The isomorphism of inside and outside – why exploring our minds and the world are the same


On my recent holiday I was in extraordinarily beautiful surroundings, in the Jervis Bay area of Australia’s Eastern coast.

Being in that environment helped me to recall my thoughts from when I was much younger, when it struck me that the world inside us and the world outside are isomorphic: they have exactly the same shape and structure.

We can learn about our minds and the richness of who we are by studying and exploring the world around us, particularly the natural world.

Equally, we can grow to understand the external world by delving into the unlimited richness of our minds. There is as much to discover within us as there is in the entire universe around us.

Years later, after I finally left employment to follow my own path, I travelled for 6 months from London before returning to Sydney to start my first business. My first stop was Rio de Janeiro and then the massive metropolis of São Paulo before wandering on through Brazil, soon heading off from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, into the heart of the Amazon jungle.

At the time I reflected that within each of us there are highly structured, controlled, moderated parts of us akin to cities, and also far wilder, unstructured, uncharted, and possibly more beautiful parts of us that are similar to jungles and deep forests. Since who we are reflects the external world, both of these poles – and everything in between – are fully part of us.

Through our lives each of us makes choices about which of these domains we choose to spend our time in. We may live in cities, in deep nature, or somewhere in between. Our internal lives may be spent primarily in predictable structures, or we may mainly wander in the less charted spaces in our minds.

At our best, we can take and integrate the polar strengths of structure and chaos, plans and spontaneity, direction and emergence as we lead our lives.

The isomorphism of inside and outside is a metaphor, of course. But it feels like a powerful and useful metaphor to me.

The most important implication is of exploration.

How will we explore external worlds, through travel and stimulation, and what will we learn about ourselves from that?

And how will we explore our selves, discovering more fully who we are, and thus learn about the entire world as a result?

I wish you happy and fruitful exploration.