Astounding Growth in the Psychological Evolution of the Human Self
"As the second half of the 20th century moved over into the 3rd millennium humanity saw a rapid acceleration in almost all spheres of life. This included an acceleration in environmental degradation: biodiversity loss; over-fishing; deforestation; stratospheric pollution from chemicals; interference with global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; holes in the Earth’s magnetosphere; ocean acidification; global freshwater decline; agricultural land use decline; topsoil depletion; etc. With the simultaneous acceleration in human populations and erratic geological conditions this could lead us to change from using the term ‘The Age of Anxiety’ to ‘The Age of Disequilibrium’. However, an acceleration of chaotic disequilibrium also has no alternative but to force a species mind-change on a global and perhaps interior level. These changes have suggested a greater shift towards individual autonomy; a deepened sense of self and psychological reflection; an increased perception of inner and outer realities; and a heightened recognition of the sensory nature of human experience. In other words, there has been an astounding growth in the psychological evolution of the human self.
The manner in which we communicate reflects our own internal processes. It may be that the rise in global information technologies (Internet and mobile phones), which has brought into being a modern age of distributed communications, reflects a new distributed yet participatory consciousness among people. No longer are we the passive audience as during the earlier electrical revolutions of radio and television: the new model is Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and text messaging. The dialogue is now more active; people are onstage and orchestrating their own connections; managing their own forms of voice and self-expression. The turn of the century, as the 1990s tipped into the 3rd millennium, the social-civil body of the planet began to stretch its tentacles. Social networks have matured tremendously over the past decade; the list of global Non-Profit Organizations (NGOs) grows longer with each passing year. This list includes hundreds of active distributed social networks, as well as participatory news sites (such as the Huffington Post). These innovative networks are the forums for visionary thinkers; ideas spread virally through the electronic nervous system of the planet as once fringe ideas go global. A new civil body is being constructed by the distributed contributions of individuals in every conceivable physical location. Talks are broadcasted regularly – such as in the TEDtalks series of innovative lectures – and social collectives form, activate, influence, and stimulate alternative thinking and ideas.
A more mature form of collective social intelligence is beginning to manifest in various parts of the globe:
- the interconnection of computers around the world and a communications system that is simultaneously collective and interactive, is not an infrastructure: it is a certain way of using existing infrastructures and exploiting resources and is based on an incessant distributed inventiveness that is indissolubly technical and social…the key element of cyberspace isn’t the consumption of information or interactive services but participation in a social process of collective intelligence…
This new distributed model of civil society represents a burgeoning collective intelligence. It is an emerging intelligence embedded within the notion of systems thinking; a result of our increasing interrelatedness, being exposed to a global world of contradictory realities and multicultural perspectives. Within this rising intelligence exists elements of process thinking (Whitehead), ecological systemic philosophy (Bateson), and an élan vital (Bergson) – all the seeds sown during the latest phase of our reflective, psychological consciousness. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin correctly stated, ‘The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to shake off our ancient prejudices and to build the Earth’.
The distributed, bottom-up model may be the working model for the future and, like the Internet, can be built to withstand shocks, attacks, and breakages: we re-route, we disperse and re-join at a later point in the network. This is the peer-to-peer collaborative model – a way of greater individualization within a more shared, complex, diverse yet unified field of interactions. Distributed unity may be a new model to make the old one obsolete.
