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Recognize The Power of Humility

We Know Nearly Nothing

Even the com­po­si­tion of every­thing around us remains most­ly a mys­tery. The uni­verse is com­prised of 5% observ­able ener­gy + mat­ter and 95% unknown dark ener­gy + mat­ter.

NASA explains that 95% of what’s in the uni­verse is unknown.16 This whop­ping per­cent­age is the sum of two-thirds dark ener­gy and one-third dark mat­ter.

Sketch­notes of talk by Dr. S. James Gates

No human knows where dark ener­gy comes from, or what it is exact­ly, yet sci­en­tists rec­og­nize that this ener­gy is respon­si­ble for the uni­verse expand­ing. Dark mat­ter is cur­rent­ly unex­plain­able. What sci­en­tists have observed, how­ev­er, is the grav­i­ty of dark mat­ter. What­ev­er this strange stuff is, the effect of its grav­i­ty is seen by how it pulls on light mat­ter like stars and galax­ies. The only rea­son we know dark mat­ter exists is because stars and galax­ies move in rela­tion to this grav­i­ta­tion­al influ­ence. Yet, dark mat­ter is dif­fer­ent than a black hole. In fact, it defies any descrip­tion beyond being dark. No one has come up with a clear­er under­stand­ing of the phe­nom­e­non and so we’ll have to set­tle for being a bit clue­less as to dark matter’s exact prop­er­ties for the time being.

This state of puz­zle­ment is com­plete­ly okay because chang­ing degrees of knowl­edge about our sur­round­ings is a qual­i­ty that is nat­u­ral­ly baked into our sci­en­tif­ic prin­ci­ples. Fun­da­men­tal to all sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries is the knowl­edge that some­day they will be sup­plant­ed. Cur­rent the­o­ries allow us to make rea­son­ably accu­rate claims about the world and the future, but there is always room for greater under­stand­ing. The sci­en­tif­ic method has grant­ed us a peek into the true nature of real­i­ty. There are incal­cu­la­ble mys­ter­ies to uncov­er. Per­haps some mys­ter­ies are con­cep­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for humans to ever tru­ly under­stand. Yet, this lim­i­ta­tion is no rea­son

Astro­nom­i­cal chart by Galileo Galilei

to be dis­heart­ened. There’s a great deal of val­ue in the aware­ness of one’s own igno­rance.

“Utopic Space”, Paul Lafol­ley, 1992

Pla­to recount­ed his teacher Socrates say­ing, “I nei­ther know nor think that I know.” In our mod­ern era, this state­ment has been adapt­ed to, “I know that I know noth­ing.” In the inter­est of humil­i­ty, we are well served to remem­ber how lit­tle is still known about areas of research like Earth­’s oceans, human brains, and the nature of mat­ter itself. It’s no won­der that we still have much to learn about the com­plex­i­ties and impli­ca­tions of con­scious­ness. To become aware of our own lim­i­ta­tions and igno­rance is to pause before the beau­ti­ful­ly com­plex com­po­si­tion of life and to mar­vel at incom­pre­hen­si­ble won­ders.

“Neb­u­la”, NASA, 2015
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Recognize The Power of Humility

Think of Others & Cultivate Belonging

In con­fronting how lit­tle we know, we can cre­ate greater space to learn. We gain knowl­edge when we get out of our own way and work togeth­er. We also ben­e­fit when we are more con­sid­er­ate of the count­less oth­er species liv­ing on this plan­et.

Most of the designs made by humans place humans at the cen­ter of impor­tance. This act of hubris can cause con­sid­er­able harm. To help cor­rect this design flaw, we can learn to

Pro­fes­sor john a. pow­ell at the 2014 Bioneers con­fer­ence

imple­ment xeno-design—or the con­cept of design with aware­ness of the oth­er in mind. In this way, we can dras­ti­cal­ly improve the human-cen­tered sys­tems designed at the expense of work­ers’ well­be­ing, and respon­si­ble for wast­ing untold resources. Through xeno-design prac­tices, we can out­line a means of mak­ing space for all that exists, thus com­ing into greater over­all bal­ance with the rest of life on Earth.

