A Brief History of Natural Inclusion


Natural inclusion is an ongoing evolutionary process of ‘being’ and ‘becoming.’ Our current understanding of the meaning and implications of this process, and the language we use to describe it, also continues to evolve. It did not come into being instantaneously or without trial and error. Your participation is welcome in helping it to develop further in clarity, depth and richness, because no one of us can claim to be an expert authority whose word is final. Natural inclusion can only adequately be appreciated from within diverse real-life experience, not from an isolated viewpoint as a detached observer.


It is important to be aware of the history of our attempts to communicate natural inclusion, otherwise you may get confused when you come across previous incarnations and possible misconceptions of what in essence is a very simple theme. Natural inclusion is the co-creative inclusion of space and energy within each other to give rise to natural flow-forms, over scales ranging from sub-atomic to galactic. These flow-forms have distinct identities, but are not completely isolated from one another as fully discrete, independent entities. They continually arise and reconfigure as myriad variations upon the same underlying theme.


For Alan Rayner, what had probably been a lifelong unconscious awareness of natural inclusion first started to become explicit in the 1990’s, culminating in the publication of his book, ‘Degrees of Freedom – Living in Dynamic Boundaries’ (Imperial College Press, 1997). The book was prompted especially by his observations of how fungi and other ‘indeterminate life forms’ grow and interrelate with one another and their habitats. Alan recognised that natural boundaries are never rigidly discrete limits that completely isolate insides from outsides, as is assumed by definitive logic. Instead, natural boundaries are dynamic interfacings between inner and outer realms, which vary in their deformability, permeability and connectivity, depending on local circumstances.


Although this landmark book retained the definitive language of abstract perception, notably with respect to such concepts as ‘natural selection’, ‘competition’ and ‘co-operation’, the basic premise underlying this language was questioned, and the need for a more fluid depiction of evolutionary process was recognised. Moreover, the final chapter, ‘Compassion in Place of Strife – the future of human relationships?’, clearly signalled how a shift from definitive to dynamic perceptions of natural boundaries could enable a move from needless hostility,  to loving and respectful  ways of life that are consistent with actual human experience and make sound sense.


Our current understanding of natural inclusion emerged in the year 2000, when this appreciation of the fluidity of natural boundaries was brought into confluencewith an awareness of the role of space as a natural ‘presence of absence’ (not absence of presence) or ‘frictionless lubricant’. Space, in other words, is recognised to have a unique kind of agency. The continuous, receptive presence of space everywhere is what makes both the occurrence and mobility of all natural bodily forms as ‘flow-forms’ possible.


The confluence was prompted by the thinking of three people, especially. Doug Caldwell, a Canadian microbiologist had controversially questioned the validity of Darwinian ‘natural selection’ theory, on the basis of his observations of continuous culture systems, which he interpreted in terms of what he called ‘universal information theory’ and ‘nested proliferation theory’.  Ted Lumley, a retired geophysicist, was interested in the way ‘exceptional teams’ flourished, and had come to view rationalistic thought as socially and environmentally damaging. Lere Shakunle, a Nigerian mathematician had developed a new, dynamic way of understanding natural numerical and geometric form, which he called ‘transfigural mathematics’, based on the spatial incorporation of ‘zero’ within natural figures, not as an exception from them. All agreed that there was an urgent need to replace the ‘abstract rationality’ of definitive thought with a more comprehensive perception of Nature, which they called ‘inclusionality’. Alan Rayner later modified this to ‘natural inclusionality’ as a way of thinking based specifically on his understanding of ‘natural inclusion’ as an evolutionary process.


Many efforts followed, both to clarify the meaning and significance of inclusionality, and to communicate this widely. Two new websites were prepared, at and Alan Rayner incorporated inclusionality into his research and teaching at the University of Bath. This included a pioneering new trans-disciplinary course entitled ‘Life, Environment & People’, which was presented from 2001 – 2011. (See Inclusional-Education). Numerous electronically downloadable essays, several peer-reviewed papers and several downloadable books were prepared, and a paperback book, ‘NaturesScope’, was published. (See NaturesScope).


While making these efforts, it was necessary to face a variety of challenges:-

  • The need to develop a suitable descriptive language that adequately clarifies the meaning and significance of inclusionality, while not becoming so unfamiliar that it would put off newcomers. 
  • The need to show clearly how inclusionality both relates to and departs from current thinking – notably those forms of thinking known as ‘holism’ and ‘reductionism’.
  • The need to recognise and clarify the relevance of inclusionality to a very wide variety of human endeavours (and vice versa): philosophy, mathematics, science, art, psychology, theology, human governance, environmental management, economics and education.
  • The profound resistance of academic and lay communities to thinking that challenges, or appears to challenge, deeply embedded beliefs and assumptions propagated by such revered human figures as Aristotle and Plato, and Newton, Darwin and Einstein.
  • Our own misunderstandings and human frailties.


These challenges led to our current specific focus on the meanings and significance of ‘natural inclusion’ – as understood by Alan Rayner – while appreciating with gratitude the contributions made by others to this understanding. There are clear signs that this new understanding is beginning to contribute in a real way that enables people to live, think and feel as dynamic inclusions of natural energy flow. As Giles Hutchins says at the end of his book, ‘The Illusion of Separation – Exploring the Cause of our Current Crises’ (Floris Books, 2014):


‘We are living, breathing, bodymind portals through which Nature flows, and we are expressions of that Nature. As we reawaken the power of love within us we begin to heal the fragmentation of our psyche and so repair our estranged relation with ourselves, each other and Nature. This is the common ground of humankind’s destiny within which we each have unique tunes to play.’


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