The Paradigms We Live In: Nature’s paradigms and ours

The Paradigms We Live In: Nature’s paradigms and ours

The following essay appeared as two parts in the monthly newsletter of the California educational non-profit Ecocity Builders, the first for their April, 2015 edition and the second for their May, 2015 edition with two separate titles, one for each month.

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Begin part two, May 2015, Ecocity Builders Newsletter

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For my contribution to our Ecocity Builders newsletter last month I wrote about some of my then current thinking on paradigms, mentioning that I’ve been thinking a good deal about the subject in preparation for attending and speaking at the “New Paradigm for Human Development” conference in Baku, Azerbaijan organized and hosted by the World Academy of Art and Science.

What a difference two weeks make. I’m not the flighty sort but I’ve had some significant additions and some change in thinking in a rather short time. Now, something more needs to be added: pre-human paradigms, and also, a perspective I think shows three great stages of development that could be thought of as the three great paradigms humans participate in – in the past, present and future.

Of course I believe ecocities have a place at the fulcrum of needed changes right in the middle of whatever paradigm humanity adopts in our general extended present. But ecocities are still only one of several very crucial elements in such a paradigm that could help us into an experientially rich, and as they say, “sustainable” future. More preferably I’d suggest that future be called, rather simply, “ecologically healthy,” the base condition for continued happy evolution of society and nature alike. We are alive after all; biology is our basis; therefore I prefer “ecocity” to “green city” or “sustainable city,” ecology being the study of life in its countless dynamic interconnections. In this second installment, look for “exaggerated gamesmanship” as a key concept introduced in the first installment.

Related side note: the Chinese government leaders these days declare they are dedicating themselves to creating an “ecological civilization.” I wish my own government would do that, which would be an open door to ecocity contributions. “Civilization,” the term itself, is based on the Latin for “city,” which shows you just how open such a door should be. Too bad that for the time being the Chinese are still so strong on trying to make cars a big part of that civilization – a major contradiction, but with luck, that element in their paradigm will change.

What again is a paradigm? A matrix of thinking and acting accepted by an individual or collection of people. We can have what amount to our own personal paradigms. Group paradigms can run from those of a small cluster to perhaps the whole world population. At any level a paradigm is generally “what’s going on,” how things happen based in our thinking that counts most. But also, paradigms regulate what we let into our consciousness as well, what or whom we pay attention to or stonewall, that reinforces our reality, and what is sometimes even jokingly called, when the paradigm is one held by many people, “consensus reality.”

Einstein – as seen in a Monterrey, California “head shop” window. Here is where I ran into his quote, “Once we accept our limits we can go beyond them.” Richard Register photo (no designer attribution on the poster)

Einstein – as seen in a Monterrey, California “head shop” window. Here is where I ran into his quote, “Once we accept our limits we can go beyond them.”
Richard Register photo (no designer attribution on the poster)

Is a particular paradigm really real? Well we all hope so if it is ours. And rather conspicuously, some seem healthier than others – to say the least! Some lead to enlightenment (or for the purist, almost there) while others can lead to horrors of violence and destruction.

Similarly, some social/cultural “myths” encapsulate – or try to – the essence of our world. In this sense our Big Myths are stories dramatizing our Big Paradigms. For most cultures our creation myths are the foundation for pretty much everything. Some people don’t believe in them but the great majority of a “people” often do, especially where a single religion presides over a large landscape. Creation myths tell us where we come from, where we are going and what we are supposed to do in the meantime, which is saying a great deal indeed. They often lead into an after life where we are punished or rewarded for our conduct here on dear old Earth: in Heaven or Hell or in some Valhalla or Happy Hunting Grounds. Some such grand cultural myths posit returning in some form for a second chance, a third, a forth…

What is particularly powerful about creation myths is the fact that they are built around a story line that seems prototypically human, the gods or God in them are human but more so. We can see ourselves living such a myth, identifying with the characters. These myths are not just outlines of what we are supposed to embrace or avoid and manifest or destroy, they are all about me and my family, friends and associates, my competitors and antagonists. We can place ourselves in their action. These myths are living paradigms with a story line.

