Having recently endured a further learning experience - in this case an encounter with a near life-exit on the operating table while conscious - I have now got back to focus on what matters, being made (I hope!) yet a little more wise by the experience.
This very recent reflection brought me to think again (in my 76th year) about the state of thinking - particularly in the Western World - and after listening to talks by Martin Sandbrook at the Schumacher Institute on the topic of Systems Thinking, I have produced a map of the general evolution of Western thought. I have projected it a little into the future:
The first area I wish to touch on is the kind of thinking that we still seem to be transfixed by - the Mechanistic approach to things, a paradigm that is on the way out but has become so embedded in our consciousness that for most of us aged over 50 it is probably very difficult to escape it completely. Indeed there are aspects of this kind of thinking that are still relevant. This is the kind of thinking that drew on selected aspects of the philosophy of Bacon and Newton and created the Industrial Revolution. It has perpetuated our main thinking ever since, until the 21st century (now), when all manner of disturbances - including Climate Change and sheer survival - have forced us to recognise that a different approach is necessary.
We have begun in the last few decades to talk of the ecology of the planet, and the realisation that the imposition of Mechanistic Western thinking onto other societies may well be a wrong approach. We have begun to accept that the on-going usage of fossil fuels and material growth are not sustainable, so to impose that thinking onto other societies would only be exacerbating the issue. An academic named E. West Churchman is now regarded as the 'father' of Systems Thinking and said that his idea can only take shape "when we see the world through the eyes of another". To think that his concepts came about around 50 years ago (as did publications such as "Limits to Growth"), yet it has taken all this time to see how it makes more sense than the old paradigm.
It is only through Systems Thinking that we can begin to properly grasp how everything around us - both man-made and natural - is inter-connected, and thus encourage us to develop empathy towards the issues that we now more clearly see, and thus employing new ways on how to arrive at solutions.
So that is where we are - moving into a Systems Thinking paradigm, largely as a result of being forced into this mode by the circumstances we created for ourselves using the old, Mechanistic, paradigm. Politically, the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, in its wish to transform the EU along Systems Thinking processes, is an example of the attempt to implement the new paradigm in a way that is positively meaningful to everyone, and not just politicians and bankers.
However, if we were to stand back a little and be more detached, in Systems Thinking we can possibly begin to understand more of what the great masters the Buddha and Jesus were saying. In alluding, for example, to loving our neighbour, what would we be doing but (as Churchman said) to "... see the world through the eyes of another"? Only by trying to do this can we remove our selfishness and ego.
With the state of the world as it is, and in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landing on the Moon, I only see Systems Thinking as just another small step by man in getting closer towards the teachings of the great spiritual masters, whose effect will be felt sooner than we might think. And a future that we currently cannot even begin to contemplate. We are meant to spiritually evolve, not stagnate. We are here as stewards, not owners, of this planet, in order to reach our spiritual destiny.
A sustainable and equitable future demands that our thinking is directed along the lines of Love.
Thank you for reading this.