The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Daniel Christian Wahl. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Howdy. This is Jim Rutt and this is the Jim Rutt Show. Listeners have asked us to provide pointers to some of the resources we talk about on the show. We now have links to books and articles referenced in recent podcasts that are available on our website. We also offer full transcripts. Go to jimruttshow.com. That’s jimrutzshow.com. Today’s guest is Daniel Wahl.
Daniel: Nice to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Jim: Daniel’s a leader in thought and action in catalyzing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design and bioregional regeneration. He’s the author of Designing Regenerative Cultures, which I read in preparation for today’s episode and he lives in Majorca, Spain. Daniel is also a member of the GameB community on Facebook. GameB is a new social change phenomenon that’s been springing up on Twitter and Facebook. And if you want to know more about GameB, which we’ll reference from time to time here, I suspect, check it out on GameB. All one word on Facebook. So let’s start with catalysis. What does that mean when you describe yourself as a catalyst? And this goes back to the early GameB days when we talked about and still do constantly thinking about how to lower the activation energy to make something occur. Is that essentially your meaning, your sense of describing yourself as a catalyst?
Daniel: Yeah, you could say so. I mean it kind of comes from this deep belief that we all participate in nested dynamic wholeness or scaling complex dynamic systems and that these systems are fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable. So I can’t really design cultures. I can’t really be sure how my agency will lead to something or other emerging. But I can catalyze positive change by connecting the right people with each other, paying attention to the quality of the relationships, paying attention to the quality of information that flows between agents in the system. And so it’s kind of a paradoxical dance with emergence that we embark on when we try to capitalize anything in terms of change and transformation.
Jim: The other thing I like about the catalyst idea is that in a chemical reaction, sometimes it takes not a lot of catalyst to cause something big to happen, right? You can swing a large system with a relatively small amount of catalyst because typically the catalyst is not used up.
Daniel: Absolutely. And I mean it’s that kind of sort of systemic acupuncture or homeopathy that I really love doing. Sometimes it’s that sense of knowing what will happen if you just put two people in touch with each other or two organizations in touch with each other. Sometimes that can be as little as that literally just saying, please meet so and so. You guys need to talk. Sometimes you need to sort of hold their hands a little bit longer and make them understand why they should choose to invest time into working with each other. But it’s very little effort compared to the massive amount of transformation you can achieve by introducing just the right two people to each other.
Jim: I 100% agree. A good introduction is gold. Absolutely. Another key kind of foundational theme in your work, frankly also the GameB world is that we are at or have exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth. I think in your book you said that by your calculation in the 1970s humanity started drawing more from living systems each year than we can effectively regenerate. What would you say are the most imminently dangerous cliffs that we’re approaching?
Daniel: Well, I think that we’re sort of at a point now where we’ve left responding to the climate crisis for so long that we don’t have really guarantees anymore whether we can gently stir the global planetary life support system back into a relatively stable amount of CO2 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere and restabilize the climate like it has been for the last 10,000 years. But I believe we still have a chance. So there’s a certain amount of urgency to engage in cotton drawdown in a kind of geo therapy rather than the geo engineering way, I would like to stress. And at the same time with 2019 being the year where finally, the world seems to have woken up to the climate issue in a whole new way. There’s a huge danger of getting carbon myopic and seeing climate change is the thing that we need to go to war with and battle and win over. Which is all the metaphors that people are already starting to use.
Daniel: I actually think that climate change in class gating, ecosystems collapse and even the generative economic system we still live in are all symptoms they’re not causes and upstream from those symptoms is a mistaken worldview and mistaken value systems, mistaken stories that we tell about who we are and why we’re here.
Jim: Well said, and we’ll come back to these stories in a minute. Another line that I really liked in the book was that you described what humanity is doing as drawing upon the natural capital stores of the earth. I think you said that. Let’s just talk about energy that we’re currently depleting about a million years worth of storage solar energy per year. That’s solar energy stored in the form of fossil fuels. You want to say a little bit about that?
Daniel: Well, in general, it wasn’t that great of an idea to start living off ancient sunlight. Thom Hartmann wrote this book, I can’t actually remember the title of the book, but in it he… No it was called Ancient Sunlight. That’s what it was called. Basically this idea that our entire fossil fuel blip in the history of humanity the last 250 years, that the age of fossil fuels has just been a way of digging into energy that has been stored up in the Earth’s crust for over millennia and millions of years. And Buckminster Fuller said that fossil fuel was put there on purpose. It was like the starter engine of a regenerative, perpetually ongoing regenerative way of humanity living on spaceship earth. And instead of it, we’ve just used it as such without understanding that there’s a big hint in the word nonrenewable resource.
Daniel: It’s non-renewable and therefore it will run out sooner or later. And yeah that figure that you just quoted is roughly how much time it takes to lay down from the composting of biomass capturing sunlight, the coal and the crude oil that we just dig up and burn as if there’s plenty more of it.
Jim: Ah, good quote from Bucky, Bucky Fuller, but maybe we have been a little bit better than we might think about using our few 100 years’ worth of fossil fuel because we think about it, we’re using a video chat here, not doing airline travel or something like that. We reached the point where we can create solar cells and we’ve reached the point where we can do space travel so that we’re not constrained another one of the ones you mentioned in your book was rare earth elements like Indium, which are indeed pretty rare on earth but not rare at all in iron asteroids. So perhaps we have not by plan, maybe more by luck, spend at least part of our fossil fuel patrimony getting ready for what comes next.
Daniel: Yeah, I would agree with some of what you just said. For me the whole issue of asteroid mining or going off planet is something that I currently still have sort of mixed feelings about. I have a sense that we haven’t really proven to be good stewards on this planet and if we use our fledgling capabilities of going off planet. Then we might just convert ourselves into the locusts of the known universe rather than develop technologies that don’t need those [inaudible 00:08:30] and maybe even develop ways of doing with less technology, choose more wisely what technology we use when and where. That would be an interesting conversation for the two of us to have because I know you’ve got quite a technological past.
Jim: Yes. And I have a quite specific view on it and I think we’ll defer that conversation till we get to the question about why, which I think will be a very interesting and pivotal conversation. Now, the other thing of course that we have done with our patrimony of fossil fuel is we’ve grown the world’s population from one billion to probably 10 or 11 billion by the time it stabilizes around 2100. And of course that is what is really crushing us. We could have a billion people living like Americans without depleting the ecosystem, take a little bit more care, but not much. It would be easy, but what 10 or 11 billion, it makes everything extraordinarily difficult.
Jim: When people start thinking about the scale and what has to be done, that’s the number that really has to be kept in mind is that whatever we are talking about here, it has to work at the scale of 10 billion people. Or we have to say, well, there’s going to be a big old die back until we get to one or two billion people. How important do you think the population explosion over the last 250 years has been?
Daniel: I mean there’s no way of denying that you can somewhat superimpose the hockey stick curve of climate like CO2 in the atmosphere with the population curve, with the resource depletion curve. I mean you’ve probably seen that the great acceleration graph that the stock on resilience centers put out, there’s even a website called The Great Acceleration for those who want to have a look at it. Everything is shooting up exponentially and it’s the exponential rising fossil fuel use that has enabled the exponential increase in population. And yes, it is a problem, but I don’t know, I sit with a certain amount of this comfort with this increasing voice of we need to talk about population. For me that’s a mem-ceding of the kind of matters that you’ve currently elected into office in your country. To then create a sort of argument for, well, we just need less of us then and how are we going to do that?
Daniel: And then the people that make lots of money with autonomous weapons and warfare say, “Oh, here’s one we prepared earlier.” And I think that’s quite dangerous. I do actually feel that we need to have a deeper conversation as humanity of how we can live in shared abundance with 10 billion people. And how actually when you look at all the statistics in countries where girls are educated, where education is more universally accessible for people, the amount of children go down drastically because you don’t have to have that sort of primitive medieval insurance policy any longer to have lots of children in case because some of them will die because you’re poor and the ones that survive have to take care of you in your old age.
Daniel: Yeah, I’d be a little bit, I don’t know, I might be wrong, but I have a sense that we’re actually barking a little bit up the wrong tree with population numbers. It’s about consumption and it’s about consumption of that small percentage that you and I actually probably belonged to of the 10, 15% that are the top of the global pyramid that are just consuming a lot more than everybody else. And then of course then in that 10%, there’s another fraction that is just obscenely unequal and over consuming.
Jim: Yeah. People fly around in private jets, that kind of thing. Yeah. I mean, I’m with you that I think from humanitarian perspective, if no other, we have to use as our starting gate that we’ve got to build a world that can support 10 or 11 billion people by 2100. And as you do point out, fortunately it doesn’t get worse than that because it appears that as economic wellbeing increases and education increases, particularly among women, family sizes are starting to reach replacement level or even below in a lot of the world. So other than Sub-Saharan Africa, which still remains problematic. So looks like we can count on 10 or 11 billion, which is a lot better than trying to deal with 20 billion, which would be one number we’d be talking about if it wasn’t for the fact that birth rates are coming down very rapidly. Another foundational question before we get into some of the more details is a lot of us have heard and talked about sustainability and you make a fairly careful distinction between sustainable and regenerative. Could you perhaps make that distinction for our audience here?