Evolution’s pattern and where it reverses, then advances again

What has changed in my think is this that follows, but first, why the change? I’ve been teaching a class in ecocities for the past two weeks at Maharishi University of Management in sleepy, cozy Fairfield, Iowa – except when reality rumbles through about 20 times a day in the form of a gigantic Burlington Northern unit train owned by Warren Buffett loaded with averaging around 130 hopper cars heaping full of black coal that’s being burned in about that same immense volume and time span at the various ends of the branching tracks, transferred cross country from Wyoming into the atmosphere at points eastern, then to circle the globe as CO2 and other chemicals and gasses for months, some for decades. But that is a whole other (if related) story.

I prepared a seventh presentation, a new one, in this series of lectures for my third engagement there in Iowa, one dealing with how paradigms fit our college level class on ecocities. From conversations with teachers and students, new ideas emerged.

I’ve seen cities as a powerful step in evolution not just of ourselves and our individual and social consciousness but in the physical trajectory of evolution from “Big Bang” to hydrogen scattered through vast expanses of space, to condensation and formation of stars from that hydrogen, then planets from the elements created in stars, then life from chemicals on planets, then consciousness from life among the chemicals, of the universe. In other words we embody a phase of evolution, new in the swath of billions of years (though life may exist elsewhere too). This observation I got from Teilhard de Chardin and Paolo Soleri 50 years ago and the sequence has been corroborated and embraced by cosmologists that use astronomy, math and physics as their main tools. What Teilhard and Paolo noticed about this set of changes is a pattern they called “miniaturization/complexification,” the two phenomenon inextricably intermingled and happening together through time. It is educational that “complexification” remains rejected by Spell Check to this writing, that in other words, still most people can notice, some even recite the evolution sequence without explicitly noticing the essence of the pattern itself, much less applying it to our current everyday lives.

But certainly in our everyday lives that pattern is actualized, retarded or reversed by, for one thing, the way we build cities towns and villages as flat, scattered constructions. If stars, then planets, then life, then consciousness has evolved in steps toward ever greater miniaturization/complexification, which I prefer to contract to “miniplexion,” then our cities with the advent of cars are headed in exactly the opposite direction: they became giants covering vast areas of land, displacing farm and nature and consuming massive amounts of materials and energy. They’ve degenerated to zones of sameness, the simplicity of endless repetition of form and function in the grids and “dead worms” layout of vast suburban developments sprinkled with franchise restaurants and outlets, big box stores, freeways and parking facilities and common experience of guzzling fuel in epic quantities while expending large fractions of lives stuck in mind-simplifying traffic jams.

Why this counter evolutionary pattern? Largely because cars took over in the early years of the 20th century and they are big, weigh a lot and go fast: they are about 60 times the volume of a human when standing still and take up even more space when in motion, weigh approximately 30 times as much as your average human and in normal operation move about 10 times as fast. This has created our behemoth sprawled cities whose residences, shops and offices share few walls, floors and ceilings with each other and fail to share their “waste” heat and cooling energy while scattering things such that recycling is inefficient. The whole thing is powered by great rivers of oil flowing out of the Earth and into our vehicles as gasoline and diesel and thence into the atmosphere to join Warren Buffett’s 20 times 130 hopper cars of coal a day (3,600 cars) passing through Fairfield plus CO2 and other gasses, soot and aerosols from all the other human sources which make Burlington Northern’s contribution look small.

As Soleri pointed out way back 50 years ago when I met him in 1965 the more three-dimensional city was the compact much smaller city by almost any measure other than its density, and that with a great deal of diversity in small areas – complexity as another way of looking at it – everything could be close together in the city that used the model of complex living organisms as some kind of guidance.

