An Age of Consciousness Is Here, and It Changes Everything
Are you worried about autocrats and post-factual nonsense? The out-of-control power of social media and artificial intelligence? Climate doom and other existential threats? I am too, and I think I can explain what’s happening.
As a professor, I’ve studied the tech revolution since my graduate student days at UC Berkeley. My new book, Beyond Knowledge, shows that these problems arise out of the natural flow of social evolution. The best way to grasp this change is to see that the world is being driven by the digital revolution into an Age of Consciousness. This changes everything.
What I’ve learned is that the Knowledge Age is passing as smartphones, social media, and artificial intelligence automate knowledge. Knowledge is still crucial, but the digital revolution is driving the world beyond knowledge into a new frontier governed by emotions, values, beliefs, and higher-order thought. An Age of Consciousness is here, though it’s dominated by disinformation, conspiracy theories, climate deniers, political gridlock, and other sources of confusion that pose an existential crisis.
Here’s the thing. The smartphone, for instance, has made the world’s entire store of knowledge available to anyone. We have all the knowledge we need at our fingertips. There’s no shortage of knowledge, and so folks have moved up a notch and are being led by various beliefs, while social media churns up emotions and spreads disinformation. And as artificial intelligence automates knowledge, we are forced to move beyond knowledge. By definition, everything beyond knowledge is consciousness. Consciousness is where we live our daily lives — our values, beliefs, choices, fears, hopes.
That’s why we are adrift in madness like the “big lie.” More than 70 percent of Republicans are convinced the 2020 presidential election was stolen after this was discredited by the courts and Republican officials themselves.
Or look at the way anti-vaccination beliefs hold the US hostage. The FDA has approved the covid vaccine, and half of the world has taken billions of doses safely. But anti-vaxxers are so intent on their “freedom” that we can’t get past the pandemic.
Climate deniers are likewise holding up action on eliminating CO2. Meanwhile, New York City and other coastal areas are flooded constantly, wildfires burn out of control, and 1000-year storms tear up the country.
How can we explain this wholesale fetish for nonsense while denying hard facts and logic?
I have struggled with this problem for years, and the result is what I call the “Life Cycle of Evolution (LCE).” Take a look at the graph, and I think you find this an accurate outline of the rise of civilization through various stages of development. If my analysis of social evolution is correct, we could witness a historic shift to a “global consciousness” — and soon. As shown, civilization has been driven by the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Post-Industrial Revolution, and the Digital Revolution recently. The next evolutionary step is a Mental/Spiritual Revolution to kick start the Age of Consciousness.
Consciousness is the inner terrain in which we live our lives, and it is changing rapidly to cope with the slightly crazed demands of high-tech life. People are embracing mindfulness, living with nature, and using psychedelics to relieve stress, provide insight and improve health. The evidence shows that these techniques can instill respect for the planet, cooperation, understanding, and compassion that are essential to a unified world — a global consciousness.
The Life Cycle of Evolution follows the universal lifecycle that all living systems pass through — birth (start of the S-curve), growth (upward phase), and maturity (leveling off). The global crisis is an infinitely larger version of the same crisis of maturity that transforms teenagers into adults. But the typical teenager has not learned to control their impulses, struggles with inner doubts, and can’t cope with a confusing world.
At some point, the stress becomes so severe that most teens eventually find the courage to grow up and become responsible adults. In a roughly similar way, the crisis of maturity is humanity’s challenge to become a mature civilization. The world is being forced to grow up and to develop a sustainable global order — or perish. With foresight, hard work, and a little luck, we could see the triumph of human spirit, once again.
What role do we, as individuals, play in this global transformation? There are two main paths for individuals making this arduous journey. You are taking the first path by seeking to understand the passage ahead. The second path is to use that knowledge to make your own transformation into a mature global citizen.
Yes, I know this is daunting and it asks a lot. The world is spiraling out of control, and we all must change to create a sustainable world. Besides, the emerging global consciousness is really a better mental place to inhabit. Our consciousness is all you can hope to control, really. But from there, almost anything is possible.