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Our Blind Spot on the Future

Friday, January 27th, 2017

We can all see how the pace of life is speeding up. Technological breakthroughs spread through society in years rather than centuries. Calculations that would have taken decades are now made in minutes. Communication that used to take months happens in seconds.

And we feel it in our own lives. Remember when you used to write a letter, stick a stamp on it, mail it, and then be OK waiting several days for a reply. Now we email or text and expect to hear back within hours or minutes. There seems to be more and more things to take care of, more and more information to absorb, more and more technologies to adapt to, more and more time spent on line, and less time to do it all in.

But this accelerating pace of change isn’t new. Throughout the history of life on Earth development has been compressed into shorter and shorter times.

Imagine the 4.5 billion years of our planet’s history compressed into just one year.

Simple cells first appear in March.

But multicellular life doesn’t evolve until early September.

The first mammals appear on Christmas Day

But human beings don’t arrive until a quarter of an hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In the last twenty seconds, the first civilizations.

The Renaissance, four seconds from the end.

Moon walks, the Internet, global warming—all in the last quarter second.

So where’s it all going? What is going to happen in the next fraction of a second?

One thing’s certain, development will continue to be compressed into shorter and shorter times.

You’ve probably heard of Moore’s law in computing which shows how computer power keeps doubling every eighteen months. On this basis,, sometime in the 2030s there will be computers whose performance surpasses that of the human brain. These super-intelligent machines could then be used to design even more intelligent computers. And do so even faster. Leading to a further explosion in acceleration. Within decades, rates of change would be astronomical. In the century beyond that, unimaginable. The curve would be off the charts. It would be both way beyond our comprehension—and way beyond any feasible reality.

But when we come to look at our long-term future, ever-accelerating rates of change present us with a major contradiction. On the one hand, there’s every reason to suppose the rate of change will keep increasing. On the other hand, when we imagine a long-term future for humanity, we unconsciously assume that rates of change will be relatively static.

Take the TV series Star Trek for example, set several hundred years from now. Technology on the Enterprise, and that back at Federation headquarters, doesn’t seem to change much over time. But how could that be? There is every reason to suppose that science and technology would still be developing fast. Indeed, given the exponential nature of development, the pace of change would have become unimaginably rapid long before the Enterprise was launched—and even more rapid in the following years.

The same is true with just about every other long-term vision of humanity’s future. They are not set within the context of accelerating change. In most cases, any development there might be is imagined as linear and slow—more appropriate to pre-industrial times.

This is our bind spot on the future. Accelerating change is inherently incompatible with a long-term future.

But anyone who contemplates the future of humanity hundreds of years ahead must first explain how the acceleration of development—which has been going on since the dawn of life—will suddenly come to an end. How does exponential change transform into slow linear development?

And we’re not just talking about technological or material development, but cultural, social and mental development. It would mean human innovation and creativity slowing to almost nothing.

If the rate of change continues to accelerate—and there is every reason to suppose it will—or even if it should steady up and remain at today’s dizzying pace—we have to radically reconsider our ideas about where we are headed.

It calls for an entirely new paradigm of the future. And of the role of humanity in the cosmos.

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For a more detailed exploration of the implications see: Blind Spot

Loss and Revival of the Timeless Wisdom

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

The following is from the Preface I wrote for the new edition of Rupert Spira’s book, The Transparency of Things

We live in unprecedented times. Science is answering age-old questions about the nature of reality, the birth of the cosmos, and the origins of life. We are witnessing technological advances that a century ago would have seemed science fiction, or even magic. And, more alarmingly, we are becoming increasingly aware of the impact our burgeoning growth is having on the planet. Yet, along with these rapidly unfolding changes is another development that is passing largely unnoticed. We are in the midst of an unprecedented spiritual renaissance, rediscovering in contemporary terms the timeless wisdom of the ages.

Most spiritual traditions began with an individual having a transforming mystical experience, some profound revelation, or inner awakening. It may have come through dedicated spiritual practice, deep devotion, facing a hard challenge, or sometimes unbidden, out of the blue—a timeless moment in which one’s personal dramas pale in the light of a deep inner security. However it came, it usually led to a delightful joy in being alive, an unconditional love for all beings, the dissolving of the sense of self, and an awareness of oneness with creation.

The profound transformation they experienced caused many to want to share their discovery, and help others have their own awakening. But those who listened to their teachings may have misunderstood some parts, forgot others, and perhaps added interpretations of their own. Much like the party game of Chinese whispers in which a message whispered round a room can end up nothing like the original, as the teaching passed from one person to another, from one culture to another, and was translated from one language to another, it gradually became less and less like the original. The timeless wisdom became increasingly veiled, and clothed in the beliefs and values of the society in which it found itself, resulting in a diversity of faiths whose common essence is often hard to detect.

Today however, we are in the midst of a widespread spiritual renaissance that differs significantly from those of the past. We are no longer limited to the faith of our particular culture; we have access to all the world’s wisdom traditions, from the dawn of recorded history to the present day. And the insights of contemporary teachers from around the planet are readily available in books, recordings, and via the Internet. None of this was possible before.

Rather than there being a single leader, there are now many experiencing and expounding the perennial philosophy. Some may be more visible than others, and some may have clearer realizations than others, but all are contributing to a growing rediscovery of the timeless wisdom. We are seeing through the apparent differences of the world’s faiths, past their various cultural trappings and interpretations, to what lies at their heart. And, instead of the truth becoming progressively diluted and veiled as it is passed on, today our discoveries are reinforcing each other. We are collectively honing in on the essential teaching.

As we strip away the layers of accumulated obscurity, the core message not only gets clearer and clearer. It gets simpler and simpler. And the path becomes easier and easier.