I call this the “anatomy analogy:” cities like complex living organisms. It pays to pay attention. The more we build with this as a clear guidance the more likely we will have ways of living efficiently enough to be harmonious with nature, considerate enough to live within an “ecological footprint” that does not degrade the rest of the living fabric – the biosphere – of our planet.

That connection when I mention it in my talks – evolution to city design and layout – has received a ho-hum response or complete disbelief as too “far out” for most people. Connecting city planning issues to bicycles, recycling, community gardening, solar passive architecture and energy conservation, public transit and even the value of “mixed use development”… All that is just fine and gaining credibility and adherents steadily. That’s some progress. But enough?

Evolution’s paradigms, followed by ours

But now, let’s look at evolution’s paradigms. What struck me thinking about paradigms, preparing for my new presentation at Maharishi University, was the notion that maybe not just people but all living things and even the inanimate universe are and have been caught up in patterns that look and act much like paradigms. The sequences of events might not have seen consciousness in the universe in the early billions of years but patterns defining actions and reactions with recorded lag times called momentum and inertia, products and patterns that remain to influence the future, would have a rough parallel with paradigms in human consciousness and society.

Maybe there have been four big paradigms: the Physics Paradigm, the first big paradigm. Then the explosion of the starts seeding the universe with the heavy elements, creating the planets, comets, asteroids and such, the Chemistry Paradigm based on the full range of the periodic table of the elements, the second big paradigm. Then the advent of life on our “small” planet, the Biology Paradigm, the third big paradigm.

The Earth and moon, around 3 billion years ago. Nature’s Chemistry Paradigm, wherein the heavier elements cooked up in early generation stars create chemistry, something new in the universe, when planets, moons, comets, asteroids, dust, gasses and other materials gather and spin in space and define natures second great paradigm. (From Time Life Magazine’s book, “The World We Live In,” 1952)

The Earth and moon, around 3 billion years ago. Nature’s Chemistry Paradigm, wherein the heavier elements cooked up in early generation stars create chemistry, something new in the universe, when planets, moons, comets, asteroids, dust, gasses and other materials gather and spin in space and define natures second great paradigm.
(From Time Life Magazine’s book, “The World We Live In,” 1952)

So far so good – or at least I think it sounds fairly clear, aka “good.” So what to say of the paradigm of life giving rise to consciousness in the universe? The Consciousness Paradigm, the fourth big paradigm?

Sorry but here comes another made-up word: conscienceness. And I’ll suggest three successive all-encompassing, while they dominate, paradigms, that last of which, not yet commenced, might continue essentially forever, or perhaps lead into some other reality, some might conclude “spiritual” or “noospherical” (the biosphere’s collective consciousness, to be explained more later) or maybe completely unpredictable. Here’s my outline on all that:

The Conscienceness Paradigms, being something like overlapping subdivisions of the fourth paradigm in terms of the basic paradigms of the universe. In fact it would just be a more inclusive term for the Consciousness Paradigm, designed to include both consciousness and conscience:

4.1. Old Paradigm: Infinite growth

  • sum total of life evolving
  • competition and consciousness evolving, dominating
  • “Star Wars Myth” (from my last installment, with more below)
  • up to and including the 20th century
  • gift economics then capital economics in human exchange; within capital economics capitalist vs. socialist economics
  • slogan: “more and more and more”

4.2. Transition Paradigm: respect limits

  • life evolving but changing in very important ways
  • cooperation and conscienceness evolving, dominating
  • we are always emerging, creative
  • approximately the 21st century
  • capitalist + socialist economics
  • slogan: “shrink for prosperity”

4.3. Forever Paradigm: compassionate creativity

  • coevolution of conscienceness and the biosphere
  • creativity and compassion forever
  • with conscienceness firmly established
  • approximately the 22nd century and into the deep future
  • dynamic capital (not capitalist) economics
  • Slogan; “always creating”