Pro­fes­sor john a. pow­ell (who directs UC Berkeley’s Haas Insti­tute for a Fair and Inclu­sive Soci­ety, and who inten­tion­al­ly spells his name in all low­er-case to empha­size that one does not take pow­er over anoth­er) explains how humans evolve along essen­tial needs to make mean­ing and belong. The main chal­lenge to belong­ing occurs through four main areas of sep­a­ra­tion: from the divine, from nature, from each oth­er, and from one­self. In coun­ter­ing the destruc­tive effects that come from these areas of sep­a­ra­tion, pow­ell describes how sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty each strength­en a nar­ra­tive about bridg­ing divides between peo­ple and with nature. Pur­su­ing prac­tices that pri­or­i­tize belong­ing with­in com­mu­ni­ties big and small, will have a tremen­dous­ly pos­i­tive impact on the sys­tems that humans design in the future. Human-made sys­tems, like gov­ern­ment or econ­o­my, must also respect, and account for, the many dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences a diverse pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple will have through­out life. In oth­er words, the more we acknowl­edge the com­mon­al­i­ty of how each of us occu­pies a sub­jec­tive real­i­ty, the bet­ter we can become at cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to feel a sense of belong­ing in society’s col­lec­tive real­i­ty.

When peo­ple strug­gle to have their basic needs met—like not hav­ing access to food, shel­ter, or hygiene—life takes on a dis­pro­por­tion­ate degree of suf­fer­ing. Yet, when these chal­lenges are over­come, and when no injus­tice is inflict­ed, there is an abun­dance of joy to be expe­ri­enced. The vibra­tional fre­quen­cy of bliss is ever present, and can be accessed when the appro­pri­ate con­di­tions for thriv­ing life are estab­lished. Inspi­ra­tion and pos­i­tive vibra­tions are con­tin­u­ous­ly cours­ing through a vast array of mat­ter. There, in that groove of good­ness, is where we want to focus. There is where we want to grow. There, where the heart, mind, and body syn­the­size through love, is where we intend to work, improve, and inno­vate.

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Recognize The Power of Humility

Perception Can Be Deceiving

Per­cep­tion shapes expe­ri­ence as much as expe­ri­ence shapes per­cep­tion. Per­cep­tion is also sub­jec­tive and prone to mis­cues. While we are lim­it­ed by the lens through which we look, we can also expand our world­view from see­ing our­selves in rela­tion to all else that exists.

“In the end, we are self-­per­ceiv­ing, self-invent­ing, locked-in mirages that are lit­tle mir­a­cles of self-ref­er­ence.”
— cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Dou­glas Hof­s­tadter

The the­o­ry of “pre­dic­tive pro­cess­ing” describes how half of what we call real­i­ty is gen­er­at­ed from entire­ly with­in our own heads.17 Our expec­ta­tions are based on what we’ve been taught, told, and trained. Because of this inher­ent bias, we are going to mis­per­ceive and mis­com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers. To improve as peo­ple, we need to fig­ure out how to let go of our inher­ent bias­es and become less prone to self-decep­tion

We can start by acknowl­edg­ing that our brains hal­lu­ci­nate our per­cep­tion of real­i­ty. We lay­er our real­i­ties and com­bine them into social agree­ments, form­ing a gen­er­al­ized con­sen­sus real­i­ty.

“If hal­lu­ci­na­tion is a kind of uncon­trolled per­cep­tion, then per­cep­tion right here and right now is also a kind of hal­lu­ci­na­tion, but a con­trolled hal­lu­ci­na­tion in which the brain’s pre­dic­tions are being reined in by sen­so­ry ­infor­ma­tion from the world. In fact, we’re all hal­lu­ci­nat­ing all the time, includ­ing right now. It’s just that when we agree about our hal­lu­ci­na­tions, we call that real­i­ty.”
— Anil Seth

Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Anil Seth con­tin­ues to explain, “We don’t just pas­sive­ly per­ceive the world, we active­ly gen­er­ate it. The world we expe­ri­ence comes as much, if not more, from the inside out as from the out­side in.” That’s because our per­cep­tu­al pre­dic­tions (what our brain expects to see based on repet­i­tive expe­ri­ences) work in con­cert with the oncom­ing input we receive to shape what we per­ceive as real­i­ty.

