Systems Thinking: Why We Need to Upgrade Our Collective Consciousness - An Interview With Tomas Bjorkman

Systems Thinking: Why We Need to Upgrade Our Collective Consciousness - An Interview With Tomas Bjorkman

What follows is a transcript for the podcast Systems Thinking - Tomas Bjorkman - Consciousness.

Topics within the interview include:

  • Unraveling the traditional notions of the relationship between spirituality, economics, and society.
  • Exploring the difference between complicated systems vs. complex systems.
  • Unveiling the interconnectedness between individual growth and shaping a better world.
  • Navigating the potential conflicts between personal fulfillment and contributing to the collective good.
  • Understanding the concept of an integral society and its role in addressing global complexities.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Welcome to this episode of Collective Insights Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Stickler, the Medical Director for Qualia, and today we have a special guest, one that I've requested to have on the show. He is social entrepreneur, thinker, and catalyst, Tomas Björkman. He is the co-founder of the Ekskäret Foundation in Stockholm. I'll have to get that clarified, which supports the work of social entrepreneurs and change agents. He is the author of The Market Myth. He wrote The Nordic Secret with Lene Andersen, and the book that I really found him from was The World We Create: From God to Market. Tomas, welcome to the show.

Tomas Björkman: Thank you. Thank you so much, and thank you for trying to pronounce the Swedish name of our foundation in Stockholm. It is Ekskäret Foundation or sometimes we call it the Oak Island Foundation because that is what that means in Swedish.

Dr. Dan Stickler: That would've been easier, I think. All right. So I'll tell you, I want to let the listeners know about how I found you. So I don't know what prompted me to grab this book, The World We Create: From God to Market, but I did, and I can't remember ... I bought it right after it was published, so I can't remember exactly when. It was a couple years ago. At the time, I was really diving deep into complexity, and I think that's why it came up in my Amazon book feed, but I picked up the book and started reading it and just couldn't put it down. It is one of the best books I have found for helping people to understand complexity. I refer people to this book all the time. I know this is something you've spent basically a career working with is understanding complexity in all aspects of life. So can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?

The Idea Behind “The World We Create – From God to Market”

Tomas Björkman: Yeah. Thank you. So a little bit about my background. I'm Swedish, obviously. I come from a humble middle class or even lower middle class background. I was the first in my family on both on my mother's and my father's side to go to university. I found out fairly early in life that I had a talent for mathematics and physics. So that is what I started at the university and that was really my first meeting with complexity and complexity science. That was from a natural science perspective, but then for various reasons, I left the academic world and went into the business world and became a serial entrepreneur, started businesses in IT, in property, and in banking.

It was really during my banking years that I started to think about complexity also from a social science point of view and starting to see the market as a adaptive complex system, which I found explained a lot of the things that was going on in the market much better than the traditional neoclassical equilibrium theories that were developed more than a hundred years ago because back then that was the the mathematical tools we had back then and we couldn't really model complex systems like we can today.

Then I sold my banking business some 15 years ago and then had the opportunity to start my own foundation in Stockholm, the Oak Island Foundation, Ekskäret, and there I really wanted to start diving a bit deeper into complex social systems and more specifically look at the interdependence between the co-evolution of our personal inner worlds, our inner consciousness and societal change. Those are, of course, also possible to see as two complex system.

You can see your mind or your consciousness as an evolving complex system that is under lifelong development and growth, hopefully, and you can also see the social world that we are in as a complex system that sometimes reaches these points that we in physics call bifurcation points or phase shifts where the whole system is going through an emergent complex transformation. I believe that that's where we are right now. We are at one of these bifurcation points where our society in a very fundamental way is shifting.

The Difference Between Complicated Systems vs. Complex Systems

Dr. Dan Stickler: It seems like we've built most of modern society off of a complicated thinking and not a complex thinking. Can you explain the difference between the two and why you think that we've gone down that road?

Tomas Björkman: Complicated systems are systems that you can, in principle and in theory, understand by studying the parts of the system. A typical example could be a complex engineering system. It could be a Boeing, an aircraft, and to understand how that aircraft is functioning, you can do that or you might even say that you must do that through analyzing all the details. Even if there are perhaps no living person on earth that really understands all the details of how a Boeing is really functioning, in principle you can do that. In the Boeing organization as such, I hope that there is an understanding of how everything there is working.

