Too often, the questions that we ask about our own time-period reflect a limited understanding of history. For example, consider the question: why is there still poverty and inequality? It’s a worthy question, but an even better one might be: How did so many societies, against all odds and without historical precedent, escape poverty and become wealthy? How have we come so far in our attempt to escape the "nasty, short and brutish" existence of our ancestors? Instead of just focusing on what we are still doing wrong, maybe we should also put some attention on how we managed to do so much right, for so long. How did we succeed beyond all hope and expectations? How did we raise our economic expectations so high that people think material abundance for everyone is even a possible goal, let alone a universal right?
In his new book Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the 20th Century, UC Berkeley professor Brad DeLong digs into the policies of the last century, exploring the hows and whys of the recent explosion in material and economic development. No one living in the 16th or 17th century would have imagined a future of such abundance. To them, it might seem close to a utopia, at least in some parts of the world. To us, there is still so much work to do, particularly to make that wealth global and more universal. Given that historical context, should we be optimistic about the next century, or have we reached the limits of this type of economic explosion? Is abundance in our future? Or stagnation? And what might we do to tip the scales?
Steve McIntosh is already a regular guest on this podcast, and that’s no accident. Steve and I have been collaborating for many years, and we even cofounded the Institute for Cultural Evolution almost a decade ago. Steve is the President of the think tank and continues to build it, even as he releases important intellectual content, including his writings, books, talks, various podcast appearances. The subject of this dialogue is a significant one—it’s on human nature. Does it evolve? Or is it fixed? And how do we think about the evolution of self and culture, given our biological constraints? Since this conversation was recorded, Steve has also posted an article on the same subject, with the same title Does Human Nature Evolve? which can be found in here. I’m thrilled to have Steve back on the podcast to explore one of the most foundational questions in philosophy, psychology, and even spirituality.
As my regular listeners will know, I’m deeply influenced by the perspective known as Integral philosophy, and in particular, the insights it affords us into how human culture has evolved—and is still evolving today. This perspective informs the conversations I have on this podcast, to one degree or another. But every now and again, I get the opportunity to welcome a guest who is deeply versed in this philosophy, and we get to have a conversation that more explicitly and directly explores the nuances of this unique way of looking at the world. Since this is a somewhat regular occurrence, I’ve dubbed these Integral Conversations, and I’m thrilled to share this one, with my friend and colleague Jeff Salzman, creator of the Daily Evolver podcast and fellow board member at the Institute for Cultural Evolution.
For well over a decade now, Jeff has been bringing the insights of integral theory and philosophy right down to the ground level, applying them to the social and political issues of the moment. Integral thinkers are often focused on big-picture insights about history and worldviews and consciousness, so Jeff’s commitment to making these ideas accessible and relevant to current events is refreshing—as is his unwavering confidence that culture is indeed evolving, despite what the headlines might suggest. In this wide-ranging conversation, Jeff and I tackle the culture wars, social media, Elon Musk, the war in Ukraine, identity politics, and more.
Inflation. Recession. Bubbles. Interest rates. Sovereign debt crisis. Today, everyone’s financial portfolio is falling and that makes people upset about markets and economics. But being angry or frustrated about the market is easy, understanding how and why we arrived at this point is much more challenging.
I was recently helped along in my journey of understanding by a fascinating new book, The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest , by financial journalist and historian Edward Chancellor. The book examines the history of interest rates, going all the way back to the beginnings of civilization, and takes a particularly close look at periods in history where unusually low interest rates encouraged excesses of financial speculation, like the Japan in the 1980s or the Mississippi Bubble in the 18th century. Are we in one of those periods now, or have we been? And what might we do about it, if so? Some of this inquiry involves going back to the basics. What is money? What are interest rates? Why do we have them?Why did ancients feel so strongly about them, and attach so much moral weight to their use? Indeed, what purpose have they served historically? And most important, what impact are they having today, as central banks are raising them, after a long a period of historically low rates.
Interest rates are critical to financial markets. And financial markets are a key hinge that economically connects the present day with the future. Markets allocate money, investment, and capital, not just across existing businesses and ventures, but across time - they connect the realities of today with the possibilities of tomorrow. And the price of that investment, or the price of that risk over time, or the "price of time", is what we measure and call "interest rates". They may seem obscure, but given their outsized influence over the future, they are rather important in the evolution of our economic lives.