Daniel: Yeah, and I’m a little bit concerned that lately, over the last three or four years the word regenerative has become the new buzzword that is sort of and consultants all over the world are jumping onto, I must create an offer to my clients with the word regenerative in it, like they have done previously with the word smart and the word circular in it. And so I really want to be very clear that sustainability or being sustainable is a bridge that we haven’t crossed yet and it’s still a very important milestone in the journey. I also want to point out that this framing is not mine, but I’m building on the work of people like John Lyall and Carol Sanford and the Regenesis Group. And particularly an article that where I came first across this as by Bill Reed called Shifting our Mental Models. If you put that into a search engine, I think it’s from 2006.
Daniel: And there’s this wonderful graphic where he puts everything onto one line, a journey from business as usual, to green, to sustainable, to restorative. Then he has this little interior step which is called reconciliatory and then to regenerative. And what I like about it is, is that it acknowledges that this is a development process and that even the step from business as usual to green doing a little less bad is already better than not making that step. And then there is this issue that in that particular framework, sustainability is defined in a particular way that is maybe unfair to some of the people who’ve been working in the field of sustainability in a really deep way. They might have been thinking of it in regenerative terms, but in this framing that you’re asking me to open up, sustainability is basically understood as the point where we don’t add any more damage to the system, where our actions don’t make things worse.
Daniel: But the point about needing to go beyond that to restorative and regenerative is that we have been degenerating the planetary life support system and the fabric of life on earth for at least five to 8,000 years with bad agricultural practices. And then intensely so since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the era of fossil fuels. So doing no damage being 100% less bad as Bill McDonogh puts it is simply not enough anymore. And we really need to go beyond that and restore healthy ecosystems function and create, pay attention to the processes and the work views and the organizing ideas that would allow us to actually be regenerative in place. And that’s both an internal and an external shift.
Jim: Yeah. And I really resonate with that. It’s some of the work that I personally have been doing for the last… My wife and my wife. I must give her more credit than myself on our farm. We bought a farm deep in Appalachia, very rural America that had been horribly depleted. The soils were completely shot by overgrazing. They burned off the understory in the woods to let sheep graze in them. They had bad timbering practices. They would either clear cut or just let woods run rampant until they were rotting and falling apart. And over the last 30 years, we have focused on two things. One, returning our pastures to health. And I think we’ve added an inch and a half, two inches, five centimeters of soil by very carefully managing our pastures and our hayfields. And secondly, by managing our timber very carefully, no longer doing clear cuts other than to get rid of monoculture pine that we had.
Jim: And instead doing selective cuts where we upgrade the quality of the timber over time. And absolutely don’t use fire as a method of killing off the understory. And so our farm is now a thing of relatively good beauty, very high productivity. Here’s the amazing thing. Our hayfields produced three and a half times as much hay per acre as they did before.
Jim: Without using any artificial fertilizer. So I have a very strong sense that regenerative care of our earth is the way to go.
Daniel: Absolutely. I think it’s the way that we have managed to get to this point. I think most of our species history has been place-based and bioregional for those who were nomadic within a bioregional territory. And we’ve known how to carefully garden the ecosystems that we’ve been living in, but also these indigenous people understand themselves as belonging to the land rather than the land belonging to them. And they’ve been, like, for example, there’s now clear studies that most of the Colombian Amazonia is actually a human created forest garden where the black soil, the terra preta in that region has clearly it has bits of clay and bits of vegetable carbon and that can only come from people digging. Basically activated biochar into the forest floor and selecting which trees a bit like you’re doing on your land, selecting which trees are part of that ecosystem.
Daniel: And the same is in the prairies of the US, there are clear indications that some Native American tribes have been managing the bison herds in a way that actually increase the abundance of those ecosystems. So we can have a healing and positive influence on the ecosystems that were keystone species and we don’t have to destroy them.
Jim: Yeah. Where our farm is in fact, my wife has been pretty involved with the archeological community there. And the general sense of the archeologists in the region is the Indians used fire to keep substantial open pastures in an area that would normally be climax forest for hundreds of miles. Particularly along the river valleys for bison. Because we actually had bison in the Eastern United States until historical times when the white man with his guns wiped him out. On the other hand, I always like to warn people that it may not have been that the prehistoric people were better hearted, got to keep in mind, they also had a heck of a lot less capability. I think what would the Aztecs have done if they had bulldozers and nuclear weapons? I suspect they would have done the same bad stuff or worse than we’ve done.
Jim: So I always try to encourage people to not be in generally wishful thinking about the past and so-called indigenous people. And it’s just like nature, say all right, nature keeps a balance. Well, yes and no. One of the strongest data signals that came out of evolutionary ecology was the famous lynx snowshoe hare oscillation, where the lynx eats the hares until there aren’t any or hardly any, a very smaller population. And then the lynx die out almost, not quite. And then the snowshoe hares rebound and then the lynx rebounds. So Mr. Lynx and Mr. Hare kind of go at it in a fairly extreme battle and it’s frankly, just the fact that the lynx isn’t quite capable of wiping out the snowshoe hares, it allows the system to persevere.
Daniel: Well, two things there. The first bit I completely agree with that we need to be absolutely careful of not idealizing indigenous cultures of painting some sort of picture of going back to some golden pastored wasn’t as golden as and some people are now talking about it. And there is value in the story of inter being that these cultures have told from many years that has enabled them to live differently within their landscapes. And with regard to the snowshoe and hare example, I’m not so sure. I’m an evolutionary biologist originally by training and these… I mean you’re part of the Santa Fe Institute community. If you just build a model on just snowshoe, like two species and then you do the classic predator prey model then you get these kinds of results. But Heisenberg told us over 100 years ago that what we see is not nature but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
Daniel: That’s an extreme abstraction of the complexity of the ecosystems that those predator and prey species apart and the dynamics that really go on are much more complex and they optimize the overall system for health and increase in bio productivity. It’s when we get speciest and we tunnel down into individual species or individuals that we get these seemingly corroborating datas of how competitive and red in tooth and claw nature really is. And yes, those things exist in nature, but then the fine tuning on the surface of a notion of symbiosis and cooperation. Nature is far more cooperative and symbiotic than we understand because we have this tendency to just look at things by abstracting tiny little sections of the complexity out of the living hall, the dynamic transformation that we’re part of.
Jim: I think there’s definitely some truth to that. And that’s of course why that the lynx and the hare example is so interesting because it’s an ecosystem where there isn’t other side branches while in reality because it’s a very extreme environment in the far North et cetera. And most of our ecosystems have much more cross dependencies and dynamism. In fact our Santa Fe Institute researcher Jennifer Dunn had done a lot of really good work on the dynamics of food networks and ecosystems including Arctic ones. And one of the things she finds which surprises some people, well she’s not the only one. And I will say she’s not decisive on this, is that there seems to be something like a moderate level of diversity that is best. That at very high diversity food webs become less stable and at very low diversity they become even more unstable. So there’s some kind of homeostatic level of diversity that any given ecosystem seems to evolutionary seek out.
Daniel: Yeah. I must look that up.
Jim: Yeah. She’s done some very, very interesting work on that. Which actually is a good bridge to the next topic, which is your work is full of systems thinking and a complexity perspective, which is unfortunately, particularly in the complexity perspective, not as common as I would like. And people thinking about these issues. How did you come to those tools and how important are they in your ideas around regenerative design?
Daniel: Really the people who I owe a huge debt of gratitude to for having been important mentors of mine in that there are people like Brian Goodwin. In 2001 after a short stint of trying to kind of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread, I spent 1999, 2000 in Southern Spain trying to set up an environmental education center and kind of model ecovillage community. Yes, I did have long hair and I did have a VW van and all the paraphernalia that go along with it. And then I realized that I still needed to learn a lot more. And so in 2001 signed up for the master’s in holistic science at Schumacher College in Devin. And Brian Goodwin who’s a mathematical biologists and evolutionary biologist who also was very close with Stuart Kauffman and involved in the setting up of the Santa Fe Institute.
Daniel: He was one of the people that had set up that master’s. And so a lot of my insights into complexity theory come from him. And then at that very same place Schumacher College, it’s one of those places where you just get fed on an incredibly rich diet of inspiring people like John Todd and David Orr and Fritjof Capra. And so I’ve had the blessing, the privilege of learning from some of the leading systems people in the world. And so it’s critical to how I think about things and that insight that I’d mentioned in the very beginning of our conversation that we really… like Brian Goodwin put it in a nutshell in terms of insights from complexity theory. It’s a slightly over simplifying statement, but he said any system that has more than three interacting variables is a complex dynamic system. So this goes back to [inaudible 00:26:22] is three body problem and the asteroids and the moon and blah, blah blah.
Daniel: And so basically if every system has more than three interacting barrels is a complex dynamic system. Then every cell in your body, every organ, you, yourself, your family, your community, the ecosystem you live in and the biosphere complex dynamic systems. And there’s a characteristic when you look at the mathematics behind these systems is that they are beyond a very limited spatial temporal frame. So we can abstract part of their story within time and look at a subsystem within this larger system and then we can do a little bit of prediction and control.
Daniel: But ultimately the lesson from nonlinear mathematics and complexity dynamics is that they are fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable. And unfortunately that insight that Brian was very keen on stressing, a lot of the current complexity community has somewhat overlooked because being in love and finding the funding with the big computing guys and big data and AI what we’re now doing is trying to wrestle predictability and controllability from complex dynamic systems by throwing ever more computing power at it. Rather than really understanding that this is a fundamental characteristic that we will never have total knowledge of the system and ability to control.