Whereas a complex system, there you cannot understand those systems by looking at the details of all the parts. So the very powerful tool of analytical understanding that has really been the basis of our scientific approach all the way since the Enlightenment, really looking at the parts and analyzing the parts, and by understanding the parts you can understand the whole, those tools do not really work. A typical complex system, if we stay in the natural world, could be a weather system.

A weather system has properties on a larger scale that you cannot derive from the properties of the parts, and that one is sometimes using the language and talking about emergent properties. Most living systems and certainly our social system, I already mentioned the market but also the social system taken as a whole, are complex systems and are exhibiting these kinds of emergent patterns and also these phase shifts that they sometimes can go through.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I can remember when I first started, my realization of complex systems was probably around 2007, 2008 being a surgeon, and specifically, I was working with obesity, doing obesity surgery, and I was taking care of patients that had litany of chronic health conditions that weren't being addressed. I started seeing a lot of relationships with other things and I thought, "Well, why aren't we paying attention to this?" Then I can remember the Foresight Institute, I think they came out with an obesity map back in 2012. They've recently updated it, but they talked about the complexity of obesity in the UK. It was so impressive to me. I was like, "Oh, my God. Somebody actually has put onto paper what I've been experiencing in medicine."

I can remember somebody said it's almost like we have to reinvent medicine. We can't fix it because we've gone so far down the path of looking at the human system as complicated. Starting way back with the germ theory and moving forward, we shifted into that mode of algorithms, where we think we can predict outcomes of different interventions within the system. An engineer once told me, "You can't apply complicated thinking to a complex system," and I'm like, "Well, that's exactly what it feels like we're doing in medicine right now."

Tomas Björkman: We are doing it, of course, in business, and we are doing it in politics and in society, generally. We are so taught during our education and at university to use these analytical tools that are super valuable, of course, in many cases, but then not helpful at all to understand the complex systems. Again, one of my favorite examples there is our understanding of the market. So when macroeconomics started to develop at the end of the 1800s, then we didn't have any tools to understand complex systems. We didn't even have a language for it, even if some thinkers understood perhaps that concept already back then.

So it was not that strange that the scientists that were trying to model the market was looking towards physics and calculus and using the equilibrium theory. Of course, that is some approximation, but when you're starting to look at a rapidly developing, for example, technological environment that is shifting the context of the market constantly like we're having now, of course, then it's much, much more useful to look at the market as a complex adaptive system instead. Of course, that is what complexity economics are doing today, but that's still a very young science and it's not usually taught, not at least at undergraduate level at universities.

Dr. Dan Stickler: It seems like a lot of the complexity thinkers are converging on economics. You've got Nassim Taleb and yourself, but then you've got also people like Charles Eisenstein and Daniel Schmachtenberger who are more socially focused. Then I think Bruce West was the person who really opened my eyes to the healthcare aspect and looking at ... I have to share this story because it's so fascinating to me. So he states basically the best test to determine the health of the human system is heart rate variability, which is not a regular rate and rhythm of the heart. It's truly on the edge of chaos. The greater the degree of that, the healthier the system is. He found it with breath rate variability, as well as gait rate variability. I was just blown away by that and it made total sense. I could see it in the clients I worked with as well. What opened your eyes to this type of thinking?

What Drew Tomas Bjorkman to a Systems Thinking Approach

Tomas Björkman: Well, I think that was during my years as an investment banker or an entrepreneur within the banking world building my own investment banking business more or less from scratch, first in Scandinavia and then in Geneva as well, and really understanding the limitations, especially if you're working as an entrepreneur within that field and are trying to understand the evolution of the market, what will the market be like in two or five years than treating the market as a complicated system is just so damaging for your understanding, especially since back then to be able to use the equilibrium theory, apply the equilibrium theory from physics to market problems.

