By Stuart Kauffman
Historian Thomas Cahill popularized the phrase: "A hinge of history." I think it is very likely that we are now at such a hinge, a potential for unknowable, creative, cultural, scientific and spiritual transformation. Our 30 or more civilizations around the globe are being crushed together by globalization and the Internet. One response is a retreat into fundamentalisms, often hostile as ways of life feel threatened, often lethal.
I believe we are entering a time when our diverse civilizations can, more than ever, coevolve together in a generative way, inventing novel cultural forms at the interfaces among us, diversifying our ways to be human.
Alicia Juarrero, a philosopher, asks, "Could you cash a check 50,000 years ago?" Think of the cultural inventions that have occurred to allow us to cash checks. The invention of the computer led to the possibility of the personal computer and Apple, whose wide sale led to the opportunity for word processing and Microsoft, led to the opportunity to store files, led to the opportunity for scientists at CERN in Geneva to share files among scientists in different buildings, led to the opportunity for the world wide web, led to the opportunity to sell on the web and eBAY, led to data on the web and the potential profitability of Google, and has now achieved Facebook.
We could not have foretold this creative, stunning blossoming into what I call "The Adjacent Possible". What will our co-evolving civilizations co-create?
We face the familiar challenges, of course, highly probable global warming, eventual peak oil, population, water shortages. We are in the midst of an economic crisis in which the US financial industry garnered, in 2007, something like 25% of US corporate profits. We think we should re-inflate our global economy to alleviate the pain of millions without work, yet we are, as Gordon Brown said, reduced to price tags. We buy and sell purple plastic penguins for the poolside in the name of economic growth on a planet that also demands sustainability. We need to think together what we want.
Yes, we are at a hinge of history, and like many of us, I believe we need global conversations for a new time that we will partially co-create, yet cannot prestate. That conversation is why I wish to participate on this blog with all of you who care to join such conversation. I am an MD biologist, with a background in philosophy. My most recent book, Reinventing the Sacred, struggles to show that science is powerful but that the evolutionary becoming of the biosphere, human economy, and culture is partially beyond the "Galilean Spell", the belief that all that unfolds in the universe is describable by natural law. This almost 400 year old belief is, I am quite sure, false. We live in a partially un-prestatable, evolving, creative universe where not only do we not know what WILL happen, we often do not know what CAN happen. Then reason, the highest human virtue of our beloved Enlightenment, is an inadequate guide to living our lives forward into mystery. We need reason, emotion, intuition, imagination, all we have evolved to be. We need to rethink profoundly our entire humanity. We need a new enlightenment. But if this is true, then the barriers between science, the arts, and our historicity, start to crumble. If we live in a creative universe, we can try to reinvent a sharable sense of the sacred based on that very creativity to span the globe, find an ethic to undergird a coevolving ecology of our civilizations, find our way to a sustainable planet. My hope is that WE can jointly participate in an emerging conversation that will be generative, confused, creative, unprestatable, and help shape how the hinge swings.