Overall guidance:

“Once we accept our limits we can go beyond them.” ~Albert Einstein

We somehow missed that overall guidance in the old paradigm, not listening to Einstein, but I think the reason was that our habits of survival were dominantly from life’s long, long pattern of “survival of the fittest” and the dominance of the competitive over the cooperative, though the cooperative was always also there in the gamesmanship of staying alive to reproduce in evolution, perhaps strengthening over time and becoming quite strong in human societies when they embraced “civilization” with thousands of people involved in one paradigm or another while building enormously complex and often stunningly beautiful cultures and horrifying destructive, gory, glorious, disgusting wars.

What I’d like to suggest now is that consciousness was becoming ever more powerful and introspective and extrospective (exploring our world) as life evolved ever more complex organisms. All life forms in the Biological Paradigm do produce and always have produced far more numerous offspring than survive to reproduce, which Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace made a big deal of: nature red in tooth and claw – but also surviving by delivering services in cooperative exchanges, such as the bee delivers to the flower by fertilizing it, the flower providing nectar and pollen in return. That’s why Darwin and Wallace said not the most strong, violent and greedy to consume and control everything, but the most able to fit into the dynamically balanced ecosystems, from the local to global whole biosphere level: survival of the fittest.

We might consider conscience to begin evolving in first simple then more complex ways, say as patterns of care for young, or even maybe impulsive, one might conclude genetically “hardwired” or “instinctive” drive to deliver services while harvesting the requirements of maintaining lives, each and every organism. Naturalist Edward O. Wilson has even posited that life forms exhibits, and very conspicuously he says if we but notice, a desire for “affiliation” with other different life forms in addition to attraction to members of their own species. “Affiliation” is his attempt to sound more scientific than the soft and cuddly “affection” but that’s I’m sure what he means: real cross species desire to know and get close to… if not too dangerous, those fascinating others.

So a particular kind of consciousness began arising with the more self-feeding and self-defending kind that could, as developed most highly in humans, to be known as conscience. It’s deep origin probably has a lot to do with the “identity factors” behaviorist psychologist Konrad Lorenz noticed seemed to be part of the imprinting process going on in the various birds he was living with and experimenting with. With higher levels of consciousness, these kinds of thoughts or unconscious processes of the mind added up to some behaviors that best are categorized as ethics, morals and sense of justice, generosity and compassion. Not just self-feeding, but feeding offspring, building and sharing shelter and taking defense responsibilities alone or with mate or larger numbers of the same species. Cooperating with other species in symbiotic relationships would count too. Eric Weiner in his insightful and often hilarious world-roving quest for understanding happiness called The Geography of Bliss has this intriguing contribution to this line of reasoning: “Neuroscientists, meanwhile, believe they have located the part of the brain linked with altruism. To their surprise it turns out to be a more primitive part of the brain than initially suspected – the same part associated with our cravings for food and sex. That suggests we are hardwired for altruism and not just faking it.”

Would it be a stretch then to say at a certain point a healthy conscience was co-evolving with ever-higher consciousness, and starting fairly early on in evolution?

There are other dimensions of consciousness, such as creativity, which reflects in us what is happening in the universe as it evolves new forms and processes in its own evolution, evolution being creative, a pattern more and more physicists are calling “emergence.” Among humans, it may be that such creativity has to be careful these days not to create dangerous, damaging things, such for example as car cities rather than ecocities.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Whether what we build and make is creative or destructive in ecological and evolutionary terms brings us to the Stars Wars Myth again, a story or paradigm assuming and promulgating the notion that only when we have won and everyone in the universe is like us could there ever be peace, and since that seems unlikely, the struggle to exterminate the enemy, and he us, is the eternal fate of consciousness evolving. Most religions and strong political and economic dogmas behave like and believes “only if everyone believes as I do can peace be achieved.” But what if the more highly evolved consciousness, called conscience, noticed that nature thrived in diversity, not monoculture uniformity? What if altruism accessed its deep neurological roots? In fact, back to ecological insights, could the world be reduced to one species of organism and hope to see that one grand victor alive, maybe humans living on machine-created “food” from ground up rocks? Could life then survive at all? It seems the more the merrier in ecology and evolution, certainly the richer the choices and relationships in life.