So what will be the outcome of this inflationary period, where the Federal Reserve is raising rates after dropping them so very low for so many years? Chancellor and I explore that question and others in this deep dive into interest, finance, speculation, risk, and their profound impact on the future of America and the world.
What would you do if a whale landed on top of you—and you lived to tell the tale? That’s exactly what happened to wildlife biologist and filmmaker Tom Mustill in 2015, when a breaching humpback whale came crashing down on his kayak in California’s Monterey Bay—an event that was caught on video and quickly went viral. And what Tom did was to embark on a multi-year journey to better understand the inner life of the majestic sea mammal that had come so close to ending his own life. Why do whales breach? Do whales communicate? What is the meaning of their songs? These questions and more led him into the fascinating world of animal communication, enabled by the latest breakthroughs in technology that are enabling us to gather and analyze unprecedented volumes of data. The resulting book, How to Speak Whale: A Voyage Into the Future of Animal Communication, is an extraordinary and engaging read, filled with groundbreaking new research and insights.
As a lifelong lover of animals, I count this book among a handful of seminal works that have, over the past decades, powerfully changed my own understanding and reshaped our collective perception of a particular animal species and also of animal life in general. We still have so much to learn about inner lives, the cultures, and the intelligence of the other sentient beings with whom we share our planet. And as we learn, we must grapple with profound, even existential questions about our own place in the web of life, our impact, and the ways we relate to our fellow creatures. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to explore some of these big questions with Tom Mustill on this episode of Thinking Ahead.
In the 2019 book American Cosmic, scholar Diana Pasulka offers a surprising and original perspective on one of my favorite topics: UFOs. She proposes that UFOs and the obsession with them has become a type of post-secular religion. She even shows that modern accounts of UFO encounters closely resemble religious visions of yesteryear. But one of the most interesting things about Pasulka’s book is what she shares about the shift she underwent personally as she studied more and more about the subject—from somewhat skeptical to more and more curious to eventually convinced that there is a real phenomenon that we need to study. She was helped along on that journey by two individuals, scientists who are part of what is sometimes called the “Invisible College,” meaning researchers and academics who study this phenomenon but don’t talk publicly about it. One of those individuals, celebrated Stanford professor Gary Nolan, has since become more public. And UFOs have as well. The subject has emerged from underground counterculture conversations into something approaching the mainstream. Even government is getting involved, with the recent congressional hearings (something I discussed with Australian journalist Ross Coulthart on an earlier episode of this podcast). For this episode, I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk to this unique religious scholar who is delving deeply into the more esoteric dimensions of subject—beyond the “nuts and bolts” of UFO research. Her inquiry is less about sightings of physical aircrafts (though she does share a fascinating story of being taken, blindfolded, to an alleged crash site in the desert)—and more focused on consciousness, subjective experience, and meaning. Indeed, there is a dimension of this phenomenon that interfaces with spiritual or ontological aspects of the human experience in ways that are unusual, surprising, and sometimes just, well, strange. I’ve wanted to talk to Dr. Pasulka for a long time and I’m thrilled to finally have her on the podcast.
When we think about energy, we often forget one critical element—the grid. Most of us depend every day on our national grid to supply the energy we need for our life and work. And our need for electricity continues to grow and is likely to increase further over the coming years with, among other things, the move to electric vehicles. So how do we build a grid that fits a future in which our need for electricity is growing, and our need for low-carbon sources is as well? Is it possible? What are the challenges? Energy Analyst Meredith Angwin, author of Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid is an expert in the essential skillset that we often take for granted as we consider the future of energy—engineering. With the rush for low-carbon alternatives to coal and oil, the engineering challenges of distributing new sources of energy through the grid are considerable. So what solutions are on the horizon, if any? Is there a path to reliable decarbonization? What should be the role of renewables, natural gas, hydro, and nuclear? In this episode of Thinking Ahead, Meredith Angwin brings her deep knowledge of how we source energy and how we distribute it though our national grid to help us discern the realistic options for our future from the many optimistic dreams and pessimistic fears that occupy the cultural conversation. Alarmed by the growing fragility of our national grid, she calls for a future with “less slogans, more engineering.”
