We have two choices, remain stagnant, which according to natural laws means we are dying or to be active, continue to grow and live. Constant innovation and novel approaches to meeting the needs of organisms lies at the heart of evolution. Trying new things, always, is a sound way to develop beyond what has worked in the past. As we have witnessed in our lifetime, in so many different fields and in so many areas, changing the nature of our perceptions is the best way to facilitate innovation. When we crossed over the arbitrary marker of the human population’s billionth member, who would have imagined that within a few short generations we would be at seven billion inhabitants and counting on Starship Earth? The ways we have fed, clothed and sheltered our number have changed and our methods of caring for the individual have changed as well. Some changes seem to be for the better, but rates of many illnesses continue to rise in the face of our “modern” approach to child rearing, education, health care and much of the new sickness is caused by some of the “solutions” that we found to meet the exponentially growing needs of our burgeoning population.
I recently had the need to replace a fairly substantial section of the roof deck on my hundred plus year-old home, which is 640 square feet. Someone had attempted to use chipboard to replace a section that is susceptible to water damage. When I climbed up the ladder to inspect the roof I wondered why the boards were not replaced with wood that would last another hundred years. The short answer is price. for twenty bucks I could have put more substandard “lumber” in again and replaced it again in twenty years , but I went with something closer to the original material. Sadly, there will never be boards available that are milled from eight foot wide pines. One of our innovative ways to replace old growth lumber is to substitute sheet goods made of glue and tiny chips of what would otherwise be waste wood for boards. In certain applications it can be tolerated, but not where the fumes from the glue will be inhaled for long periods and never where moisture could become an issue. Innovation almost always requires even more education and insight into the benefits as well as the hazards presented by the new way of doing things. Chances are that when we find the next big thing, whatever it might be, we will have to learn a new way of being in the brave new world that results from it.
True innovation is born of several component parts, each requiring their own incubation period, each flourishing in different ways and each with their own unique part to play in the creative process. When our country was young, the model for education used to be that a small group of adults, with children, would band together to hire a teacher who would help provide their young charges with minimum competencies. Since living a full life required little more than the ability to read the Bible and perhaps the Sears Catalog, and knowing your multiplication tables up to twelve would serve most people their entire life, nearly anyone with an eighth grade education could be trusted to teach. Skills needed to grapple with engineering concerns of distributed generation of electricity, reporting on the life cycle or fuel chain issues related to nuclear power generation or designing cars that exceed 100 MPG. were unlikely to develop in that environment. Education, or at least a minimum competency means something quite different in the twenty-first century than it did seven generations ago. If we are to meet challenges effectively over the coming century, it will require fluency in languages we may not even be aware of yet, so how do we prepare our children for the obscure but inevitable changes that lie in their future? The short answer is that we cannot. but we must surely try to give them a head start on the path to what seems to be the next logical step.
I cannot say for sure what will be considered a minimum competency in 2100, but the obvious answer is not anything that will be accomplished with the methods of today. We still focus inordinate attention on the fallacy of competition for scarce resources, the dog eat dog cycle of competition only breeds brutish and greedy individualism. Even though research is pointing out that these are dangerous fictions, we hold to beliefs of the past like they were our mother’s apron strings. Being innovative requires a thirst for knowledge that leads us into new territory. Dreams become reality when imaginary limits are overcome. I assure you that we will not breed our way out of catastrophe, even if we could genetically design a “smarter” human, they would fall flat on their face if they didn’t have systems in place to challenge their intellect and draw out their best performance. As communication and information exchange has blossomed worldwide, we are awash in ideas and data that would have caused our ancestors to shrivel up or at least wax catatonic. What we need most is a method of building bigger boxes around our concepts, identifying the core values that lead to a respect for knowledge and inventing ways to help others who may be in remote parts of the world with the discoveries we make in our own backyards.
