Ervin Laszlo is a renaissance man for the world of the
future. If that's a bit of a mind-bender, then consider this:
Laszlo started his career as a pianist; became the leading
proponent of systems theory as a broad philosophical framework;
went beyond Darwin to elaborate general evolutionary theory;
theorized the “fifth physical field” to prove an
absolute dimension beyond time and space; taught in universities
across America, Europe, and Asia; and now advocates for global
sustainability. What led him from the concert stage to the
laboratory, around the world, and across the disciplines?
Interest, pure interest. “I'm interested in problems, in
puzzles, in what in science are called 'anomalies,' ” he
says matter-of-factly. “I'm really interested in things
that I don't understand.” And thanks to the incredible
reach of his interest, we are all waking up to see the entire
cosmos in a new light—as one living system of which we are
an integral part.
Born in Hungary between the two world wars, Laszlo was a
child prodigy—a brilliant pianist who let his mind soar as
his hands flew over the keys. After he would finish playing,
he'd rush to his typewriter to capture the insights and
questions that had come to him. Eventually realizing that
“you can't be a professional concert pianist and have your
mind work on philosophical scientific problems,” Laszlo
gave up music to pursue science. And pursue he did: he has been
chasing science out of the laboratory and snug academic circles
ever since, bringing the latest discoveries to bear on the
fundamental questions of human life. About a decade ago, Laszlo
founded the prestigious Club of Budapest, gathering together
leading minds in art, science, religion, and culture in order to
evolve a new ethic for a sustainable world.
After a recent lecture at Yale University, WIE had
the privilege of speaking with Dr. Laszlo about his vision for a
paradigm shift that could change the future.
WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT: You have written that we
are in a “macroshift”—where the economic and
ecological systems on this planet will undergo a crisis, a total
transformation leading to utter breakdown or extraordinary
breakthrough. What do you see happening? And how soon do you
believe it will happen?
ERVIN LASZLO: That's what we don't know.
Obviously, you can't keep having more and more people use more
and more resources, and have greater and greater inequality in
the distribution of those resources, without a breaking point
being reached. Right now, for example, with the melting of the
ice cap deflecting the Gulf Stream, it's entirely possible that
in three years England will have the frigid climate of Labrador,
which is at the same latitude. Spring and summer just won't
come. The fact of the matter is that we live on a planet where
everything is circular—whatever you do to other people or
to nature eventually comes back to you. While it has always been
like this, we weren't even capable of thinking this way until a
couple hundred years ago.
An additional factor has to do with the behavior of complex
systems: they don't change smoothly. It's impossible to tell,
even theoretically, when a complex system is reaching its
limit—there are so many feedbacks, so many self-correcting
mechanisms that are operating. But when there is more and more
stress, sooner or later you reach a tipping or bifurcation
point, and all of a sudden the system just can't correct for it.
We have been ignoring the pressure building in the system. As a
result, we are facing an “ecol-nomic”
crisis—ecological and economic simultaneously—with
potentially catastrophic problems like climate change and sea
level increase that may threaten our survival.
WIE: These are problems of a magnitude and
complexity that humanity has never faced before. It's intriguing
that as a scientist, you're not looking toward technological
solutions but, instead, toward a fundamental change in our
thinking. What is this new thinking, and how can it help us?
LASZLO: It's about a new worldview with new values
adapted to living, surviving, and developing on this planet. The
rise of spirituality and the rise of meditation techniques and
involvement with inner growth are all part of this phenomenon.
And it's already occurring, but it has to be accelerated.
Now, you can get to this new worldview by rational or
intellectual means. You can get to it intuitively, through art,
spirituality, or religion. And you can get there through
science. If you look at developments in science, you'll find
that science is increasingly recognizing that everything is
connected very strongly with everything else. Everything that
exists is an open system. Nothing is entirely closed or
independent—everything is very sensitively connected.
The implications are enormous wherever you look. So, for
example, we are not just a block of cells, like a building is a
block of bricks. Most fundamentally, our living tissue is not
made out of hard-core elements—atoms and
molecules—it is made of waves. Thus, we are living systems
that are continuously receiving and transmitting information.
This information transmission is faster than any conceivable
biochemical mechanism, because what happens in one part of the
organism simultaneously happens to the other part. It's
constantly interactive on multiple dimensions. It's a remarkable
thing—going way beyond any technical, biological,
and materialistic concept of the organism.
As so much of the spiritual literature says: we are not
limited to five slits in the tower—meaning that we don't
just see the world through the five sense organs. To me, it's
very obvious that consciousness is not a byproduct of the brain,
produced by a complex set of neurons. It's something that's
pervading the whole universe. It's there in the whole body, in
all living systems, probably all the way down to the quantum
level. We are living in a universe that itself is conscious. And
so, we can open the roof to the sky. In creativity you open
up—you have a possibility to open the roof to the sky.
Then you're no longer alone. I had these moments as a young
musician in concert—a sensation of being part of a larger
universe. You have united with something larger than yourself.
I believe that these things will give us a new paradigm of a
universe that is connected. We are far more interconnected to
one another and to all elements than we ever thought. A friend
who I admired very much, Jonas Salk, said that a new paradigm in
science and in society is like a response of the immune system,
because it enables you to think in ways that are more adapted to
coping with new problems. So, if this paradigm would begin to
penetrate into society, we would have more solidarity, more
humanity, and a better relationship to nature and to each other,
because we would recognize what William James said in The
Varieties of Religious Experience—that we are
separate on the surface but connected in the deep. Or what
Buddhists know—that we are connected to the cosmos. It's
also what I think Jesus meant when he said, “You have to
love each other, as I love you, because you are all part of the
same.” All of the great prophets have said this. But we've
lost this interconnectedness in our fascination with technology,
the economy, and power itself. Recognizing the subtle element
connecting all of nature and its effect on our mind, our
consciousness, could go a long way toward making us more
human—and by the way, help us to survive the crisis that
we are now facing.