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A declaration of interdependence

Updated Friday 30th November 2007

Anuradha Vittachi explains how her view of interdependence is inspired by slime mould.

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Slime mould Creative commons image Icon Swan-Scot under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license Slime Mould
Copyright The Open University

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I live in a wood. And, in that wood, if you go for a walk and see, perhaps, a fallen branch, rotting gently, you might also see on this branch something that looks like a fungal growth on it.

Some people have unkindly called it something that looks like a dog’s been sick on a log. It's actually a kind of creature. It's a creature with a very small brain. It's just one up from a vegetable really, and it's called slime mould.

And, because it's very stupid, it's also able only to think slowly, apparently, and move very slowly. It would take hours for it to move a little way along the branch.

But, in fact, if you came back the next day, if the weather were different, you might find that it was nowhere to be seen, it had moved completely off the branch, apparently, and disappeared way into the woods because it's absolutely nowhere around.

But the most amazing thing is that it hasn’t actually gone anywhere, it's just demerged, because it was actually a whole community, a whole colony or a network, and the network has just separated out into the millions of component parts so that you can’t see these individual parts anymore. And from slime mould I really learnt a great deal, and I’d like to just mention three.

One is that when people talk about interdependence, they usually talk about the dependent side coming together, but slime mould teaches us that it's about coming together and separating as needed.

When the individual slime mould creatures can operate perfectly well independently, they do so; when they need to help each other, when there’s a food shortage, say, they come together.

It's rather the opposite of people who tend to come together in jolly times, like parties, and then fight and scrap, selfishly, when there isn't enough food. So I'm not quite sure whether they’re the stupid ones or we are.

The second thing I learnt from slime mould is that interdependence is not a goal to be reached; it is the basic pattern of life.

I always thought that people, like people, everything starts of dependently and then learns to become independent and finally, in the wisdom of our maturity, we learn about interdependence.

Not so: interdependence seems to be the fundamental pattern, and then we forget it, and we go off and become terribly neurotically dependent or independent, whatever, and then we have to awaken once more to the basic pattern.

And the third thing is that there is no bomber command in the slime mould world. There’s nobody telling them they have to get together or separate. It seems to self-organise in some mysterious way, yet to be discovered.

It may be like the low level telepathy that exists in a marriage, and it's interesting to me that the kinds of horizontal communication, frequent, small, quick communications that go on all the time now with email and other kinds of new media, or social networking, these seem to be arising at the same time as an awareness of interdependence is also arising, what is called co-dependent arising. It's not causal, it's acausal but it happens at the same time.

And so my declaration of interdependence is, let’s be like slime mould, be about slime mould.

 

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