The following essay was inspired by the Tier 2 Session: Creative Chaos Lab with Daniel Schimmelpfenning in the Nurturing the Fields of Change Program.
“A Creative Chaos Lab is where “choice” is left to chance. “Chance” is not the absence of selection but rather the intrusion of a different order of selection. Meanwhile, “chaos” is not the absence of order but rather highly complex information. We are thus seriously gaming with an epistemological therapy to think in possibilities and potentialities.
In other words, we explore what anticipation for futures and anticipation for emergence imply and how we can approximate what synthesis and paradox could mean. We investigate strange synchronicities together and ask ourselves what contains secret truths that are downright dangerous for the mind, so we can no longer remain in prior fiction.”
Where Do We Stand?
When we ask ourselves where we stand as a civilization, we can come up with four synthesized ways to express our viewpoint.
Everything is getting better individually.
Everything is getting better systemically.
Everything is getting worse individually.
Everything is getting worse systemically.
When I ask myself this question, I notice two different voices appearing.
One voice is quite cynical. It sees humanity as defective, not from the perspective of a call to fix ourselves, but because defectivity is the point of humanity. Although most of us would agree that we want to improve everything for everyone, most of us are also addicted to drama. And if everything was perfect, the drama would disappear, and yawning boredom would ensue.
The second voice, on the other hand, is optimistic and idealistic. This voice likes to pay attention to all the improvements and our increasing individual capabilities. It likes to imagine a utopia and likes to pay attention to the parts of our world that seem to confirm our movement toward a utopia.
However, of course, I only have my limited viewpoint of the world influenced by my upbringing, environment, and experiences. The various articles, books, and statistics I’ve read on the development of the world make me think that it’s not clear-cut. Sure, access to schooling and information is improving, for example, but on the other hand, suicide rates are on the rise.
Being aware of my foolishness, some questions spring to mind:
Does any single individual know what’s going on? How many people really understand the predominant issues, like environmental change, AI, social injustice, etc.? Aren’t most of us radically uneducated?
I’m aware of the fact that I’m uneducated in most topics because:
1. I’m not passionate enough about everything to educate myself, as being educated, in my view, takes time and careful consideration of all available information and viewpoints, and
2. I don’t even know if the information available to me is all there is to it, or if it is accurate, and if the representing parties have an underlying agenda.
And then, of course, there is the little fact that when I feel better, everything in the world seems better.
How could I possibly know if everything is getting better or worse? Maybe it’s none of that. Maybe life works on both ends and keeps up an intricate balance so that things are changing, but the needle to better or worse never really moves much.
One moment, we might make systemic progress but individually things are getting worse, and in the next moment, vice versa.
Reflecting on my own life, I realize that I have often thought in very binary ways about improvement, progress, and development. One example is that in the past I have assumed that success is supposed to look like a consistent upwards graph, while in reality, it’s more like a mountain range.
After all, everything works in cycles or ups and downs. There’s no hot without cold, good without bad, creation without destruction.
I’ve seen a certain principle at play, especially when it comes to my individual betterment. When we look more closely at something, this something (in my case me) seems to be getting worse. But what really happens is that we are just seeing what has been already there all along. In other words, when we see more, we see more of both sides and, hopefully, eventually we’ll see that ultimately there are no sides, no duality.
How Will the Future Unfold?
When I ask myself how the future will unfold, the two voices come back.
The cynical voice likes to say that humanity is doomed, not because we’re dumb or incapable, but unaware. And unawareness, although it is the cause of all the suffering we keep perpetuating, is what keeps the human drama going.
Furthermore, there are so many construction sites to work on, it seems that we don’t even know what to do or how to save ourselves. Will improvement in one area have a devastating effect on another? Can we even save ourselves and the planet? Does the planet even want to be saved?
The most important construction site that, in my opinion, when worked on could make a real difference is the one, we each have inside of us. If we can’t save ourselves, how can we save the world? In this context, trying to save a world out there could also be a way of avoiding doing the often harder work of saving the world in here.
The optimistic voice likes to imagine a civilization that cares more about everyone’s well-being and happiness than limitless growth. This voice imagines a civilization that allows humans to spend their lives the way they want to, free from all “shoulds”, a civilization where no one has to earn their place under the sun, where our motivation for work doesn’t stem from improving an economy or even from meeting basic survival needs like food, water, and a roof, but simply from a desire to express joy and fulfillment.
Isn’t that what we all want?
What is a System?
When it comes to injustice, at all scales, it’s always easiest to blame the system, because the system is impersonal. But what exactly is a system? Who is running this system? And why is the system so bad?