Star Wars battle scene – good clean fun or a grand paradigm curtain call (hopefully). Humanity’s first big paradigm was all about more and more and more. It worked for evolution as individuals of all species reproduced and “struggled” for survival. But should humans continue this pattern? (From the Internet)

Star Wars battle scene – good clean fun or a grand paradigm curtain call (hopefully).
Humanity’s first big paradigm was all about more and more and more. It worked for evolution as individuals of all species reproduced and “struggled” for survival. But should humans continue this pattern? (From the Internet)

The reality isn’t so fun. Hungry refugees lining up for food in a town near Damascus, Syria. This image must represent one of the most fantastically devastated scenes in history, and happening almost right now as failing states spread throughout the Middle East and Africa. Can evolution go on much longer without conscience taking over from consciousness? Should we insult war and call it disgusting? (From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 2, 2015)

The reality isn’t so fun. Hungry refugees lining up for food in a town near Damascus, Syria. This image must represent one of the most fantastically devastated scenes in history, and happening almost right now as failing states spread throughout the Middle East and Africa. Can evolution go on much longer without conscience taking over from consciousness? Should we insult war and call it disgusting?
(From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 2, 2015)

Naomi Klein, known for her impeccably researched, referenced and righteous attacks on the violent excesses of capitalism’s extreme side, The Shock Doctrine, has noticed in her new book that socialism’s record of damage to the planet, and in particular the climate system – and climate change is Klein’s emphasis in that book – is almost as bad as capitalism’s and if socialism had been more successful in promoting its economics agenda, she implies, it would have been just as damaging as capitalism, perhaps worse. That second book is called This Changes Everything. Clearly something needs to snap us out of our old mindsets and – she doesn’t quite say this but I do – get us into a new paradigm. If this the old battles of one side against the other make little sense, and though there are differences, say between a lot more taxes and regulation on one side and a lot less on the other, can we just dance a little and enjoy ourselves more? Could the revolution be more like Emma Goodman insisted: “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

That is, can we embrace the active difference, be different, accept the back and forth competing but not get greedy and overwrought by it all? I’m back now at my “exaggerated gamesmanship” from the first of these two installments to our newsletter. I’m also suggesting something as simple in human affairs as something Klein mentions in that first book, “decent capitalism,” in which moderate taxes and regulations and spending for the common good benefit all – why bother fighting? Is decent socialism exactly the same thing as decent capitalism? Literally I mean, right in the middle between the poles favored by right and left, maybe oscillating back and forth a little but not enough to bring on destruction and death?

But as Barry Goldwater said campaigning for US President in 1963, “If you are in the middle of the road you get hit by traffic going both ways.” That’s defining out of existence cooperative negotiation and advocating the Star Wars Myth. To emphasize the exaggeration of the game of right/left economic politics, he was also famous for saying, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” One might reasonably ask, “Whose definition of liberty?” too. And, just how extreme do you intend to get while getting people used to the idea that extremism is OK? Humanity should only get as extreme as that we don’t over-exploit one another and nature, that we manage to live in a harmonious balance.

And I remind us again that ecology and evolution don’t do it in the way of exterminating angels. It pays to pay attention, if not for any other reason than the darkly threatening admonition that “nature bats last.” Speaking of sports, perhaps when thinking of competition getting out of hand, maybe the immense amount of time, human lives ticking away watching sports, absorbed in overly competitive business banter, talking about people who are different in some creepy or otherwise confusing likely misunderstood way, is a big waste of valuable time needed to think about, study really, and face our present crises with knowledge, honed skills, creativity and a big dollop of respect for the lessons of nature’s immense diversity of living players.