If you’ve followed this podcast for a while, you’ll know that I’m something of an economics nerd, and occasionally I indulge this passion by choosing guests who can offer insight into our past, present, and future through a financial lens. I was particularly excited to speak with journalist and author Christopher Leonard because he speaks to issues that have been troubling me for some time about the “easy money” policies of the Federal Reserve over the past decade or so. Since the Financial Crisis of 2008, we’ve gotten accustomed to hearing about low or even zero interest rates, “quantitative easing,” and other monetary policies designed to jump-start the economy. Which sounds like a good thing, right? Well, maybe. Or maybe not. I started questioning these policies when I was living in Northern California and watching the tech bubble form as hundreds of billions of dollars of venture capital flowed though that economic ecosystem. I watched the housing market go crazy, first in the Bay Area and the across the nation, and the extraordinary run of the stock market reshaping the contours of our economy. And I asked myself repeatedly, is this really a good thing? Of course, anyone who owns assets likes to see them go up in value. But is the economy as a whole served when the Fed pursues policies that significantly distort the functioning of markets? My guest on this episode, Christopher Leonard, suggests that the cost of these policies may be much greater than we realize. His recent book, Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy takes readers inside one of our country’s most unique institutions, and argues that the Fed is responsible for accelerating income inequality and setting us up for the problems we’re facing today, with inflation on the rise. Even if you’re not an economics nerd like me, I hope you’ll find this episode to be a highly lucid analysis of issues that affect all of us, whether we realize it or not.
Why did the leopard cross the road? Well, because he had to. He might have been searching for food, or a mate, or a new territory. But if he made it safely to the other side, it just might be because someone built him a bridge. And today's guest on Thinking Ahead might have had a hand in that effort.
One of the many great challenges of this century, to my mind, is finding a way for nature to thrive alongside humans. The rise of Modernity has made an enormous difference for human thriving but has put tremendous pressure on the natural world, a pressure that we have only recently started to make the effort to mitigate. But with population growth falling, technology improving, wealth increasing, and knowledge of natural ecosystems becoming more sophisticated, there are tremendous opportunities ahead of us to find better ways to coexist with the wild. And one of the people working to do just that is Darryl Jones, a world expert on building wildlife crossings to help animals migrate safely as their territories become divided and circumscribed by human roads. His new book, A Clouded Leopard in the Middle of the Road, documents the rise of one of the newest ecological areas of study, known as Road Ecology, and shares some of the extraordinary success stories he's been involved in, from the United States to Africa to Europe to Australia. In this episode, he explains the groundbreaking public-private cross-disciplinary partnerships that make such projects possible, and shares his personal passion for making roadkill a thing of the past.
Psychedelics are having a moment. There’s never been a time in which we’ve seen more research into, experimentation with, and acceptance of the use of psychedelics—for therapy, for inner exploration, and for spiritual awakening. Of course, psychedelics themselves are anything but new (just ask Brian Muraresku, who shared with me on this podcast his fascinating research into their use over millennia). And pioneering research was done in the sixties and seventies before the use of psychedelics was forced underground. But today, the topic is out in the open, championed by high-profile cultural influencers, researched by major academic institutions, and inspiring a number of popular books, such as Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind. Even amidst this explosion of experimentation, however, few people if any can match the experience and knowledge of Chris Bache. Back in the eighties and nineties, Chris took a series of more than eighty high-dose LSD journeys, all carefully documented. He initially wrote about these experiences in his 2000 book Dark Night, Early Dawn, but more recently he’s published a fuller account of them and a more mature reflection on what he learned in his new book LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven. What makes Bache’s account particularly interesting is that through his journeys he seemed to tap into more than just his own inner world; his intent was to explore, as he puts it, the very “mind of the universe.” Others might call this the collective unconscious or “intersubjective” dimension. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called it the “noosphere.” At times, Bache even ventured beyond anything related to humanity and glimpsed deeper states and dimensions of cosmos and consciousness. His precise and poetic documentation of these journeys offers a fascinating window into an intensive experience that few may match—but one that perhaps offers valuable lessons for anyone interested in the inner cosmos.
