Emergent Solutions for a World in Crisis
Like many of my peers, I am constantly wrestling with the question: What does it take to steer the world into a saner, more sustainable direction? This text is not a definitive answer to that question, simply a summary of what puzzle-pieces I have found so far that seem relevant. I will release it in the form of a series of posts. My hope is that by putting my pieces on the table that others will pick them up and link them to theirs so that this act of distributed cognition can move the whole forward.
Firstly, let’s talk about movement itself. There is a pattern in evolution that indicates that there are two types of progress: a) incremental and b) quantum leaps. The former type accrues small evolutionary changes over time and steadily improves the design of the entity in question, while the latter occurs much more seldom and is the hallmark of radical and sweeping changes as well as complete paradigm shifts. It lifts the entire game onto a new level of complexity.
Take the emergence of language and culture for example. Once humans became symbolic creatures, entire new interior worldspaces opened up and enabled us to develop a much more sophisticated relationship to the natural world than any other species on the planet. In a way, humanity is still reeling from the consequences of this quantum leap which enabled us to unleash forces shaping the face of the planet to such a degree that even geologists agree that we are leaving a dent from a perspective of deep time in what they have named our current era — the “Anthropocene”.
Houston, we’ve got a meta-crisis…
I don’t want to reiterate the complete rundown of the usual list of global problems we’re up against. Suffice it to say that collectively we’re in a crisis of crises, a meta-crisis of sorts, the mother of all crises, the “perfect storm” on a planetary level. Even an appropriate description of the problem-space greatly exceeds the cognitive capacities of any one single individual. Ironically, part of the meta-crisis is that our system of collective meaning-making is broken, our information ecology commons is poisoned by lies and half-truths, polarized and deeply fragmented so that even if we wanted to collaborate, it would be wickedly difficult to even arrive at a shared understanding of what exactly it is we are collectively facing. But in order to act swiftly and decisively as our state of crisis seems to demand of us, we would need to know on what and specify how.
Whenever we’re faced with too much information and complexity, we’re called to simplify matters significantly. We all do it all the time — otherwise, we would be overwhelmed and couldn’t function as humans. John Vervaeke calls it “relevance realization”, others call it “wisdom”. My personal strategy for sense-making in this troubling world is to identify people who seem to be able to cut through large amounts of data and draw conceptual distinctions that capture the simplicity beyond complexity. To paraphrase Einstein: you want to make things as simple as possible, but not simpler. How do I know they are not of the reductive kind that makes the complexity of reality simpler than necessary? I guess it is the same answer to the question “How do you know this song is beautiful?”. I just know. I rely on my intuitive judgment honed in years of studying various thinkers and theories. I am not a mathematician, but they are said to be able to assess the aesthetic elegance of an equation. I claim this capacity for identifying relevant and elegant thinkers. It is an acquired taste of sorts.
The First Piece of the Puzzle: Ken Wilber’s Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP)
Let’s start with Ken. If I have any sense of orientation in this world at all, I owe it to Ken Wilber and Integral Theory. If you want to get a sense of the whole, study his AQAL model. I am an in-depth-student of his theory and would like to highlight a particularly interesting puzzle piece of his theory that I wrote my MA thesis in philosophy about: Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). IMP provides a Rosetta-stone-like mapping of all the major methodological disciplines available to humanity. It is a world-epistemology on steroids. Maybe you’ve already heard of Ken’s brilliant four-quadrant map (the interior and exterior of the individual and the collective) — in itself a glorious example of the abovementioned “simplicity beyond complexity”.
With IMP he went one step further and added another layer of differentiation on top of it, describing views from the inside and the outside in each of these quadrants. It sounds abstract (and it is to some degree, sorry — we don’t want to make it simpler than necessary) but what it does is to index all major families of research perspectives on any topic, revealing their relative strengths and limitations while linking them up in a higher-order tapestry in what he calls “the eight native perspectives” or “zones”. (Oh yeah, and he invented an “integral math” of perspectives as an indexing system to accompany it.)
You see, when I wrote my thesis on IMP in 2008 my goal was to compare Wilber’s IMP model to any existing theory in the space of interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary research. I naively assumed there were some, to begin with. To my big surprise and despite the many popular calls for “interdisciplinarity” I found that nobody had any theory of how to meaningfully relate research methodologies to each other as to guide interdisciplinary research projects. Just crickets in the whole field!
“Hyperobjects” require “simultracking”
Collaboration between disciplined seemed to occur haphazardly, without a concrete game plan. But problems like Global Warming are “hyper-objects”. No one discipline can hope to deal with them in isolation. Its many facets influence each other in myriad complex repercussions. Coordinated interdisciplinary research could unveil hidden patterns by simultaneously tracking different factors in different quadrants and zones — a practice Ken calls “simultracking” (I imagine AI-pattern recognition could help us here as well). In order to strategically use limited research resources, we need a f***ing game-plan. I am not saying IMP is the final answer, but having a map beats having no map at all on any given day of the week. So please folks, let’s take IMP into account, and let’s start to experiment with it. We might find that the coordination of methodologies enacts entire new fields of data beyond any one single discipline — data that could hold key insights for our most pressing issues.
The Other Puzzle Pieces
To be continued…
Follow me on Medium and watch this space for more puzzle pieces. Meanwhile, please share your own gems of insight with the rest of us. Thanks!
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