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BEYOND KNOWLEDGE:
How Technology is Driving an Age of Consciousness

I am pleased to provide this summary of my forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge. This is simply a quick outline of the central theme, but the book should come out later this year.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and constructive criticism at Halal@GWU.edu.

 

The Age of Consciousness Is Here

After flying large aircraft in the Air Force, working on the Apollo Project and a stint in Silicon Valley, I became an academic at UC Berkeley and promptly became fascinated with the revolutionary power of the technology revolution. Although I also study business, economics and the social sciences, I  introduced a course on Emerging Technologies in 1980 when information technology began taking off.  Soon, a few colleagues and I developed what is arguably the best forecasting system in the world. The project won awards, was featured in a full-page article by The Washington Post, and I was flooded with requests by corporations and governments.

I also began to understand that the real story was not about the technology itself, or even its social fallout. Instead, it seems the technology revolution is driving an unrecognized social upheaval from “knowledge” to “consciousness.” The most striking example is the advent of today’s “post-factual world.”

The post-factual phenomenon forces us to see that the Age of Knowledge, which dominated the last two decades, is receding under today’s flood of smart phones, social media, artificial intelligence and autocrats like Trump.  Knowledge is still crucial, but the tech revolution is driving the world beyond knowledge into a new frontier governed by emotions, values, beliefs and higher-order thought. I think this means that  an “Age of Consciousness” is here, though one may not like its current form. Whatever one thinks of President Trump, almost all would concede that he is brilliant at creating an alternative reality. He is a master at shaping consciousness.

But why should we be guided by this epidemic of fake news, ignorance and outright lies? Because this eruption of unreasonableness has enveloped the globe, and it provides a clue to the new world of consciousness now being born. It’s like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, and a shot across the bow of ships of state. Politicians in Russia, Turkey, England, and Brazil, to name a few, now take refuge in dismissing criticism as fake news. Authors have called it an “Assault on Intelligence,” “The Death of Truth,” “A World Without Facts,” “The Death of Expertise,” “Truth Decay” and “The Fake News Fallacy.” [1] 

This rule of unreason pervades life today, and numerous examples suggest it is epidemic.  The US government, for instance, has been locked in stalemate for decades, even though Congress has more knowledge than it can handle. Emotional issues like abortion, gun control, immigration and the other roadblocks to a sane society have been studied to death, yet gridlock persists because of conflicting values, self-interest, and a hunger for power – consciousness again.

This brutal reality should make it rather obvious that the roots of disorder that plague our time are not rational problems to solve. They involve all the complex, messy, emotional baggage generated by normal people; they hinge on matters of subjective consciousness. The domain of consciousness is where the problems lie, and so it is also where the solutions are to be found.

Beneath this tectonic shifting in consciousness is the driving force of artificial intelligence (AI), automating knowledge work and driving us into this new frontier. The rapid advance of AI is probably the most powerful force for change today.Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on … more profound than fire or electricity.” [2]  The result has left business, government and the public alarmed at the impending crisis in which roughly half of present jobs are eliminated and causing social chaos.  AI poses one of the most perplexing questions of our time: what lies beyond knowledge?

As this book will show, everything beyond knowledge is subjective consciousness, and the advance of AI is more evidence that we are moving into this confusing new domain. This historic shift in social evolution is illustrated by the graph below which makes the case vividly. I have struggled with this problem for years, and the result is this accurate plot of what I call the “Life Cycle of Evolution.”  The logarithmic time scale is needed to encompass the billions of years at the start of the LCE as well as decades today. Without a log scale, the shape of the LCE would not be recognizable.  The curve would simply make a sharp turn up.

In this clarifying light, the next stage of social evolution becomes rather easy to envision.  The data show accelerating progress through the earlier stages, and the logical next stage is the culminating birth of an Age of Consciousness, about now in 2020. A global level of consciousness is needed because it is increasingly clear that we are all dependent on one another in this single planet, that we should strive to become global citizens. The inspiration for this concept is provided by the brilliant insight of the Jesuit anthropologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who envisioned the world guided by a web of consciousness that envelops the globe. [3]

A close up of a map

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Yes, this is a bold claim. I have earned a good living and a small measure of fame by forecasting change. Publications attest to the accuracy of my forecasts in the 1970s that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000. [4] At that time, I recall telling people that personal computers were coming, only to be greeted with “Why would anyone want a personal computer?”

Yet in 2000, PCs were everywhere, books on knowledge became rife, corporations competed to become “knowledge organizations” and the majority of jobs required working with computers to manage knowledge.  I am equally confident that an age of consciousness is here today, and we simply do not yet understand this intriguing new frontier.