Regular listeners of this podcast or those who have followed my work over the years will recognize the name Steve McIntosh. Steve and I have been collaborating for almost two decades, including as coauthors (with John Mackey) of Conscious Leadership and cofounders of the Institute for Cultural Evolution. He is also a regular guest on this show. In this episode, we reflect on the current progressive inclination to highlight the wrongs of America's past, in contrast to traditional patriotism. Certainly, there's much to be ashamed of in our nation's historical record, especially the horrors of slavery, segregation, and the violence perpetrated against Native American populations. But should we allow that shame to eclipse any expression of national pride? Inspired by Steve's recent article "The Politics of Pride and Shame: Integrating 1776 and 1619," this conversation explores a potent cultural polarity and asks how we might come to a more integrated synthesis. As always, Steve brings a historically informed, culturally intelligent, and philosophically nuanced perspective to the topic.
Here are a couple of links to items referenced in our conversation:
Steve's recent article "The Politics of Pride and Shame: Integrating 1776 and 1619"
The Developmentalist: a media portal dedicated to advancing the evolution of American politics.
In our modern world, we often think of history as being mostly driven by international politics and economics and technology and demographics and the movement of money. Much of the time, that’s true. But every so often, events transpire that remind us that there are deeper undercurrents that also drive history—forces like religious passion, spiritual yearning, deep nationalism, and the search for cultural identity. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a stark opportunity to learn that lesson again. As we struggle to understand what’s behind the horrors we’re seeing on our television screens, we may need to look for answers in unconventional places. Indeed, as esoteric scholar and prolific author Gary Lachman points out, Vladimir Putin is deeply influenced by a constellation of ideas and worldviews that stem from a little-understood but powerfully influential era in Russian history. In his recent book, The Return of Holy Russia—a book that has turned out to be prescient, having been published several years before the invasion—Lachman looks back to an era of Russian intellectual thought sometimes called the Silver Age. This period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a mini-Renaissance of new thinkers writing before the Russian revolution, a time in which new progressive spiritualism and occultism mingled with more ancient Orthodox mystical and religious currents and even new science. Many Russian thinkers of that era imagined a cultural and spiritual destiny for Russia as an alternative to the more overt materialism and increasing atheism of Europe and the West. As with many traditional theologies and even some progressive spiritual movements of the time, there was eschatological or apocalyptic aspect to a lot of this thinking. And more than a century later, these ideas have been revived in parts of Russian culture, including in the mind of Vladimir Putin. To help shed light on what’s driving Russia’s brutal attack on its neighbor, I was delighted to welcome Lachman, one of the most cogent and thoughtful scholars of the esoteric, to join me in this episode.
When was the last time you remember a significant battle on the high seas? If you’re like me, such an event may well be hard to recall. I’m old enough to remember the Falklands war, but that’s about it. Today’s guest on Thinking Ahead, author Gregg Easterbrook, wants his readers to understand that that blank space in most of our memories is not an accident. It has come about courtesy of a very particular set of circumstances that have arisen over the last half century—many of which come down to the superiority and effectiveness of the US Navy. In his recent book, Easterbrook coined the term “The Blue Age” to describe this unique period of history in which there has been peace and prosperity on the world’s seas. Not since the Phoenicians, he points out, has there been anything resembling what we’ve seen in the last decades. And one of the consequences of that relative peace has been an explosion in global trade, and a subsequent and massive reduction in global poverty. So, can this unique historical situation continue? What forces, or countries, threaten the Blue Age? Is a potential new naval arms race on the horizon? Is the Blue Age actually sustainable—technologically, geopolitically, and also environmentally? In this episode of the podcast, I speak to Gregg Easterbrook about his new book; the challenges of maintaining US Naval supremacy and using it wisely in a multipolar world; and the various other promises and perils that present themselves, many decades into the Blue Age.
