For the thousands of years of our existence as a species, information flowing from the night sky has been evident to us as a twinkling myriad of stars sweeping in great arcs across the heavens – a backdrop to the wandering lights of our own planetary system. This inspired our earliest imaginings and contributed to the creation of our myths and religions.
In modern times with the aid of powerful telescopes and sophisticated sensors, this information has taken on new meaning. Interpreted now according to the laws of physics and the gravitational equations first advanced by Einstein, these observations reveal a picture of events associated with an expanding universe.
Tracing this scientific logic backwards in time we follow a contracting universe that billions of years ago shrinks to a giant fireball in which temperatures are so high matter cannot exist. A sea of energy pervades this early universe. High frequency random interactions prevent photons of light from traveling any distance undisturbed. Only with subsequent expansion and cooling – some 13.7 billion years ago – did the temperatures in the universe fall to a level at which energy could coalesce into matter. Protons and electrons then combined to create mainly hydrogen, the simplest of elements. As perceived by Einstein’s famous equation, that E=MC2, huge amounts of energy disappeared for every resulting gram of matter created. This massive coalescence greatly emptied space.
Light then began an unprecedented and largely unimpeded journey throughout the universe. This “first light” is now identified as the “background radiation”, the earliest observational data available to scientists.
By extrapolation of their cosmic equations further backwards in time, scientists conjecture that in the preceding quarter billion or so years, a sea of energy inflated mightily from a colossal explosion emanating from a point source. This beginning is now commonly referred to as the “Big Bang”. Thus, as conceived today, began the space/time experiment of our universe.
From the moment of first light, according to modern cosmology, matter driven by gravitational and inertial properties, gradually coalesced into galaxies and stars. Fusion, occurring within stars over their lifetimes, forged new and heavier elements. When the accelerating fusion within such stars repeatedly ended their lives in novas and supernovas, space became seeded with new elements of the periodic table. These elements became the building blocks for creating new molecules of ever-greater complexity.
This progression of new star formation came to include planetary systems. On at least one such planet formed in our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, conditions were ripe for initiating what became a massive increase in complex carbon-based molecules. This ultimately led to complexity that achieved the self-reproducing capability we have come to identify as “life”.
So was initiated a new evolutionary track whereby molecular evolution was replaced in importance by the evolution of organisms – again of increasing complexity – but driven now by the guiding principles of Darwinian evolution. This eventually produced an oxygen atmosphere resulting in new levels of complexity, leading ultimately to the development of consciousness as an attribute of a new species, Homo Sapiens.
So began yet another evolutionary path, now driven by the ability of consciousness in a new species to drive consequences in a process called civilization. The new conceptualization and communication skills associated with consciousness slowly achieved the new inventions and practices that became evolutionary stepping-stones.
Thus did our species advance from tribal hunters and gatherers to urban farmers and herders to inhabitants of early cities and nations. Then occurred the rise of science, the industrial revolution it inspired, and now the world that we, living today, are experiencing.
Philosophically then, we represent the current location on a relatively new evolutionary path, continuing a process initiated by the Big Bang. The fact that our bodies are constructed from basic elements forged in the fiery hearts of ancient stars is an ever-present reminder of this connection.
The evolution of consciousness has now replaced Darwinian evolution in importance. This means that the evolutionary path determining the future of our species no longer depends primarily on chance genetic mutations. Rather it now depends on the consequences of actions flowing from the collective consciousness of our species.
Overwhelmingly our daily activities are no longer occupied in producing what we need to sustain our individual lives and satisfy our particular wants. Our working lives embedded in the societies in which we live, contribute through the economic system to the overall availability of a vast array of goods and services. These, through the purchase mechanism, now provide for most of our needs and wants. Daily, our lives are now supported by the largely anonymous labors of countless individuals, both past and present. Their participation in the economic system has or is presently contributing to the well-being of each and every one of us. Thus it is to the effective organization of our societies that we now depend for our survival and wellbeing.
When we come into existence, we contribute to the consciousness of our species for a brief moment in our evolutionary journey. In this sense we are the latest participants in the ongoing evolutionary process that determines our future destiny as a species. Each of us, in making a living for ourselves, necessarily contributes in some manner to the survival or well-being of others.
