Embrace Change, Enable Dialogue
In previous blog posts I made the case that science needs to proceed to the next paradigm shift, despite resistance from defenders of current beliefs, many of which are outdated and hold back true scientific progress. Science, being the central pillar of intellectual and technological components of modern societies, must lead the changes. This is crucial if humanity is to proceed to the next stage of its evolution.
Some may wonder why I emphasize changes. Will they not occur anyway with the passage of time? And why now?
The Time Is Now
We are witnessing an era of unprecedented changes in human welfare, the global economy, and the environment. We are in the midst of rapid evolution in everything around us, an evolution that often seems uncontrolled even though a lot of it is being driven by us.
There are forces in the world that are pulling apart everything that was stable in the past or was slowly evolving. This includes beliefs, societal structures, ways of living, even the environment around us. We have unleashed forces driven by our technology, by our very ways of living, that place stress on the environment, on our societies, an on us as individuals. Things are now to the point where we are not only causing the extinction of countless species but may even eventually cause our own. It is now time for humanity to utilize all means in our power, to step back and see where we are going. There is no better time than now. Tomorrow may be too late.
It seems that humans feel challenged by fast changes. Most of us like to keep things as they are even when that may lead to disaster down the road. Our ways of living are not sustainable. I submit to you that deep inside, even those who cast doubt that climate change is happening, who doubt that modern societies face serious problems, that the economic systems face great instabilities, that we collectively face a crisis of morality, know that something is just not right. If everything is rosy, then why are we living in such unstable times, with changes that seem to be uncontrollable? Maybe it is time to embrace change rather than push it away, time to guide change to the next stage of rightful evolution of the species and the planet that sustains us.
We need to embrace change, embrace the unknown, but always be ready and alert to see where the changes are taking us. We need to decide what needs to be done and adapt to the new situations that arise. This will not happen in isolation; it will not happen if all the stakeholders pursue separate paths or narrow interests. Groups and governments of humanity try desperately to hold to the sand flowing through our fingers, the sand of our own self-centered view of life and ways of living.
Change Cannot Occur Without Dialogue
Our old ways of strife, strife against our fellow human beings, against nature and the environment, against what we know deep inside to be true, will not yield anything except the likely outcome of global disaster. We are not isolated tribes anymore. Everything humanity does matters to the whole of existence on this planet. The Earth is too small, a mere speck of dust in the infinite expanse of space and time, yet it is our only home as we wander through the universe.
Science has provided so many advances and ways that we understand the universe, ways to make our external lives better and use the life that sustains us. As we move forward, we realize that what used to be the focus of philosophy alone, deep questions of existence, can now be approached by science. But science by nature is blind to ethical issues, the ethos of what is and should be the right living. Right living not just for ourselves as individuals but for everything and everyone around us that sustains us. The centerpiece of moving forward as we embrace change also lies in true and honest dialogues. And it starts in the true and open dialogue between science and spirituality, between the best in rational thought with the best in the human experience and spirit.
The dialogue is crucial. And in carrying out the dialogue, we will realize that what binds everything together and allows these diverse ways of thinking and living is the underlying consciousness of all. It is the foundation of both science and spirituality, of science and philosophy, of science and religion, of thought and ethos.
in future blog posts I hope to develop this view and how it applies at every level, including our personal lives. For us, as individuals and collectively, as citizens of the world, as curators of life on Earth, the message is simple: Embrace change, enable dialogue.
In the previous blog, we discussed the general need to embrace change and enable dialogue. This applies to the way we view the universe, and to the way science is practiced and how it evolves. It applies to societies -- local, regional and global -- and how they view themselves and each other. It also applies to belief systems. But first and foremost it must apply to the individual person, each and every one of us. Without change and dialogue at the individual level, all the other dialogues with others cannot take place on solid ground. Understanding this is crucial if humanity is to proceed to the next stage of evolution and survive.
Given that I already discussed change in the previous blog, some may wonder why I keep emphasizing it? After all, won't change occur anyway with the passage of time? And why now? And how do these questions apply to the individual?
Change and Communication for the Individual
There are a large number of cells in our bodies, tens of trillions of them or more, changing all the time and at different timescales. However, somehow the whole body structure is maintained in an integral way, allowing a human being to live tens of years, much longer than most cells. Never mind that the non-human microbial cells in our bodies outnumber our own by at least 20:1. Clearly these "alien" cells in our bodies are also changing but they are in a delicate balance of symbiosis with our own cells. We cannot live without them and they cannot live without us. Biologically speaking, the whole bunch of cells, both ours and not ours, must be in constant dialogue with each other. In fact, they must be in constant communication with everything else in our bodies. Otherwise the whole organism collapses into utter chaos and we quickly die.
The very cells in our bodies teach us the great lesson of change and the importance of dialogue or communication. Change and communication are indispensable to who we are. Physically speaking, they are indispensable to keeping us whole, functioning and alive.