The early economists, again, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, they had, of course, to make some very crude assumptions to get these models working. Back then, they knew that these were very crude assumptions. That's like assuming that all actors in the market are completely rational agents, always acting in their own short-term and long-term best interest, which they presumably know what that is. Also that the whole system has got total information that is total transparency about the information in the system and a lot of these things, which, again, they knew were assumptions, but today, I think many even economists forget that those were crude assumption or more or less things that that is how a market should be operating.

Then again, we have the new ... Then also, one other mistake, I think, was made early in economic thinking, and that was the mistake of believing that the market is a natural system and therefore could be analyzed with tools from natural science instead of understanding that the market is a social system and that it is obviously also socially constructed. I think that that is perhaps one of the core insights for me when it comes to really understanding the strengths but also the limitations of the market, but also the potential of a future market, that the market is a social construct and not a natural phenomenon.

Of course, all these limitations of the old economic thinking had given birth to new areas of research and economic thinking. So for example, we have today, of course, behavioral economics that looks at, "Okay. If we are not these assumed homo economicus, what are we really as agents in the market? How does a human really, really function and what impact do those understandings have on our economic modeling?"

Then we already mentioned complexity economics, but I should also mention institutional economics, that is starting to realize that the market is depending on these fundamental institutions and that there is no such thing as a free market. Even the free market needs the fundamental institutions like property rights and things like that, and how you construct those institutions will determine how the market clears. So of course, there is a new economic thinking coming along.

To answer your question, what made me think about this? Yes, thinking about these terms was really trying to be an actor as an entrepreneur in the market, but then thinking about the importance of inner growth and development and that relationship to societal change. That really came through working with some very talented leadership development consultants while I was chairman of the banking group in Scandinavia. I had the opportunity there to participate in some leadership development programs, both for myself but also for my management team that really opened my eyes to the importance of lifelong inner growth and development, not just lifelong learning, but this more vertical development that we sometimes talk about.

Then of course, I could see the effect that this had on me and on my management team, not just in our ability to handle more complex problems at work, but it also had benefits for me in my private life. I also think that on some level it also made us more responsible citizens being able to look further into the future and taking more and more aspects into account when we were making our business decisions.

Then I naturally asked myself the question, "Well, if we in business or at least in part of business understands the value of this lifelong maturation process and we are even spending money on supporting this for the benefit of the organization, how come that we are not at all talking about this in society?" Again, in society, we are, of course, talking about lifelong learning or starting to talk about lifelong learning, but not this lifelong wisdom journey that we all are hopefully participating in.

The Relationship Between Spirituality, Health, Economics, and Society

Dr. Dan Stickler: You mentioned a couple things. First of all, I'm in Austin, Texas, so I'm at the hub of entrepreneur central. Something I've noticed is that the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that are able to think in complexity when it comes to the business that they're working on. This is something that I try to encourage with many of the entrepreneurs that I work with is identifying this new way of thinking and looking at the system in a new way.

I want to hit on something that you mentioned. You talked about the agents in the system. We can look at these complex systems and we see these agents or nodes and it's not necessarily looking at the right thing. We need to look at the relationship between the different things. It's just like the liver and the heart is not just a direct connection and that's it. It actually has multiple interactions, feedback loops, local feedback loops, interactions from other areas. You talk about this in your book on the notion of relationship between spirituality, health, economics, and society. Can you expand on that?

Tomas Björkman: Yes. Individual agency and collective agency and consciousness development, but I think I need to go back a little bit for us to see really the value of collective agency, and that there isn't really a trade off between individual agency and collective agency or individual freedom and collective freedom because when you start to realize that so many aspects of our world are social constructs, then you start to realize that for us to change those social constructs, we actually need collective agency. If we are not exercising that collective agency, we are leaving a lot of human freedom and human potential on the table, so to say.

So I would like to take an example there to make this more concrete. What do I actually mean by socially constructed and collective agency? So if I take my life in this year in modernity, for me as an individual, it can look to me that to survive in this society, I need money and I need oxygen, I need clean air, I need oxygen to survive. For me as an individual, these are meeting me as objective reality. I cannot do very much about this as an individual, but if we look at it on a collective level, even if all of humanity came together and decided that we don't want to be dependent on oxygen any longer, we couldn't do anything about that, but if we came together as a whole of humanity or even just majority in a nation state and decided that we don't want to be dependent on money any longer, money could be gone tomorrow.

