How to Save the World

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. ― Richard P. Feynman

We live in a time where the survival of the human species is challenged by complex global problems — wicked problems. Problems like:

• Pollution

• Limited Resources (especially water and energy/oil)

• Crisis (Economic, Environmental)

• Global Warming

• Rising Population

And we must add to these, the global political problems and terror attacks of 2016.

Theses are truly problems we must face if we are to survive as a species.

But why are they problems in the first place? How did they become problems? It’s not that we, as a human species, set out to destroy the environment, use all resources available and engage in destructive activities to bring about crisis.

What does it mean to say the human species is successful?

Success as a word generally means to show the winning or accomplishment of some goal. Attaining wealth or fame or a favorable outcome of something attempted.

Before we can say humanity has been successful, we might ask, what does the human species do? Or what are we trying to accomplish (consciously or unconsciously)? Rather than limit my question to the human species, I asked the question of Life. Humanity is a complex expression of life. What does Life do?

I like Teihard de Chardin’s Law of Complexity/Consciousness which is “the tendency in matter to become more complex over time and at the same time to become more conscious”. I would swap his word “matter” with “life.”

Life, and humanity as part of life, becomes more complex and conscious over time.

I would like to add that humanity refines (raw) resources. Refine generally means to remove impurities, but it does so in a complex way. Thus what is refined is more complex than the raw material used. This refining of resources, a making of something complex while removing impurities, is what humans do. And as we’ve seen with the remix culture, refined resources will be used as inputs for further refinement.

Looking at our list of problems, one might see them as byproducts of the human success of refining resources.

• Pollution as a byproduct of a plentiful and stable food supply. A stable food supply allows the focus on other skills, which encourages a market economy with the creation of products and services, which in their production may create pollution.

• Limited Resources (especially water and energy/oil). In a previous paradigm, these were plentiful resources to be used for refining. Before this time, the resources were not used in such high quantities, and one might not think their limits could ever be reached. There may be resources we use today we see the same way — as limitless — because we have not reached the place where we can see those limits. These are resource constrains we have yet to discover.

• Various Crises (Economic, Environmental, Political) are an experience of feeling the edge of resources, knowledge, understanding, pulling back, and pushing/exploring a further edge. It is going into an uncomfortable, terrifying place, and pulling back. It is finding the true limit and exploring ways around or through it.

• Global Warming as an unintended consequence of the consciousness of our actions. In the past, we had little consciousness of actions; as our knowledge and understanding about our environment grew (refining of empirical knowledge through the scientific method) we became aware of the impact of our actions. One cannot change things that one has no consciousness of.

• Rising Population: Humanity has succeeded in stabilizing death and disease, yet our mental models have not shifted with our biological medical success.

Many of these problems are understood with an underlying guilt. We humans feel guilty for creating these problems. (It’s important to note, that these are considered problems from the first world developed nation perspective. I highly doubt that people in developing nations would consider these their big problems.) While it is true that humans have created these problems through our individual actions — this is a limiting perspective. By saying these problems are caused by the success of the human species, the guilt associated with them is lifted. We can acknowledge the progress that occurred to have a world in which these problems exist:

These problems exist when humanity reaches a level of success.

I chose an unusual method to explore how to solve these, and all other, big problems for humanity. Appreciative Inquire is an analysis approach that focuses on what works well in the current situation. I utilized the following AI Principles along with the 4-D Cycle

The Constructivist Principle

The Constructivist Principle is the rule that we see the world as we are: our interior state, our mores, values and experiences create the lens in which we view the world.

As I mentioned earlier, these problems are problems from a developed nation perspective underlined with human guilt. So let’s take personal responsibility for these problems and explicitly view them from our perspective. Since I am working alone in this exercise, I took a first person singular perspective. You the reader can play along with me to identify and take responsibility on how you participate in these activities.

• I Pollute

• I use Limited Resources

• I make the world warmer

• I add to a Rising Population

• I contribute to the Water Crisis

• I encourage Peak Oil

• I made Economic Crisis

  • I create World Wide Catastrophe
  • I cause racism and divisive political interaction

Now that these problems are specific and personal, it shifts the perspective. It makes the responsibility clear and personal, making the problems seem smaller. We have shifted the size of these problems from big impersonal ones to specific personal ones. There are no actions to be taken to solve big impersonal problems. But we’re not interested in solving these problems yet. We just want to be clear about our worldview. So let’s look at what we focus on, which is the second AI Principle.

The Poetic Principle

The Poetic Principle says, what we focus on grows. So what have we been focusing on, regarding these big problems? I’ve touched on a few of these already.

• A Laundry list of problems: Focusing on the problems, instead of understanding where the problems come from (maybe they came because of a huge positive movement forward)

• Doom and Gloom media attitude: It’s clear that media, journalism and entertainment have a bias for the negative and dramatic perspective.

• Negative Gravity: A reinforcing feedback loop, focusing on the negative helps us focus on the negative, which trains our Reticular Activation System, our brain’s pattern recognition system, to only see the problems.

• Celebrity Solutions: Our current culture has an obsession with fame and celebrity, thus it is biased to big problem solutions that are promoted/marketed by a celebrity.

• Overnight Success: Similar to the above celebrity bias, media and news coverage look for the quick win stories. Focusing on the success at the end of a long road of determination and persistence.