Despite that, other things in us tend to remain stubbornly static. Our habits, viewpoints and belief systems are very hard to change. Many of us claim to be open-minded and ready to embrace change but are we really? Let's be honest about it: More often than not we are very resistant to changing our habits, our ways of living or our comfort zones. If change does occur it is often because of outside factors that force us to, such as an illness, a change in employment, or perhaps some unexpected family situation.
The greater the external forces, the more the opportunity for change appears in front of us. However, the unfortunate truth is that great outside changes often precipitate drastic changes in us at the risk of great catastrophe. The cosmic message becomes, "Change or die!" Wouldn't it be better if we embraced change and dialogue and willingly made them a part of our lives, rather than being forced to make changes due to outside forces?
The Time is Now
What we are doggedly resisting to change -- consciously or unconsciously -- is the way we view ourselves and the way we live our lives. In short, the way we view ourselves is the sum total of what we call our ego. The ego takes on many different meanings but, for our purposes here, it is the sense of our own illusion of separateness. This illusion of separateness is the root problem of everything that keeps humans apart and it threatens our very existence. It begins in the depths of our own being and is reinforced by society. The idea of "us vs. them" may work in order to give identity to a growing teenager or to band people together in groups, but, ultimately, it has to be looked at squarely for what it is. We have to look at where this is leading us collectively. The time to look at this sense of separateness is now. We will return to the ego in our next blog. For now, let's look at how nature and life work.
Cooperation and Competition
Our society glorifies competition and survival of the fittest. We value the rights of individuals and the advancement of individual aspirations. Competition has its purpose. Competition drives a youngster to seek goals in life, to excel and advance. However, if competition becomes blind to the exclusion of other factors, it can lead to disaster. In many advanced countries, blind competition to excel and the inordinate societal and familial pressures associated with it often drive young students to take their own lives.
The complementary pair of competition is cooperation. Biological evolution certainly uses competition and survival of the fittest. This is what classical Darwinism states. But now ecologists are pointing out that life evolves also by cooperation. The entire living ecosystem on our planet survives because at some point cooperation becomes the driving force. It allows competing species and individuals to co-exist while they are evolving and surviving. There are countless examples of individual species living together for the common good. This is also the lesson of the "foreign" cells in our bodies, the epitome of "symbiosis," which literally means to live together in Greek. This is what allows different species to live together. The term, when applied in a more general sense, allows disparate parts of a greater whole to be together, to cooperate and thrive and not turn against or annihilate each other.
Dialogue and Cooperation are Imperative
History abounds with concrete examples of how communication between disparate societies -in the form of commerce, cultural exchanges, sharing of spiritual truths -- made each society better and allowed common flourishing. Despite this, official history taught and propagated often seems to glorify conquerors and wars. However, humans who have really achieved a lasting memory are the ones who dedicated their lives, and often gave them up, for the betterment of humanity. Their central message and living example have always been respect and love among fellow humans. An integral part of respect and love is cooperation.
Conquerors, dictators and wars come and go. They may make good stories in books and movies but behind all that glorification, the ugly truth is that blood, suffering, hatred and destruction are the essence of their nature and their lasting legacy. The reason that democracy, with all its faults and imperfections, is still the ideal to follow is because its core values are cooperation, dialogue and respect for each other.
Spreading the message of dialogue and cooperation needs practical examples and concrete results. Dialogues and cooperation in a modern society can be most easily achieved in a thriving academic environment. Interdisciplinary programs that espouse dialogue across the disciplines are gaining ground and popularity at many universities. Science programs are becoming more interdisciplinary and reaching across to other fields in social sciences. By communicating with those in religion and the arts they are becoming trandisciplinary. But such programs require openness of mind, courage, and a willingness to tone down the often inflated egos of professors. Groups of scientists and spiritual practitioners, for example, can find the common roots of their disciplines.
In our modern societies, if we are to build a better future for our children and not drive ourselves to extinction, dialogue and cooperation are imperative. Mutual understanding and respect are imperative. As is understanding and embracing our own selves. Without knowing who we truly are and without a willingness to change, interacting with others will not go very far. Healthiness in communication begins within us.
In previous blogs, we looked at change and dialogue. It is simpler perhaps to envision dialogue occurring between different people, parties, groups and nations. Change, on the other hand, can lead to the breakdown of dialogue between the above. Individual humans and groups of humans normally don't desire change. Many of us try to hold onto what we have and who we think we are. Yet, as we saw, change is natural and it is always occurring. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus proclaimed, "Everything flows." It is now necessary to go the fundamental aspects of change and dialogue at the individual human level. They foremost must apply to the individual person, each and every one of us.
Change and Sameness
As previously discussed, our bodies change all the time. Cells constituting our bodies undergo birth, survive for a while and then die. Just like us. Yet, the entire structure remains, somehow, the same. Otherwise the whole organism would collapse into utter chaos and we would quickly die. So the very cells constituting our physical structure change while our physical structure maintains itself.