Consciousness has been around throughout history, of course, so what is really new? Information and knowledge have also been used in ancient civilization, but the Knowledge Age occurred when information technology matured into the most powerful force on Earth, occupying the bulk of the labor force and our very minds.

In a similar way, consciousness is becoming a powerful technology, although barely understood, and it is changing the world. The most prominent example is public media. Think of the explosion of opinion, hatred and forbidden desires released by billions of people blasting into loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use the media to shape public opinion instantly, for better or worse. We are awash with seeing actors, TV stars, politicians, athletes, ordinary people with heart-breaking stories, cute kids doing smart things and influencers like Kim Kardashian.

The challenge is to shape a unified consciousness out of this morass of differences to solve the global crises that loom ahead. As we will see in a moment, today’s threat to reason is challenging us to counter these wrong-headed beliefs and to provide more attractive visions that offer hope. To put it more sharply, we are all shaping consciousness because that is where the action is.

This historic transition also poses enormous threats that must be resolved to avoid disaster and reach global maturity. Climate change, automation of jobs, gross inequality, government gridlock, financial meltdowns, terrorism and more have formed a constellation of end-of-the-world challenges that a colleague and I call the “Global MegaCrisis” or the “Crisis of Global Maturity. [5] Our studies estimate that roughly 70 percent of the public thinks the present world trajectory is not sustainable. People have deep fears over today’s global crises and failures in governance, and they attribute it to a lack of leadership, vision and cooperation.  The World Economic Forum published a report on Global Risks that stops just short of panic. [6]

The technology revolution will add even greater threats. I draw on my state-of-the-art forecasting system to show how the entire technology revolution is likely to unfold in the years ahead. It shows the vast range of benefits in store, but also the enormous problems of “eating fruit from the biblical tree of knowledge.” Smart cars, for example, will follow a similar path as smart phones. “A car is very much like a cell phone, and that makes it vulnerable to attack from the Internet,” said Jonathan Brossard, a security engineer.[7] Among the AI threats, many are horrified at the prospect of robotic weapons turning on people.[8]  Now ponder what could happen when billions of intelligent devices like these are wired together in the Internet of Things?

Even today, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a global disaster, and it has shifted public opinion in favor of social unity and cooperation, the very changes in consciousness proposed in this book. This crisis serves to warn us of the even greater dangers ahead as climate change and the other threats comprising the MegaCrisis hit home in a few years. 

This difficult transition can be compared to the transformation every teenager faces when passing through their own crisis of maturity. At some point, the problems become so severe that most teens eventually find the courage to act more wisely and become responsible adults. In a roughly similar way, this is humanity’s challenge to grow into a sustainable civilization. We are being forced to grow up, to develop a responsible global order, or suffer catastrophe.

This book will provide a sophisticated evolutionary perspective that shows how a global consciousness is emerging to resolve these threats and create a mature civilization. More than a theory, chapters will support this view by showing how people are changing their lives, their work, social institutions and global mindset.  As seen in the chapter outline, I make a point of fleshing out these concepts with details, evidence, supporting examples and steps to consider.

I will show how consciousness is that inner place where we live our mental lives and it is changing rapidly. People are practicing mindfulness, living with Nature, using psychedelics and other “technologies of consciousness” to develop compassion and other integrative attitudes that improve health and well-being. Personal shifts in consciousness are also underway as many abandon the dogma of religion to use diverse spiritual resources to guide their own “human spirit.” All this work on consciousness is being used to make sense of a confusing new era and to help us to perform our jobs in a slightly crazed, high-tech world.

We will also see that our collective consciousness is shifting to transform the major organs of society that define how we live our public lives – government, business, universities, religions and other institutions. In each case, I will show that a small avant garde is quietly bringing a mature awareness to these varied facets of society. Drawing on numerous examples, we see how government can become lean and responsive, business is turning democratic, education becoming student centered, and religions moving from doctrine to a personal relationship with the spiritual dimension of life.

For instance, the Business Roundtable announcement that firms should serve all stakeholders rather than profit alone is historic. The New York Times called it a “watershed moment … that raises questions about the very nature of capitalism.” [9] Leading corporations like Whole Foods, IKEA, Nucor Steel, Nortel, and Unilever collaborate with employees, customers, suppliers and governments to solve tough problems and create value for the company and stakeholders. Larry Fink, who runs the biggest investment firm in the world (Black Rock), even directed the companies he owns to help address climate costs in their operations; within days, many firms announced climate abatement plans. [10]

Corporations are the most powerful institutions in the world. This impending shift to a cooperative form of business could set an example for societies at large, spreading tendrils of collaborative problem-solving throughout the social order.

