|The San Francisco Planning Meeting for the Second Enlightenment|
Planning Meeting for the Second Enlightenment was held on the Creative Spirit
Yacht at Sausalito in California on 8 and 9 September 2011. It was
co-organized by The Universe Institute and Symplicitus.
The meeting was an intentional attempt to devise strategies to accelerate the
spread of a higher form of cognition across the planet. This initiative
was a response to the fact that our current ways of thinking are manifestly
incapable of solving the complex environmental, social, economic and political
problems that are besetting the planet.
This higher form of cognition was referred to by the meeting as meta-systemic
or dialectical thinking. It is the cognitive capacity to understand
complex systems and processes, and to use this understanding to manage
complexity effectively. Our current level of abstract/rational
thought is unable to do this. It can represent mentally only those
limited aspects of reality that are relatively mechanistic.
Abstract/rational thinking is largely incapable of representing complex
patterns and processes, transforming systems, emergence and complex
The First or European
Enlightenment was driven by the spread of abstract/rational cognition.
The Second Enlightenment will be driven by the spread of
meta-systemic/dialectical thinking. Subsequently,
John Stewart and Victoria Wilding developed and implemented a 10 week
program specifically designed to train meta-systemic cognition and
higher social/emotional development. A description of the program
from the perspective of a participant was published in the
January/February 2014 issue of the Integral Leadership Review.
The article written by Mark Roddam can be accessed in full here An outline of the 10 week course and copies of materials used in the program can be found here
The key issues that were addressed by the meeting were: what new ways of
thinking will enable humanity to understand and manage the complex challenges
that we are facing? Is it possible to train people in these new ways of
thinking? If it is, what strategies will spread the higher forms of
thinking to sufficient people across the planet in time to make a real
difference before global crises undermine human civilization?
The full agenda for the meeting is included below on this page. Background notes that I prepared for
the meeting about the development and transmission of higher cognition are reproduced below the agenda.
As demanded by its ambitious and challenging goals, the meeting brought
together a small group of extraordinary people with a diversity of talents and
backgrounds. These included extensive experience and achievements in
spiritual development (across a variety of traditions), adult development (both
social-emotional and cognitive), dialectical thinking, evolution science,
business consultancy, leadership development, evolutionary evangelism, Integral
theory and practice, biology, ecology, natural resource management, marketing
and public relations, psychotherapy, government policy development, and cult
Further details about the participants and their backgrounds are here.
The full effects of the Planning Meeting will take time to emerge.
However, an immediate outcome had been to stimulate productive
cross-fertilization and on-going exchanges between two existing approaches to
training and promoting meta-systemic/dialectical thinking. These are the
approaches developed by Otto Laske in the United States (see the
Interdevelopmental Institute website here)
and by John Stewart and Victoria Wilding in Australia (see the Symplicitus
A key new initiative that arose out of the Planning Meeting is being
driven by Lawrence Wollersheim, Vid Veda and Malena Gamboa. This
initiative is directed at developing tools for 'Dialectical Living'.
Core Member of the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Research Group, The
Free University of Brussels
Agenda for The San Francisco Planning Meeting for the Second Enlightenment
The Purpose of the meeting:
To develop strategies and techniques to produce a global shift to meta-systemic/dialectical
What is meta-systemic/dialectical
cognition? Issues that will be explored
under this item include:
How does it differ from analytical cognition, systems
thinking and multi-perspectivalism?
In what ways can it provide a superior understanding
of reality? What is its significance at
this time in human evolution?
What models have been developed to operationalize
What models have been developed to understand the
development of meta-systemic/dialectical cognition?
approaches can best transmit meta-systemic/dialectical cognition? Issues to be explored under this item
What approaches have been used in the past?
What are their strengths and what are their
What general models have been developed that can explain
the strengths and weaknesses of these previous approaches?
What do these general models tell us about designing
more effective approaches?
What do they tell us about ‘training the trainers’?
What do they tell us about designing online
What can be done
to promote the spread of meta-systemic/dialectical cognition across the planet? Issues to be discussed include:
How can it be transmitted so that its growth is autocatalytic
and it spreads exponentially?
To what extent can it be packaged and targeted so
that is funded and ‘pumped up’ by existing processes within society such as
economic markets? For example:
o How can
it be targeted and packaged to serve the interests of business;
o What approaches
will best tap demand from ‘developmentally attuned’ individuals.
o How can
it be integrated into the educational system?
How can innovation and evolution of the approach be
facilitated? Is there a role for quality control?
o To what
extent should information about the process be made freely available?
How can the approach be shielded from negative
4) What action should this meeting put in train to begin
the implementation of the strategies it has developed?
