How do we handle such accusations and reality-checks? Can we go back?
No, and yes.
Perhaps it is true that we cannot return to a time when there were: no cars, no refrigerators, no large shopping malls, no television, no mobile phones…
However, we can go back in another, more useful, and more valuable way. We can go back to a former way of thinking. Albert Einstein is credited with perhaps the most famous quotation regarding our thinking.
“We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Einstein never actually said this, although he was the Chairman of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists who sent a telegram to prominent Americans in May 1946, in the wake of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That telegram included the phrase,
“…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”
In neither case did Einstein mean a thinking that simply produced different results. He did not mean that we should apply our current way of thinking to come up with new ways of dealing with problems.
Einstein was advocating an entirely different way of thinking. He was advocating for a thinking placed within a much wider understanding of our human place in the world:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
A similar understanding is suggested by indigenous peoples who exhort us to use different thinking processes and not simply steal the results of indigenous thinking.1
It is almost seventy-five years since Einstein bemoaned our way of thinking, yet we continue to think – in the same way we have been thinking since at least the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (and possibly much earlier.)
We are still trying to resolve conflict using combative thinking and the strategies of warfare.
We are still trying to make political decisions based on adversarial debating procedures from centuries ago.
And, crucially, currently we are trying to solve the problems of climate chaos using the same technological thinking we used when we began building steam engines.
Such ways of thinking must change. We must find ways of thinking that do not rely simply upon information and knowledge. It has been said that “As information doubles, knowledge is halved, and wisdom is quartered.”2
Changing our thinking requires us to let go of our desire for control, mastery, and even of outcomes. We need thinking that admits to our being “…a part of the whole called by us universe.”
Can we do it? We do have thinking that is based in patterns, holism, and complexity. We have forgotten them. Let’s go back and look for them.
1. See especially: Tyson Yunkaporta, sand talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2019.
2. Ervin Laszlo & Jude Currivan, Cosmos: A Co-creator’s Guide to the Whole-World, Hay House Inc., 2008.