The summer, thus far, has been a time of great transition, but as much tenuous and portentous as real. Things are happening, but in stages and steps, with sputters and wiggles and the necessary elements of uncertainty, ambiguity, and struggle. If this summer is an “end and a beginning” (as I had hoped) it is an end that still needs to find itself and a beginning that still needs to realize clear consciousness and purpose. The Gestalts of time blur together and overlap; they vibrate forwards and backwards; nothing is clean.
For one thing, though I am officially retired, I have not functionally disconnected from my position as chair of psychology, philosophy, and religion at Rio Salado College. The date for the passing of the baton of leadership and responsibility to the new chair is August 16th. (I am counting the days.) In the meantime I have been working with faculty, dealing with disgruntled students, monitoring cases of plagiarization, re-writing courses, and putting together a final department report and list of accomplishments. Creating the report and list of accomplishments though did give me a sense of completion and achievement – part of the ending of things. After reviewing over the past and where it has led to in the present of things, I am feeling good about the goodbye.
Also, I envisioned finding a philosophical peace and solitude at home, with my library and garden out in back, spending the days in contemplation, reading, and writing, taking breaks listening to the birds, sunning by the pool, while Jeanne was at work. Instead, three of our offspring (late adolescent and early adulthood in chronological age) frequent the household (too much) during the days. I have tried to get them to leave during the daytime, but they have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no way to get there. They are in various very, very early stages of realizing future consciousness (I say with a snicker). They are addicted to gadgets and media. They are noon risers. They are hauntingly “present” – I can feel them even if they are asleep in their rooms. I tell them I hate sloth. Do they get the message? Is this part of my new beginning, I ask/I fear, to parent and teach and somehow be patient with their amorphous states of being that hover and linger around and permeate our communal space while I look for focus and enlightenment?
I would rather have Jeanne with me in the days – to work, think, swim in the pool, converse on numerous things, but …
Jeanne is once again participating in the frenzied madness that she left three years ago. Of course, she wanted to find some sense of professional and personal accomplishment, after having completed her Masters degree this year, and as she said, although she enjoyed working with me attempting to build up the Center for Future Consciousness, she wanted something of her own. And further, I realize, I couldn’t have “retired” at this point without Jeanne finding some source of additional income and her new job does just that. But she works long and exhausting hours, and instead of writing scholarly papers, blogs, and poetry, she is immersed in committee meetings, deadlines, personnel issues, never-ending, forever multiplying administrative responsibilities, and bureaucratic trivia, perfectly balanced and sandwiched on each end of the day with rush hour traffic. My poet, my fellow futurist and philosopher, my intellectual soul mate and romantic lover has dived into the very world that I so desperately wanted to leave and did.
What to do about this?
Jeanne and I did travel to Boston to the World Future Society conference this last month and we each gave talks on education – Jeanne on information technology and the future of education and me on wisdom and futures education. Although she only had two weeks (if even that) to put it together, Jeanne gave a very good talk on new models of learning institutions in the digital age. As part of the Education Summit at the conference, I outlined a two-year (pre-major) integrative and holistic college program that focused on the development of wisdom and heightened future consciousness. I pulled together many of the educational themes I have worked on over the years: how character virtues are the key to academic success and which ones are particularly important and how to teach them; how to integrate global, ecological, historical, and cosmic awareness into a curriculum, providing students with an expansive consciousness of reality; how one assesses deep learning, critical thinking, and higher cognitive skills; why psychologically holistic education (including motivational, personal, emotional, and social factors) is an essential foundation and framework for college instruction; the connection between wisdom and heightened future consciousness and how to pull all the above themes together within the program. I also discussed the importance of teacher mentorship and learning committees. One of the next papers I write will be a summary of this talk. But see my new article coming out in The Futurist in the September issue on wisdom and future consciousness.
And Boston was great; we toured Harvard; strolled through “Little Italy,” savoring several excellent meals there; walked the “Freedom Trail” and contemplated the gravestones of people who died hundreds of years ago; consumed huge amounts of seafood; found a fantastic bookstore for contemporary philosophy and intellectual thought – what an eye opening selection of scholarly new books; walked along the harbor, looked at the sailboats, and took a boat ride; and talked with many good friends at the WFS conference. I had a particularly provocative conversation with Verne Wheelwright (a fellow futurist) about creating productive long-term personal futures. (More on this topic to come.) I was inspired, once again, listening to Ray Kurzweil give an updated talk on the accelerative growth of technology and the promises of the expanded, extended life of the mind and the body in the future. And we did have promising discussions about possible visits and presentations in Edmonton, Canada, Tokyo, Japan, and Paris, France in the coming year. This is part of the reality where Jeanne and I should be – so I believe.