Are we the gods we’ve been waiting for?

In all this, identity, a very important mental exercise, with the powers of the universe or with God is worth thinking about. Humans have seemed to have identified their better or more powerful and dramatic selves with the powers of God or the gods. When wondering where it all came from, there was God the Creator, or maybe the Big Bang and the continuing creative forces in the universe that brought us first physics, then chemistry, then biology, then consciousness tending to conscienceness. For me in my childhood, God was an elderly stern, powerful, yet sympathetic white guy with a big beard. I could identify Him with a nice but strict grandfather. If we consider consciousness our highest attainment, no wonder many want to believe some conscious something designed the universe. That amounts to a very sophisticated sense of identity linking us and God. Or is consciousness, or even conseienceness far from the highest attainment in the universe. What’s to happen in the future? Or some have maintained that God is the laws and forces of the universe, or, simply and vaguely, everything. But if God were something like the ends of the creative processes of the emerging universe, then we ourselves might be the gods we have been waiting for, at least the gods of the moment, not the extreme humans with high powers that the Greeks imagined for their gods replete with the worst of vices as well as highest commitment to heroic principle, but with powers higher than we possess now on the evolutionary trajectory of miniplexion and who knows what else? As temporary transitional gods we have a pretty big responsibility. If not all the above speculation – and revelation some would say – about God level identify we simply care about our children’s world… we still have a very big responsibility because what we are doing is having some very large and measurable damaging effects in any case.

All this is stretching the evolutionary story, that Teilhard de Chardin and later Thomas Berry, both Catholic priests who were leading thinkers in evolutionary theory, were taking into the realm of theology. De Chardin posited and Soleri endorsed the idea that somewhere deep in the future the universe would arrive at some sort of an omega point impossible to describe even as higher consciousness, an end point in the process and we for our role as the vanguard of consciousness about now are – right now – playing a role in the eventual creation of said end point they thought might be a pretty good definition of God.

I can’t push my own thinking that far into an unpredictable future, much less theological construct, but I think serious paradigm thinking has to approach the questions religion and philosophy bring up, as well as the questions science tries to address. I can see in perhaps a more close-in to my personal experience and practical kind of way, practical for surviving better in a changing world, that the three stages of the fourth paradigm, the Conscienceness Paradigm as I’m calling it here, makes a great deal of sense. And I can also say, to project a little into the future in any case, that if we don’t “blow it,” the city will play a crucial role that Soleri saw as part of the evolving “noosphere,” or sphere of knowledge embedded in the biosphere or Biology Paradigm, imbedded in and preceded by the Chemistry Paradigm, imbedded in and preceded by the Physics Paradigm. The “noosphere” or sphere of knowledge de Chardin proposed to be something like the thoughts, the mind of the physical planetary brain made up of us and all our communication and information recording tools. Soleri added to this notion that cities are nodes of interconnection of information at a very high level of complexity and miniaturization, the real brains of which we and out tools of communication and information storage are the physical part of the noosphere. The thought process itself, I’d add, would be world embracing conscienceness embedded in well-informed coordination with ecology and evolution. And if not, maybe we’d better change things to make sure it is.

If this all gets a little dizzying, it also comes down to not as important as deciding what that brain of the noosphere or those many brains of the cities creating points of fantastically complex, sometime subtle, sometimes blow-your-circuits-out stupidity as in wars, actually decides to do. Will it be that we will all continue fighting as if we would like our religion or other belief system to be the only one left standing? Certainly that’s not modeled in any natural environment as I’ve said about five times now, not the thrust of nature thriving in biodiversity. If consciousness does have, as the Star Wars Myth seems to imply and definitely promulgates, eternal conflict unto exterminating war, then maybe conscience needs to be ascendant and if we figure that out, we can do like billions have done already and learn to live together relatively peacefully, an apple cart upended repeatedly by the few that benefit in their extreme and exaggerated games for power, wealth and glory.

