Before we look at what has happened to us as human beings since the mid-20th century, we have to go back some five hundred years to when our ancestors began to invent the modern world. One of the great things they did was what scholars call ‘The differentiation of the cultural value spheres.’ This means that before the modern age, art, morals, religion, science in the West were all together and generally under the authority of the Church. Previously, we fused these spheres; however, modernity differentiated them and let each proceed at its own pace, with its own dignity, using its own tools, following its own discoveries, unencumbered by intrusions from the other spheres.
This differentiation allowed each sphere to make profound discoveries that, if used wisely, could lead to such good results as democracy, the end of slavery, the rise of feminism and rapid advances in medical science. However, like any great advance in the human journey this one had a dark side. The differentiation went too far into actual dissociation, fragmentation, and alienation. This allowed a powerful and aggressive science to begin to invade and dominate the other spheres, crowding art and morals out of any serious consideration in approaching reality. Science became ‘scientism’—scientific materialism and scientific imperialism—which soon became the official worldview of our modern world. Scientific materialism very soon pronounced the other value spheres to be worthless, not scientific, illusory or worse. Gone was mind and gone was soul and gone was spirit and its place, as the philosopher Whitehead famously lamented there was reality as “a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless—merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.”
With nature and not machines as their inspiration, today’s innovators are showing how to create a different future by learning how to see the larger systems of which they are a part and to foster collaboration across every imaginable boundary. These core capabilities—seeing systems, collaborating across boundaries and creating versus problem-solving—form the underpinnings, and ultimately the tools and methods, for this shift in thinking.
Beyond the realms of right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there.
This cultural shift is seen clearly in three dimensions:
Our understanding of the universe and our relationship to it is being explored, tested and re-created. The universe used to be seen as structured with recognizable elements or parts. Now, we’re discovering more about how integrated these parts are in an ever changing system.
There is a sense of the unified nature of everything in the universe. The photo of the earth from outer space has been called the most influential photo ever taken. It woke us up to seeing the earth as a living organism, one of which we are not separate but an intimate part. You can take this journey visually in the Eames’ The Power of Ten video.
At the same time, our world used to be seen as fixed, but now we know that all of life is ever changing. Our lives are not defined by how past generations lived, or what has happened to us so far. People now have the potential of becoming conscious change makers who need to research, predict and weigh up the possibilities and consequences of their actions before making decisions. We know that those decisions, whatever they are, will affect other living beings, future generations, the earth and even the universe.
Space, time, relationships and identity have shifted as more and more people moved into urban settings. External space shrank but internal space expanded as we encountered diversity, ecosystems, animals and plants of the world and the wonders of the universe. And the internet, cell phones and social media have opened up this space even more. Questions like How big is your world? and How big can we think? challenge all of us when we are faced with major decisions.
The rhythm of our days has become more complex and unpredictable, as we face the expectation of having to make important continuous decisions.
While traditional relationships are still important, the need for structural care – justice for all – becomes the focus. And human identity has shifted to meeting the needs of an uncertain future while still finding ways to learn from the past.
No matter where we live today, this urban style has affected who we are and how we live. We are all challenged to live healthy lives in the midst of this intensity. No wonder we all need and want time-outs. Our brains certainly do!
Our common mood
Our collective consciousness has shifted from seeking meaning at the edges of life to experiencing meaning in the depth encounters right in the middle of our lives.
The human response to the unknown and our encounters with dread and fascination used to focus on established patterns and moral systems. Now we are more likely to create temporary models that bring reflection and healing.
In the past people believed that heredity, environment and psychological factors controlled their lives. Now we define ourselves through a network of relationships and recognize that the decisions we make are historical and have the possibility of affecting the life of many living beings and the earth.
Humans used to depend on finding right answers based on a religious, legal, national or otherwise proven wisdom and authority. Today people test their experience of life for authenticity by asking “Is that the reality I am facing?” They decide their own answers in the midst of the most comprehensive context they can discern and then risk acting, knowing that finally they cannot know the consequences of their actions.
[Show the shifts for each in a neat table and link to expanded content on the next page.
Or include the tables with 4-6 sentences right here.
Then add links to TALKS and the APPLICATIONS.]