Daniel: So Brian made this key point is that the shift that this insight produces in science is that we have to shift from prediction and control to the aim of appropriate participation in this system. And that for me is what regenerative practice is all about, trying to participate appropriately in the complex dynamicness that wholeness that we are part of emergent properties off and at the same time have co-creative agency in.
Jim: I think those are good thoughts. But this is also, I think the first time I’m going to push back just a little bit.
Jim: Which is that yes, I don’t know if the word is fundamental because the idea of deterministic chaos isn’t exactly fundamental. It’s a odd mathematical artifact of reality that yes, complex systems are in the limit case, unpredictable and uncontrollable. However, and you did, I will say you alluded to it here in the verbal communication within time and space, there is some predictability and that’s important not to throw that out. And I say this as the person in the GameB world who is constantly warning people that complex systems are way less predictable than we think. I say this, fake people just think it’s a rubber stamp, right? I say it, I don’t know how many times a week, but on the other hand there is some predictability. And some controllability and we have to be careful not to throw up our hands.
Jim: For instance, planetary orbits, the elaboration of the three body problem. We have a eight planets and a couple of 100 moons and various comments running around all that stuff. Nonetheless, the orbits of the planets, say, earth or Mars are highly predictable for five billion years and we think they’re predictable for 50 million years, but they’re probably not predictable for a billion years, right? So we can have some level, a substantial, in this case, the ability to predict a system. And let’s look at the human body. I mean, the human body with all of its component parts may well be the most complex thing in the universe, right? Particularly if you consider the brain and digestion and this hierarchy of other beings that live within us, et cetera.
Jim: And yet we can make some pretty good statements about the nature of this complex system called a human. We know our body temperature is not likely to vary between more like 85 Fahrenheit and 110 Fahrenheit, if it does, you will die. Right? And we know that if you take aspirin, if you have a headache, most likely it’ll cure it. If you drink a cup of coffee, you will see some predictable physiological changes. So while I’m a great rubber stamper saying, “Hey, when you meddle with complex systems, you may have all barns of unanticipated consequences and you may get it entirely wrong.” On the other hand, I don’t think it’s helpful either practically or philosophically, emotionally to throw up our hands and say, we have no ability to predict or control either.
Daniel: Yeah. Well said. You’re absolutely right. And I know exactly the feeling of observing oneself and being normally saying one thing and then finding yourself in the other community saying like trying to, when you bridge build between camps or polar opposites, then sometimes it’s normal to be in that role of depending on who you talk to kind of offer the voice that’s underrepresented. And yeah, you’re right. There is some predictability and some controllability, but the reason why I tend to stress this quite a lot is that I actually think we really need more humility in order to get out of this current conundrum. And if we come at it with too much gung-ho science and technology, we’re right over the hill and save us. I think we’re not going to ask the deeper questions that we need to ask in order to apply science and technology in a wise way. So they will contribute to saving us, but not by themselves.
Jim: Yeah, I agree with that and it’s just getting that tuning right. The words I use is epistemic modesty, right?
Jim: When we’re playing with complex systems, we do have some knowledge, we’re not epistemic idiots, but we are not naive 14 year old Newtonians. Right? I remember when I was a 14 year old, nerdy guy. I thought Laplace was right. Tell me the position and motions of all the particles in the universe, and I could predict history forever. We know that’s bullshit on multiple levels. If only because of deterministic chaos, but probably for lots of deeper reasons around fundamental uncertainty on the ground state of being. So I try to have nudge people towards this concept of epistemic modesty. We don’t know nothing but we don’t know as much as we to think we did. And so let’s try to tune that correctly.
Jim: And it varies by situation and frankly by how hard you’re probing a system. A human body is relatively stable if it’s in a 75 degree temperature and has plenty to eat. But if you fire that human out into space, suddenly it’s much more vulnerable to very far trajectories away from its homeostasis. So you have to worry about things you wouldn’t have to worry about on earth. So again what experiment are you running? We’ll tell you how much epistemic modesty you have. And the more strongly you are manipulating a complex system, the more epistemic modesty you should have.
Daniel: Yeah, I like that term. Epistemic modesty. Also I think it pairs well with, if you have the epistemic modesty, then you’re more likely to also entertain epistemic plurality in the sense of multiple ways of knowing, being pathways to meaningful insights, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t need to rank them against each other. But I find that it’s a really fascinating thing that I wrestle with a lot of how do you on the one hand sound a voice that we shouldn’t get trapped too much in an entirely analytic, rational, mainly quantities focused and mathematically analyzed scientific mindset? Then no matter how fundamentally useful and necessary that mindset and epistemic approach is. But we also need to acknowledge other ways of knowing that go back to what Young describes as our four ways of knowing and thinking is just one of them. Sensing, feeling and intuiting are the other three. And in our species’ history, many of the cultures we mistakenly have called primitive have had really interesting ways of generating meaningful insights from active participation in that hole that we are.
Jim: We will address that question in some detail when we get to the discussion of consciousness, which is one of my home areas of expertise. And I’ve got some good questions I think for you there. So let’s defer going down that one for a little while. The next thing I’d like to chat about is, I would say that your book Designing Regenerative Cultures is very much worth reading in general, but especially useful for the many lists of questions that you put in this book. In fact, I was thinking yesterday as I was finishing up reading it, that you know what, kind of be fun to publish a spinoff of that book, calling it the list of many important questions or something like that, which was mostly just the questions with a little bit of introduction before and after. I mean, these list of questions are amazing. What caused you to focus on questions ratherly more in this book at least than answers?
Daniel: Epistemic humility.
Jim: Makes perfect sense.
Daniel: And so basically I had this moment of sitting there in the seaside cafe where I wrote the good part of the book. I’m looking out at the horizon and just suddenly having this sort of a really strong rush of what could have turned into a severe writer’s block saying like, what is it that I can write in these pages that would make this book of work that works? This is a kind of almost our chemical notion that it actually would change the person who’s reading it that they wouldn’t be the same afterwards anymore. That’s a notion that I got from Henry Bortoft and also what can I write in this book that has some kind of longevity beyond just five, 10, 15, 20 years? Something that could continuously be meaningful to readers in the future. And I began to realize that if you look at the history of humanity, a lot of the problems we faced along the way were the results of solutions that other people thought were a good idea previous to that.
Daniel: And that means that there’s a sort of general pattern that today’s solutions turn into tomorrow’s problems. And it would be epistemic hubris or arrogance to think that even no matter how studied you are in terms of how to building a sustainable regenerative future for humanity, that you could sit down and give a long catalog of answers and solutions that will last forever and that will not have unforeseen side effects. So at that point, I was reminded of this wonderful Einstein quote where he says, “If I had a problem that my life depended upon and I only had one hour to solve it, I would take 55 minutes to get the question right because then I could solve it in five minutes.” So I think that there’s something mistaken in thinking that questions are transitory means to get to better solutions. I think maybe solutions and answers are transitory means to ask better questions.
Daniel: And so I play with that throughout the entire book because I don’t pretend to have the answers. I mean the book’s full of some people trying to offer potential answers. And I love referencing people because I love giving people the opportunity to follow upstream to where I’ve got the information from. So it’s not that I’m against answers and solutions, there are lots of ideas in the book that could be called answers and solutions. But I think that the more powerful compost that we can hand from one generation to the next to steer our way into an uncertain future with where we acknowledge the limit to what is knowable is probably a set of questions rather than set of answers.
Jim: That’s very good. As I said, I point to the book, especially for its questions, it’s really and a remarkable a useful set of questions. And I work with working scientists all the time. One of the things I’ve found is that the very best scientists are the ones who form their scientific program around the best questions. Getting the answers is sometimes a matter of super technique, et cetera. But frankly, a lot of times it’s just brute force. But asking the right questions in science is key.
Daniel: Let me just briefly go back to one other thing that you said because you sort of said it would be interesting to write a sequel to the book. We’re just taking the questions out. Just want to share with you that when I first wrote it, while the book was with the publisher, I embarked on this idea of creating a set of playing cards that would engage people around the questions in the book. And have a sort of additional sort of set of cards that people could order along with the book to engage with these questions.
Daniel: And then around the same time, a colleague of mine from Gaia Education asked me to develop like a workshop, one day workshop and a set of materials that we could offer through Gaia Education to engage people with the sustainable development goals. And in the end I decided to sort of merge those two projects and I’ve developed through Gaia Education a set of flashcards that engage local communities in the conversation around what are the SDGs, how are they useful to us in this place, how are they meaningful? And these cards are all based on questions and many of the questions that are in my book are somehow refrained and worked into this set of flashcards and they’re all over 200. My book there’re 250 questions in the flashcards, on the SDGs there are over 200 questions. So that kind of thing does exist and it exists using again, that bridge that I see, not dissing sustainability and not dissing the sustainable development goals apart from goal number eight, which I have a big issue with.
Daniel: But to use the platform that has now been agreed on by the international community with these 17 goals as an entry point to take the people into the deeper conversation about what would bioregional regeneration look like in your place using the SDGs as a stepping stone?
Jim: We will get the link from Daniel and we’ll put it up on the episode page and as we have in the pre-roll, just go to our episode page and we’ll get a link to those cards. Assuming such a link exists.
Jim: I can’t let you off without telling me what is goal eight and why do you disapprove of it?