• BIG!: Building upon the overnight success, it’s not the small solutions that get attention, it’s the big ones. This increases the desire for big solutions and the effort put toward big solutions.

• Armchair visionaries: Theorists that think, but do not have experience in action. Five years ago, I was at SXSW listening to the author of WorldChanging. This was a huge book success and the author was put up on a pedestal. At the end of his talk, he opened for questions. An audience member commended the author on the theory and motivation his book gave people — to questioner himself even — however he wanted to know some practical actions that could be done to really change the world. The author stumbled over some words finally ending on an, “it’s up to you to put it into practice” answer. I felt this was irresponsible of the author and everyone who had put him up on this pedestal.

  • Fear based Inaction: Fear paralyzes action and instead encourages distraction.
  • Drama, Fear, Uncertainty, Lack of Security

After identifying the current focus, I flipped the coin and identified things we could focus on instead.

• Happiness

• Baby Steps

• Positive Reinforcement

• Small Solutions

• Practice

• Ongoing success

• Celebrations

• Everyday people

  • Encouraged Experimentation
  • Safety
  • Satisfaction

Some people are focusing in these areas, specifically in the area of positive psychology and the importance of Happiness and experimentation through Maker and DIY communities.

The Simultaneity Principle

The Simultaneity Principle is the rule that when we ask the questions we have already begun to change. I like to think of this as change in-flight. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, or only in a certain segment of a process. Change is happening all the time, at any stage of the process.

Even now, after reading the paragraph on the Constructionist Principle, where we take responsibility for these problems, you have begun to change. The students in class who heard my presentation began to change after I started my presentation. These seeds of ideas move through our brains, ideas, and consciousness. It’s happening right now.

This principle reminds me of Draper’s System Law, where everything is connected to everything else.

The Anticipatory Principle

The Anticipatory Principle is the rule that what we believe, we conceive. So let’s throw out those big problems we started with and instead ask ourselves, what is the world we want to anticipate? If we were to conceive the world today, what would that look like?

• Pure, Fresh, Clean, Renewed World

• Abundant Resources

• Plentiful diverse economic exchanges

• Supporting Self-Actualized Population

• Comfortable Climate for Life

• Curious Excitement

• Positive Pioneering

  • Ongoing Practice and Exploration
  • Respectful dialog and communication

And most importantly as part of this new world: A new set of problems.

The Positive Principle

The Positive Principle is where we identify and leverage strengths. I like to remember the successes we have already experienced as part of history. Successes like: language, writing, science, math and knowledge. None of these things were handed to the human race. We invented, observed, understood, discovered. These successes, even in hindsight, are much larger than the challenges we as a species face today. What can we leverage from those successes to apply to our current challenges?

• Communities

• Science and Discovery

• Open Communication, Sharing

• Increasing Stability, Certainty

• Transformation of raw to refined

• All those good human emotions: Joy, Love, Compassion, Inspiration, Cooperation

• Tenacity

Most of all, we must believe we can solve these problems. There is no deus ex machina. Technology is not our hero. We are.

Conclusion

So what is the answer to these big problems?

As the Simultaneity Principle says, as we question, we change. Humanity has no option but to “solve” these problems. Our solutions will result in new problems for the future to solve. Each question and its answer is a pair of steps along the path of humanity’s unfolding story.

Begin by understanding your role in the beliefs of the world. Start with self-observation — you don’t need to change yourself — just pay attention to your thoughts and beliefs, where they come from. What do you focus on? Is that what you want to continue to focus on?

Take a moment and dream about the future. What is the future you want? Don’t worry about the current state of the world. And try not to focus on outcomes of specific things in the world. For example, say you want Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump to be president. Don’t focus on that event, instead focus on what they mean to you — what they stand to you — and how their values in a presidency positively impacts your life. Think about these things in the present tense. See yourself living in the world of that present tense. It’s very important that you keep your daydreams positive and productive.

Then ask yourself, what (small) actions can you take? Maybe it’s observing/noticing/ceasing racist internal dialog. Maybe it’s spending time with your friends and family — telling them you love them and enjoying time. Maybe it’s making positive comments on friends FB posts. Maybe it is being kind with yourself and others.

And, remember, we will never solve all the world’s problems. Each step forward in humanity, each solution to a past problem, opens the door to many more new problems. Sometimes new steps forward, bring into the light decades of previously hidden problems. This is a good thing — this means we still have a long way to evolve as a human species.

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. ― Richard P. Feynman

Using AI as a navigational method to solve these problems can make the journey more pleasurable, while building confidence in ourselves as a species.

Note: This is an edit of a paper written in 2012. It won a 1st place award from the Association of Professional Futurist the following year. The assignment that lead to this paper was to use an alternate foresight research method. I chose the methods, Appreciative Inquiry and Presencing, because I was initially turned off by the woo-woo ness of them. The results of the methods shocked me — I came up with absolutely new visions on the state of world problems, leading to surprising directions for “solutions” to those problems. It completely reset my thinking about global problems.

Finally, I want to note, that I wrote the original paper a few weeks after my mother died from Ovarian Cancer. I was personally, in a very dark, despairing place. Having lost faith in humanity, technology, and the world. It is from this place, and within that context, these insights were formed.