Background notes for the San Francisco Planning meeting - the development and transmission of higher cognition:
The major focus of the meeting is to consider the development of
strategies and techniques to produce a global shift to systemic cognition.
Systemic cognition is the capacity to understand and
manage complex systems and processes.
Analytical/rational thinking is incapable of
adequately understanding complex phenomena
cognition spread with the European Enlightenment and now dominates.
o It can
represent mentally only those limited aspects of reality that are relatively
o It is
incapable of representing complex patterns and processes, non-linearities,
transforming systems, emergence and complex relationships.
Cognition that is unable to represent or model
something is incapable of understanding or managing it, or even of ‘seeing’ it.
cognition continues to use analytical/rational cognition for understanding
mechanistic aspects of reality. But it
also models and represents those many aspects of reality that are more complex
It represents and models complex patterns,
transforming systems, non-linear processes etc.
The use of these representations is experienced as intuitions and
The spread of systemic cognition is of critical importance because:
Systemic cognition is essential if an individual is
to be able to fully understand the large-scale evolutionary processes that have
shaped humanity and other life on this planet and that will determine our
future. It is therefore a pre-condition
for fully ‘getting’ the evolutionary worldview and for experiencing the
transformative epiphanies that accompany this;
The global crises and challenges that are
confronting humanity cannot be understood and cannot be solved without a
cognitive capacity that enables the management of complex systems and
processes. Analytical/rational cognition
cannot do this;
True systemic cognition is currently almost
non-existent. Most ‘systems thinking’ is done with mental/rational
representations and cognition.
Post-modern cognition (‘green’ in SD terms) is incapable of rigorously
understanding complex phenomenon, and people at this level are commonly
It seems unlikely that systemic cognition will
develop quickly enough to meet global challenges unless it is spread intentionally
What is needed is a New Enlightenment. It will be similar to the first Enlightenment
in that it will be driven by a shift to higher cognition.
But this time the shift will be from the
analytical/rational thought of the first enlightenment to systemic
And the shift will be developed and spread
intentionally and consciously.
Currently there are no widely-accepted approaches to training and
developing higher mind and systemic cognition.
The Integral Movement and spiritual progressives
tend to focus on the development of consciousness, not the development of
higher cognition. Since these movements
are almost universally ‘green’, cognition tends to be part of their shadow.
Most members of these movements do not have the
cognitive development to see that effective responses to global challenges
require a higher level of cognition, not just higher consciousness.
The failure of the Integral Movement and spiritual
progressives to make any significant contribution to resolving major crises
such as global warming is due to their cognitive limitations.
The ‘missing piece’ that is limiting these movements
is systemic cognition.
As outlined in his book Measuring
hidden Dimensions of Human Systems, Otto Laske has developed courses and supporting
materials aimed at training and developing systemic cognition. The book includes an extraordinarily valuable
Manual of Dialectical Thought Forms that builds on the work of Michael
Basseches and others.
The Manual identifies the classes of things that we
have to represent in our thinking if we are to adequately represent and
understand complex phenomena and processes.
o It shows
us the things that analytical/rational thought is unable to represent and
identifies the sorts of processes to which we must direct our attention if we
are to build adequate mental models of complex systems.
Although Laske’s work shows us where we have to direct our attention to
think dialectically and systemically, it does not include practices that train
the ability to freely move attention to where it is required.
It is here that the ‘consciousness movement’ can
contribute significantly to programs that aim to train and transmit
The use of the kinds of attention-training practices promoted by the
world’s spiritual and contemplative traditions can greatly accelerate the
development of higher mind.
These practices train the capacity to dis-embed from
lower forms of cognition, freeing attention and consciousness to access and
build higher cognitive structures.
John Stewart will bring to the discussion an approach to training higher
cognition that is being developed in Australia with Victoria Wilding of Symplicitus:
This approach broadly combines Laske’s approach with
practices appropriated from the spiritual traditions. These ‘spiritual’ practices train the ability
Dis-embed from analytical/rational thinking;
See analytical/rational thought ‘from the outside’
as an object that can be contemplated and evaluated
Eventually systemic cognition itself can be seen as
an object that can be contemplated, evaluated and improved;
Gain conscious and intentional control over
attention so that it can be moved freely around the aspects of complex
phenomena that are not represented effectively by analytical/rational thinking;
Access and develop non thought-based cognitive
resources, including pattern recognition capacities and intuition.
These capacities enable the individual to:
Identify the critical aspects of complex phenomenon
that are not represented adequately by analytical/rational thought; and
Build new cognitive representations that include
what is left out by analytical thinking.
This enables the construction of new mental models that
are not solely thought-based and that can adequately represent complex systems
and phenomenon as they evolve and transform through time.