Life-Skill Learning from Animal Shareholders and Collaborators


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Cognitive Opportunity for Engaging Radically With a Complex World in Crisis


Much is made of the deterioration of the environment, loss of wildlife, and the challenges of formulating a viable lifestyle. Much is also made of the need for creativity and new thinking to respond to conditions with respect to which authorities are proving to be ever more incompetent. Essentially individuals are increasingly left to their own resources and ingenuity — and possibly encouraged in that modality by those same authorities.

The recommendations by “authorities” or exemplars might be briefly clustered as:

  • reliance on science and technology, possibly in its intermediate and alternative forms
  • reliance on religion, possibly through the alternative forms of belief offered by cults and sects
  • reliance on “do it yourself” construction of shelters, educational programmes, cultivation of foods
  • reliance on philosophy as a means of transcending life experience as it may be necessary to experience it
  • reliance on distraction through sport and other recreations, including food, drink and meaningful drugs
  • reliance on community and family interactions as offer a sustaining pattern of meaning
  • reliance on identification with initiatives in defence of the status quo, or in an effort to change it

The argument here is that these can all be understood in systemic terms. The ultimate “authorities” in thriving through systemic crises are however the millions of species in the biosphere — whether plants or animals. It is evident that these have explored and developed every variety of “trick” to adapt to the challenges to which they have been exposed.

It is difficult to argue that such modalities have not been extensively tested over millions of years in response to particular conditions. In this sense they constitute a vast repertoire of viable strategic resources. The title of this review offers the provocative reminder that, with humans, animals can also be fruitfully considered “shareholders” in a vast collective enterprise involving a varieties of forms of “collaboration”.

The systemic organization of species may be explored in terms of the patterns of structural order they variously embody, as noted by such as Christopher Alexander (The Nature of Order: an essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe, 2003-4). Far less obvious are the patterns of behaviour associated with such order — invisible in specimens pinned and mounted in museum displays, or severely constrained in zoos.

Increasing recognition for this source of insight is however evident as biomimicry — the study of biomimetics and its technical applications — currently evident in the design of drones in the light of the aerodynamic abilities of a variety of species. The approach can be considered as an indication, or template, for psychosocial possibilities, as separately argued (Engendering a Psychopter through Biomimicry and Technomimicry: insights from the process of helicopter development, 2011). A brief overview is offered by a BBC summary (Animal and plant adaptations and behaviours)

However, rather than focusing on the proven technical possibilities, there is also the implication of cognitive possibilities and of “being otherwise” according to circumstance. These have been poorly recognized and explored. The question is whether the organization and behaviours of biological species are suggestive of alternative cognitive modalities that are relatively accessible to the individual, if not immediately.

The argument here is that, rather than depending on authorities anxious to ensure that their particular worldview is faithfully reproduced (however ineffectual), individuals may in effect be free to adopt and test alternative modalities at will. The corresponding challenge for authorities is whether they can prove that their conventional recommendations are of more meaningful consequence to individuals — who increasingly perceive their effectiveness to be questionable.

The question here is how better to frame this possibility in order to facilitate and enable such exploration. This has been variously approached in previous arguments (My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development worthwhile, 2002; En-minding the Extended Body: enactive engagement in conceptual shapeshifting and deep ecology, 2003; En-joying the World through En-joying Oneself: eliciting the potential of globalization through cognitive radicalization, 2011; Being the Universe: a metaphoric frontier, 1999).

The focus here is on cognitive possibilities especially with regard to global geometry and associated dynamics, as partially discussed separately (Metascience Enabling Upgrades to the Scientific Process: beyond Science 2.0 in the light of polyhedral metaphors? 2014). Of particular interest is whether systemic comparison of animal strategies could be developed such as to enable insightful comparison with the strategies advocated by international organizations and constituencies. Some 32,000 of these had notably been profiled in the Global Strategies Project.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Feb 2014.

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