Part of the struggle – the tension between what is and what could be – is having momentary glimpses of where you want to be – to whet one’s appetite and fuel the flames of desire and aspiration.
After returning from Boston, I found myself facing another struggle – an intellectual one this time. (But, of course, there were personal overtones in this as well.) I had hit a mental block working on a project that involved trying to figure out how creativity, evolution, and wisdom fit together. Two weeks into thinking about these ideas, I had a big flash – actually two connected flashes. First: It hit me that creativity is critical to evolution and human progress and, in so far as we are riding the wave of evolution and progress (steering it to a degree), we need to be creative in order to survive. We grow/evolve through creativity or we die.
People have made similar points before, but the intimate connection between creativity and evolution all of a sudden became much clearer and important to me. I had just finished Matt Ridley’s excellent new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, listened to Lynn Margulis explain her theory of symbiotic evolution, and read the beginnings of W. Brian Arthur’s The Nature of Technology: What is it and How it Evolves. All three of these writers/thinkers were into understanding creativity and how it works at a global level. Out of their writings emerged in my mind a theory of creativity and how it propels growth and evolution at the biological, social, economic, and technological levels. Creativity is synthesis and synthesis is a big part of evolution. (Ridley – tongue in cheek but half serious – proposes that social-economic evolution should be modeled on sex – there is exchange and sharing of ideas and products and the bonding together of formally distinct realities.)
After thinking out more deeply the connections between evolution and creativity, the concept of sustainability seemed even more so to be an erroneous and highly misleading idea. Nothing is sustainable, and the people who preach sustainability don’t really want to sustain things – they want to change things.
Thinking about trends into the future – the overarching trend is evolution. Evolution, though, is not simply cumulative; it is filled with disruption and new syntheses.
The project I was working on was a presentation I was developing for FM Global on “Innovation and the Role of Wisdom in the Future.” And the talk wouldn’t jell in my mind – my mental block. After realizing the important relationship between creativity and evolution, it hit me that I wasn’t articulating how wisdom and creativity fit together – two of the key themes of the talk. And understanding what I was stuck on, I had the second big flash: Wisdom is by its very nature (and recognized as such when you see it) creative. Wisdom synthesizes; wisdom synthesizes various pieces of knowledge (the big picture dimension of wisdom) into novel assessments and solutions that make sense; wisdom shows insight (the “aha” phenomenon); wisdom is imaginative; wisdom pulls together knowledge with ethics; wisdom is a journey, a growth oriented capacity, forever searching over the horizons for further enlightenment.
I have to think this out more.
This last month I finished a new article “Wisdom in the 21st Century: A Theory of Psycho-Social Evolution.” I will have the article up on the website soon. In the article I take a shot at explaining for the first time an insight I had a few months back: We should definitely aspire toward the development/enhancement of wisdom in the coming century as a central ideal in education and guiding our lives, individually and collectively, but with the ongoing accelerative evolution of information/computer/communication technologies and the potential for bio-enhancements coming, we should envision the wise person of the future as being a “wise cyborg.” What, in fact, will this mean? How do we integrate even more so our minds – our identities – with our machines – our informational/robotic/communication machines in particular – and not in some shallow, superficial, twittering, narcissistic, fragmented, trivial fashion? (The latter is what I see the other beings in the house doing, more often than not.) A key piece in this emerging concept of the wise cyborg is the ecological idea that the mind is not localized in the body/brain, but distributed within the constellation of tools and ecological support systems that the person uses to think with. (See Andy Clarke’s books.) I also discuss ecological and global wisdom in the article – an expanded consciousness networked and emotionally attuned to the Gestalt of the world.
So I continue to search for wisdom – to understand it, to teach it, to find it for myself in the existential challenges of my personal existence. I continue to have moments of enlightenment – of creative connections seen. Perhaps I will get some more this coming month - perhaps on the home front. I pursue evolution; let the others pursue sustainability.
I realize ambiguity and uncertainty are good; such states afford freedom. I started with a plan at the beginning of the summer – a three year plan in fact – but I think I should allow my mind to open up to the potentially infinite range of possibilities out there. At transition points – points of freedom – it is important to allow your mind to explore many options.
The website is going to transform in the next few months; a number of new articles are going up, among other things - some new presentations as well. In the coming months we are going multi-media – sound and action will be entering the scene.
At the WFS conference, a fellow futurist said that Ray Kurzweil was afraid of death. I say, “Who isn’t?”