For intellect to become servile to the creative process, an ability to play with objects and information is required. developing the ability to play sounds simple enough but there are mammoth forces pushing us to conform to a “nose to the grindstone” good worker bee status. Capital has warped our perception of reality quite effectively and the folks who ultimately invest in us seem bent on shaping the next generation to match an outdated version of workers, not what is truly needed. It is true that we may always need burger flippers or mailmen, but we are just as likely to not need them. Just look at the changes we have seen over the past ten years and you will know why. Most of what we though could never change one hundred years ago has virtually disappeared. The revolution has not been televised but the changes in just my lifetime have been staggering. Many great minds both deconstruct the world around them and reconstitute it in unusual ways, attempting to put the world together in unique and novel ways often depends on being able to dissect issues and systems and look at their component parts critically. Being aware and present in each moment, allows an organism to learn. Respecting the meanings behind what one sees and reacting to problems, that others see as unavoidable or necessary ills of the world that surrounds them, in unique ways often lies at the heart of creative approaches that will offer solutions to many problems that we may not have even recognized or understood yet.
Constantly honing our skills of perception and playing mental games has benefits in the real world. Thought experiments allow us to break the bounds of the laboratory and “see” what might happen in an ideal world that can then be brought into reality through trial and error, expanding our ability to craft, or trying things that may not have been tried before. Frequently we see ourselves as victims of the laws of motion or of gravity, but in time we will learn to become the master of these and other forces that we only partially understand at this moment in time. Einstein said the only difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has it’s limits. he is also famously know to have sought to prove the existence of God for the entire second half of his life. You see, knowing that his E=MC2 equation would lead to the eventual development of weapons of mass destruction and radioactive contamination of vast swaths of land made him seek to prove the existence of God, he reasoned that humans would never desecrate the planet and continue to kill one another if they knew that they had been left in charge of such a unique and precious gift, or that each and every human being was a child of one God. Ironically, the leaders of our world seem bent on pitting worshipers of each and every religion or aspect of God against one another.
One innovation that cannot come soon enough is an efficient way to prove that our perceptions do not change reality, in fact, quite the opposite, our actions are the only thing that can do that. I realize that this position is unpopular in the extreme right now, but all of my experience tells me that it is the truth. I have believed in peace and freedom all of my life, but there is still war and slavery. We all believe in protecting the environment, but now there is smog in my city of 100,000 people. The fish are unsafe to eat and the land is still being poisoned by farmers. If thinking about things were enough, necessary changes would have come a generation ago. It seems that every day there is a new feel good philosopher chanting the mantra “think good thoughts”. I don’t have an argument with that but don’t stand by and hold your tongue when evil is being perpetrated around you. Praying for peace would have worked if it were possible, lord and lady both know that we have all tried that. Praying for the oil to stop washing up on the Gulf coast has about as much chance of putting the crude back where it belongs as re-hashing the lies in the bible has to reprogram all the Christians on the planet. Magical thinking works when you are three, but once you learn the ways of the world, there is no going back. I recently saw a group publicizing a worldwide prayer for the waters surrounding the Fukushima nuke disaster. Radiation cannot be prayed away. We can only protect ourselves from future disasters by changing our course. The fact that solar and wind power are both cheaper than new nuclear reactors, should guide our development of energy sources to meet future needs, not the well-heeled nuclear lobby that has steered so much corporate welfare to that industry. If we can find a way to generate the gravitational pull of the Sun, then fusion will become possible, until then, we have much safer and better ways of generating electricity. What is needed is rapid action, not just deep, or happy thoughts.
“Reality” is probably the most seductive thing that we come up against in a typical day. Who has not heard the admonition, “Get real”? I have even heard people claim to want to brainstorm, but the first idea that gets thrown out they respond by saying, “That will never work.” We live in a time of amazing change. Much of that change has been cathartic. I can empathize with those who don’t want to stick their necks out anymore, really I do, but the future is coming whether we like it or not and we need to find new ways of dealing with new challenges as well as new ways of dealing with old ones. We have a history of breaking any and all bounds on human capacity and endeavor. The only thing stopping us from solving the problems associated with a twenty-first century life are the ties that we continue to strengthen with a by-gone age. We do not have to believe in the false idea of really really good enemies. Tearing down people for the color of their skin, what part of the world they are from, or their beliefs has never made sense except from the point of view of powerful individuals who sought to profit from the war machine. There are ideas that were discarded as old fashioned that remain quite serviceable, like organic agriculture or making your own laundry soap. these things are still rewarding and remain serviceable on the threshold of a new generation, but the ones that are not, or the ideas that limit us to an anxious and crippling belief system are not tot be tolerated. Without trying to find new ways of doing what is essential to our survival as a species constitutes genocide, or at least Russian Roulette with our future.