Of course, we would need some other system for allocating goods and services, but money in the market system is a human invention, a very good and very effective human invention, but it is a human invention. The fact that I know that money is a human invention or what some call a collective imaginary, part of the collective imaginary, that doesn't help me as an individual. When I'm checking out at my local supermarket, I can't tell the cashier that, "Well, you are asking for money, but money is just a collective imaginary, so forget about that." No, I would end up in jail or even as Michael Foucault points out, I might end up in a lunatic asylum because we have all these different institutions that are reinforcing this collective imaginary that we are living in.

Then strangely enough in many situations, it looks to me like we are confusing these two, that we think that the planetary boundaries are up for negotiations, whereas the market forces, we just need to obey when it's actually the opposite. Then to be able to use that insight, that the market and money is a social construct, we actually need, if we want to change that, if we want to change the fundamental function of the market, for example, what can be owned, should we be able to own genes, for example, the genome? Should someone be able to own that or is that something that belongs to humanity? What should we be able to copyright or patent, and how long would a reasonable patent or copyright be? Such fundamental things. If you change them a little bit, then you change a lot how the market is clearing.

In order for us to be able to change those things, we need to do that collectively. We cannot do that individually. I think that during the last perhaps 50 years, we have in the Western world really developed our ability to exercise individual collective, individual agency. We are very good at that. Whereas when it comes to exercising collective agency and thereby accessing these collective freedoms that we have to reshape our world, the world we create there during the last 50 years, I think we have been just been worse and worse and worse in that ability. I think that is linked also to our collective sense-making because for us to be able to exercise collective agency, we first need to exercise collective sense-making.

So that for me is very important, and that is the connection then to your question around in inner development and societal change because seeing these things and realizing the freedom that we have both individually and collectively in these complex systems, that is not easy. It's not easy cognitively, nor is it easy emotionally. Just like we in the executive team of the bank got a lot of help by participating in these personal development programs in actually being able to hold the complexity cognitively and emotionally, I believe that if we should be able to have a functioning democracy that can actually meet these complex challenges, a lot of us need to be able to operate on a much more complex level, again, both emotionally and collectively. Otherwise, I don't really see democracy being able to handle these challenges.

Dr. Dan Stickler: You talk about the individual, the collective, and the universal in your book, and it makes me think back to Jean Gebser when he spoke about the gradual drawing back into the I, the self over human history, and we can see this with a lot of native tribes that have not had that influence where they see themselves as the collective organism and not much as the I, but we've gradually become the hypertrophic I according to Gebser, where it's all about the I-ness of things and not the we-ness, where we look at things from that relationship with everything around us, not only the people around us, but the environment and all aspects of our interactions.

Systems Thinking: Why We Need to Upgrade Our Collective Consciousness 

Tomas Björkman: So I think it's important for us to remember that this individual perspective that you're mentioning, that is a very strong perspective and that is a perspective that we should not forget going forward as is the analytical perspective, the reductionistic perspective, the scientific perspective that we spoke about earlier. That is also a very important perspective. These two perspectives, they have, of course, given us the technological evolution. It's given us modern medicine that we don't want to be without. It has given us human rights and democracy, but somehow, this very singular focus on those limited perspectives, I think that that focus is really what is now creating these huge problems that we see.

I think that focus is part of this meta crisis, the reason for the meta crisis, and they need to be complemented. We shouldn't forget them, but they need to be complemented with systems thinking, not just analyzing, but also synthesizing, seeing the system, holistic thinking, and then complementing the individual perspective with the collective perspective and collective agency as well.

So I think finding a balance is where we need to go, and I think that is also Gebser's conclusion when he arrives at what he calls integral consciousness or integral thinking. In integral, I think even in the name there, it's about integrating these and also other perspectives.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I like how Nassim Taleb talks about it. He said that we've put so much value on expertise, and he said the experts are valuable, but he said, "You keep your experts on tap, not on top." You want the more complexity thinkers to be overseeing the whole thing with the input from the experts and not having the experts as the final decision makers.