Following these ideas for institutional change, I discuss methods being used to manage our consciousness in order to cope with the demands of high-tech life. We focus on applying what I have labeled “technologies of consciousness” (ToCs). ToCs are techniques, tools and methods we use to guide our awareness, mood, understanding and other facets of consciousness, or “human spirit.” As we will see, this includes hard technologies (drugs, brain prostheses, virtual reality, etc.); ordinary parts of everyday life (coffee, alcohol, media, etc.); leadership (purpose, cooperation, etc.) and many other tools for guiding consciousness.

A striking example serves as a case in point. A few years ago, the chairman of Aetna defused an audience of angry shareholders by wading into the crowd and asking forgiveness for his mistakes and shaking hands with the critics. Here’s how a board director described the result: “In 15 minutes he changed the mood of that entire room. It was one of the most skillful demonstrations I have ever seen.” [11] The chairman’s actions illustrate why higher-order forms of consciousness are likely to take off – they are simply more effective.

We briefly look at the use of meditation, prayer and other forms of inner guidance, the healing balm of Nature, and psychotropic drugs that relieve stress and provide insight. For instance, I cite a poignant story of a housewife who uses small doses of marijuana to relieve insomnia and anxiety, allowing her to become a “better mother to her children.” We then summarize evidence showing that managing the mind can instill higher-order values of cooperation, empathy, gratitude and compassion that are essential to a unified globe.

The superior power of higher consciousness provides the key to resolving the MegaCrisis. As shown in the LCE, each stage of evolution has been propelled by revolutions – the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial  Revolution, Post-Industrial Revolution and, most recently, the Information Revolution. Now, the world is awaiting a “Mental/Spiritual Revolution” to kick start the Age of Consciousness.

This transition can be explained using the Hegelian dialectic. [12] In Hegel’s terms, the Information Revolution forms the “thesis” that has been driving the world into a Knowledge Age, while the Global MegaCrisis represents the “antithesis” challenging this status quo. The coming Mental/Spiritual Revolution provides the catalyst to resolve this crisis and create a “synthesis” that becomes the new status quo – a unified global order.  

This may seem outrageous, especially at a time when hostilities seem hopeless, and I could be proved wrong as the world descends into disaster. But the evidence outlined throughout this book supports this possibility pretty well. I suspect this transition is a normal but difficult process, and that it probably occurs on countless civilizations throughout the universe.

The main reason this seems optimistic, and even foolhardy, is because we have no experience in global consciousness. Huddled in our small section of a limitless universe, humans have little conception of planetary evolution, much less the transition to a unified world. Our understanding is roughly similar to a naïve person who first witnesses the agony of a human birth or a teen struggling to adulthood. Without previous knowledge, these painful transitions would seem awful, too hard to bear. Yet they are entirely normal and usually successful.

So too will our  passage to global maturity appear in years to come. The current global order is not sustainable, and I think we should see a rising mental/spiritual revolution, global ethics, universal moral code or something similar about 2025 or so. A functioning global order is then likely to appear about 2050 +/- 10 years. In fact, I am as confident in this forecast as I was in 1970s that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000.

A unified global order will still bear the normal human failings, but it will make our current strife look as primitive as the brutal battles between kings’ armies in the feudal ages. This may sound too good to be true, yet I think most people today will live to see the coming of a unified planet and the triumph of human spirit, once again. Then it’s on to the Space Age.

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved. William E . Halal


[1] Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 2018) Anne Applebaum, “A world without facts,” Washington Post (May 20, 2018)   Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford, 2018) Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich, Truth Decay, (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 2018) Adrian Chen, “The fake news fallacy,“ The New Yorker (Sep 4, 2017)

[2] World Economic Forum, Jan 24, 2018.

[3] The Phenomenon of Man (Harper Perennial Modern Thought, November 4, 2008)

[4] Halal, “The Post-Industrial Organization,” The Bureaucrat (October 1974)

[5] Halal and Michael Marien, “Global MegaCrisis: A Survey of Four Scenarios on a Pessimism-Optimism Axis,” Journal of Future Studies (March 2011)

[6] Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker, and Anders Wujkman, Second Report to the Club of Rome, (New York: Springer Science (Jan 2018). The Global Risks, (Switzerland: World Economic Forum, 2018.

[7] “Security researcher warns cars can be hacked,” (CSO, Jan 2014)

[8] New York Post (Jun 15, 2017)

[9] Sorkin, Op. Cit.

[10] “Can Corporations Stop Climate Change?” (NewYorkTimes.com, Feb 24, 2020)

[11] Ben White, “SEC Nominee Donaldson Has History of Calming Investors Fury” (Washington Post, Dec 11, 2002)

[12] For a modern explanation, see Michael Allen Fox, The Accessible Hegel  (Prometheus Books. 2005)

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