Thus we have the vision of gamesmanship within reasonable limits, playing by the rules of consciensienceness, and I think a very useful way of looking at things, The Way of the Three Paradigms I’m concerned with and offering as something of an outline of a happy survival and thriving.

What then is the cultural myth of the third of our vast human centered paradigms as compared to the Star Wars Myth? That’s the Eternally Creating Myth and that can only be done through serious diversity guided by conscienceness.

Dimensional pairs

Now I will introduce just one more basic, more or less cosmic construct idea before we wind up: dimensional pairs. A dimension is that which, only together with something else, makes a reality. We can think of nothing that does not have both components of time and space. Similarly there are the dimensions of matter and energy. There is the universal and the unique; nothing seems to exist that doesn’t embody both of those. There is the permanent and the ever changing – the laws of the universe and the stuff of the universe seem to describe this pair, the created and the ever being created or “emerging.” In our world of mammal biology, there are the two sexes, male and female or the species does not go on. In capital economics there are the opposite tendencies that constitute something of a dimensional pair, one emphasizing the individual and the other the group, one competition and the other cooperation, when it appears that both are needed and have very valuable contributions to make – or else extreme capitalism turns into greed based fascist dictatorship of an individual and his gang, or Communist fascism supposedly for everyone but actually for another set of power trips not so different from the exploitation of the other “wing.” (I love this quote from John Kenneth Galbraith: “Under capitalism man exploits man. Under Communism it’s just the opposite.”)

These “dimensional pairs” are probably none other than a reworking of the ancient Chinese and Korean yin yang symbol way of visualizing the various polarities of life, though I think the notion of dimensional pairs adds a certain more specific set of thoughts to enrich the old notion. One interesting angle is that matter and energy seem to be the same thing, according to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and the vast outpouring of energy when a small amount of matter is “lost” seems to confirm that. Then the yin yang symbol of Asian yore would seem to blur some, one dimension somehow transmuting into the other. Similarly when the competition that gets exacerbated between the two emphases, capitalism vs. socialism and grows into conflict escalating to war, we see exaggerated gamesmanship embracing the Star Wars Myth and violating much, maybe all of the norms of ethics, morality and notions of “the good” for, in evolutions longer term, short term greed for wealth, power and fame, that is essentially ego gone destructively extreme.

I often think in visual terms and hence I wonder how best to represent dimensional pairs, with the crisp edges of the yin-yang symbol, or something more blurred, even to the point of opposites melding into one another if not blasting through one another as in a nuclear fission or fusion reaction, matter becoming energy, but more like capitalists and socialists become respectful dancers, even maybe like “politics makes strange bed fellows.” Make love, not war. Analogies and abstract symbols are never precise, so my offering on the subject is provisional, but it does seem to me some form of this symbol create an image that looks something like the eyes of reality staring back at us.

Sharp edged yin-yang or melding yin-yang? Dimensional pairs might be expressed graphically, but what way best represents our universal basics, the laws of the universe itself, and in our world of humans within our universe? (Richard Register drawing)

Sharp edged yin-yang or melding yin-yang? Dimensional pairs might be expressed graphically, but what way best represents our universal basics, the laws of the universe itself, and in our world of humans within our universe?
(Richard Register drawing)

All this may seem like philosophical wanderings about, but the implications down here on the ground of health or sickness of living systems, even climate systems, and measurable change in the level of and in the vast currents of the World Ocean suggests we need to do some things that are crucially important. Naomi Klein is right about that and those at the World Academy of Art and Science are on track addressing what a new paradigm might be, or maybe as I’d guess, a couple new paradigms, one of a different character for transition to another, that would be the highest achievement of humankind.