Tomas Björkman: No, and I think this is very true everywhere, and I think we also need to take this into consideration when we are thinking about the future of academia because, of course, in academia, the small and narrow perspectives have been dominating. I don't think that that is perhaps a conscious decision, but just the way that the publishing of scientific papers and the peer review and the whole academic system is favoring the very, very narrow perspectives compared to interdisciplinary and synthetic holistic thinking.

Dr. Dan Stickler: When you're talking about this individual versus the collective systems, how do we cultivate a strong individual perspective within the collective and still have them interact in a way that is mutually beneficial?

Tomas Björkman: I think there are a few steps there. A first step is, of course, realizing again that many of our most important and most fundamental decisions that we need, that we have to take, and especially in the transition that we might be in now from one system to another, and it's very much about system design, how do we design a new system or how do we adapt the present system that the transition will be as smooth as possible, even if we should remember that, I certainly believe that as with any complex system, the transition that we are in right now is going to be emergent, which means that we cannot see exactly what is going to come out of the transition, and we can certainly not plan it and we cannot manage it, but we can support it in different ways.

One important insight is that in system design, in design in the fundamental rules of the systems that we have, whether it's an academic system or it's a market system or political system or any system, those decisions, those crucial decisions are collective decisions, and they cannot be anything but collective. So there is no competition here that we should do this collectively instead of individually. No. There is no way to design the system individually. These decisions has to be taken collectively. So that is a first insight.

Then you realize that this is not really a zero sum game, individual versus collective. It's a positive sum game. We should maximize individual freedom and agency, but at the same time, we shouldn't forget about the importance of collective agency and freedom. If we are maximizing our total freedom or our total agency, we need to maximize both of these. In many cases, they are not competing at all, but rather complementary. So you can say that today we are, by not realizing this, leaving a lot of human freedom and potential just untapped.

So I think that is the main point I would make realizing that this is not a zero sum game between individual and collective, but it's rather a positive sum game. I could even go one step further in saying that if you are to maximize your collective, your individual wellbeing in some way, if you are going to maximize your collective wellbeing in some ways, some of the most important ways of maximizing that is through collective decision making. So if you are not participating in that and encouraging the collective decision making, the systems design, then you are not maximizing your individual agency because your individual agency, sorry, your individual happiness or your individual wellbeing is so dependent on the systems that you are living within. You're so dependent on the systems.

Dr. Dan Stickler: How do you address the argument that if we went strictly by collective decision making, then the majority would make the rules, and so you would have discrimination against the minority in that situation?

Tomas Björkman: Yes, and of course, that is always a risk with any system design, and we have that today. So for me, it's important to remember that it is not the question, should we design our system? Should we create? Should we actively participate in the creation of the world, again, the world we create or should we just let the world happen? Because the world is created and the systems are created and the systems are evolving, but so far, we have mainly done that unconsciously, and it has been a very erratic process.

So for example, taking the market system, of course, all these fundamental rules or constitutive rules of the market has been agreed upon, but not in any systematic process. It has more or less been a random walk process. So for me, it's not asking the question, shall we actively design our system and then run the risk of perhaps not doing the absolutely 100% best system or should we just let the system happen to us through a more or less random political process, perhaps guided very much by conflicting special interests and lobbying groups and all of that?

Then we'll come back also to the question there of consciousness development and the question of who are we designing the system for. Again, I think it's absolutely necessary for democracy to survive that we come to a point where both those that we elect into political power have come quite far away on their wisdom journey and perhaps even have been able to transcend many of their basic ego needs and have the ability to look more at what is good for society, what is the general good, and also hopefully a substantial part of the people in society, perhaps not a majority, but at least some critical mass have come that far in their wisdom journey that we can actually hold a democracy that is not, at least, not consciously designing system that is putting some minority groups at disadvantage, even if we can never design a perfect system.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I've been really studying the developmental stages of consciousness, the different systems of evaluation, and it seems pretty consistent that I think it's 33% of the world population still falls into a concrete ego state. There's few people that really are able to access the ... I call it the 4.0, 4.5, where complexity thinking actually kicks in and you're able to look at everything in this way. I haven't seen many political leaders that have been in that stage of consciousness where they ... Certainly not in the metaware stage, but in the complexity stages even, I think we've been lacking in political leadership in that regard.