Daniel: Goal eight is good work and economic growth and framed in that particular way I would call it the spanner in the works of the SDGs. It is the Trojan Horse that will make the implementation of all the other SDGs impossible until we have a conversation of what kind of growth we want and how we measure growth. And that GDP isn’t desperately inadequate measure of success or progress. And so we really need to reframe goal number eight at the very least to something like good work and qualitative growth because that would then at least invite people to say, what do they mean by qualitative growth? But if we just call it economic growth, then it basically means let’s continue with the structural dysfunctionality that underlies the system that has set up the system we’re playing in as a winner and loser game that necessitates loses in order to create winners.
Daniel: There’s a fundamental design flaw in our economic system structure drives behavior in complex systems. And unless we change the structure, we can try it to be world saving as long as we want, but we want to turn this titanic around before it hits the iceberg.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. We will talk about that a little later when we talk about signaling systems. But yeah, I like this framing of growth. I also kind of push back whenever I hear people say no growth, I say, well it depends, right? Growth into the microcosm is not necessarily disruptive of our ecosystem. Our home here on earth, I like you’re framing it as quality.
Daniel: It’s again always good to get at the reference. I’ll send you the link. There is a wonderful paper that I highly recommend people should read. It’s mentioned in my book, there’s a chapter on it in my book. It’s by Fritjof Capra and Hazel Henderson and it is called Shifting from Quantitative to Qualitative Growth. Comes highly recommended because I think that is the frame. I completely agree with this de-growth and anti-growth and is not the way to dance with this. As a biologist, we certainly want a hell of a lot of growth in terms of growing top soils, growing forests, growing healthy ecosystem functions. And there’s a lot of qualitative growth that we want to engage in.
Jim: Yeah, just a simple thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to take the same ingredients that you’d get at a fast food restaurant and turn them into a beautiful and healthful meal, right? It requires a completely different way of thinking about how you process the food and frankly, how you grow it and a bunch of other things that you could have great beauty and a wonderful experience rather than just being a feeding trough for humanity.
Jim: At probably the same or lower load on the ecosystem. Now back to questions you correctly, in my view, call out the prime question as why. And you even mentioned my friend Simon Sinek. Simon advised the earliest days of GameB when we were talking about why. But one of the things that I couldn’t find in your book, I even went back this morning and tried to leaf through it rapidly and find it is what is your why? Why should humanity strive to exist?
Daniel: So, yeah, I asked this question based on a conversation that I had with another one of my mentors, David Orr just after I finished my PhD, I visited him in Auburn in Ohio at the college that he taught at. And I asked him a question, which is actually about the dimension of spirituality and the sacred in the transition that we now needed to make in order to redesign the human presence on earth within the lifetime of the generations of life today. And he started his answer by saying that before we can meaningfully answer the question, what we have to do and how we might do it in order to sustain our species. And we need to ask a much more difficult question. And that’s the question of why are we worth sustaining? And I kind of on purpose leave my answer to that question somewhat vague throughout the book. I alluded many times of why I believe we’re worth sustaining.
Daniel: And if you ask me straight out, I would say not in any extremely special way, like all life forms on planet earth reflect that transforming dynamic wholeness that were participants in an emerging properties off back to itself. And they reflect the experience of participation in that wholeness from a particular perspective. And, but I do feel that the levels of reflective consciousness that we have with the capability of learning from the past and to some extent possibly even applying that learning to navigate our path into the future, there’s something beautiful about the way that we’ve written poetry and created art to express our love for other beings, human and not non-human days. There are so many examples of human beings constantly stepping out of the sort of mistaken Neo Darwinian story of only doing stuff that is in self-interest but actually risking their own lives to save other lives.
Daniel: Because we are biophilic by nature, we have a tendency to love life and feel attracted to life. So for me, you mentioned at some point coming to consciousness this is going to be interesting, but for me, part of why we’re worth sustaining is that humanity is a way that the universe is beginning to know itself through us as, and we are part of that universe. And that in itself to not kill that story in its immature juvenile stage where we’re still at as a species. And to actually make that jump in our awareness of that participatory mystique and magic that we’re part of, to really become conscious participants in that process and try to be of healing and regenerative influence on it. I think it’s worth sticking around for a few more millennia or even millions of years to see where that would take us if we managed to mature enough to not come to a immature early end.
Jim: Well that’s an interesting why and I can respect it, but I’m going to say at the gut level, it doesn’t feel like it might may be a sufficiently strong replacement for things like get into heaven and experience blitz forever, reaching Nirvana or whatever the various traditional peddlers of metaphysics peddled. So I got my own, I’d love to hear your reaction to it. My why, why humanity may be of the utmost importance is when we look out into the universe as far as we know, this unbelievably huge universe of 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars is entirely dead. There is no sign so far of any life anywhere in this amazing universe of ours. So I put forth the why that humanity’s mission is to bring the universe to life and it is within our ability to do so. Now first we have to stabilize our earth and so we have 100 year mission to stabilize our earth home.
Jim: But then I would suggest that we do that for the purpose of then reaching back out again to bring the universe to life. Assuming that we are the only advanced life in the universe. Now, regular listeners of this show know that I am obsessed with the Fermi Paradox and the Fermi Paradox asks if there are all these intelligent beings out there in the universe, where are they? That Enrique Fermi asked at Los Alamos during World War II. And when I was a nerdy 14 year old, like every nerdy 14 year old, I assumed there were hundreds of thousands of other intelligent species in our galaxy and relatively soon we’d run into them. Well, the more I’ve looked into this, the more I’ve studied this, the more I’ve talked to really smart people. I’m much less sure it could be that being the first species across the line of general intelligence may have only happened once and it may just be us.
Jim: If so, the weight upon our shoulders, if we think about it this way, that our mission is to bring the universe to life is immense. If we screw it up, it may be five billion years before somebody has a shot at it again, may never happen again. It may have been that the peculiarities of our particular trajectory of life got us to this point and nobody else has ever been there or may ever be there again. And if we blow it, we have blown something way bigger than just enjoying our consciousness or whatever. On the other hand, the other answer to the Fermi Paradox is that there are other advanced civilizations out there and we don’t know the answer to that question yet though. Even though we see nothing so far to indicate that it’s the case. Then we pivot on our goal, pivot on our why and say that our role is to fit into intergalactic civilization to learn and to add to that intergalactic civilization in the way that’s uniquely human.
Daniel: Yeah, and again, you put it beautifully in response to mine. I respect that why as well, my response would be two things come to mind. There’s wonderful little Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin and Hobbes stand in front of a bunch of open tins and litter in front of a bunch of tree trunks where obviously somebody has littered and cut some trees down. And Calvin says to Hobbes and I think the most convincing evidence for the existence of high intelligence in outer spaces that they haven’t contacted us.
Jim: Yes. And of course that is one of the traditional answers to the Fermi Paradox. That that is just how they do things, right?
Daniel: We’re still in cosmic quarantine because we’re not mature enough yet to be contacted. Could be one way of framing it, but also Kurt Vonnegut’s [inaudible 00:51:30] sort of, we’re the only intelligent species that has developed that level of self-reflective consciousness and now we take it out to the world. Reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s statement. Next time, no brain, we don’t quite know yet whether our intelligence is a maladaptive or an adaptive trait. The judges are still out. And if I look at those figures that you just named of billions of galaxies and billions of stars, and who knows how many planets revolving around those star systems, the likelihood that we’re completely alone to my mind is quite low. I know that there’s a sort of sweet spot where our planet is in our solar system for certain life forms to evolve.
Daniel: But I mean, again, I sit with more questions than answers, but one question that I definitely sit with is this idea that there’s dead matter out there and then at some point out of this dead matter, even on this planet boom, life emerged. Oh, wonderful. And then that life complexified and evolved and then, oh, consciousness emerged. I think that we might be in a Trump track of an explanatory model that we’ve just repeated for too long. That is this sort of coming out of dead matter. It actually seems to me more parsimonious to say everything is somewhat conscious and everything is somewhat alive at different levels of complexity than to say suddenly ex nihilo life appears suddenly ex nihilo consciousness appears. But I know that that’s slightly woo-woo and I don’t have lots of scientific sources to back up that quote. It’s just for me it’s an exploration that we should maybe entertain that maybe consciousness is primary rather than matter.
Jim: And of course there is that theory and there’s the integrated information theory of Tononi and Koch that mathematically would indicate that everything has a level of consciousness. Though the amount of consciousness that their calculation would ascribe to a rock or even to a star is vastly less than that in a single human. So I think we got to be very careful when we start thinking about such things and that we know exactly what we’re saying because it is unfortunately an attractor for humans. Humans love kind of blousy stuff, right? Hence the prevalence of religions and all that sort of stuff. They love a pie in the sky. And so I think we’ve got to be very careful when we talk about these things to put bounds around them. What is actually known, what theories might support panpsychism. And as I said, one of the leading theories of consciousness integrated information theory actually does bring forth panpsychism as its output but at a qualitatively lower level than humans.
Jim: So that’s something very much worth thinking about. Before we move on to consciousness and spirituality. Moving back a little bit to the slightly more mundane, another wonderful thing I got out of your book was your three horizons approach to thinking about the future. In fact, I’m going to go steal that, borrow it, whatever and try to insert it into GameB because I think it is a extraordinarily useful set of lenses to think about how you get from here to there. Could you lay out for people your three horizons approach?