Externally we seem a vast, distant, and separated collection of people, yet the reality may be much closer to home: a dense, intimate, closely entwined species of various races, individual yet sharing a non-local sense of being. The now famous game of ‘six degrees of separation’ may actually be a good working metaphor to express the close connections existing between the human race. And with the rapid rise of physical global travel and tourism to complement our virtual global communications the world has extended its nervous system to expose millions of people to each other, other cultures, and circumstances. Younger generations of people worldwide are growing up with a new expression of consciousness; the 20th century’s exploration of the psyche, mixed with technologies of communication and connection, herald a more reflexive mode of thought. People today are comfortable in expressing themselves with strangers; they explore and express their inner thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas with hundreds of unknown persons online, from various cultural backgrounds. More and more daily interactions are emphatic as we react and share news, stories, and emotional impacts from sources around the world. Empathy is one of the core values by which we create and sustain social life. Exposure to impacts outside of our own local and narrow environments helps us to learn tolerance, and to live with experiences that are richer and more complex, full of ambiguities, multiple realities, and shared perceptions. It is a way of constructing more social capital in our world. We see this happening in modern variations today, such as in open source software (e.g. Linux), or in collaborative tools such as Wikipedia, when a global commons for sharing can work above the individual thrust for profit and commercial gain. Or, as writer Doris Lessing liked to refer to it, the rising of the Substance of We Feeling (SOWF).
During this accelerating phase of our socio-cultural and human inner evolution we are asked to expand and develop our cognitive, emotional, and perceptual faculties. Harvard professor of psychology Howard Gardner has outlined in his book Five Minds for the Future what he considers to be the five separate but related combinations of cognitive abilities that are needed to ‘thrive in the world during eras to come’ and which we should develop for the future.
Gardner five minds, or rather mindsets, are paraphrased here as:
1. To master important subjects rather than simply knowing about them. To stay up to date with the subject and to know how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding.
2. To be able to integrate large quantities of multidisciplinary facts and apply them into one’s work.
3. To pose new questions, developing new solutions to existing questions, stretching disciplines and genres in new directions, or building new disciplines.
4. To be open to understanding and appreciating the perspectives and experiences of those who are different from the individual.
5. To do one’s work in an ethical way that reflects responsibilities to others and society; to reflect on the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which one lives.
Gardner also refers to a type of ‘existential intelligence’, what he calls a ‘heightened capacity of appreciation and attention to the cosmological enigmas that define the human condition – an exceptional awareness of the metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological mysteries that have been a perennial concern for people of all cultures.’ The psychological impacts we experience will be primary in developing the perceptions necessary for the future. We are today exposed to each other in ways without precedent. The children being born as part of the new millennium (sometimes referred to as the ‘Millenials’) are growing up embedded within virtual social networks that transcend space and time, as well as cultures, national boundaries, and local ideologies. The younger generations are accustomed to send and receive within a field of distributed information in a way that may also help to nourish local networks – and not, importantly, to replace them. This may account for the increasing numbers of young people in developed nations becoming involved in community and social projects and NGOs; taking a year out to help in another culture abroad, to learn and experience, and to offer assistance. Volunteering among the young, despite what appears to be the contrary, is on the increase. Young people are even sacrificing their lives for peace and justice, as evidenced by the actions and subsequent death of Rachel Corrie in occupied Palestine. It is not only a call for equality – it is a loud call for tolerance and justice. These are signs of an emerging relational consciousness, a service-to-others (STO) as opposed to service-to-self (STS)." (http://kingsleydennis.com/2011/03/03/the-great-acceleration-part-one/)
"The great acceleration that marks our move into a new planetary era suggests a model of greater connectivity and global communication (horizontal), with closer intimacy with earth customs and ethical, moral perspectives (vertical). This acceleration will make many older systems obsolete, as many people have been sensing for some time now, as events in the second-half of the 20th century have indicated. Also, within developed nations there has, over the past few decades, been a significant shift of values in that more and more people are seeking a quality of life that is away from materialism and towards meaning and happiness; towards simplifying their lifestyles (even before the recent economic crashes). So far quality of life for too many people has been provided by raiding the world’s finite energy sources and co-opting other nation’s resources. However, being forced to downsize can be a good thing, turning people’s emphasis away from external status and material possessions and to focus on what is local and meaningful – relations, local resources, working with one’s self and the needs of others. Any form of inconvenience, or even hardship, needs to be taken as a beneficial interiorizing process; a way to developing self-reflexive consciousness. Sometimes in order to gain we must first experience what it is to lose something. Troubled times can lead to an extension or manifestation of empathic consciousness, as we realize the interconnectedness of our worsening situation – just like the war ‘bunker’ mentality during World War 2, a coming together of the people in times of need.
