Critical, creative and digital writingEcriture critique, créative et numérique

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Interactional thinking

Interactional thinking is a way of thinking the human-world relationship. Interactional thinking posits that the essence of life is the interaction of organism and environment. It assumes that the former cannot be dissociated from the latter; if organism and environment sometimes seem to be separated, it is because of an erroneous way of conceptualizing the human-world relationship. The primary assumption of interactional thinking is that life consists in the interaction of organism and environment. In other words, everything we do, say and think originates from that interaction. In this view, the world is dynamic: it is being shaped by the constant interaction of beings and things. Interactional thinking departs from a widespread conception of the place of humans in the world: the dualism of subject and object. The dualistic view holds that human beings are subjective agents that manipulate an objectified environment. In this erroneous view, life consists in the actions of humans, whereas the environment is inactive, static and is only the receptacle of human manipulation. Moreover, the dualism of subject and object creates a conceptual separation of passive and active, of inanimate and animate, and thus fails to see the interconnectedness of the world. Interactional thinking is not dualistic; instead of seeing human subjects and environmental objects as discrete categories, it conceives of them as inseparable and constantly influencing each other. Therefore, interactional thinking refuses the static conception of the world as the sum of subject and object, but rather views the world as the dynamic processes of interacting organisms and environments. In other words, interactional thinking deliberately shifts the focus from the separation of organism and environment to the interaction of organism and environment. It is an important epistemic leap! I believe that a change in the attitudes of contemporary societies towards the environment cannot take place without the prior realization that the life of the human organism is a continuous process of interaction. Thus, thinking interactionally is first to understand that one's life is actually the process of interacting with the environment, whatever the latter is. The understanding that one is constantly in a process of interaction allows one to change the said interaction. It also allows to escape the essentialism and fatalism that reign over our environmental attitudes–you may have heard the song "we cannot do anything, we are not responsible, so let's enjoy life while we can", that's what I am referring to here. Therefore, thinking interactionally is the first step towards modifying our impact on the global ecosystem and its local sub-ecosystems. Interactional thinking entails a profound transformation of our attitudes towards the environment, towards "that-which-is-not-me". This intellectual transformation has to take place at a personal and an institutional level. Concretely, passing from the dualism of human subject and environmental object to the interactionality of organism and environment is far from obvious, but there are a few things that one can do at a personal level. For a start, try to understand the world as a process rather than a sum of states. For instance, instead of thinking that "today it is windy", where wind is a singular entity separated from you, you must mentalise the movement of air in the atmosphere, an atmosphere to which you also belong. By doing so, you include yourself in the world at large, instead of objectifying the world into discrete–and erroneous–categories such as the wind. In the same vein, instead of regarding what you see, hear, or smell as separated from you, try to consider the ray/wave of photon, the wave of air and the chemical molecules that actually connect the "not-you" entity with your eyes, ears and nose. Another way of thinking interactionally is to stop visualizing your direct surroundings as a surface. It wrongly induces a sense that as a vertical being, you are different from the horizontal plane of things. Moreover, thinking of the world as a surface completely leaves out both the atmosphere–and we know thanks to meteorology that it deeply influences our daily lives–and the terrestrial crust–again we are all more or less aware of the tectonics of our planet and how it may affect us. Instead of a surface, you should try to mentalise the world around as a volume, where processes are neither horizontal nor vertical, but multidirectional. To sum up, at a personal level, interactional thinking is really the understanding that you are part of the world, of the environment, not separated from it. Interactional thinking can be attained only by deconstructing the linguistic shortcuts that present subject and object as dissociated and discrete entities. It involves a profound understanding of the processes that regulates all phenomena, notably the process of life. Obviously, it cannot be denied that the dualistic view of life is comfortable and rather pleasant. It indeed involves a certain sense of control over the environment and of denial of what might be scary or ungraspable. Besides, it frees us from several aspects of the world that we do not need to have in mind constantly. In our modern societies, we are liberated from the necessity of knowing the environment in order to survive; we simply need to know the rules and regulation of the various and artificial spatial compartments we are in. In a sense, contemporary societies live in a simulation of environment, an environmental simulacra. The problem resides in the fact that transportation, telecommunication, industrialization and urbanization have provided us with the power to alter the global ecosystem at a gigantic speed but with minimal control. Very easily, our impact on the world has greatly exceeded our control over it. That is why the dualistic view no longer holds–it never did, but now it is even more obvious: it is now impossible to measure exactly the effects of our way of life on the planet, and that is a great danger. What interactional thinking offers is the ability–thanks to the knowledge of the interconnectedness of the world in the interaction of organism and environment–to change our mode of life; it is not a matter of having more control over the environment, but of having more control over our interaction with the environment. It is much easier to change our way of doing things, than to change what has already been done to the global ecosystem. And one way of changing things is first to appreciate and gain knowledge of our interconnectedness with the world, or in other words, to think interactionally.