Daniel: Well let’s, again, I distinguish myself a little bit from some other people that are great synthesizers and great integrators in terms of putting a lot of interesting stuff out there. Some of them don’t like to reference their sources or their elders. I really think it’s part of our learning that we should name those sources. And so it’s not my model, it’s Bill Sharp’s model. But I’ve had the pleasure of helping him develop his thinking on it and I’ve kind of worked with him in applying it in different ways. And basically Bill was a research leader at Hewlett-Packard innovation labs and has got a long career of doing futures work and the three horizons evolved as a way of going beyond the classic scenario planning approach. And really working with the different voices that are always in the room when we look at the future.
Daniel: And so there’s always that perspective of the kind of manager type who’s responsible for keeping system A in place and functioning. And that’s a valuable role to some extent because it’s the person who cares about people being in jobs and children being in school and the lights staying on and all that kind of stuff and water coming out of the faucet. And then there’s the visionary type, which is the third horizon perspective that is saying, no, no, no, we need to fundamentally redesign our economic system and we need a shift in consciousness and all this kind of stuff. And then very often you find that arguments get polarized between the visionary and the kind of pragmatic management perspective. But by just introducing the third perspective, which is the entrepreneur innovator’s perspective that builds on what’s already feasible today. Disruptive of horizon one and could potentially become a bridge to getting to horizon three without the sort of collapse and rebuild scenario.
Daniel: This framework really helps us to bring these three perspectives into the room and talk intelligently about how we think the future of transport or the future of computing might pan out in ways that at the very least make us disagree more intelligently at the end of it. And maybe even make a see because there’s a kind of open mindset and a closed mindset in each of these three perspectives on the future. And by working with this three horizon model, you can really thresh out insights from what happens when people have conversation with an open mindset, really listening to the contributions that each one of these three perspectives, then building future consciousness together. So as we steer our away into the unknown, we can respond quicker.
Jim: Yeah, that’s wonderful. And as I said, I was very taken with this and so I will try to inject it into our GameB world and I’ll reference both Bill Sharp and you. That’s interesting. I had a personal resonance with it, which is in the business world where I spent 25 years, I was clearly a third horizon guy. I was always blow it up, let’s do it entirely different, green field, blank sheet of paper, screw all the old shit. Right?
Jim: And it worked. It worked great. Especially as our world was transitioning between say 1985 and 2005. But when I now find myself since 2012 being a kind of a junior member of the social change world, I find myself very much a horizon two kind of person because I am not way out there on the extreme of blow it all up, build it all from scratch, but rather find my game A skills which were pretty good to probably be most useful in the horizon two area. Where we say, all right, it would be really foolish to change the engines on the jet while it’s in motion. So what can we do to make the plane fly better until somebody else figures out how to build a rocket ship?
Daniel: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting because in that horizon two space with that model, there’s another really interesting question that this framework opens up, which is the horizon two space is the kind of what are the practical things we can do today to possibly build a different future? And you can always ask a question about a horizon two proposition, which is it horizon two plus or horizon two minus? And that jargon refers to is it likely to be captured by the first horizon and therefore actually perpetuates game A for longer? Or is it already a stepping stone innovation that actually helps us to buy time to get to GameB or the third horizon? So this distinguishing, but to make it give a concrete example. If for example, in the shift towards renewable energies, if you shift from centralized coal fire power plants to vast fields of mega turbines owned by one power supplier. You’ve shifted from fossil fuels to renewables, but you’re still stuck within the centralized power structure of power is power and centralized power providers.
Daniel: If you shift to decentralize grant linked and non-grant linked renewable energy systems that are maybe smaller and more diverse, then you really shifting into a stepping stone towards horizon three. So it’s one in the same technology depending on what mindset and in what frame it’s applied can be horizon two plus or horizon two minus.
Jim: I like that a lot. And I do remember it from the book and I should have mentioned it in my own model of how the world works. We have basins of attraction and game A is the game we’ve been in since 1694 at two o’clock in the afternoon on March 15th. And we are trying, it feels like to get out of that basin for good or ill and we could end up in some bad basins. And so I think of two pluses as things that are climbing the wall to get us closer to escape from the current basin. That may be a useful way to think about that. And I think it’s really important for those of us who are doing horizon two work to make sure we think about your concept of horizon two plus. I’m going to inject that also in the GameB because I think you’re absolutely right that that’s hugely important. Gosh, I got so many topics here. Let’s go onto another one which is very central to your work.
Jim: And frankly I’m not sure I understand it as well as I could. And that is the distinction between an abundance and a scarcity way of doing things. You call our way of our world, a scarcity mindset or a scarcity formula and that where we need to go to is an abundance worldview. Could you expand on those two things?
Daniel: I think it comes again from where do we put the focus of attention with regard to what is life? I think we need to hold that bizarre paradox that by, of course if somebody pinches me, it hurts me. if somebody pinches you, I don’t immediately feel it. I can see you wince and somehow feel some form of empathy with that. But ultimately life has a planetary process and that planetary process like as Janine Benyus has beautiful, you put it from biomimicry, life creates conditions conducive to life and this larger planetary process is abundance generating. It actually has over time increased the amount of diversity and biomass on the planet and has made it possible for more diverse life forms to evolve. But in that, if you like one way of framing what evolution does is diversification and subsequent reintegration of that generated diversity at higher levels of complexity.
Daniel: And if you go through the history of the evolution of life on earth, that reintegration of generated diversity tends to be first and foremost through novel forms of cooperation. And whether it’s two non-nucleated cells forming the kind of endosymbiosis theory like forming a more complex cell but the engulfing cell not digesting the engulfed cell, but the two of them creating a hole that is more than the sum of its parts. Same with the step to multicellular organisms, same to the step to more complex life forms that didn’t even have social organizations. At each of these steps, the most important innovation of life has been a novel form of cooperation and sharing the abundance. And so it’s our focus that is too much on that is individualists, speciest, nationalist America first and all that stuff. It’s just shortsighted and we’re all on living spaceship earth.
Daniel: If the planetary life support system gives, we’ve all had it no matter whether we’ve got the kind of money that some of the planetary escapists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have. But fat chance that they’re going to be happy in their Elysium off-planet as the rest of humanity ties us on this functional biosphere. So what I’m talking about with the shift from scarcity mindset to abundance mindset is very much linked to the shift from the story of separation to the story of into being. It is the understanding that the most enlightened way I can work for myself interest is to actually optimize the whole system for everyone. And since I’m part of that, that will come back to me. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that.
Jim: At the same time, I mean, yes, we can think of abundance at the ecosystem level and it is a very interesting fact that once we had life, it has been gradually increasing its complexity. And there’s a lot of argument amongst the complexity folks, whether that’s necessary or it’s just something that happened and I’m not qualified to have an opinion there. Well at least not qualified to have a well-founded opinion. I have an opinion, which is yes, there is a force that seems to be pushing us towards more complexity. What that is, I don’t know. On the other hand, in terms of actually evolving or growing a social operating system, the actual quality of life of the typical human also has to be taken into consideration. If a human has to go back to what has been the history of humans since the invention of agriculture, which is backbreaking work, living on the edge of starvation and have 50% of your kids die before they’re five years old.
Jim: And that’s not going to seem like a good trade from where we’re at even in the less developed countries today. So it seems to me that if we’re really going to be selling an idea of abundance, we have to be thinking carefully and with some precision about what actual quality of life can we deliver to 10 billion humans? And I do think we have to think about all 10 billion of them. At some point they’re all going to want approximately the same quality of life and I think that’s a really hard part of this problem. How do we build to a level, frankly probably build down from the western level of consumption, but build up from the very poor country levels of consumption. Meet somewhere in the middle that all 10 billion would agree is a decent quality of life for humanity and that may not be easy. Abundance at the level of actually delivering the goods is hard work.
Jim: I mean, as I said, I was a business guy for 25 years. How frankly for 40 years when you go back to when I was a kid, I had little small businesses and things like that. Building something of quality and with excellence is hard. Most teams can’t do it. I mean there’s a reason most restaurants fail. Most general contractors go out of business. Most software service companies go belly up within three years. We have to realize that providing a good abundant quality of life for 10 billion people is going to require a bunch of hard work.
Daniel: I agree, but we also have to be really careful to not equate quality of life with entirely material, the material dimension. Of course there is a certain level of material needs that people need to have covered in order for them to engage in a lot of the other qualitative aspects of life. But really, I mean if you think about your life as a business person, it’s very quickly that the money alone doesn’t really give you the gratification to keep on doing it. It’s meaning like I always say I earn in two economies, in economy of money and the economy of meaning and in the economy of meaning, I feel like Bill Gates because I tend to still work 60% of my time pro bono because I choose to do things that actually fulfill me. And I equally think that when we create a world from an abundance mindset, it is about the qualities of human relationships.
Daniel: It’s about the quality of the environment. We’re in the quality of the way we can spend time learning and evolving and the idea that agriculture, I mean, that’s where I think that the interesting both and between some patterns from the past and some technological innovation. If we actually applied science and technology wisely, we could create a lot of abundance with a lot less work than was necessary in those earlier agricultural societies. And I just recently learned from a friend something that was very interesting that if you look at the history of the Roman Empire, the first place that the Romans went out to invade was the Iberian Peninsula, Spain where I live. And it was also the last of the places that they actually colonized into the Roman Empire. So for a very, very long time, the tribes on the Iberian Peninsula resisted the Roman invasion.