Mariana Bozesan, author of Integral Investing: From Profit to Prosperity, has lived her life in several distinct worlds—from a childhood of painful poverty in communist Romania, to the technological optimism of Stanford and Silicon Valley, to the progressive business world of Germany and Europe where she found great success as an entrepreneur and investor. Perhaps it is that unique background and experience that has led her to has led to her to develop such a global and forward-looking perspective on business and investing—and also on life. Dr. Bozesan’s work and financial resources have allowed her to create the investment group AQAL Capital, named after the philosophical model of integral theorist Ken Wilber, who is one of her personal heroes. It is a model that she feels integrates the best of traditional investing and impact investing. She is an optimist, and her success speaks for itself, but I was particularly impressed with her commitment and passion, and also her willingness to explore a diversity of topics in what ended up being a robust, far-ranging dialogue. What future areas of innovation are giving her the most hope? What can Germany learn from the US and what can the US learn from Germany? Can the challenge of climate change be addressed with new technologies? What spiritual practice does she uses to revitalize herself and deepen her own inner universe? We explore all of this and more in this stimulating conversation about how to build a truly abundant future out the raw material of a difficult present.
How do we think about race in America today? This question continues to be core to the evolution of our national experiment. And it has come even further to the forefront in recent years, as the progressive social justice movement in American politics has gained more and more prominence. In this episode of the podcast, I was thrilled to be able to explore this subject with Greg Thomas—musician, intellectual, Integralist, journalist, spiritual practitioner, and co-founder of the Jazz Leadership Project. Greg, like myself, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Cultural Evolution, and we share a deep appreciation for the wisdom of integral philosophy and the perspectives it offers on issues of culture, evolution, and history. But what I enjoyed so much about this conversation were the unique and different perspectives Greg brought to bear on the subject, both from his personal experience and his impressive and eclectic scholarship. Greg is an expert in the intellectual currents that have arisen around the art of Jazz—a tradition that is far outside my wheelhouse—and in this conversation we explore some of that history, covering writers like Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, and what Greg feels they can offer to the current conversation around race. Race has always been one of the most challenging and complex but also important topics for anyone trying to make sense of our national politics and where culture might be headed. I hope this episode may contribute, in some small way, to that conversation.
UFOs. Or to use the current in-vogue acronym, UAPs. It’s a topic rife with conspiracies and strange complexities. Many people just want to avoid it altogether. But it’s also an explosive story, with huge implications. And it’s gained enough legitimacy that we need to pursue it--to pursue the truths that still lay hidden, to follow the facts and the data, even if it forces us into areas that are unexpected and challenging to our previous worldview. Most of all, we need good researchers, thinkers, and investigators to help us do that. In this episode of Thinking Ahead, I welcome one of those investigators, Australian journalist and former 60 Minutes reporter Ross Coulthart, author of the new book In Plain Sight. I appreciated the book's mix of investigative reporting, clear writing, and context setting for the lay reader, as well as new information and new sources. In this fascinating interview, we cover the latest events in this fast-changing field, which has dramatically changed ever since The New York Times broke open the subject with its landmark article in 2017. With his sources deep in the US military, Coulthart is more than an observer of this unfolding story; he is driving it forward, with original information and reporting. I was thrilled to be able to pick his brain about the mysteries in our skies.
Would you like to live a bit longer, maybe a lot longer? Do you think it’s possible? Do you think it will be possible in the future? In this episode of Thinking Ahead, I want to introduce you to an individual who believes strongly in the potential for human longevity, in the near term and long term. His name is Sergey Young and his new book is called The Science and Technology of Growing Young.
Young is not a scientist or a researcher or even the founder of biotech company. He’s an investor—and specifically, an investor in startups working to increase longevity. He has formed several funds to invest in breakthroughs in the science and technology of aging. And that gives him a unique vantage point from which to observe and examine the many moonshots that are now underway to extend the human lifespan. But, as Young points out, the first rule of extending your lifespan is: don't die before your natural time—from accidents, mistakes, chronic disease, or bad choices. And so, any foray into longevity must include the means to be vital and healthy into our 90s. Then, we can consider the breakthroughs on the horizon in the next era of human development.
What would mean if we found a way to live well beyond our existing natural lifespan? What are the ethical and social implications? Join Sergey and I for an exploration of the unprecedented human potentials that may ripple through society in the next century.