At the leading edge of this progressive awakening is what contemporary teachers such as Francis Lucille and Rupert Spira call “the direct path”. Recognition of our true nature does not need studious reading of spiritual texts, years of meditation practice, or deep devotion to a teacher; only the willingness to engage in a rigorously honest investigation into the nature of awareness itself. Not an intellectual investigation, but a personal investigation into what we truly are.

What is Wisdom?

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Humanity is too clever to survive without wisdom. — E.F Schumacher

What is wisdom? We hear the word a lot these days—the need for wisdom, the wisdom traditions, wisdom schools. We each would like to have more wisdom. And for others to have it as well. Too much human hurt and suffering comes from lack of wisdom. But what is this quality that we hold in such high regard?

Most of us are familiar with the progression from data to information to knowledge:

  • Data are the raw facts; the letters on a page, for example.
  • Information comes from the patterns and structure of the data. Random letters provide little Information; but if they spell words and the words create sentences, they carry information and meaning.
  • Knowledge comes from generalizations in the information. We build up understandings about the world, ourselves, and other people.

Wisdom concerns how we use our knowledge. Its essence is discernment. Discernment of right from wrong. Helpful from harmful. Truth from delusion.

We may, for example, come to understand that deep down each of us wants to be loved and appreciated. But do we then use that knowledge to manipulate others for our own ends? Or do we use it for the benefit of all, considering how to respond to a situation in ways that are truly caring?

At present, humanity has vast amounts of knowledge, but still very little wisdom. Buckminster Fuller called this time our final evolutionary exam. Is our species fit to survive? Do we have the wisdom that will allow us to use our prodigious powers for our own good, and for that of many generations to come?

It is a common perception that wisdom comes with age. The wise ones have learned from experience that there is more to life than acquiring wealth and fame. They know that love and friendship count for more than what others think of them. They are generally kind, content in themselves. able to discern their true self-interest.

But why wait until old age? In an ideal world we would finish school not only with sufficient knowledge for the life ahead, but also with the wisdom of how to use that knowledge.

The question then naturally arises: How can we develop wisdom? It turns out that the wisdom we seek is already there, at the heart of our being. Deep inside, we know right from wrong; this discernment is an intrinsic part of being human. But the quiet voice of this inner knowing is usually obscured by our busy thinking minds, forever trying to help us get the things we believe will bring us peace and happiness and avoid those that will bring pain and suffering.

So the real question is: How can we allow the inner light of our innate wisdom to shine through into daily awareness and guide is in our decisions? And that, as many have discovered time and again, comes not from doing more, but from doing less.

See also: Letting Go of Doing  |  There is No Such Thing as Ego  |  The Path of No Path

Love in Las Vegas

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

Las Vegas is not my first choice of US cities. Glittering casinos are not my cup of tea. Nor is a city built in the middle of the desert. But I’d been invited by a good friend of the Cirque de Soleil to attend the opening of their new show “Love” — a tribute to the Beatles. I have always loved the Cirque’s shows, and the Beatles… I remember one Friday at my local youth club in 1962 listening to a new single “Love Me Do.” From then on they were part of my life – through Sgt Pepper and the summer of love in 1967, to the Maharishi and Rishikesh and the seeds of my own life’s journey. So, to go forty years later, to the opening of a show on the Beatles at The Mirage was a significant marker.
I wondered if any of the Beatles themselves would turn up. I did not have to wait long. In the Cirque de Soleil’s staff party the night before, I was asked to give up my seat to Julian Lennon. Hanging around at the entrance to the show, Ringo walked by. Inside I found Paul, Yoko, Cynthia Lennon, Olivia Harrison, and Sir George Martin were all there.
The show itself blew my away. The theatre had been completely rebuilt at a cost of over $100 million, with the Cirque’s characteristic flair for moving stages and extravagant effects. it had been rebuilt “in the round” so the stage was in the centre. Each of the 2.500 seats had a pair of speakers embedded in the headrest and three more facing you from the back of the seat in front. I was cocooned in my own bubble of perfect fidelity surround-sound. Sir George Martin, had taken many of the original Abbey Road studio tracks, re-orchestrated them into the highest quality Beatles’ sound I will probably ever hear. And then mixed tracks so that, to give just one example of many, bits of ‘Penny Lane’, and ‘Piggies’ wove in and out of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
There were so many highlights to the show. One I will never forget was half way through, after gymnasts had been leaping and tumbling over an iron framed double bed. They started pulling out the sheet from underneath the bed. They kept pulling more and more sheet till it covered the stage. Then pulled more, stepping back into the audience, where hands eagerly pulled the sheet over their heads until finally it reached all the way back to the walls of the theatre. Then the bed in the centre rose towards the roof, leaving 2.500 of us sitting beneath a huge tent. The largest light show ever now played down on the tent from above.
Suddenly the sheet was sucked back into a hole in the centre of stage leaving us in darkness, except for a myriad of tiny twinkling lights which had been lowered to fill the air above our heads, accompanied by an eerie, haunting, sound. The lights flickered in patterns, creating a unique 3-D effect throughout the space. Slowly the eerie sound took on a more rhythmic form, and recognition dawned. The twinkling lights were diamonds, and there, spinning at the top of the theatre in flowing white robes was Lucy, who continued with a magnificent acrobatic display.
And that was just one of many incredible moments. I’ll have to see the show several times to fully digest them all.
At the end, Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Julian, Cynthia, Olivia, George Martin and Guy Lalibertie (founder of the Cirque) all came on stage. Ringo true to style, picking up a red umbrella left on stage from the finale (which included thousands of red paper petals showering the stage and audience) and pranced round with it. Paul shouted “This if for John and George!” and the audience erupted.