Imagine that the year is 1543 and you have just completed reading Copernicus’ newly published book, On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres, that has attempted to convince you that your daily experience of the sun moving around a stationary earth is an illusion. What do you think the chances are that you would have accepted the Copernican argument that violates your direct perceptions?
Thomas Gentry, Nonlinear Dynamicist, 1995
Is Integral Science related to Paul Ray’s work on Cultural Creatives?
Yes, ISI is working toward the same Integral Society identified by Paul Ray (see Cultural Creatives, 2003). We believe Integral Science provides a clearer understanding of why Integral Society is emerging and a more solid foundation for understanding what the Cultural Creatives must do to make it sustainable.
Is Integral Science related to Ken Wilber’s vision of Integralis?
Though there are some overlaps, Integral Science’s empirical foundation leads to some different conclusions from Wilber’s Integral Psychology and Integralis. Both views, for example, integrate spirituality and the evolution of consciousness, Integral Science integrates them into a seamless view of physical reality, using serious work from across disciplines, and taking great care to logically connect the dots from different fields.
Why is Integral Society emerging?
What does Integral Science say about what it will be like? Great changes are driven into being by the failure of the previous system, a breakdown whose root cause is cultural decay and whose main marker is a web of crises popping up in every sphere. Vowing to find a better way, a new cultural thrust then builds itself up around a new noble vision and defining metaphor that it believes will avoid the fiascoes of the old.
Hence, today’s great change, like those of the past, is being propelled by crises felt in every field. Think of education, health care, politics, energy, the economy, community, justice, and the environment. Yet, while these individual calamities grab attention, it is slowly becoming clear that the root problem is cultural decay. Late Modern culture has become a malady and late Modern America epitomizes the result.
Omnipresent pressure is driving a new Integral era of society, forming around the root metaphor of an “ecosystem” or “web.” So, where machine-age thinkers envisioned a clockwork universe of separable, streamlined parts, now integral thinkers are pointing out that we actually live in a Web World, One Planet in which all things are inseparably linked.
Pondering the ecological nature of all things means that integral citizens realize the necessity of stewardship, that is, living in a way that sustains family, community, civilization, and environment even while making money. Socially, the integral age is working toward a networked-partnership culture linking a newly global civilization. Economically, it is bringing the Internet, the information age and, with them, a tremendous leap in collective, planetary intelligence.
Already visible in concepts such as global economy, global village, One Planet, and the World Wide Web, every facet of our society—from business, education and medicine to community building, politics and spirituality — is being recast in kind. Scanning current events through web-colored glasses makes it easy to see that today’s great change is already well underway. Environmentalists started the ball rolling with the concept of ecology, meaning the web of life in an immediate area as well as the profound connectivity of air, water, land, and life that binds the biosphere. Yet, the basic image has now spread to all corners. It is now fashionable, for example, to reflect on how computers connect us, and how civilization is becoming a single “Global Village.” Web imagery is also seen in:
- Holistic alternatives in health;
- A renewed commitment to community building;
- A global economy that binds us together;
- The sustainability movement which realizes the global economy must keep people and planet healthy while making money;
- The search for more empowering education; and
- A new, more tolerant spiritual awareness based on an appreciation of the Oneness of the Universal Force that created, enfolds and guides all things.
Figure 1 Today’s Cycle of Great Change
What is “Great Change”?
How does Integral Society fit with other historical cycles? This kind of wholesale rethinking, called great change, has happened before, with the last one occurring roughly 400 years ago when medieval culture morphed into modern society. That transformation took at least 200 years and included the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment (16th through 18th centuries). As this period shows, the dangers and opportunities inherent in great change are equally real.
Europe, for instance, is now working on its third incarnation in 1500 years: Medieval, Modern, and now Integral societies. Medieval society formed in response to a previous failure, the collapse of Rome. Where Roman civilization revolved around the icon of “Empire,” the new medieval impetus built itself around the root metaphor of “God’s Design” a hidden, organizing, master plan underlying all things and largely beyond human ken. Rejecting the worldliness and greed that had killed Rome, medieval society (~ 500 – 1500 AD) fused chivalry, common-cause, and faith into powerful, practical, organic feudal wholes that survived the barbarians and eventually moved out to conquer other parts of the world. Yet, by the late medieval period, Chivalric Lords and the faith-full Catholic Church had become horribly corrupt and the Medieval Design began crumbling under the weight of its own worldliness and greed.
The cycle then repeated during the rise of modern culture. From the Reformation to the Enlightenment (~1550-1750), a growing number of thinkers began calling for a new, less corrupt system based on freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and freedom of enterprise. These ideas and efforts arose first in the pressure-cooker of Europe, but they made progress most easily farther away, in the freer air of the New World. Over time generations of huddled masses made America the Land of Free and the Home of the Enlightenment Dream. Unfortunately, after a mere 200 years of modern culture, the Land of the Free is also now staggering under the weight of worldliness and greed.
Figure 2. The Last Two (and a Half) Cycles of Civilization
Now pressure is building?and not just in America. A pandemic of 20th-century calamities—world wars, depressions, genocide, plagues, and environmental ruin—started a worldwide rethinking that is now reaching critical mass because modern corruption has become acute. Not only does environmental destruction, bio- and nuclear terrorism, and adulteration of food threaten human existence worldwide, but the infrastructure of civilization itself is failing. Education? Politics? Medicine? At home and abroad, as activist cleric Matthew Fox says, “Every field is in trouble. Just ask them!”
Under bad news, great change is driven by disaster and desperation as “crumbling and emerging” take place simultaneously. In our case, modern civilization is in crisis and faces serious dangers caused chiefly by its own ways of being. Furthermore, because the root problem is cultural, all the troubles the society faces are inseparably intertwined. Thus, growing calamities in health, education, environment and economics are but microcosms of one monumentally complex knot.
Under good news, crisis also drives a learning response. In our case, millions of unsung heroes are already at work, developing healthier ways. Scattered throughout global society, in movements large and small, addressing every issue from democratic reform and corporate accountability to health issues and the best ways to learn, Ray (2000) estimates their number at 50 million in the U.S. alone. Furthermore, while most workers in this vast span focus only on the thread in front of them, many of their insights mesh. Together they actually form one grand tapestry of change and the quiet beginnings of a more durable and ennobling web of life that we call Integral Society.
Yet, right now integral insights are still disjoint. Pieces are spread all over the map. The scope is daunting, as is the diversity of language and concerns. The challenge before our society as a whole is to get this disjoint jumble to crystallize into a powerful, intelligible whole, before crisis turns into calamity—a consequence which has happened to many societies before us. Luckily, the catalyst we need is also at hand.
We believe a unified Integral Science can provide the scientific foundation and clarifying lens we need to crystallize the social movement in a safe, sane and timely manner. Unlike traditional “paradigm shifts” and single-field proscriptions, Integral Science can mobilize the entire grassroots movement by providing a framework of understanding that helps reformers in each field organize and make sense of what they already know. Together, the million silent saviors and the integrated new science form the single greatest hope for surviving our times—a unified, motivated mass of grassroots people with a solidly-grounded vision and a clear sense of direction.
The Integral Science Institute’s primary long-term goal, therefore, is to arm the quiet heroes in each field with this clarifying and unifying framework so that they can organize themselves.
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