For this episode, I’m happy to welcome back one of the first guests on this podcast, my longtime collaborator and cofounder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, Steve McIntosh. Since that earlier conversation (which you can check out here) Steve has continued his work to bring what he has called a “post-progressive” perspective to the political sphere. Recently, that work has taken an important step forward with the launch of a new media portal, The Post-Progressive Post. This site, to which I’m proud to be a contributor, is designed to bring a fresh, new perspective to politics—one that is neither left, right, nor centrist. Indeed, it attempts to synthesize the best of all three of these political positions by integrating the cultural values from each of America’s three major worldviews: Progressivism, Modernism, and Traditionalism. The launch of this site made it a perfect moment to have Steve back on the podcast and dive deeper into what a post-progressive approach to politics and culture might look like.
Here are a couple of links to items referenced in our conversation.
George Packer, “The Four Americas,” The Atlantic
Steve’s critique of Packer’s article
My first article for the Post-Progressive Post: “Who Wants to Skip the Civil War?”
Last year, in episode 3 of this podcast, I interviewed Eric Wargo, author of Time Loops. I had gotten to know Eric at a conference a few years earlier at the Esalen Center for Theory and Research. I was impressed by him and his ideas, and spent many hours talking with him. I find his theories about precognition, retrocausation, the nature of the brain, and the role of dreaming fascinating. They explain a lot of esoteric experiences and data that are often pushed aside by mainstream researchers. While Eric is pushing the boundaries of our theoretical models further than most, he is also a rigorous and serious thinker who speaks well to those who sympathize with his ideas but can also answer and engage his critics. I always enjoy talking with him, so when I realized his new book, Precognitive Dreamwork and the Long Self, was out, I thought it was time to get him back on the podcast.
What if the ethical challenge of our own time is not to have the courage to be a combatant for the last century's great causes, but to negotiate a much more complex set of moral issues, values, and worldviews? In this unique episode of Thinking Ahead, Carter reads his latest essay, written for The Post Progressive Post. Inspired by the recent movie A Call to Spy, Carter shares his reflections on America's troubled political landscape and weaves together polarization, Hollywood, World War 2, Sufism, and his own story. He calls for a new kind of heroism that transcends the archetypes of 20th century morality tales, a hero that can answer the ethical challenge of the 21st century.
Misinformation. Disinformation. Fake news. Conspiracy theories. These viruses of the information age proliferate with frightening speed on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, sometimes with serious consequences. Over the past few years, as the scope of the problem has become unavoidable, there has been much debate over how to deal with it, and increasing pressure to do so. Should government regulate these platforms? Should the tech companies regulate themselves? Or is there another way? Avi Tuschman, a silicon valley entrepreneur and pioneer in the field of psychometric AI, believes there is. Last year, he published a paper outlining a bold and creative proposal for creating a third-party reviewing system based on a website everyone knows and loves: Wikipedia. Wikipedia, as he points out, is a remarkable success. It’s accurate to an extraordinary degree. Research all over the world rely on it. And its success is due to a unique formula: a distributed group of non-employee volunteers who write and edit the information on the site and, in conjunction with AI processes, make sure it conforms to the site’s high standards. In his paper, entitled Rosenbaum’s Magical Entity: How to Reduce Misinformation on Social Media, he suggests that we should use “the same open-source, software mechanisms and safeguards that have successfully evolved on Wikipedia to enable the collaborative adjudication of verifiability.”
It’s a proposal that potentially avoids many of the politically tricky consequences of getting government involved in regulating public platforms run by private companies. But how exactly would it work? Where does free speech come in? How much fact-checking do we want on our social media sites? And where do we draw the line between discourse that is merely unconventional and that which is outright conspiratorial? To unpack these questions and more, I invited Avi Tuschman to join me on Thinking Ahead for what turned out to be a thought-provoking conversation.
There are few people in the world of writers, musicians, artists, and celebrities who are instantly recognizable by just a single name. Oprah, Sting, Bruce, Beyonce—to name a few. Deepak falls into that rarefied category. Ever since he burst onto the progressive spiritual scene in the late eighties with his unique mix of health, wellness, science, spirituality, and celebrity, Deepak Chopra has been a cultural force—writing, speaking, debating, and generally making himself a constant presence in the media. Today, his name has become almost synonymous with “spiritual but not religious” subculture heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and Indian spiritual thought. Indeed, Deepak himself, a former student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the Beatles' guru), has been one of the most articulate and consistent proponents of what we might call a modern, scientifically informed version of ancient Hindu mysticism. On this episode of Thinking Ahead, I speak with Deepak about his recent article—It’s Time Reality Got a Makeover—exploring the limits of scientific materialism. But we didn’t stop there. In the end, we covered a lot of ground—materialism, idealism, consciousness, the brain, reality, psychedelics, UFOs, and even his own remaining life goals. Never at a loss for words or ideas, Deepak is unique thinker, and it was a pleasure to peer inside the mind of this spiritual icon.