Our expec­ta­tions come from the count­less com­plex­i­ties com­prised by every­thing affect­ing our nature and nur­tur­ing through­out our indi­vid­ual, and mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional, spans of life. It takes a great deal of ener­gy to see beyond that mas­sive set of con­di­tions. Yet, there are ways to move beyond lim­i­ta­tions.

Those who prac­tice med­i­ta­tion often speak of sen­sa­tions tran­scend­ing phys­i­cal or tem­po­ral bound­aries. Heart rates and breath can be con­trolled to expe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent elec­tri­cal pat­terns and waves through­out our bod­ies’ bil­lions of brain neu­rons and tril­lions of cells. Or, con­sid­er the expe­ri­ences report­ed by medi­ums who describe the recep­tion and chan­nel­ing of psy­chic infor­ma­tion from a realm out of reach to most…there are pos­si­bly many lay­ers of real­i­ty being expressed by count­less indi­vid­u­als around the globe at every moment. What else might we be miss­ing?

Mar­t­ian lan­guage as writ­ten by ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry medi­um Helene Smith

It’s hard to keep track of how much con­fu­sion we encounter. There’s a great deal of infor­ma­tion we do not prop­er­ly under­stand because of our own lim­its of per­cep­tion. As well, there’s a con­stant onslaught of infor­ma­tion com­ing at us that is designed to inten­tion­al­ly deceive us. Whether it’s in the form of foods labeled to divert atten­tion away from harm­ful ingre­di­ents, or “pay-day loans” that dis­guise their preda­to­ry motives, often when we are told one thing, we soon find that the real­i­ty we actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence is quite dif­fer­ent. There’s val­ue in explor­ing that dis­con­nect, in ques­tion­ing the accu­ra­cy of what we’re being offered, or ask­ing our­selves why we feel betrayed. By slow­ing

‘Celesto­graph’ by play­wright August Strind­berg

down our response, by jet­ti­son­ing expec­ta­tion and by fol­low­ing our intu­itive curios­i­ty, we can make strides to clear the path toward gain­ing greater aware­ness about what we encounter.

Think about the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of how aliens might appear upon arrival, how human or ani­mal they are made to look in sci-fi sto­ries, we are most like­ly deceiv­ing our­selves. What if, instead of indi­vid­u­at­ed beings like our­selves, an alien species is more akin to tiny par­ti­cles?

“Sud­den­ly the entire sky seemed to be filled with points of gold. Then it was com­ing down on us, like fine pollen, like yel­low dust. It lay on our roof slopes, it sift­ed down onto our side­walks, cov­ered our shirt­sleeves and the tops of our cars. We did not know what to make of it.”— Steven Mill­hauser, The Inva­sion from Out­er Space 18

By becom­ing more open to a wider array of pos­si­bil­i­ties for far-out sce­nar­ios, as well as more sim­ple day-to-day encoun­ters, we can sub­vert our own lim­it­ed per­cep­tion. Wires get crossed and some­times per­cep­tions don’t align. Yet, as with any mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the pain of dis­con­nect­ed per­spec­tives can be reme­died by lis­ten­ing more care­ful­ly. In this way, we can learn much from our mis­tak­en per­cep­tions and move on with greater knowl­edge.

Olivi­er Cul­mi­na / Ten­dance Floue

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Recognize The Power of Humility

Time Is an Illusion

Time speeds, lags, drags, blends, and blurs through imper­ma­nence. With sophis­ti­cat­ed mechan­i­cal mea­sure­ments, we might think we have a han­dle on time, but this sense of con­trol is anoth­er com­mon mis­con­cep­tion.

Patch by Dun­geon­Ap­par­el

We feel time’s elas­tic­i­ty in our most intense moments: the slow motion of a car crash, the sped-up fury of a pan­ic attack, an action-packed sports play replayed down to the sec­ond, con­trast­ed with the for­get­table sec­onds spent star­ing at the ceil­ing from the couch.

“Time keeps on slip­pin, slip­pin, slippin…into the future…” — Steve Miller Band, “Fly Like An Eagle”

Time can be mea­sured in clear min­utes on our mechan­i­cal clocks. But our bio­log­i­cal clocks doc­u­ment time very dif­fer­ent­ly. We can chart time a thou­sand ways and yet it still remains so slip­pery to per­ceive. Time seems to move faster as we age, as each moment becomes a small­er frac­tion of our over­all expe­ri­ence.