Getting practical

But I don’t believe we can rush directly now into paradigm 4.3, the compassionately always-creating paradigm of humanity based in evolving conscienceness – step forward Saints Francis and Gandhi for a little greenpeace guidance here. I think it is pretty obvious we are not ready. We just plain couldn’t for a while, even if millions wanted to, so strong are many trends in the wrong direction. 4.2, the paradigm in which we learn to shrink back from our excesses is called for as a strategic, unique in evolution transition paradigm. It’s not a retreat but an advance of a special foundation-building kind, perhaps the most creative time of our species’ evolution and absolutely essential for healthy evolution from now on and… profoundly practical. It has to become an “every day” thing to do if we are to “improve reality.” That’s what Phil Frank’s San Francisco Chronicle cartoon character “Farley” called for and the great American environmentalist Dave Brower loved to quote back in the 1970 and 1980s. For all the many reasons treated regularly in this newsletter and in my books and presentations, in the projects of others in Ecocity Builders and for that matter among millions of people working hard to wake us all up to some dire environmental and social problems, and in the work of people adding one good feature after another to our troubled and troubling cities, we need ecocities.

But also, as I emphasize in my many friendly and well-intended rants on all the above in the last five years or so we need more than just better cities. We need to see that there is a whole set of integrally related important concerns that need a whole systems approach, just like ecology orders some very large sets of activities around various chemical and water cycles with various living creatures playing a multitude of large category roles: primary photosynthetic producer, prey, predator, decomposer, nitrogen fixer, pollinator, fertilizer and so on. Now is the time for the practical paradigm, the one that may not have to spend that much time philosophizing as I have here in this article, but instead get busy with the carpentry and plumbing of a decent set of ways of life on Earth.

Without getting into detail here, and because I’ve written about this elsewhere many times, it should still be said that we need to understand the importance of proportionalizing, then prioritizing for the few very big things that need work immediately and they are: 1. population – needs to be smaller; family planning to the rescue, 2. a much better agriculture/diet nexus that greatly de-emphasizes meat, massive energy and chemical use and machines, 3. a radically revised built environment – our subject here embracing ecocities, ecotowns and ecovillages, 4. a strategy I call “natural carbon sequestration” that utilizes the grasslands, farmlands, forests, peatlands, marshes and wetlands, mangroves, sea grasses, seaweed forests and corals to actually reverse global heating by constantly taking carbon out of the atmosphere and depositing it in the soils and sediments of the Earth. This can take very little energy and effort, though it requires a great deal of a particular kind of knowledge and ingenuity to accomplish. The idea is to utilize the stunning acreage of planet earth, fecundity of its plants under that eternal flood of solar energy.

And, we need two more, totaling six of these crucially big efforts if we are going to succeed, as Buckminster Fuller always said we could: the generosity to give back to the planet and biosphere that gave us life, investing in all the above Big Four. I’d call this simply generosity, and characterize the ecocity as the generous city, city of the future, the city that literally gives back, shrinks back to cover far less land and demand far less energy, water and a long list of materials for increased, not diminished, vitality.

Finally, there is simply, education, about the above Big Five: they need emergency emphasis richly funded, and as highest of educational priorities.

Where’s the money to invest? City and state governments say we don’t have any. That’s totally false, at least for a while, though we could wait too long and lose the opportunity, then collapse most grievously. Most of the wealth is tied up in what I call the Three Sacred Golden Cows we tremble to approach and put pressure on to deliver. They are the very rich, the military and the inordinate waste in the automobile, oil, paving and sprawl building enterprise. They – the rich, the military and the automobile/sprawl system – need to change, and can with good planning, to create the enduring, eternally creating, third phase of the Conscienceness Paradigm, 4.2, leading into 4.3.


There are no known conclusions for our universe, only changes and phases in the creative flow of evolution, surprising realities emerging. Some sort of “omega point?” Maybe. But maybe eternity overrules that and we have only an expanded present to work with. Within that time frame, understanding paradigms might prove crucially important.


Richard Register can be reached at

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