Daniel: And one of the reasons that they so strongly resisted is that Rome was bringing a wheat-based or grain-based agricultural system into a culture that was actually a tree culture. It was an econ culture. They made their bread and their basic foodstuffs from collecting econs and managing large open econs forests and the animals living within them. And so they actually, just like many Native American tribes in North America didn’t have this, what you were just painting this backbreaking hard sluggary of work. They managed to meet basic needs in three or four months of work and the rest of the time they engaged in whatever they fancy, in some cases it was going to territorial warfare with each other. In other cases, it was war creating culture and general merrymaking.
Daniel: So, I think we can create a wise blend of appropriate technology in place with sensitivity to the local ecosystem and the local culture in such a way that we can actually create wellbeing and meaningful existence within shared abundance for all of humanity. But not necessarily in the way we’re doing it right now. Where being happy means also having vastly expensive status symbols that the minute you have them, they’re not contributing to your happiness anymore.
Jim: Yeah. We call the hedonistic treadmill. Right? That’s one of the root problem. Let me get that on that quickly, but I’m going to actually just interject something that I happened to know from my reading in history is that Ben Franklin, one of the most astute founding fathers of America commented on the fact that to his knowledge, thousands of white men had gone to live with the Indians. But as far as he know, not a single Indian had ever voluntarily come to live with the white men.
Daniel: Yeah, that’s an interesting yeah and I certainly know a lot of examples of the first and I don’t know any examples of the former unless they’ve been kidnapped and exported to London.
Jim: Exactly, exactly. So let’s get back to the hedonistic treadmill and the status through things game. I mean that is a big part of what turns the game A cycle. And I’ve become more and more convinced that, and this is something that I couldn’t find in your book, I looked, I even did a text search on my Kindle version of your book. One of the things that I’m personally becoming very strong on is that perhaps, perhaps the replacement for status through things is conviviality. I must say your book is full of all kinds of great things, but it’s kind of gray. I don’t get a great sense of fun and excitement and partying. And one of the things we’re now starting to push in all of our GameB thinking is that every scale at GameB conviviality living together in our bodies as small groups, eating and drinking and dancing and singing and doing crazy stuff in the Moonlight. That may be the super attractor, which allows us to pull people out of the hedonistic treadmill and their status through things world.
Daniel: You better check your Kindle because the word conviviality does appear and it appears in a David Abraham quote from spell of dissensus about that we are human in contact and conviviality with all other life forms that our senses have been tuned by the hoot of the owl and the cry of the wolf. And that we atrophy by the complexity of the history of who we actually are by just echo chambering the human world onto each other. And missing that deeper connection with the wider community of life that actually has shaped our ears and our nose and the way we sense and feel and our flesh and our animal. It’s that kind of more embodied [inaudible 01:13:17] experience of being alive in Gaia that I think is a lot of fun in that I speak a lot of and just, I completely, I mean I and a lot of other people that I’ve had feedback from.
Daniel: What I find interesting that you perceive my book is gray because actually what a lot of people resonate with is that deeper connection. There’s a chapter on the importance of solo time in nature and that kind of deeper connection of conviviality with the wider community of life and in the kind of ethics of Aldo Leopold of a thing is right if it contributes to the health and vitality of the biotic community, it is wrong if it does otherwise. And that needs to be the ethical measurement of the kind of conviviality that you want to make it fun, make GameB fun and sexy and sell it in a Hollywood kind of way. And then everybody jumps on GameB, maybe a bit too short of a success pathway.
Jim: Oh actually I just did search that. I must have spelled it wrong and I did find three occurrences conviviality. But your use of conviviality is a bit different than mine. You’re talking about ways of interacting with the whole ecosystem. And personally the reason I bought a mountain farm 30 years ago and that is there is nothing I love more than being deep in the woods by myself before sunrise. And I still hold November morning as the woods slowly comes to life. I mean, that is my bell, that is what I live for. But, and as powerful as that is for me, probably more powerful than any other single experience. It’s still not the same as, when I say conviviality, which is people together enjoying themselves as humans in their bodies. Right?
Daniel: Yeah. Take a look at the question that the chapter on living the question together creates community where I speak about my experience of living in intentional communities in ecovillages because that’s exactly where I’ve lived the abundance. Living in the fentanyl eco village, I didn’t own any, I didn’t really own the windmills on the horizon. I didn’t own the massive, beautiful area that I walked through and felt a sense of collective ownership and responsibility and gratitude for. And basically it’s a massive estate that everybody who walks along it feels to have a sort of shared honorship with, but it is still divvied up and privately owned, but it’s done so in a way that abundance is shared. And I was part of a electric car pool and I knew where my energy came from because it was part of a community cooperative from the wind farm.
Daniel: We had our own local currency so I could keep the economic multiplier locally and we had so much contact of five rhythms, dancing and all these community offers that just made my life incredibly rich and meaningful and beautiful in many facets and it’s that kind of conviviality that I think regenerative cultures are all about.
Jim: I must have misread you that because again, I separate the two, the love of nature and this deep fulfilling sense with people socializing together. When I use conviviality, that’s what I mean by. I think we’re pretty close to the same page, so let’s move on. One of the things we talked about earlier was money, right? Is money necessary or not as there’s currently a very hot discussion in the GameB discussion group about will GameB require money? My view on that, I love to hear your view is that money, what is money? Money is a social signaling system for coordinating production, distribution, savings, et cetera. And it doesn’t do a very good job because it’s too single dimensioned. In fact, my own framing of the deep soul crushing problem of game A, it’s a game a has actually been captured by a nonhuman actor, which is money on money return.
Jim: That single dimension thing called money, strangely was invented by humans and our current form in 1694 and it has now captured our system and is making all of us, whether it’s Bill Gates or the welfare mother dance to the tune of money on money return and what can the single dimension of money do as you’ve pointed out and others have pointed out, it doesn’t speak at all to externalities like depletion of these things we talked about the very beginning, the ecosystem functions. By the way, I like your term ecosystem functions rather than ecosystem services. And so when I come around to it is we need some forms of social signaling. Because making thing is as hard. The temptation not to save is great and we need to appropriately count and score our nonrenewable resources. So we need something that does that, but it’s probably not as simple minded in single dimensional as what we currently call money.
Daniel: Yeah. I learned a lot from the work of [inaudible 01:18:14] who died a couple of years ago, sadly, and he spent a large part of his life working on complimentary currency systems. And he was a very big proponent of that one of the problems is that we don’t have enough different types of money, that we need much more diversity in these systems that can help us to either circulate things more at the local and by regional economies scale, but then also enable where needed international exchange. So I would agree that we’re most likely going to have some form of recordkeeping in the form of money or something similar like that. But I know that there’s a lot of people that once people go down that rabbit hole, they get extremely passionate about their points of view. And I quite often like with the social media work I do, I get one of these people kind of latching onto me and, “Just don’t you see, you have to look at it this way and this is the only solution.”
Daniel: Yeah, I haven’t had time to really drill into all the proposals that exist there for moneyless work, but I’m certainly finding it a little bit dangerous. This whole proliferation of cryptocurrencies and the vast data footprint and energy footprint that then create and while there’re good ones and not so good ones and I only have a half knowledge of which ones use less energy and which ones used more. I think we’re still experimenting with what alternatives we have to the current money system. And yes, I completely agree that this idea that paying interest and even differential interest between loans and deposits means that there is this redistribution process that shovels money from the bottom of the pyramid to the ever smaller but ever richer, top of the pyramid has been going on since whatever that date was that you named in the 1600s. And that is structurally dysfunctional. We need to redesign the way money functions in a way that it actually incentivizes us to be regenerative rather than degenerative to not exploit people in planet, but to incentivize behavior where you only get money for regenerating ecosystems functions.
Daniel: Some people that are playing with this in the region network of trying to track improvements in the state of health of an ecosystem and then somehow scoring that against the new currency or against some form of store of value. That’s an idea that I’ve fought for a long time I’ve been playing with it, but I’m not techie enough. So I’ve been sharing it with some people that are techie that if we could create a way that primary producers, the agriculturalists of the planet, don’t just get paid for the produce that they produce on the land. But actually they get paid for being stewards of healthy ecosystems for carbon draw down or for increasing the bioproductivity of the land they work on.
Daniel: Then we would readdress the balance that the primary producers of value in our economies, which is the agricultural production, is bio productivity, get valued again in a way that doesn’t incentivize them to extract the maximum, but to optimize the system over the long-term to be at its maximum productivity over time.
Jim: Yeah, I think we’re in radical agreement that are going to social signaling system called money is way too low dimensional and that whatever replaces it, it’s got to do all the things that you said. I actually do know a fair amount about blockchain. In fact, I helped design one of the successful cryptocurrencies and my view is that in general, they’re on the wrong road, at least the Bitcoin class, if anything, they’re backward. There may be worse than our currently monetary system. They’re modeled on gold of all barbaric things. On the other hand, some of the newer things going on, like hollow chain is very much worth thinking about and understanding that it may provide us way to build these highly fractal multiple monies for different purposes. So I think the solution to my mind has not been found, but I am glad there are a lot of people working on it and I think it’ll be part of the solution.