Tomas Björkman: Of course, we should remember that we are living in a society, at least in the Western world, we are living in a society and in a culture where this inner growth, lifelong inner growth and maturation and wisdom journey is not generally acknowledged. Our educational system is not directed towards wisdom creation. Generally, people are not aware of the importance of this dimension in life. Some, in the business world, are talking about the need of not just helping business leaders to develop their consciousness through specific consciousness development or leadership development programs, but actually creating organizations that have a culture that is deliberately developmental and that we are talking about a deliberately developmental organization.

Imagine that we would realize the importance of this dimension generally in society, and we would aim to develop a deliberately developmental society where we had a culture and we had an institution that were deliberately supporting people, everyone on this developmental journey and made us aware of this developmental journey. Then hopefully we could have a different situation. Again, looking at complex evolving systems, we also know from complexity theory that in order to shift a system, you do not need to reach a majority of the components in a system to shift.

What makes a system shift is often the ability of the components of the system to relate to each other and to the context in more complex ways. Of course, when we are talking about the societal system, those components are as humans. So I believe that the best we can do in order to facilitate a positive emergence in this system shift at this bifurcation point is to help as many as possible of us to relate in deeper and more complex ways to ourselves, to each other, to society, and to the planet.

Again, going back to complexity theory, we don't need to have a 51% that will be able to do this, but we would probably reach a tipping point at some point. Some are talking about that we need 5% or 10% or 15%, and that varies from system to system, but somewhere there. If you have that critical mass, then the system can reach a tipping point, and that's where you can create a society that could actually support even more people to reach their full potential in life and as early as possible also.

Defining the Meta-Crisis

Dr. Dan Stickler: I want to get into what you see as our path forward in this, but one thing you mentioned earlier that I think we should clarify because people hear this term, but a lot of people are not familiar with the meaning behind it, which is the meta crisis. Can you give an overview of what is meant by that term?

Tomas Björkman: I think the easiest way to understand it is that all these different crises that are facing humanity right now, many different existential crises like, of course, the environmental crisis, but also we have a crisis in the democratic systems, in many democratic systems in the world. We have a psychological ill health crisis. You mentioned the obesity crisis before. We have many, many crisis. Talking about the meta crisis, acknowledge the fact that these different crises might not be independent, but they might actually be symptoms of a more fundamental underlying meta crisis. So that is a first realization.

Then one could speculate about what could that underlying crisis be. I think that the underlying crisis is that we have, again, like many times before in the history of humanity, reach one of these bifurcation points where our present understanding and approach to the world has really exhausted itself. Of course, the last time we had such a point was during the enlightenment and the industrial revolution when we went from a medieval feudal system with a dogmatic religious worldview into a modern, industrial, democratic society with a scientific, rationalistic worldview. Again, that was a huge step forward for humanity and has given us all the benefits of the modern world.

Again, I believe that those systems and approaches have now reached their limit, and with the rapid technological development that we are seeing right now, we are rapidly reaching a point again in the evolution of society where we will have an, at least, equally deep shift into a new society. Of course, there's-

Dr. Dan Stickler: It seems like these ... Oh, go ahead.

Tomas Björkman: No, I was just going to say that these transitions are usually quite turbulent. So there were many wars fought in the transition from the pre-modern world into modernity. Again, we should expect this transition also to be turbulent and emergent, but if we are aware of this shift in a self-conscious way, in a completely different way compared to what we had previously experienced, then, of course, we could hopefully mitigate the chaos.

Can We Predict the Next Stage of Emergence?

Dr. Dan Stickler: It seems like these emergent properties occur very rapidly in systems and it's over a short timeframe. So you look at our history and how these major changes in society took place over very short periods of time. The one thing that I am wondering about is how predictable is it for us to predict what the next emergence is. We can theorize this, but how certain are we that we're going to have this emergent property that we're predicting?