In large part, the nature of the societies we enter determines the contribution we are likely tomake to this common welfare. In this regard the historical record is clear. Those modern societies that have best supported the opportunity for their citizens through education, to individually find their “best place” in the economic system and the means therein to maximize their productivity are the societies that have most prospered. How well these outcomes are achieved is an important measure of evolutionary progress. This connection has many ramifications.
It means, for instance, to the extent that people are poor or unemployed or underemployed or under-educated, or unhealthy, or imprisoned, or otherwise wards of the state, or engaged in activities that are damaging to our present or future capabilities to perform most productively, are all measures of lost productivity, greatly diminishing the prosperity of all and thus impeding our evolutionary progress.
Our continuing inability to alleviate these characteristic defects in our current societies in any significant way has created the widespread feelings of discontent to which the recent “Occupy Wall Street” contagion and the “Tea Party” movement are somewhat blindly responding.
The evidence offered by current outcomes in dealing with problems important to societal progress – the workings of the economy, the growing gap between the few that are rich and the many that are not, the failures of the wars on drugs and poverty, the educational deficits in the labor force, the obesity level in the population at large, etc. – all these suggest that the approaches we are taking as a society to counter such defects may well be fundamentally flawed. Ongoing failures of this nature are impediments to the successful evolution of our species, even though we may think of them in far more parochial terms.
In this book I explore the likelihood that these failures are a consequence of the manner in which our societies typically tackle such problems. These approaches have evolved based on historical circumstances that no longer persist. We have been following an evolutionary path that has served us reasonably well. Now, in our fast paced, high-tech world, new and different circumstances have arisen. These make feasible new approaches that bring into question the current means by which our societies seek to advance their wellbeing. In effect, our current path may well be leading us into a blind canyon, an evolutionary dead-end.
How might we escape from this dead-end pathway? Historical evidence associates three fundamental concepts with successful problem-solving. These concepts are, however, conspicuously absent in the problem-solving approaches our societies typically adopt. Appreciating this, and taking actions in accordance with these concepts, could offer the means to improve on current, unsatisfactory outcomes. Doing so would help us escape from our current evolutionary path by reshaping practices, which, if allowed to continue unchecked, could plausibly endanger the very survival of our species.
This book is not an academic study replete with footnotes. Rather it describes a personal journey, the outcome of a long and thoughtful enquiry into the underlying significance of my own practical experiences over an unusual “problem-solving” lifetime. These have been derived from my professional career as a scientist, inventor, entrepreneur and businessman and from involvements in local community groups and other organizations.
Practical reality is a great teacher. So my approach in this book is to recount the stories that flow from such practical lifetime experiences. In this way I hope to better illuminate the importance of the three concepts referred to above. This effort occupies the first part of this book.
A follow-along is to show how these three concepts if incorporated into our thinking could alter the approaches taken to alleviate the defects currently impeding societal progress. Events in my own life’s journey have provided experiences that bear on such questions. These stories provide a conceptual perspective on how important contemporary problems could be tackled, in sharp contrast to present practices.
Attention is thereby directed to new approaches of a form that ultimately out of necessity, I believe, will emerge. These could dramatically alter the course of our evolutionary path allowing us to escape the dead end that mounting evidence informs is our current destination as a species. These stories occupy the second part of this book.
I have given much thought over the years to these perspectives. This has been accompanied by much reading in contemporary journals and magazines dealing with business, the economy, and current events over the past 55 years. Once the above perspectives were uppermost in my mind, it was surprising how much evidence could be adduced from such general reading to support their validity. On the other hand, I have yet to find persuasive evidence that they are misguided. My hope is that readers, when engaging with these perspectives, will not simply dismiss them outof-hand in the belief that current “expert” opinion cannot be wrong. History unequivocally teaches quite the opposite.
Assembling this intellectual autobiography, a task stretching over many years, has been difficult but enjoyable. Perhaps the outcome will contribute something of value from my own brief moment at the current frontier of our evolutionary journey begun so many billions of years ago.