This afternoon we were honored to be joined by writer and speaker Charles Eisenstein for a provocative discussion about posthumanism, form, the locus of the sacred, and much more. Charles is the author of numerous books, among them The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Sacred Economics, and Climate: A New Story. Many of you will know him from his many public speaking events, interviews, podcasts, courses, and discussion groups. What strikes me so much about Charles is his wide-ranging mind and his refreshing sincerity. It was a pleasure to have him engage us in discussion.
See the link below for an unedited version of his talk and the lively conversation among the panel that followed. (Alas, the first two minutes of the video were deleted, but it begins with Charles talking about the distinction between transhumanism and posthumanism. Enjoy!)
Link: Thingly Affinities: Charles Eisenstein.
Note: I encourage the panelists to post any questions or comments from yesterday's talk in this thread. Charles may be checking in later today, but either way there remains much to be discussed!
What an incredibly thought-provoking talk- thank you Charles! I am just finishing up your book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” and am intrigued with your concept of separateness or the "story of separation"- that story we need to replace with the "story of interbeing". In your talk when you spoke of purpose, I read that as a kind of meta-purpose of humanity. My initial thought was this might not be knowable right now. If we cannot know a meta-purpose, is the next order of magnitude knowable- that of individual purpose? As someone who has devoted their life to an immersion in creativity and also teaching it, I think this is possible. As a result of this immersion, I have no doubt that creativity is key in this puzzle. It seems a significant part of the issue as we wander in the ruins of Babel, is that we live in a societal structure that is still largely a top-down system. I think of the comparison of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família cathedral in Barcelona (top-down) compared with a termite mound (bottom-up). Could this top-down system itself be the prime instigator of our story of separateness? And if creativity (emergence) is the life force which brings forth structure and form, then humanity’s meta-purpose might be revealed by approaching it in a bottom-up way (termite mound). If creativity was in every human beings’ life- and I don’t mean just going out and buying a painting and hanging it on the wall- but a genuine disciplined creative practice- we could then bring art out of the museums and into our lives intimately where it should be. In this way, could our meta-purpose be discovered as an emergent property from the bottom up, by individuals engaged in an individually purpose-driven dance like the termites? Don’t worry if there is no time to answer- these thoughts and questions are just what came into my mind as you spoke. Again, many thanks and I look forward to checking out your other books.
Charles, as a big Mandelbrot fan, I was delighted to hear of your (apharmaceutical) psychedelic experience with his image. (I wonder, did you study with him at Yale? Much to my disappointment, he'd already left by the time I got there - how wonderful it would have been to meet him.) I find it significant that your transformative experience came from an experience with visual form. Many mathematicians talk about the beauty of equations, or the aesthetic sublimity of certain proofs (I'll never forget reading G.H. Hardy's waxing rhapsodic about the square root of 2), but to me there's a difference between this kind of pure abstract beauty and the kind that Mandelbrot gave us with his visual images. I'm wondering if you make a connection between your response to the Mandelbrot set and the latter's resonance with the forms we see in the material world. As an artist, this is exactly what moves me so about his work -- that, unlike those abstract proofs and equations that seem to hover up there in some other realm, as separate from nature as any abstract language, Mandelbrot's images are rooted down here on the earth -- a kind of geometry that brings the "geo" back into the word. In any case, I really appreciated that you began your talk with the locus of the sacred, which for me as a visual artist is directly aligned with the formal beauty of the universe.
And thanks for that, Daniel! Charles may indeed not have time to comment further, but I think we should all put our thoughts here in any case so we can continue the discussion.
Another quick thought: Early in the talk it was mentioned that posthumanism itself harbors an implicit human exceptionalism. I wonder if we can say more about that. Undeniably, there are many unfortunate things about the term itself, not least among them the fact that it makes humanism, and thus the human, the point of reference once again. But beyond the term, is there something implicit in posthumanism's attitudes and assumptions that inadvertently err in the same direction of what it seeks to move beyond?
Taney, I have been thinking about how post-humanism seems to be couched in "animals and other life forms do it too" and that this very much is anthropocentric. We are still the standard, when it should really be about how what other life forms possess or do is just as nifty. In my bringing up the creative force as something that is about the whole ball of wax, I was describing something that doesn't create a hierarchy and allows for differentiation. To be sure, the generative principle involves differentiation. What I am bumping up against now is consciousness, which I believe is where Arthur was starting to take us at the end of yesterday's discussion.
Stephanie, I think you're absolutely right: no matter how much we try to leave ourselves out of the picture, we're still always in the center as the unit of comparison! I rather wish we'd stop talking about ourselves altogether -- at least for a while, until we can get things sorted out. As far as consciousness goes, I myself see it as a property of the universe, with different "things" partaking of it (because I don't want to say "having" it!)to different degrees. It would be interesting to hear where Arthur stands on this. Perhaps you'd like to share some of your own "bumping up against"?
I keep coming to how we are saying something about our (human beings) place in things by the very act of positing this symposium's questions. That asking about our place in things suggests a certain kind of consciousness that may be unique to our species. I'm not sure if this was the gradations of mind that Arthur referred to.
That's probably true (although we have no way of knowing!). But for each one of our extraordinary capacities there are millions more out there in the rest of the animate world. Take photosynthesis, for example. We couldn't do that if we tried with the full heft of our intelligence! And yet plants do it so easily, so reflexively -- is this any less marvelous than our self-awareness?
What a rich comment thread. I am happy people appreciated my contribution. One further thought -- just because post-humanism might still contain a trace of human centrism, that doesn't mean that is a bad thing. Maybe one of the reasons we are here is to serve as the universe's implement to observe the universe from the unique perspective that the human being occupies. To use Bohm's language, maybe the universe or God wanted to see what it was like "to human".
I didn't meet Mandelbrot at Yale even though I did study mathematics there. He may have been before my time.
Before I posted, it asked me to click "I am not a robot." It is strange to be asked to take a philosophical position just to pass the CAPTCHA.
(That was my funny joke BTW)
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