When I ask myself these questions, something becomes apparent: I don’t know.
Sure, we might say a system is “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism,” or “a set of principles according to which something is done.” But this doesn’t answer the question of what a system is.
There is a common phrase that says, people make the system, but do they? Why would anyone make a dysfunctional system? One might argue that the ones who make it are the ones who benefit. We like to think in terms of a malicious elite that is controlling the whole world only to enrich themselves. While this is certainly a scary thought, I think there is a scarier thought:
No one is creating or running the system.
We like to believe that the future lies in our hands, but where is the proof for that? If our individual lives and the world really were in our hands, would it be the way it is? We might say that our minds are utterly puzzled and confused by the task of improving society and the world, and that’s the issue. So maybe we need to take a look at our minds first.
Anyone who has observed their own mind – even for a day – will see that the mind is not in our hands. We can’t control our thoughts and emotions. And if even the seemingly most intimate part of our experience is not in our hands, how can we claim that the unfolding of something as complex as the world or our life is in our hands?
Coming back to the question of what a system is, to me, it seems like our system – how our society/civilization runs – is more like a natural disaster. There are forces at play and highly complex information we are unaware of. As Daniel Schimmelpfenning says, complex information might be what we call “chaos”. Controlling natural disasters is not something we are currently capable of, perhaps because they are too chaotic/complex.
From that standpoint, would it make sense to blame the system? Would we blame a volcano for erupting and destroying a village? Would we blame a tsunami for swallowing an island?
What is Time?
We can’t speak about the future without speaking about time. Conceptually speaking, the future is a sub-concept of the larger concept called time. But is there anything we can say about time for sure?
Well, here I will share some of my reflections about the concept called time.
To me, time seems to be divided into two conceptual times — astronomical time and psychological time.
Astronomical time is a measurement unit of space. Without the 4th dimension of time, we couldn’t perceive the other three spatial dimensions. For something to appear as form, we need extension and duration, which are represented by space and time. This indicates that time and space are a single concept — space-time — which utilizes four dimensions, three spatial dimensions and one temporal one.
But time as a spatial dimension is not the problem. Psychological time is the problem, which is a concept created by the identification with a pseudo-entity (me) thinking in a temporal context.
A simple observation we can make is that without thought, there is no time. Without us observing the three dimensions, nothing moves. Therefore, we are observing from the 4th dimension called time. In other words, we are time. Without us, there is no time.
As long as we believe we are entities inside a timeline, namely past, present, and future, we feel ourselves at the mercy of this uncontrollable force called time. Not only is this viewpoint an unquestioned assumption, but also unnecessarily limits our thinking.
Most versions of a better future we imagine are usually somewhat improved or altered versions of past and present events. The reason for that, I think, is twofold. One, we live in time, as already mentioned. Two, our thinking is bound to the concept of time. Every thought is an appearance in awareness and therefore perceived to have duration.
All truly new visions, therefore, must come outside of time. They might have a resemblance to something that we know, but don’t follow linearity. When we relax our thinking and release our beliefs about who, and what, and where we are, there might be a chance for an original idea or thought to appear in awareness.
What’s the Point?
When I read what I have written here so far, it seems as if I’m painting a pretty bleak picture, a picture where we are not in control, everything happens the way it should happen, and nothing really matters. With such a picture, what would be the point of existence, of life, of anything?
Well, the point might be something that many of us tend to forget as we grow older – play. If nothing is as real as we believe and we are not as much in control as we think we are, then why shouldn’t we just play? Why not approach all of our “serious” problems with a sense of playfulness?
After all, doesn’t life resemble a big game we are all playing?
I am reminded of when I used to play video games as a kid. I was serious about winning, but in all of it, I still knew it was just a game. I was fully immersed; I suspended my disbelief and made this game my reality for the time being. But even if I didn’t win, I could easily let it go maybe because I did my best, or more likely because it was just a game.
Wouldn’t it serve us if we approach life with the same kind of serious non-seriousness or non-serious seriousness with which we approach games?
Looking back at my life, I have played many characters. I was a kind child, I was a mean child. I was a confident teen, I was an anxious teen. I was a wise grown-up, I was a foolish grown-up. All of these roles have caused me pain and pleasure in different degrees, because at that time I believed myself to be the character I was playing.
Only when I saw that none of that is who I am, could I finally relax and release my grip on life. And perhaps this is what we need to envision and create a better future in the grand play of life – to relax and release our grip so that life can dictate the right direction.