But then of course that structure itself changes over time. Take a good look at those Facebook photos from a few years back. You will probably notice some difference in your body. It's still you in those pictures, and yet you have changed, even if it's only slightly. A strange complementarity is at the core of our own existence: Constant change is the hallmark of our bodies while we maintain the same identity. Something must be communicating our sameness in the midst of constant change. Change and communication are indispensable to who we are. Physically speaking, they are indispensable to keeping us whole, functioning and alive.
Along with the physical body, something else seems to hold us together: The mind. Let's for now avoid an exact definition of the nature of the mind with all its wide functions, and we will also avoid for now the debate of the so-called mind-body problem, which is sort of a chicken-and-the-egg problem. We avoid for now the thorny issue of where the mind resides, if anywhere. Maybe in the brain, maybe not, for now let's leave these questions aside.
We note that the mind changes as the thoughts attributed to it change. You are you now, just as you were you as a child. But doubtlessly your experiences and lessons learned in life have changed the way you think. Nonetheless, the mind remains constant. We seem to have similar types of thoughts, creating, for example, similar habits over extended periods of time. Maybe the mind communicates the same "sameness" to our body? This is a tough question to answer, but it may be the case. Maybe our basic structure is more mental than physical.
Body, Mind and Ego
Realizing the above questions are not easy to answer, even by science, we go on with our lives. Even if we manage for fun to contemplate these questions, we go on living, don't we? After all, who cares if we are mental beings rather than physical beings? Maybe we are neither, maybe we are just both. The point here is not to philosophize. It is to take the next step and look squarely at our own existence. Contemplating who we are and why we're here isn't just something to do around a campfire. Contemplating the true essence of our being can help us improve our outlook about ourselves. In fact, what some might dismiss as nonsensical new agey stuff might actually provide practical tools for living a better life. Here, the mind plays a primary role. Without it we could not contemplate anything.
Then the ego rears its ugly head. Without contemplating sameness in the midst of change, not caring what is primary, what ties our mind to our body, even if they are different or just two sides of the same "coin," the ego resists! It assumes it is the same, that it is unique and it identifies with the specific body we possess and the specific thoughts we think. And the ego does more than that, as it turns out. The ego identifies itself with everything that is truly constantly changing and thinks that is itself. When you pass in front of a mirror your ego says, "Hey, there I am!" The ego is motivated out of looking out for itself, even when it has selfless attributes.
Our habits, viewpoints, our belief systems, our appearance in the mirror, we lump them altogether and we call them "me," "myself," "mine." We assume they are collectively the same and we live our lives in an ego-encapsulated existence. Forget about the mind, the body, forget about who we might actually be. The ego wants us to be this limited, separate, unique little creation. That is how the ego shows its ugly side. Why do I use such harsh term for the ego? Bear with me for a little.
For starters, the ego doesn't really like dialogue and it definitely doesn't like change. Let's be honest about it, most people are pretty set in their ways. That's because the ego does not want you to change. But Nature clearly shows us that everything changes. In terms of the mind, many of us, maybe all of us, profess to being open-minded. Perhaps most of us think we are ready to embrace change and that we are basically good in our intentions. But are we really? More often than not, we do not willingly change our comfortable habits. We have our ways of living and our comfort zones. And these are the workings of the ego.
It is strange! The ego identifies with the body but the poor body and all its constituent cells change all the time. The ego identifies with the mind but the poor mind changes all the time. And one day for sure, with 100 percent certainty, the body will die. And, as far as we know, the specific mind may die too. Nevertheless, the ego feels unique and precious, it feels immortal even though its constituent base is ever-changing and always inching closer and closer to its own end. The ego is comfortable with itself, being just as it is, and at the same time it wants more and more.
Have you ever had a quiet moment where you felt there was more to life than just ego and certain death? And yet the ego tries to sweep such moments under the rug and bring the attention back to its selfish needs and desires.
Embrace Change and Dialogue In Spite of the Ego
If we understand that the ego cannot be the full picture, isn't it time to ask ourselves what is truly there? Is there something to us beyond our appearances, beyond our ever-changing bodies and our ever-restless minds? So the time is now: Let's stop for a second and ask ourselves, each one of us: Who am I?
That question and the next one, Why am I here? form the essence of enabling dialogue with ourselves. For a dialogue to take place, a topic must be brought up. In this case, the dialogue is between the individual and the same individual. What would happen if a religious fundamentalist peered past all of the ego-created dogma and all the noise of indignant righteousness to look at the true essence of self? What would happen to the scientist who could look past the arrogant trappings of a smug ego and dare to imagine something else?
We all need to have this dialogue because it is greater than our collective egos. Once we start to have a dialogue with ourselves, we are accepting change while it is happening. In the quietude of facing ourselves, we are in the "now" and then we begin to face our own life. This shift in thought is crucial. We need it to live better lives as individuals. And we need it if we are going to survive as a species.