Staying Loose – Movement as Resistance

One of Boring Culture’s favourite ways of turning you into an admin-robot is to insist that you definitely need to spend nine hours a day sitting still in front of a screen.

Resist by moving.

Animals love movement. We love to run, dance, swim, climb, and slide down snowy slopes.

The joy of watching crows snowboard is an activity that transcends race, class, gender, space and time. This one clip single-handedly eradicates four hundred years of mechanistic philosophy. Those scientists who practiced vivisection on living animals, believed them to be ‘nothing more than unconscious machines’*, would have dropped their scalpels in an instant should they have been fortunate enough to witness the rare phenomenon known as ‘crow-boarding’.

Julien Offray de la Mettrie, author of ‘Man a Machine’, whose face I enjoyed dissecting in photoshop. Forgive me.

Let’s wash away that image with a better one.

I love the way octopus move. They’re so graceful and inquisitive. Have you seen the way they pour themselves through tiny gaps in the rocks? I love how they change the hues and textures of their bodies so fluidly, as if they’ve slipped into a reef-coloured jacket, or as if the kelp forest is wearing them as a cloak.

They are tricksters and shamans, liminal beings who confound both the creatures that hunt them and the humans that study them.

Octopus skin, as we understand it at present, is composed of distinct layers of special cells; the pigment-shifting chromatophores, light-reflecting iridophores, and the beneath those the leucophores (loo-so-phores), which facilitate reflection of ambient light. They can even change their texture through a trick of the tiny skin protrusions known as pappilae. This constellation of cells works in symphony to afford the octopus with a vast wardrobe of clothing which they fabricate on the fly in collaboration with their localities, shifting their bodies to the undulating greens of a kelp forest or the knobbles and notches of a coral outcrop. Whatever takes their fancy.

If you watch octopus documentaries like I do, then it won’t be long before you find the scientists talking about what they refer to as the ‘brain-body relationship’, which suggests a separation between the two. Yet could there be a more striking instance of embodied mind than the octopus?

The majority of an octopus’ neurons reside not within their brains, but within their arms! And because their skin is filled with photo-receptors, their bodies hold a plenum of eyes, drinking in the colours of the world from all directions.

When it comes to octopus, perhaps it makes more sense to think of mind not as synonymous with brain, but as a process that is uniquely active in the places of touch between the intelligent flesh of these eight-armed denizens and the ever-shifting qualities of their enveloping world. An octopus is being minded by her reef as much as she is a mind within it.

Some of the more creatively minded scientists are already making moves to speak this way about octopus (and yes, the plural of octopus is octopus).

‘It’s almost like watching the fluid environment itself moving across the surface of the rocks.’

– David Gire, Assistant Professor of Behavioural Science, University of Washington.

This is a great sentence, but why not go full shamanic and say the octopus is a thought-form of the water itself? A particularly charismatic expression of the oceanic world through which the reef comes to know itself.

The image above is from a phenomenal documentary called ‘My Octopus Teacher’, a title that hints at a broader movement in society, foreshadowed five hundred years ago by my favourite homosexual polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci, who said:

The wisest and noblest teacher is nature herself.

The dominant metaphor by which we live is shifting from that of the machine to something more fluid; a river or a symphony. Taking more-than-human nature as our primary inspiration and mentor is key, and we see this happening in the the field of biomimicry, in education with movements such as Forest School and Smart By Nature, in permaculture and systems thinking, in good art like Björk’s Biophilia, and in philosophy and science with paradigm-shifting works of excellence such InterdependenceEverything Flows, and The Matter With Things.

Yes, it’s a worrying time to be alive. But it’s also an inspiring time.

So let’s remember to move, and remember the word ‘move’ is cognate with the word ‘animate’ – to give life to.

Animate. Anima. Animal.

Stay loose.

~ Ben

P.S. For those of you who practice writing, or any kind of creative endeavour, or actually anyone doing anything, here’s a very short and slightly silly video over at the Fantasy Creates Reality YouTube channel.


* The belief that only humans have soul, all matter is dead, and that animals are unconscious machines arose in the wake of Rene Descartes and his oily champion Marin Mersenne. Descartes gets a lot of the blame, but this way of thinking was a long time coming. You can read about it in The Passion of the Western Mind, the chapter on mind in Becoming AnimalThe Ascent of HumanityThe ReEnchantment of the World, and in many other books.

It’s a fascinating story and it makes you ask whether an ecological crisis is even possible if you experience the world as being sentient and ensouled. I’d suggest that it isn’t, and we’ll be follow this arc of thought in future letters, with all the playfulness and humour we can muster.