Tomas Björkman: I think that that is one of the main conclusions of my book, The World We Create, that I think it's very certain that we are hitting a phase shift, a transition point, but whether this will be a breakdown of the system where the system will just fragment, which many complex systems do when they reach this bifurcation point, they cannot support a positive transition and emergent transition into a more complex and perhaps sometimes also more beautiful way, simple way, complex but beautiful, elegant is perhaps the right word, a more complex but often also more elegant way of organizing itself, then it will be a breakdown.

So the question is, will this transition be a breakdown of the system or a breakthrough, and what can we do to increase the odds for a breakthrough? My main conclusion is that it's actually up to us. We are not just the spectators in this system. We are the agents of this system, again, individually and collectively. If we really take that responsibility but also that freedom seriously and exercise that agency, then we can help the system to reach a positive emergence. Whereas if we don't do that and just remain passive spectators of what is going on, then I'm sure that it will be a breakdown instead of a breakthrough.

Then the next step ... So the first is to realize that we have agency and exercise the agency, but then the second important step is, from what level of consciousness are we exercising that agency, individually and collectively? There I also come to the conclusion that in order for this positive emergence to happen, we need to exercise these agencies, specifically our collective agency from next level of consciousness. That might be the level that you were referring to that Gebser was calling an integral consciousness.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Do you think AI is really accelerating this emergence right now?

Tomas Björkman: I think that it is the technological development that we see around us right now that just like in the history before when we had these huge transitions, the biggest transition like this that humanity might have gone through was during the Axial Age 3,000 years ago, and then of course, it was the invention of written language, which made it possible to have these organized religions that made us take that step. You could argue that the Enlightenment and industrial revolution was very much facilitated by, again, new information technology like the printing press.

Now, we have information technology, again, not just the internet, but perhaps more interestingly the distributed ledger technology that makes it possible to aggregate and manage information in a completely different way that I believe can benefit both the reinvention of the market and reinvention of democracy. I hope that in 20, 30 years in a new system, we will still have democracy and we will still have the market, but it will be in new updated implementations. Again, I think that AI could also help in this transition, but then we need to apply it with wisdom because it could also, just as we've seen with social media, it could contribute to the fragmentation of our society, as well as the integration of society.

What Practical Steps Can We Take To Contribute to Positive Change in the World?

Dr. Dan Stickler: So let's close out here with what we can do. What are the steps we can take to get us moving through this pending emergence in doing it in the right direction without the collapse?

Tomas Björkman: So if I should say a few things there, first of all, becoming aware, not just individually but also collectively, aware that we are in a transition like this and that we need to be open and curious about what wants to be born, but also be open to let go of all the institutions. If we realize that we are in this transition and understand how these transitioning complex dynamic system works, that will be a good starting point.

Then I will say as a second point, realizing that in a transition like this, there is a lot of collective agency that we need to exercise, and in order to do that, we need to have collective sense-making. So being very careful about guarding our possibility to have collective sense-making in this transition I think is important.

Then finally, to realize that one of the most important aspects in facilitating a positive emergence is in any complex system, conscious systems, living systems or physical system, is the ability of the components in the system to relate to each other, to themselves and to the context in more complex ways. That is another way of saying that we need to have an inner development and to be able to, again, both cognitively and emotionally, handle the complexity of the whole situation. So in a development on large scale and being aware of the need for that and, again, that that is certainly something that we can do on an individual basis, but, again, from society recognizing and supporting that development I think can also be crucial.

Dr. Dan Stickler: You think education at this point is too far off to begin with or do you think that we get the education into the system collectively that we can really make a difference at this stage?

Tomas Björkman: Again, we should remember that the education we have today was more or less invented for the modern system and was very helpful in bringing the modern system about, and the positive emergence that came about from the medieval system. It was general education and educating us into being good citizens in an industrial society. I think that we are now at a point where more and more people realize that we have to fundamentally reinvent also the educational system, and not the least the fact that the technological development is going so rapidly. It's completely impossible to know part from the basic reading, writing, and arithmetics what should we teach young people at secondary school or even at university.

