Why Future Human Well-Being Will Require a Leap In Understanding—And How It Can Be Achieved

In previous posts, I’ve argued that we today confront a Crisis of Purpose. I’ve described how we need a new kind of guiding narrative and new ways of thinking if our future is to be bright. I’ve also proposed that Creative Systems Theory with its concept of Cultural Maturity provides a general roadmap.  

My most recent book required me to step significantly beyond my comfort zone with these notions. I am not by nature a promoter. And when I encounter writing that has a promotional tone, I tend to pretty quickly dismiss it—and I think for good reason. Always before in writing about Creative Systems Theory and its concept of Cultural Maturity I have simply stated ideas as clearly as I am able and left it up to the reader to decide their importance. 

But my book Insight: Creative Systems Theory’s Radical New Picture of Human Possibility is quite specifically an argument for the power and originality of these notions. Since their origins some forty years ago, I’ve had to face that these ideas are far enough ahead of how we usually think that unless a person has a solid sense of why they are important, they will not take the time needed to engage them effectively. I structured the book around a series of what could be thought of as audacious claims. 

A first audacious claim has to do with the times in which we live. Creative Systems Theory proposes that going forward will require a critical “growing up” as a species—Cultural Maturity’s needed new chapter in what it means to be human. The theory describes how we can understand this new chapter in terms of developmentally predicted cognitive changes, the realization of what it calls Integrative Meta-perspective. It also delineates new human capacities that follow from this cognitive reordering and describes how these capacities will be needed to address the critical questions and challenges ahead for the specifies. I propose that unless the concept of Cultural Maturity it basically correct, it is hard to be legitimately optimistic about our human future. 

A second kind of claim is more conceptual. The theory observes that what makes we humans unique is the richness of our toolmaking, meaning-making, we could say simply “creative” proclivities. It goes on to argue that Integrative Meta-perspective allows us to think more consciously in creative terms. The theory claims that the application of a creative frame provides a leap in understanding as fundamental as that which gave us Modern Age thought.

The implications of this leap are considerable. Most immediately, it offers that we might think in ways that more directly reflect that we are alive, and alive in the way that makes us human. It provides a new Fundamental Organizing concept to replace the “reality is a great machine” conclusions of Newton and Descartes.

In application, a creative frame puts human experience as a whole in motion and brings new perspective to the larger human story. The picture that results makes understandable how Cultural Maturity’s changes are as potential built into who we are. And it helps us better understand not just the future, but also the past. It clarifies how Newton and Descartes might have reached the conclusions that they did in their time. Going back further, it helps bring depth to our understanding of how the Modern Age worldview differed from the blood-bound and morality-based beliefs of the Middle Ages; and before that, how those differed from the more mythic belief systems of ancient Greece, Egypt, or the high cultures of Meso-America; and previous to that, how all of these differed from the more animistic worlds of tribal realities. 

Note the admittedly audacious implication that if Integrative Meta-perspective and the kind of consciously creative frame it makes possible had been available to us in millennia past (which by definition it could not have been) we could have at least crudely mapped out the contours of future understanding.

The book goes on to expand on the implications of a creative frame. A creative frame brings a more complete picture to the nature of human identity, both individual and collective. Thinking in creative systems terms also lets us better understand relationships of all kinds—from those of love to those of leadership and government—to appreciate how human connections of all of these sorts have evolved and today continue to evolve. And it makes it possible to address a wide array of human questions that always before have left us baffled, such as the apparent contradiction of free will and determinism or how religion and science might ultimately relate.  

The claim that Creative Systems Theory is ahead of its time is by itself clearly audacious. Some of the ways in which it anticipates what is needed are simply unusual, while others take us into territory that is wholly new. The theory is at least unusual in its big-picture, long-term systemic vantage. We are more used to thinking in terms of front-page news and immediate circumstances. It is also unusual in how its concern in looking toward the future is not just the technological, but how we think and make sense of our worlds. And with the concept of Integrative Meta-perspective, it takes us beyond ideology-based simple answers and better addresses understanding as a whole, an accomplishment that is as yet rare.   

More philosophically, Creative Systems Theory comes at understanding in a way that while not unique, certainly separates it from the great majority of traditional thought. Its concern is not with what is real in some objective, “out there” sense, but rather with what we perceive to be real as a function of how we think. It is about how human cognitive processes work, and how they work differently at different times and places.  

And there is one further kind of claim that might seem particularly audacious. It turns to the elegance of ideas that follows from the perspective of a creative frame. In what might seem a paradox, the thinking of Creative Systems Theory is more complex and nuanced than usual understanding; and at the same time it is in important ways simpler. Einstein once observed that the whole of his thinking followed from the question of what experience would look if he were riding on a beam of light. The whole of Creative Systems Theory—including the concept of Cultural Maturity—can be understood to follow from the question of what truth becomes if intelligence is creatively ordered. 

The theory’s application of a creative frame not just as a metaphor but as a framework for detailed understanding is, as far as I know, unique. And while culturally mature capacities are reflected today in the best of understanding in many fields, the conceptual argument that Creative Systems Theory makes for Cultural Maturity’s changes provides a unique foundation for understanding. The overarching perspective of Creative Systems Theory along with the more specific concept of Cultural Maturity together contribute in unique ways critical to our time.