Daniel: Thank you for mentioning hollow chain because basically, and also in what you’ve just said, being much more of an expert in this field than I am has kind of confirmed the hunch I’ve had. Just listening to people like Arthur Brock, Jean Russell, Fernando Obara and the folks who’ve been behind developing hollow chain or before that, the Metta currency project. I just, I know enough of them personally to know that they’re from the right place and that they’ve come into this from a much more systemic approach than the blockchain crowd. And that they really want to take a biomimetic approach on how to enable a collaborative sharing of the commons like the commons engine that they’re working on right now. And unfortunately what I find is that we just don’t, like, I don’t have the time to tunnel into each rabbit hole as deeply as I would like to in the… So I ended up as being somebody who was trying to weave a larger pattern of meaning across a very broad range of disciplines and scales of design.
Daniel: You always run the danger of being the jack of all trades, master of none. Learning is spiral. I revisit and go deeper every time I come back to currencies. But I haven’t been fortunate enough to have the time to take a deep dive into all these models. I’ve been from the very get go up and promoting the work of hollow chain on the basis of my limited understanding of it because it sounded so much healthier than what I saw coming out of in Etherium and all these other cryptocurrencies. But yeah, thank thanks for corroborating that they might be onto something because I have the same feeling.
Jim: And in fact I do, do the occasional deep dive into something. And as I’ve mentioned on this show before, late last year, I taught myself Rust, which is the computer programming language that’s necessary to understand and use to operate in hollow chain. And the reason I did that was so that I could actually dabble in whole chain this year. And while I’m 100% with you on their philosophy, it’s the best I’ve ever seen. I do have some skepticism on some of the fairly serious technical details and the only way to find out if my sort of sense is right or wrong is actually just jump in and do it. So I’m going to hack together some hollow chain stuff probably by mid-year and then I’ll have a deeper view. I hope it’s good. I hope it’s good or it could be made to be good because philosophically I’ve seen nothing.
Daniel: And give them your feedback. I think they would love it.
Jim: Yeah. And in fact, I’d like to get this Brock guy on my podcast. All right. Now this is what I’m sure my regular listeners have been waiting for. Let’s turn to something that I am sort of well-known for, which is my skepticism about the word spirituality. In fact, my listeners know that, I usually call it the S word. Goddammit. We could go on endlessly on this topic, but there was a lot more of that than I was expecting in your book. And I must confess, it makes me uneasy when I see that much about spirituality. But before I push back, why don’t you make your case?
Daniel: Well again, to that I mentioned it earlier briefly, that conversation with David Orr in 2006 he said something really interesting back then to that question where he also said we need to figure out why we’re worth sustaining. And he said that you can kind of make… He said, it’s not a question of whether we are spiritual beings or not. It is whether we are authentically spiritual in the sense that you can make soccer your religion, you can make environmentalism your religion and none of them are very good ones. And this deeper search for meaning is at the root of what it means to be human. If you look at the very first cave paintings that kind of spitting against your hand and leaving the hand print on the wall of some cave 40, 50,000 years ago, that is already asking, where do we come from, where are we going, why are we here?
Daniel: So I don’t think we will ever get away from answering those questions in one way or another. And science only offers a very useful but a limited answer to that. And another way of framing it is one of my mentors Satish Kumar who found the Schumacher College he said that you can take two pathways into this conversation. Either you take the pathway of ecology and if you really understand the complexity and the interconnections and the patterns of which in which the whole in the part relate through an ecological understanding. And sort of guy in understanding of the larger cycles that we’re part of and even beyond the planetary limits, that were literally made out of Stardust. I think that’s a deeply spiritual insight.
Daniel: It’s what Thomas Berry explored with how can we retell the universe story using signs in a way that we re-enchant the universe and we don’t stick with this dogma of the rational scientists that did matter. And in life and consciousness evolving out of it that we already addressed briefly. So for me, spirituality, I agree that it can get really wooly and fuzzy and it can be an S word that makes things complicated. But the underlying quest for meaning for exploring our role and relationship, right relationship to each other and to the larger being that we’re taking experience and is critical to leading a meaningful life, I believe. And we cannot call it spirituality, if that makes it easier
Jim: That best people know. I’ve had debates of, I even had my producer on the show, Jared Janes, we had a great episode not long ago about spirituality. He’s a strong spirituality guy and he produces and edits all my podcasts and he and I had a good argument about it. It was kind of fun. But I guess where I come out on it is going to put my cards on the table. I’m a scientific realist. In fact, I go so far as to say I am a naive realist. I believe the universe is there. It’s more or less though certainly we have lots of errors in our science and it’s highly incomplete and it’s not enchanted. There is no fancy supernatural stuff, at least not within our universe. The bigger question, why is there something other than nothing that one haven’t, not a clue, nor to science.
Jim: It may someday, but this is where I think this not enchantment, scientific realist perspective, fundamentally different. We’re okay with the fact that we don’t know why the universe exists. If there’s any point at all and we’re okay with the fact that we can’t explain a lot of things. Even some things that are seem fairly straight forward like dark matter, dark energy, we don’t feel like we have to have this totalizing system, right. This tendency that people want to go to, “Oh there’s a cosmic consciousness of which we’re all a part.” Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. There is no damn evidence. So we are at least no objective reproducible evidence. Yes we can have spiritual subjective feelings that it’s true.
Jim: And again, as I’ve said many times before, I’ve used psychedelics including very powerful ones. I’ve done ego death levels of LSD and I can easily put myself in a non-ego state, but I can also interpret those things through cognitive science as essentially the confabulator that part of our brain that tries to spin a story to make some sense out of our perceptions being applied to a nonstandard set of networks and rhythms in our brain.
Jim: And no more than that though also no less. And so that’s where I come out on spirituality and why it bothers me is that people get so sucked into it and spend so much of their life, energy, dibble dabbling around what their interior states when they should be going out to work. Goddammit, and solving all these problems we know we have. In fact, I recently stumbled upon a term which I’d never heard before, maybe two months ago called spiritual bypass. Apparently it means when people get so obsessed with the spirituality stuff that they think that’s the answer to everything when probably it isn’t.
Daniel: Well, I kind of been there, done that, walked the spiral a couple of time on all that. I’ve spent my time sitting on a cushion and meditating and I’ve had lots of arguments with people who get so obsessed with this. They say, that’s the only thing you can do. The best way you can contribute to saving the future of humanity is working on yourself and sitting on a zafu. I’ve also done some of the explorations you just alluded to with psychographically substances that have given me very insightfull experiences of my deeper connection with life and what sensors are capable of. I respect where you come from. And I feel that even within like if you take sort of a Maturana and Varela’s Santiago’s Theory of Cognition type approach, we just need that epistemological pluralism.
Daniel: And part of that is also that like you can take the science lens and that explains things in one way and you can take another lens where you feel a deep connection with a living conscious universe. And I don’t think you need to necessarily justify that within the parameters of the scientific story. If it’s a fully embodied experience that is meaningful to you, that helps you navigate what living a life that creates conditions conducive to life is all about. It’s understanding that we need to serve the whole in order to serve ourselves. Whether you need signs for that or spirituality for that, I don’t really care.
Jim: And I will back off a little bit. In the GameB world, we have a concept called psycho technologies, which includes everything from contemplate of practice to psychotherapy. The psychodelic drugs, the neuro feedback, et cetera. And I think our established view, I mean there are people that are all over the continuum, but I think the consensus view is whatever works for you to be a better player of GameB, use it, but be aware of the dangers. And whether they’re drug addiction or spiritual bypass or becoming a cynical nihilist that doesn’t believe in anything. All those are our risks and we should have our eyes wide open and use those psychotechnologies with help us play GameB better. And that’s where I finally come out.
Daniel: Let me just pick you up among one thing that you said earlier that it’s this, and again I’m sitting with a question. I’m not trying to lecture anybody here. It’s the framing of theory and practice or even spirituality and practice. Like you said, don’t sit on the cushion and go into that in a journey and go out there in the world and do something. Well even using a scientific entry point here, if everything is fundamentally interconnected through non-local quantum connections then every state change in me is also a state change in the known universe. And therefore in this conversation that we are having right now, this conversation has causal agency in and off itself. Whether somebody listens to it or not right now in the universe because you’re a universe and my universe and therefore we need to pay more attention to the power of the word and the power of thought and the power of our state of being.
Daniel: So this dualism between being and doing like actually is maybe a false dualism or the dualism between theory and practice. If we find new organizing ideas, new frameworks that help us understand this participation in complexity, then we already shift the very thing we are part of. Like it’s like in Maturana and Varela’s terms is we are bringing forth a world together and taking the rationalist scientific frame brings forth one world and taking a indigenous earth wisdom frame brings forth another world. And I think both of them have something to learn from each other.
Jim: Yeah, I would agree. Particularly as I’ve gotten deeper into this world, I more tolerant and understand why it helps people to use these subjective tools. But I just, I’m always careful to say subjectively and I think you said fully embodied, people’s subjective sense is there’s no one can ever, no one should ever second guess someone’s subjective experience. Where I get my backup a little bit is when they then start making claims about the world that are objectively verifiable or not. And you’ve heard these woo-woo people say sleeping under a pyramid will cure your diabetes or something. Right. I actually know a hippy chick that tried that. Guess what, she went blind. So when one wants to say that one has a subjective life and it’s more real than anything else to us. Right. And this is something where [inaudible 01:36:36].