Of course, in Sweden, it's been very popular during the last couple of years to say that everyone needs to learn how to program, but of course when you speak to the technical industry and they say, "Well, we need a lot of programmers this year and next year, but certainly artificial intelligence," one of the first things that that will make redundant are the programmers. So we don't know what specific technical skills and knowledge we should give to the next generation.

Then of course, these more general soft skills becomes much, much more important. Then we are back to this lifelong maturation journey and starting that early in life and then having a lifelong support of that maturation journey. That could be the main part of a future education system, and then the specific tasks you might need to constantly learn anew every five or 10 years, and that training might be mainly done through the organization that you're working for.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I like how you framed it in the book with the human evolution of self and focus with the ethics, empathy, and compassion, and then moving into complexity awareness, contextual awareness, relational awareness, self-insight awareness, and perspectival awareness. Can that be taught in the education system?

Tomas Björkman: Yeah, that is, of course, a very big question. A project that I'm involved with called the Inner Development Goals are really looking into the question, how can we increase the awareness in the system of the importance of exactly these capacities that you were mentioning and how can we support that development? The good news is that science clearly show that these capacities that you mentioned, they can be developed.

For example, we are not born with a certain amount of empathy and compassion. We can both extend our ability of compassion and empathy, and we can deepen it, but you cannot really do that with empathy nor with the other capacities and skills that you've mentioned like complexity awareness, self-awareness, perspective taking, and those things because you need a learning that is on a much deeper psychological level. So some thinkers are talking about transformative learning, and it's difficult to do that in a traditional school setting, but it is certainly possible to do that. Absolutely.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Well, that's great, and I love having this conversation with you. I've been looking forward to it. Since I read the book I was like, "I just got to have a conversation with this guy."

Tomas Björkman: Thank you.

Dr. Dan Stickler: It's nice to understand that we are in a meta crisis right now, but that we can actually do something about it because I hear a lot of people talking about the meta crisis as we're going to crash. They're very convinced that the whole system is going to crash very soon. I'm more optimistic than that. I think we as a society, as a collective of this earth, I think we can make ... We've done it before, I think we can make it happen again.

Tomas Björkman: I think that that is a very important realization that we have done it before. That is why I start the book by really going through on 100 pages the history of humanity or the history of the universe from the big bank to the market as the subtitle is. The history clearly shows that humanity has tremendous ability to reinvent itself, and that that is through our ability to use symbolic language and to build culture and build these civilizational systems. We have rebuilt them many, many times, but it has been mostly a random process.

Throughout history, we could really "afford", in quotation marks, to do this as a random walk process because when civilizations have crashed throughout our history, even huge civilizations, so when the Roman civilization, for example, crashed, it affected a large part of Europe, but it didn't affect the whole world. It didn't affect the ecosystem. Whereas now, if our global civilization were to crash, it would affect the totality of civilization, and it could even mean an ecological collapse and the end of humanity.

So the stakes have never been higher, but we have many times been able to reinvent ourselves, but we have to realize that this reinvention is not just the reinvention out there in the systems and in the physical reality. It is also reinvention of our culture and our values, and it's also an internal reinvention. We have to reinvent ourselves. We have to reinvent our consciousness, but we have done it, and I hope that we will do it again.

Dr. Dan Stickler: So that being said, what resources do you suggest for people to learn more about this and dive into really developing these different pieces of wisdom?

Tomas Björkman: If you're generally interested in systems thinking, I would recommend a book by Fritjof Capra and I don't remember his co-author's name right now, but the book is called A Systems View of Life.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Life? Yeah, I love that book.

Tomas Björkman: Yes. It's a good introduction into systems thinking. If you're interested more into inner development and personal development, and especially the relationship between personal development and societal change, I would recommend that you check out the Inner Development Goals project with the URL, There you can find some tools and thinking, and also a growing international community of people who are interested in exploring our possibilities of individual and collective growth.

Dr. Dan Stickler: That's great. I hope we have many, many of the listeners dive into that information, for sure. Want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with us for an hour. This has been a really great session, and much gratitude for your input on all of this.

Tomas Björkman: Thank you, Daniel. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

No Comments Yet

Sign in or Register to Comment