“What is here is elsewhere. What is not here is nowhere.” – a Hindu proverb
Where do really new and productive ideas come from? The answer you perceive is going to depend on who you’re talking to and their cosmology. Or if you’re talking to a group, it’s going to depend upon their shared consciousness. How do we quickly solve interesting, thorny or big problems? People often solve problems by focusing lots of attention on something, using the equivalent of group mind. Trying to do things on your own can often take months or years longer. These days, group mind looks a lot like crowdsourcing.
Although this is clearly a time of great upheaval in Earth’s history, in many senses we’re reorganizing civilization to include new sets of important values in human consciousness. James Lovelock’s and Lynn Margulis’ Gaia theory gives us a great example. Lovelock and Margulis discovered in the 1960s and 70s that Earth has many homeostatic mechanisms which happen whether or not we think about them, and that Earth does a fair bit of important self-regulation unless hairless apes interfere.
This wasn’t the first time someone noticed this. But it’s the first big time the research of Occidental scientists was accepted as proof of Earth’s hidden processes of life. Long ago, the tried and true animistic beliefs held by many of Earth’s first people showed that Earth was somehow a living/breathing thing. Oversimplified, the idea was this: How do you know there’s wind? You know it because although you can’t see the wind, you know where it moves because you can measure it. Although ancient people lived as if many things were beyond their control, they also sometimes felt they could depend on Earth for the processes of life. The Sun blazed across the sky and set. The Moon mysteriously rose and disappeared on the horizon.
One of the next important human perspectives on the planet, monotheism, held that spirit didn’t even exist on the planet, and was only in the sky. The processes of Earthly life were held to be the domain of a mysterious, unfathomable cosmic force, a god. Such a belief could salve your conscience against anything and everything counter-intuitive to sustainability. If god said you could be fruitful, multiply, subdue and subdivide the Earth, you could sleep nights with a clear conscience. For at least one lifetime 😉
Now, fast forward to scientific method and complex technologies. If you thought you could grow crops, do genetics and fight winning wars without some mysterious, disembodied, sky-borne spirit in the sky hovering overhead to whack your ear – you’d crave those things. Right? Mankind in industrialized countries came to feel it could conquer nature, and that we were often above reproach in natural ecosystems. Many of us came to feel what you could measure with hardware was the only thing on which you could count. If you couldn’t measure it, it didn’t exist, and that proves it? Harrrumph!
Then in the last 170 years the world and universe became infinitesimally smaller because of global travel, modern electronic communications and space travel. Computers now allow never-before-seen research methodologies. Massive electronic databases became commonplace, and we smartened-up about how to use and leverage them. So, scientific materialism has held sway for a long time, and it still does in many quarters. Many would still say if you can’t measure it, it can’t exist.
Yet many outdated reductionisms of Newtonian and Darwinian science have lately been superceded by more refined science. As people often tend to evolve their practices of living, some among us had the scientific courage and personal persistence to create fresh research and conclusions. The unseen is experiencing a little resurgence in Western societies. In the early 20th century Western physicists proved that the supposedly particulate nature of was trumped, and that matter is organized by and controlled by unseen fields of energy. Newtonian determinisms were put to bed and subsumed by a burgeoning understanding of quantum fields from massive intellects like those of Einstein, de Broglie, Planck, Heisenberg and Pauli. I don’t see it as an accident that Einstein knew Jung and Pauli and they had communications about quantum synchronicity.
The unseen was in the air. It was only around 40 years between Planck’s first quantum revelations and Lovelock and Margulis. In less than a blink of Earth’s eye on its timeline, they appeared with their Gaia theory, inadvertently proving some of what early mankind knew by intuitions and personal, anecdotal experiences. This doesn’t mean that Lovelock or Margulis set out to prove what early man surmised. But it does mean humankind reached a scientific and experiential way station. Lovelock, Margulis and their scientific brethren showed that Earth performs homeostasis with its systems unless someone gets in the way.