In the 1988 Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion series Joseph Camp­bell and the Pow­er of Myth, host­ed by jour­nal­ist Bill Moy­ers, mythol­o­gist Joseph Camp­bell reminds us, “Every­thing in the field of time is dual” and if you “put your mind in the mid­dle” of this dual­i­ty, you gain access to the eter­nal. While dual­i­ties per­sist, Camp­bell relates how, “I know that good and evil are sim­ply tem­po­ral appari­tions.”19 By this he means we do not need to choose between these polar oppo­sites if we can learn to let go of time. In that free space, so many oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties emerge…

Astro­log­i­cal Man­u­script, Gutun Owain, 1498

When we stop let­ting time explain who we are and where we are in our lives, we gain a dif­fer­ent sense of self. If we count our age in days rather than years—as does author and teacher Peter Rus­sell with his online day count­ing tool20—we might sig­nif­i­cant­ly shift our per­cep­tion of per­son­al expe­ri­ence.

There are entire groups of peo­ple who relate to time much dif­fer­ent­ly than the major­i­ty of glob­al soci­ety does. In the Ama­zon, the lan­guage of the Amon­dawa tribe does not have a word for time. Because the Amon­dawa peo­ple do not speak of time, they also do not refer to their ages. Instead, they change their names to reflect dif­fer­ent stages of their lives (as one changes by becom­ing involved in a part­ner­ship, or becom­ing a par­ent or grand­par­ent) or as they achieve a dif­fer­ent sta­tus with­in their com­mu­ni­ty. With­out the pas­sage of time being the sig­na­ture ref­er­ence for where some­one is in their life, one’s iden­ti­ty instead becomes a reflec­tion of the rela­tion­ships they expe­ri­ence.21 Imag­ine liv­ing just one day with­out being con­cerned by the time indi­cat­ed on a clock but, instead, fol­low­ing the nat­ur­al rhythms of the sun in the sky to guide your own rhythm of wak­ing, work­ing, eat­ing, and sleep­ing. In con­tem­po­rary soci­ety, we most like­ly do not have the sup­port sys­tem of an entire tribe to give shape to our sched­ules with­out the intro­duc­tion of time. Yet, we can still gain insights by rely­ing less on time to tell us when to per­form cer­tain acts, or even who we are meant to be.

The influ­ence of time can eas­i­ly per­me­ate our expe­ri­ence of life. In Felt Time: The Psy­chol­o­gy of How We Per­ceive Time, Ger­man psy­chol­o­gist Marc Wittmann explores dif­fer­ent dimen­sions of time and the con­cept of how our sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence of time’s pas­sage shapes our emo­tions and sense of self. Wittman’s book high­lights how when we pay such close atten­tion to time in order to feel like we are in con­trol of the dif­fer­ent phas­es of our days, then our days—through detailed sched­ules and calendars—become reflec­tions of time. In oth­er words, the more that we account for time in giv­ing shape and mean­ing to our lives, the more that our lives become an expres­sion of time itself. 22 In this sense, human per­cep­tion and the mea­sure­ment of time are bound to one anoth­er.

If we can let go of time as a key ref­er­ence for how we orga­nize our days and how we cat­a­log our mem­o­ries, then time will cease to be such an impor­tant indi­ca­tor of our iden­ti­ties.

In the absence of an author­i­ta­tive sense of time, we are able to expe­ri­ence our­selves non­lin­ear­ly, and with more expan­sive­ness. We come to sense the var­ied flows of time. And, with this prac­tice, our self-per­cep­tion can become more of an evolv­ing process in a con­stant state of rede­f­i­n­i­tion. We can then begin to regard events and expe­ri­ences in our lives as inte­grat­ed, cor­re­spond­ing ele­ments rather than fixed, sta­t­ic moments. With these new process­es in play we can work toward a bet­ter under­stand­ing of more ethe­r­i­al phe­nom­e­na, like how one sin­gu­lar smile can pass between strangers or through­out gen­er­a­tions of a fam­i­ly.

PCH “Calla” Ring, inspired by the col­li­sion between black holes
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Recognize The Power of Humility

Strengthening Relationships

Humans will not be the sav­iors of our plan­et. That’s not our role, because that’s not any one species’ task. Humans are not in charge of the plan­et, we are a part of the plan­et.

