Preface to 1st Edition of The Global Brain
I would like you to come with me on a great adventure, an exploration of humanity's potential as seen through the eyes of the planet, and to share with me a vision of our evolutionary future. The journey will take us beyond this place and time, allowing us to stand back and behold humanity afresh, to consider new ways of seeing ourselves in relation to the whole evolutionary process.
We shall see that something miraculous may be taking place on this planet, on this blue pearl of ours. Humanity could be on the threshold of an evolutionary leap, a leap that could occur in a flash of evolutionary time, a leap such as occurs only once in a billion years. The changes leading to this leap are taking place right before our eyes—or rather right behind them, within our minds.
Put as bluntly as this, the hypothesis might seem to be an unbelievable fantasy. Yet I hope to show that it could be a very real possibility, a possibility that an increasing number of people are beginning to take seriously.
The seeds of my own explorations in this area were sown some thirty years ago while a student in high school. I can recall lying in bed one night, looking out at a starlit sky, and considering the rapidly increasing human population and the many ways in which we were consuming scarce resources and polluting the planet. It was no great effort to extrapolate these trends into the future and see that sooner or later impossible situations would occur. (To take an obvious example, there would eventually come a time when there would be more people alive than it was physically possible to feed.) But impossible situations do not occur, I reasoned. Therefore, before such points in time were reached, humanity would experience some very dramatic changes. Whatever happened, we would not continue on this path of continual growth much longer.
In retrospect, the conclusion was hardly profound, but for me it was an important turning point. It became very clear that during my lifetime I would probably witness the end of a set of trends that had been going on for thousands of years.
How would the changes come? At the time my attention was occupied with various negative scenarios such as nuclear holocaust, ecological collapse, or worldwide famine. These all seemed quite possible ways in which humanity's growing size and consumption could be curtailed, halted, or even reversed.
But gradually over the years another, more optimistic scenario began to dawn within my mind. Rather than humanity suffering major setbacks, the dramatic change could be a growing-up and maturing of our species.
By this time I was at Cambridge University studying theoretical physics. Fascinated as I was by science, however, I was even more fascinated by the workings of the mind. Western philosophy and psychology seemed to offer a few insights, but I felt for a long time that there was a vast amount of wisdom locked up in the East, in particular in various teachings on meditation. So I ended up spending a winter in the Himalayan foothills, studying with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and experiencing dimensions to consciousness of which I had never dreamed. As a result I knew beyond any doubt that if everyone could contact such states of consciousness, the world would be transformed. Humanity could change its direction constructively, rather than be changed destructively. So I returned to England and spent much of the next few years teaching meditation, encouraging others to discover for themselves a different way of being.
My vision of a transformed world continued to evolve, though for a while I felt very much on my own. Then one day a friend introduced me to the world of Teilhard de Chardin. Here was a philosopher who had considered similar ideas about humanity's future, considered them far more deeply, and had not been universally dismissed. I felt both inspired and strengthened.
From then on support started coming from many different directions: from developments in a number of sciences, from the writings of philosophers and visionaries both Eastern and Western, from conversations with others, and from my own experiences and insights. Piece by piece the jigsaw was coming together, and an overall picture began to emerge. More and more it appeared that we alive today might be standing on the threshold of an evolutionary development as significant as the emergence of life on Earth some 3,500 million years ago.
The nature of this possible transformation and the ways in which it could come about are what I want to explore with you in this book.
Our inquiry will draw upon the insights and experiences of many individuals, from mystics and religious teachers to scientists and astronauts, as well as on recent developments in many different disciplines. Biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, psychology, physiology, medicine, sociology, technology, cybernetics, and systems theory will all shed their appropriate lights.
At times we will be looking at the similarities between aspects of society today and various phenomena in these sciences. In most cases these are not just analogies introduced to make a point clearer: they illustrate a deeper, underlying pattern, what is technically called a homology. (The layout of bones in the forearm of a dog, elephant, seal, and bat, for example, is in each case similar to the layout in the human forearm. This is a homology revealing a more fundamental common pattern.) When we start finding consistent, underlying patterns running through the whole of evolution, they can give us a very strong reason for believing that society today may follow homologous developments.
No extrapolation into the future can ever be watertight, and the material that follows is not meant to constitute a prediction or scientific proof. Rather, it is supporting evidence, providing a context within which an evolutionary leap would appear to be a possibility, and worth exploring further.
My goal is to convey a vision as a whole. It is the overall picture that is important, not specific details. You may not like or agree with every point; indeed I would not expect you to accept everything. Nor need the picture that emerges for you be the same as mine. You will probably start making connections with your own knowledge and experience. My purpose is to set you thinking about positive alternative futures.
The vision I shall be sharing may seem a very optimistic one—some might even say Utopian—and I make no apologies for this. As will become clear later, the image a society has of itself can play a crucial role in the shaping of its future. If we fill our minds with images of gloom and destruction, then that is likely to be the way we are headed. Conversely, more optimistic attitudes can actually help promote a better world. A positive vision is like the light at the end of a tunnel, which, even though dimly glimpsed, encourages us to step on in that direction.