Here’s a question worth asking: Why would two or more scientists show up out of nowhere and fly in the face of then-popular science? There would be an interesting bit of research for someone to do. For the moment, it’s most important that they actually did it, and gave the rest of Western science the courage to see how Earth really works. With Margulis’ and Lovelock’s research our species experienced the equivalent of a subatomic quantum leap in awareness of how we live on Earth. Seemingly by accident, newer science found out about Gaia. It took us 10,000 years to prove by science something early man already knew. Never let it be said that great science jumps to hasty conclusions. On behalf of our supposedly savage prehistoric forbears, please let me offer, “Derp, derp!”
What’s a ‘quantum leap’ anyway? All of us toss the term around these days like we know what it means. Let’s instead do a reality check on where it came from. When Max Planck was tinkering with his quantum subatomic theories in the early 20th century, he noticed that electrons jumping to and from different orbital levels would mysteriously just show up in another level. They wouldn’t have an obvious path or intermediary state. An electron would jump from one quantum of energy to the next without apparent explanation. Poof! Voila! In the same way some of us stumble upon elegant or simple solutions to thorny problems like those in conservation or any other field. Subtle inadvertent pun noted.
By the way, did you know that both Max Planck and Albert Einstein felt that physical science showed that it’s quantum fields which holds primacy and direction over matter – not the converse? Check these out: Planck said, “The field is the sole governing agency of matter.” Einstein said, “The field is the only reality.” Now aren’t those fascinating? We still don’t know what we don’t know. Yeah, us humans need to update our paradigm, eh?
Now, we’re smack in the middle of the Anthropocene. It’s crystal clear to anyone who’s good at science that we’ve got some big conservation problems to solve if we expect to be writing our own histories in the year 2300. Garden-variety environmentalisms have had important but only measured success. After he resigned, the youngest-ever president of the Sierra Club, Adam Werbach, even went on record in front of San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club in 2004 that environmentalism is dead. Wow, he sure angered some people with that! 🙂 He soon accepted a consulting contract with Wal-Mart to develop and implement programs to teach sustainability to its employees.
Large groups of us have come to realize there are Earth processes we don’t understand. Often, we haven’t a clue. But, humility’s a good thing. In the decades since Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons essay, many of us have looked for solutions to global crises in conservation, sustainability, politics and compassion. Significant change happens most frequently when a sort of critical mass of minds reach the same conclusion about the same time. We’re looking for traction here. Enough people with enough force of their moral imperative have to coalesce in the same mind-space to create change.
Many of us have noticed a sea change in people’s attitudes about the Earth. Now we have quantum leaps of awareness. The term has become suffused into the thought of movers, shakers and even those sitting like a tiger leaping. You hear or see the word, ‘mindfulness,’ every day, almost like us Occidentals discovered the concept.
It’s in this context that many of us crave great solutions to conservation problems because we honor the interdependency of all living things, consonant with Gaia theory. Lately in comparative timeframes, there was a 1998 paper published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Nature, in which Timothy Lenton updated the Gaia theory to more accurately reflect the elements of feedback in Earth systems. Now most of us realize, for example, that what’s done in Japan has an incontrovertible effect on the west coast of the United States — and beyond. Or another example, that 40 million annual tons of Saharan dust feed the Amazon. There are myriad examples like these.
So, take heart. There’s definitely much more available to us than mere hope. Many of us are now paying attention and quantum leaps are a reality. Even quantum computing is on the horizon and the subject of hush-hush researches.
Now here’s a fun question for you. What could be a pleasant, quick way to provide never-before-seen solutions in conservation? Hhhmm. Collaboration. I’m seeing enthusiastic, happy people in competition in the original Greek and Latin sense of the word, “to strive together.” They’re smack-talking and bragging. I’m smelling hot, cheesy pizza. I’m feeling a cold drink in my hand.
Complex, brilliant primates in faux tribes. What is this? Eureka! How about a hack-a-thon? At UC Berkeley? Don’t you love that idea? After TEDxBerkeley, Tim noticed the people under 35 who walked up to talk with him were saying, “That was really cool! How can I help?”
Keep an eye peeled for Hardshell Labs’ collaborations with Eric M. Nelson and Arjun Ghai of the UC Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Student Association. Eric was the one who suggested the idea. We’ll get back to you with the fun stuff we do. Crowd sourcing, friends. Crowdsourcing. Solutions. Quantum leaps.
“We shall never cease from exploration / and the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started /and know the place for the first time,” wrote T.S. Eliot.