Jim: I’ve really gotten a lot out of his books. Makes the point again and again that going that our subjective wellbeing is more real to us than anything else and that’s well and good, but then don’t feel the need to then go from that to claims about objective reality which can be verified. Because I like to point out to people in the contest between metaphysical speculation and objective reality, the metaphysicians have always had it wrong. Thor does not cause thunder nor the sun doesn’t go around the earth. Nor the earth isn’t 6,000 years old. Anytime the two have come together, objective measurements of reality have always with one or two minor exceptions that you can put down to chance, defeated metaphysical speculation. So my view is enjoy one subjective, fully embodied being, but then don’t leap from there to making metaphysical speculations about the physical world.
Daniel: Interesting. Coming back to Brian Goodwin, Brian always pointed out that science isn’t about objectivity. It’s about intersubjective consensus making. And that it’s basically a bunch of people agreeing to a certain methodology, a certain epistemology and then working within that to reproduce certain outcomes to certain experiments. And that’s verifiable. And that’s what I think you’re referring to as objective, but that there is actually a participatory agency of consciousness in everything that we bring forth. That perception isn’t a process of opening the eyes and the world just comes in and the world’s out there. But it is every act of perception has an act of conception in it. And if we pay attention to the seer, the role of the seer in the way we access reality, then we can allow for that epistemological pluralism a little bit more. By saying, okay, maybe there are other ways of generating insight.
Daniel: And I quite like that framing that Owen Barfield put forward of indigenous nations having a form of primary participation mystique where everything is meaningful and the dewdrop being hit by the sunlight is a direct communication that tells them something about how to act in that moment. Then there’s the kind of enlightenment separation from that that gives us all the wonders of science and technology. And now part of this kind of evolutionary leap that we need to make, that that rite of passage into appropriate participation is to come to final participation, which actually allows us to hold both as paths to wisdom and right action.
Jim: Yup. I think it’s good that we have some diversity and again, one of the GameB things that we talk about a fair amount is coherent pluralism. We need to agree to some things and we have to agree to disagree about other things. And I suspect this is going to be in the one of the ones that you and I, this conversation has been good because I can see more overlap, but I think that we’re going to have fun. We will just have some things we disagree about here and that’s okay. That’s a good thing.
Daniel: I love the spirit you take it and I think if we all could take our disagreements a bit more in that spirit, we would so much more easily learn from each other. Because I mean you’re making me think and reflect with your perspective and it’s not just me voicing a different one here. It’s like this will work in me for a while. I heard you.
Jim: Yeah. And same with the same with you. And also same with Hansey. Both of you who’ve said, “All right and I think I’m a smart guy, but these guys are smart guys too. Well let me think about this.” Right? All right, last topic. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to have to skip over consciousness because I could go on for hours on that topic. Maybe we should have you back again and just talk about consciousness.
Daniel: Yeah, let’s have another conversation on consciousness sometimes.
Jim: Without a doubt. The last one, This is something that is very near and dear to my heart because I actually made a mistake here in the early 1.0 version of GameB back in 2013 where there was a dichotomy in the community between people need to change or evolve their consciousness first verses we need to build institutions first. And the lines got drawn very firmly and the factions went to war. And that was one of a couple of reasons why the original GameB 1.0 exploded into dust at the end of 2013. Fortunately we were smart. We said we’re going to go into spore mode here. Everyone just take what wherever they’re at with GameB, go out in the world and do your thing. Maybe someday the spores will regenerate. And by odd chance in the spring of 2019 that some of those spores started to sprout again.
Jim: But since that time, you can probably guess which side I was on in that one, I was definitely an institution’s first person and said, “Screw all that people changing themselves. Fuck all that. Bunch of sissy shit.” Right? Now I realize I was wrong, but they were wrong too. And in reality, it’s a coevolution between the two. At least how I’m seeing it. I think more and more people in our world are seeing it, which is that there are a few people who can change themselves despite the institutions they’re embedded in. But those few people are small. One or 2% may be the classic early adopters are maniac innovators in the technology space or consumer product space. But most humans really aren’t able to make much of a deep change in themselves unless they’re reinforced by appropriate social signals. So the job is for these early people to change themselves enough to be able to build some institutions that work for them, but then emanate signals such that they start to enable other people to change.
Jim: This is kind of abstract, but say somebody who is living a middle class suburban life and their ambition in life is to trade up from a Mercedes C class to a Mercedes E-Class, right? They are getting that signal that organizes their life. There’s no real alternative today in Western society, or at least they’re very fringy suppose instead we have a set of signals around conviviality, around spirituality, around experiencing nature and really being one with it. And those are real signals that actually provide meaning to people. It is possible to seduce a greater proportion than one or 2% away from the game A institutions. And maybe we get to five or 7% and then those five or 7% and of course this is not step function. This is all continuous, develop new institutions that work for them, which then seduce the next ring of people into we get to maybe 15%.
Jim: And there’s a lot of reasons to believe from systems modeling that once you get 15% of people who’ve abandoned the legacy operating system, the end is near. So that’s my learning that’s come hard one over the last six years, seven years now, this people first versus institutions first thing, which is neither. They got a co-evolve.
Daniel: Sounds like a wonderful both and insight because I would agree as you were saying that what came to my mind was what is the appropriate scale of organization? And one thing that I’ve been working with a lot in my explorations of all of this is this idea of scale linking design and the scales of design from kind of products to the material science. What do we make stuff out of and what energy do we use? But then onto products and architecture, community planning, industrial ecology, urban planning, bioregional planning and then the international networks of collaboration and knowledge exchange that enable us to coordinate bioregional reinhabitation across the globe in solidarity. For me, if you look at a map of the globe and you look at the straight lines of many of the country’s borders, you can very clearly see how they were drawn by the rulers of some normally a colonial power.
Daniel: And if we want to rematch the human presence on earth to the biophysical reality of life as a planetary process, then we need to somehow stop taking these relatively artificial socially constructed boundaries, these borders less seriously and understand our common family being part of the human species and the wider community of life being primary. And that the patterns of rematching might just be more biophysical patterns, like a watershed, like a bioregion. And that at that scale we can more easily both evolve the personal and the institutional side of this conversation that you opened. Because we’re reinventing like Bucky Fuller quote again, don’t fight the existing system. Build an alternative system that makes the old system obsolete. I think that at the bioregional scale, we can begin to explore that. And lots of people have had this intuition a long time ago.
Daniel: You can start with people like Patrick Geddes at the turn of the last century cities and evolution and the whole valley section. And you have to plan cities within the bioregion is basically what he said. And then you get the early bioriginalists in California with the Peter Berg Graham [inaudible 01:46:46] Gary Snyder and all those guys, Ian McHarg and taking that approach. But recently I’ve seen a lot of organizations kind of converge on that the locus of focus for this work is at the bioregional scale and whether it’s the regenerative communities network that spun out of the capital Institute or whether it’s the people working on the Planetary Health Alliance and they all seem to agree that if we want to create GameB, the place to do the experimenting and the playing is a global focus that centers around the bioregion region. So it’s deeply community grounded, it’s grounded in place, it’s sourced out of the biocultural uniqueness of each place.
Daniel: So we can refit like it’s not a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all, here’s a solution. How do we get it to scale? No, it’s a kind of scaling out rather than a scaling up of patterns that serve of patterns of reinhabitation and yeah, that’s a hunch. But that’s why I moved to Majorca eight years ago, almost 10 years ago and I actually, because I, after spending a good 15, 20 years of my life working with those folks that like to experiment, built the alternative system at the community scale. So ecovillage, intentional community folks experimenting or transition town folks trying to turn things around at the scale of their little transition community.
Daniel: I realized that the scale at which we can change the whole systems design and build biomimetic ecosystem cascading ecosystem inspired ways of using resources regenetively is at the bioregional scale. And that also is this dynamic between, yes, it’s a personal like it’s about each individual starting from what is my essence, what is my unique contribution in this region to serve life as a planetary process and through that serve myself and my community and my bioregion. And at the same time it’s also a collective capacity building of how do we meet our needs, how do we build climate resilience, how do we build resilience towards all the patterns of disruptions that are going to come hard and fast as we approach the middle of this century?
Daniel: I see that, that vision of bioregional regeneration is a both and pathway of on the one hand maybe taking us through the eye of the needle through regenerating healthy ecosystems function at the scale of the ecosystems we inhabit and in the process, drawing down enough carbon into healthy soils and healthy bio mass and the bio materials we need to shift towards. In order to not just slow down global warming but eventually reverse global warming to the point that we get back to more closely to 250 parts per million like we were before the industrial revolution. But even if we don’t get that in re-regionalizing our patterns of production and consumption, we also built the resilience towards a climate disruptive world or a virally disrupted world or all I mean the black swan is a hard and fast. There are plenty of things that could come our way that would make things difficult. But if we build the redundance at the bioregional scale, we have a better chance of navigating that future.
Jim: I would say I 100% agree. And again, I think we both agree that’s an intuition and we should probably be experimenting on every scale. But my intuition says the same, that it’s bioregion that can be self-reliant in certain areas but not seal itself off from the world. That’s a fool’s errand. And I very much like the way you talked about that. So let’s make our exit right there. I think this has been an incredibly interesting conversation. Everything I was hoping it would be and more.
Daniel: Thank you so much for having me on the show. That was lots of fun and yeah, at some point let’s have that conversation about consciousness. That will be fun.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Mueller at modernspacemusic.com.