It is also important to remember that not all of the ‘old models’ of technology will work for us in the future. Our technologies not only need to be more fluid, as in distributed and open source systems, but also more egalitarian and democratic. Technology that aims to dominate will become less efficient and more of an obstacle for us to move forward. People will increasingly demand more transparency and justice in our national and international systems. There will be many more social protests and strikes on the horizon if these systems do not begin to better serve egalitarian and ethical human interests. Further, as the social transition goes through many years of change the world may first have to pass through a period of fragmentation due to energy depletion in the future and/or technological infrastructure problems. A new form of integral consciousness is less likely to embrace a global techno-industrial complex future, despite what some thinkers argue. However, even though there may be initial periods of fragmentation this will not diminish a collectively evolving emphatic mind that will inform a greater awareness for working together; community-building; shared values and ethics; and working towards re-modelling how the world operates. It will not be ‘business as usual’ as most future forecasters seem to predict; many forecasters simply offer a linear view that is just a more ‘planetary’ version of today’s world. This view does not take into account ‘system jumps’; the tipping points, or rather phase transitions, that characterize the energy fluctuations of growth. The future may well be a more mindful, spiritually aware and ecologically-integral period, yet it may also be a more chaotic, fragmented and disturbed global picture as the people of the world – and the world’s structures – learn to reassemble themselves into a radical new form of existence in line with the resources available to us.
This period of psychophysical transformation of life on Earth is likely to include heightened impulses for radical social change and cultural renovation; alongside new discoveries in science, energy, and our knowledge of the cosmos. There will manifest an increased drive for human betterment that will be marked through intensified activism for social, political, and ecological change; and for changes in the balance of global power. Also, large demographic shifts and the active presence of many cross-cultural movements will release much concentrated energy for psychophysical change. Planet Earth is entering a sustained period for historical change, requiring humanity not only to draw on all its physical and psychic resources, of creativity and vision, but to shift into capacities that could ultimately serve to be extremely liberating for the self.
It is certainly no small claim to say that the 3rd millennium will stimulate and nurture a new form of human consciousness. To paraphrase the famous saying of B.S. Haldane, the future of humanity may not be only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. And as Terence McKenna once said, we need to take out our conclusions from being central to our culture and replace them by a sense of the mysterious. The future may open up a greater sense of the mysterious than we have anticipated. Some of this mystery may likely surround the greater capacities inherent within the human. To help us arrive where we are already heading we will have to question, and perhaps discard, many of our belief systems. Rather, we should put the role of direct experience in place of enforced belief systems as these belief systems are self-limiting functions. It is immaterial to have beliefs when the universe is stranger than we can suppose and is thus continually over-riding our beliefs, making them limiting factors if we cling to them. Experience must be made primary; therefore the language of the self must be primary. We need a new language, and in order to have a new language we need a new sense of reality. Rather than consuming ideological visions we need to be the creators of them – to send them out. Let our visions and creativity breed and mutate like viruses in proactive and beneficial ways. Terence McKenna used to urge his listeners to ‘Live as far into the future as you can live’; reminding them also that energy is now rushing into our reality like into ‘the realm of the densely packed’.
The opportunity is here for change and betterment like never before in our recent history. This means that the responsibility is also here; and these two factors may never be present again at exactly the right moment when they are so badly needed. What the human species may now be witnessing during this great acceleration is the rise of intuition, empathy, greater connectivity to the world and to people, and a sense of ‘knowing’ about what each given situation demands. Further, being nurtured within each person is a growing sense of the greater cosmic whole: the realization that humanity exists and evolves within a universe of great wisdom and meaning. This can serve to impart within humanity a more profound, and acknowledged, spiritual impulse." (http://kingsleydennis.com/2011/04/16/the-great-acceleration-part-two/)