its outside. When no thing comes between, then no thing pools together a diversity of inner self with outer self-domains, waving correspondence through complementary relationship of one with another, embodying light with shadow across the spectrum of possibilities in common space.

A short introductory essay based on the work of Doug Marman and Alan Rayner

There is a clear and present difference between living organisms and machines. Living organisms are internally motivated manifestations of biological evolution whereas machines are both designed and moved by external agency. In other words, organisms possess sentience — some form of receptive and responsive awareness of their natural situation and future possibilities — whereas machines do not.

Attempts to explain the origin and evolution of life as if organisms are machines designed, driven and controlled by external agency therefore fall fundamentally short of addressing the pivotal question of life: whence and how does sentience arise? Even Charles Darwin recognised this problem when he commented, ‘one might as well speculate about the origin of matter’.

Darwin’s comment, made at a time when atoms were still believed to be hard, massy, indivisible particles, was unwittingly prescient. For, as Marman (2018) has shown convincingly, all the mechanistically inexplicable findings of quantum mechanics that have been made subsequently have equivalents in the receptive-responsive relationships formed by living organisms with one another and their natural surroundings. This suggests that the origin of life and the origin of matter really do share a common ancestry.

Moreover, it is possible to work out from simple first principles what is essential both for the existence of matter and for the existence of life, but has been overlooked by objectivistic scientific theory and methodology that views reality solely from the standpoint of an external observer who discounts internal agency. Quite simply, as Rayner (2017, 2018) has clarified, this is the mutually inclusive relationship between omnipresent intangible spatial stillness or void and locally informative energetic flux as receptive and responsive presences in all material bodies, including our own living human bodies.


The purpose of this short essay is simply to draw attention to this evolutionary relationship between the origin of matter and the origin of life. Detailed argument and evidence for this relationship is and will be provided elsewhere along with an exploration of its far-reaching implications for human understanding and flourishing.

Here we will therefore focus on the central role of intangible receptive spatial influence as a source of internal agency in the origin and evolution of tangible material and living form. No sooner is this intangible (i.e. massless and frictionless) influence recognised in the core of all living bodies as well as atomic and subatomic form then our perception of the reality of nature shifts radically from definitively objective to dynamically inclusive.

We begin to appreciate that natural space and boundaries are sources of receptive continuity and dynamic distinction, not definitive discontinuity as in the abstract instantaneous geometry of dimensionless points, breadth-less lines, depthless surfaces and isolated solids. Matter is not ultimately assembled by external force from pre-existing and separable discrete entities (‘building blocks’) and neither is life. Both arise dynamically from energetic flow around and between receptive centres of space somewhere within space everywhere. The role of these receptive centres is invitational and catalytic, not executive. They call energy into circulatory flow-form around themselves, they do not control it. As such they correspond with a form of leadership that might quite aptly be called ‘ringleadership’, as illustrated in the painting of ‘Honeysuckle Sharing Circle’ above and exemplified by the legendary King Arthur’s ‘Round Table’ as well as indigenous forms of natural democracy.

The term ‘ringleader’ is generally used to describe leaders of groups of people who are regarded by hierarchical authority as ‘criminals’, ‘troublemakers’ or ‘mischief makers’ because of their non-establishmentarian influence. Robin Hood was a ringleader of this kind, regarded as an ‘outlaw’ by the hierarchical status quo of the time that was resistive to societal change liable to undermine its power. So too, it might be said, was Jesus of Nazareth.

But the term also fits beautifully with the flow-geometry of receptive-responsive leadership within a sphere of influence that radiates outwardly to create a very coherent and welcoming sense of togetherness in living systems. It can, quite aptly be thought of as the ‘heart and soul of the self’, from unicellular to multicellular and social scales of organisation. As Marman (2018) has shown, it corresponds with the so-called ‘strong nuclear force’ or ‘all for one, one for all’ bond that holds together the quarks of a proton in an atomic nucleus.

This receptive agency is hence a very powerful source of organizational coherence, playing a similar role to the conductor of an orchestra who doesn’t play an instrument themselves, but enables a diverse ensemble of instrumentalists to perform harmoniously (or disharmoniously if that is called for) together in concert. Once this receptive agency is recognised for what it is, one of the great mysteries of life begins to clarify: how a diverse set of atomic, molecular, cellular, multicellular and individual organism ingredients of a living body or social organisation can come into confluence, attune and co-evolve with one another in a viable, coordinated way.

By the same token, as soon as this inductive, ‘keyhole role’ of a receptive self-centre is acknowledged, we can begin to recognise how so much of the philosophy, language and mathematics of rationalistic objectification is both misleading and harmful to human understanding and flourishing. Objectification sets self-identity in conflict with its neighbours and neighbourhood in a ‘to be or not to be struggle for existence’. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet put it:-

To be or not to be, that is the question: whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?’

This existential dilemma is resolved as soon as it is realized that all material bodies are mutual inclusions of tangible and intangible presences, not one or/and other alone or in dialectic contradiction. We are dynamic inclusions and expressions of our natural energetic and spatial neighbourhood, not stand-alone subjects and objects isolated by definitive boundaries and gaps of space. And the same is true of quantum ‘particles’ that cannot be isolated from quantum ‘fields’.

One of the big changes that becomes necessary with this understanding is the need to shift emphasis from the role of external ‘force’ in natural evolutionary dynamics to internal ‘influence’. What is interpreted from an external perspective as ‘force’, as in Newtonian mechanics, is understood more fundamentally to arise as an outcome of receptive spatial influence and responsive energetic flow in mutually inclusive relationship. Similarly, the idea that natural continuity implies interconnectedness needs to be replaced with the understanding that all natural material bodies are inter-influenced by one another and only become tangibly linked as a response to that influence.

Correspondingly, what Darwin conceived objectively to be the ‘driving force’ of biological evolution, by way of ‘natural selection’, is a product of post hoc rationalisation that confuses outcome with mechanism. As such it doesn’t even correspond with a Newtonian ‘action’ that brings about an immediate ‘reaction’, like a hammer hitting a nail on the head.

It therefore makes more natural sense to recognise that evolution occurs through a process of ‘natural inclusion’ in which the indeterminate flow of life, much like the flow of a river, accepts and becomes committed to particular paths in a field of future possibility, rather than ‘selecting’ or ‘choosing’ one or other of a set of pre-existent options. While there is no doubt that organisms more closely attuned with prevailing circumstances in their habitat will tend to inhibit or replace the growth of others, this should not be taken to imply that they are in a gladiatorial ‘win-or-lose’ competition with their neighbours that causes evolution. Ultimately the evolution of life is neither the predictable outcome of an enforced competition nor an enforced collaboration within a fixed arena, but a continuing creative exploration of a field of ever-changing possibility.


Marman, D. (2018) The lenses of perception interpretation of quantum mechanics. Integral Review 14, 5–143

Rayner, A. (2017). The Origin of Life Patterns In the Natural Inclusion Of Space in Flux Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.

Rayner, A. (2018) The vitality of the intangible: crossing the threshold from abstract materialism to natural reality. Human Arenas, 1, 9–20.


Opening Doors To A Quantum Theory of Life — By Doug Marman:- Vol. 18 №1 September 2023 (



Alan Rayner

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