Our respon­si­bil­i­ty as a species is to return to our right­ful place with­in our envi­ron­ment. While our role might not be to save the entire plan­et, we can cer­tain­ly save our­selves from the con­stant destruc­tion that is waged through forces of greed and fear. Untold advan­tages will occur as a result. Through our mirac­u­lous tech­no­log­i­cal capac­i­ty and com­pas­sion­ate care, humans can make a tremen­dous­ly uplift­ing impact on the over­all health of our world.

“Humans are legit­i­mate­ly the mea­sure of all eth­i­cal ques­tions — these are our issues, not nature’s.”
— Pale­on­tol­o­gist Stephen Jay Gould

Human ecol­o­gy is a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary field of study that exam­ines the rela­tion­ships between humans and our nat­ur­al, social, and built envi­ron­ments. By con­sid­er­ing the var­i­ous, mul­ti­fac­eted soci­o­log­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and envi­ron­men­tal cir­cum­stances we’ve cre­at­ed and the rela­tion­ships between them, we can gain a more dimen­sion­al aware­ness of the many ways in which our thoughts and actions mat­ter.

Zoo­log­i­cal sketch of a bat, ca. 1809

A shift in human pri­or­i­ties toward col­lec­tive har­mo­ny will have ben­e­fi­cial con­se­quences for oth­er species as well. Mak­ing human rela­tion­ships more robust will have huge impli­ca­tions for humanity’s over­all rela­tion­ship with the plan­et. If we can shift our spend­ing habits and let go of our reliance on fos­sil fuels, we’ll also be help­ing Earth. Yet, we should not fool our­selves into think­ing our actions are all too impor­tant, or even irre­place­able.

As the release of car­bon diox­ide and methane gas from increased human activ­i­ty con­tin­ues to raise the aver­age tem­per­a­tures around the globe, we will have to learn to cope in ways that we nev­er have before if we want to pro­tect against our extinc­tion. Yet, even if we fail, Earth will con­tin­ue to live long after humans become an after-thought, just as Earth’s exis­tence extend­ed long before humans ever arrived.

Even Earth itself has its own expi­ra­tion date. Our plan­et has the lux­u­ry of life-sus­tain­ing solar pow­er for anoth­er six bil­lion years, at which point the sun will run out of gas. Yet, six bil­lion years is a con­sid­er­able amount of time to enjoy life on Earth and see human evo­lu­tion express its tremen­dous poten­tial. Humans won the evo­lu­tion­ary lot­tery with the com­plex net­work of neu­rons and cells that con­sti­tute the human form.

Robert L. Behnken self-por­trait, NASA, 2008

Our plan­et con­tains an incred­i­ble record of evo­lu­tion­ary inno­va­tion. By look­ing close­ly at the intense pro­lif­er­a­tion of mul­ti-celled organ­isms that occurred dur­ing the Cam­bri­an peri­od about 500 mil­lion years ago, we can wit­ness a his­to­ry of spec­tac­u­lar evo­lu­tion. As life main­tains the oppor­tu­ni­ty to thrive on this plan­et, what might the capa­bil­i­ties of con­scious­ness have in store for our col­lec­tive future?

Despite this mirac­u­lous chance that life has bestowed upon our species, human activity—and specif­i­cal­ly the activ­i­ty of the most affluent—still pro­duces a great deal of pol­lu­tion. It is a sad truth of the mod­ern era. We are in an acute moment of dis­il­lu­sion­ment in our soci­ety. It has become all too com­mon to lose the desire for a deep­er under­stand­ing of one’s pur­pose in this uni­verse. Many peo­ple are feel­ing increas­ing­ly bereft of direc­tion. This lack of mean­ing man­i­fests in all sorts of haz­ardous ways. Vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple fall into extrem­ist ide­olo­gies often out of a search for pur­pose. A cer­tain dark­ness has descend­ed upon human­i­ty cour­tesy of all the exploitive tech­nolo­gies and busi­ness mod­els that keep mar­kets hum­ming. We need to strive hard­er to turn back toward the light of pos­i­tive activism and opti­mistic belief. Our abil­i­ty to act upon pos­i­tive ideas that con­nect us to each oth­er and the nat­ur­al world is what will make the great­est dif­fer­ence in estab­lish­ing a pos­i­tive future.

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