What Ripples Do You Want to Create?

Jeremy Lent, in conversation with PATTERNITY co-founder Anna Murray

Last year, Jeremy Lent joined PATTERNITY co-founder and Creative Director Anna Murray in conversation for the launch of his latest book, “The Web of Meaning”.

Jeremy’s work deeply aligns with PATTERNITY’s philosophy and purpose. He champions the link between Indigenous intelligence, modern science and design thinking to help catalyse an alternative to our expired worldview – one based on interconnectedness, within ourselves, with other humans and the entire non-human world. 

As we are in the throes of our ‘Indigenous Cosmology’ campaign, we wanted to re-share the beautiful and meandering dialogue that took place between Anna and Jeremy in the hope that these words leave you feeling invigorated in this heavy time. This conversation explores a future defined by life-affirming patterns, principles and mutual respect. 

You can watch the full event below

What Ripples Do you Want To Create?

Anna Murray and Jeremy Lent in Conversation

Anna Murray: The Web of Meaning feels like the next chapter to your previous book, The Patterning Instinct. Can you talk to us about the word “meaning” and how your work has evolved? 

Jeremy Lent: My previous book, The Patterning Instinct, looks at how different cultures have made meaning out of the universe. This new book recognises the flaws in our modern worldview and looks at a possible new worldview that we need to turn humanity around. 

The Web of Meaning shows how the great wisdom traditions of the past point to a deep understanding that modern science also points to – that there’s a deep interconnectedness between things. 

AM: At PATTERNITY, we believe a shared awareness of patterns will positively affect the future. But how have we come to have a broken worldview, and why do we need to re-evaluate it?

JL: Civilisation is moving towards climate breakdown. But beyond the climate breakdown, our civilisation is also causing ecological devastation to the living Earth.

The most important message in my book is that it’s not enough to apply technological fixes or invest in renewables; we need to go to the deeper layers of how our global culture makes meaning out of the universe. We need to shift our worldview from one that’s extractivist and based on separation to one centred around the connectedness of life, and that’s life-affirming. 

The book is structured around the existential questions humans ask themselves at some point in their lifetime – who am I, why am I etc.? And it looks at how the modern world answers these questions in ways that are simply wrong scientifically. 

Now, when we ask “Who am I?” we answer it with the Descartasian notion, “I think therefore I am.” “I am my thinking capacity, and the rest of me is a body that I’m simply located in. Other species do not think as I do; therefore, they do not really have an existence.” 

AM: Your book takes you on a journey, and you don’t start with those hard facts. Instead, you begin by talking about animate intelligence and the wisdom of other creatures. Can you tell us why it’s so essential that we redefine our understanding of intelligence?

JL: Modern science shows us there’s deep intelligence and consciousness in all sentient beings – not just in high functioning mammals but also in fungi and plants. It’s not just a singular tree’s intelligence but also a collective intelligence within a forest through the Wood Wide Web. 

Cellular biologists look at the tiniest cells, of which we have 40 trillion in our bodies, and every one of those cells has its own animate intelligence. It senses what’s going on around it, interacts with others and decides what to do from moment to moment. That’s a stunning intelligence that each of us as humans has beyond that Descartes's thinking capability. That animate intelligence connects us as humans to all life on Earth.

AM: When I talk about learning from natural systems, people will often say that nature is cruel and inherently selfish. Ideas such as The Selfish Gene have been so damaging. How can we re-evaluate this?

JL: This is one of the most destructive myths that humanity has inherited from the greatest thinkers of the 17th century. The myth claims that humans are selfish and that the most competitive genes are the ones that have dominated, leading individuals to argue that if this is how nature works, then capitalism must be good. 

These assumptions have been proved false by evolutionary biologists. Evolutionary biologists have shown that the most significant evolutionary steps have occurred when different organisms have learnt how to operate together to create a mutually beneficial symbiosis. The richness of life is a result of collaboration, not competitiveness. 

What differentiates us from primates is that our ancestors learn how to cooperate in groups millions of years ago. We evolved moral emotions around our group identity – shame, compassion, fairness, etc. 

AM: To feel that you’re part of something interconnected and collaborative is a much more life-affirming and optimistic worldview than the alternative. Your book is about inspiring people to be change-makers.

JL: Ancient Taoists developed a theory of humanity that modern science and neuroscience has come to validate. 

When they looked at everything in nature, they saw that it acted in this effortless way; they termed this “Wu Wei” or effortless being. “The way never acts, yet nothing is left undone,” Dao de Jing. 

When they looked at humans, they saw we acted differently; we used purposive action – going against nature. Humans have two cognitive modes, in the flow of nature and against it. Humans have become dominated by purposive action, and throughout time, we’ve created an imbalance. This way of thinking has led to thinkers like Descartes claiming that this is the only thing that makes us human – a symbolic separation from nature. 

I accept this idea of purposive action, but we need to create an integrated intelligence and use what’s unique about our human capabilities to create a symbiosis between both elements, incorporating Wu Wei.

AM: We yearn to come back to this Wu Wei. It’s hard to be a human on this planet at the moment and see all this sadness – it hurts to see how much we hurt the Earth. 

JL: This worldview is so destructive, not just for the planet but for each of us. We are alienated from ourselves. We live in a culture that conditions us to feel separated, and we feel a sense of suffering because of this separation. In this book, I’m not just offering a shift in global consciousness but encouraging each of us to look at how we can reintegrate with our sense of meaning, in ourselves and with others. 

AM: It’s important to acknowledge that not all of us need this shift in consciousness. Indigenous people have lived according to a sense of a deep connectedness for millennia, and they’re holding onto their culture by a hook – exploited by land grabbing and worse. Indigenous peoples are the custodians of 80% of the world’s biodiversity yet suffer the worst of the climate crisis. But we rely on their land for the survival of our species. How do we solve this disconnect we have with indigenous people?

JL: We must recognise why indigenous people fight to maintain their culture and join them in that fight. We must amplify their voices and not colonise their ideas as they bring an enormous, deep intelligence. 

In North America, indigenous people greet you with the question, “how are your relations?” Everything is related, and kin or family does not just refer to humans but all living sentient beings. They recognise that we are all related, a recognition that modern biologists corroborate. For example, bananas shares around 40% of our DNA.

AM: You can’t be a healthy individual unless your culture and your community around you are healthy as well.

In the book, you quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “The next Buddha may not be in the form of an individual but in an awakening community.” Bringing about cultural change means bringing many different communities together. 

JL: We must take inspiration from the Wood Wide Web and see the potential for a shared group consciousness and identity. Group consciousness can accomplish more than any humans can do individually. 

You don’t see the Wood Wide Web, but this symbiotic energy flow beneath our feet allows trees to communicate and share intelligence. These deep connections under the ground and out of sight can potentially transform us into a life-affirming global community. 

AM: Could you pull out the key nodes, the changes we can make within this fractal framework we exist in?

JL: I want to promote this idea of an Ecological Civilisation and the recognition that our civilisation needs to change, not at the superficial level, but at the level of the deep operating system. We must imagine what a system would look like if it were based on life-affirming principles – those life-affirming principles that have allowed ecosystems to thrive throughout severe fluctuations. 

Rather than being wealth-accumulating, one key principle we must adopt is mutually beneficial symbiosis – which is how life has evolved its complexities. Applying this to our societies helps us move away from this capitalist approach to relationships, where one party tries to exploit the other. How can we structure our economy so that our political parts of who we are, reinforce each other and embrace and celebrate each other’s differences? 

That’s the great re-patterning we have ahead of us – to really realign with these values. What a time to be alive!