There is something about the American Southwest—long home to the Navajo (Diné) and the Utes and many other Native American tribes over the years—that stirs the soul, evoking our deep, mythopoetic imagination. It is to this spiritually charged corner of the world that author Bill Plotkin, founder of the Animas Valley Institute, invites people to travel on unique and powerful journeys of what he calls “nature-based soul initiation.” These are not weekend workshops or Outward Bound adventures. They’re more serious, more transformative, and ultimately more life-altering. Ultimately, their purpose, as he explains in his recent book The Journey of Soul Initiation, is more than an experience; it’s a long-term metamorphosis of identity.
Plotkin distinguishes his spiritual approach from what he calls “upper world” paths that emphasize transcendence and the discovery of universal truths. His path traverses the “underworld” of the individual soul uncovering its unique evolutionary “niche.” In his book, Plotkin suggests that it’s rare in our culture today for people to truly develop into the higher stages of adult maturity. Many get stuck in a type of adolescence or in-between state that has nothing to do with age. And those that do manage to make the journey often do so only by struggling through the territory on their own. There are few guides and fewer clear signposts to help us walk this very personal developmental path. Plotkin’s work seeks to change that—to provides guides and maps that can be of authentic help to people along on that sometimes lonely path of transformation.
Plotkin, who refers to himself as a “psychologist gone wild” is perhaps best described as an endearing mashup of Carl Jung, eco-theologian Thomas Berry, and a revered elder. I enjoyed our conversation about his own journey, his work, and the challenges of deep, sustained, and soul-level transformation.
Every day, Americans use oil and gas. We heat our homes, we drive our cars, we power our technology and our lives. And yet, due to climate concerns, we know we need to move toward carbon-free sources of energy as fast as possible. But changing our national infrastructure is a challenge, not to mention international infrastructure—even with the ongoing push for renewables. So the questions loom: How do we get from here to there? How do we decarbonize our energy sources faster and at scale? And what role, if any, will oil and gas play in that carbon-neutral future?
On this episode of Thinking Ahead I address these questions and more with energy expert Tisha Schuller. I met Tisha a few years ago at a gathering on political polarization that the Institute for Cultural Evolution co-sponsored with the Breakthrough Institute and the Esalen Center for Theory and Research. A passionate environmentalist, Tisha is the former head of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association—a role in which she excelled, but that also left her a grizzled veteran of the fracking wars. During that time, she worked hard to adjudicate between the needs of the industry and the concerns of Colorado’s increasing powerful environmental groups (that chapter of her life story is chronicled in the book Accidentally Adamant: The Story of a Girl who Questioned Convention, Broke the Mold, and Charted a Course Off Map.) Since then, Tisha has founded a consulting group, Adamantine Energy, in Boulder, Colorado, that helps oil and gas companies all over the country and the world make the necessary transition to deal with our increasingly climate-focused social and political landscape. What I appreciate about Tisha is not only her rich knowledge of the energy industry, but the way in which the intense scrutiny and political and cultural landmines she has faced have led her to evolve as a person. Out of those trials and tribulations, she emerged a deep and integrative thinker, someone who really understands not just energy but the cultural voices around it, and who can speak about the climate debates as someone who has really sat on all sides of the table. She is someone I trust to give me the straight story about the future of this increasingly important arena that affects all of our lives.
Are you one person? One self? A singular personality? Or, as the poet said, do you “contain multitudes”? In the new book Your Symphony of Selves, authors Jordan Gruber and James Fadiman argue that each one of us is composed of many distinct selves that make up the totality of who and what we are. They attempt to rescue this notion from the realm of mental illness and schizophrenia, and show how the concept of healthy multiple selves has a rich history in psychology, art, spirituality, philosophy, and even science. They suggest that the goal of mental health should not be to find your one true self, but to find ways to “be in the right mind and the right time.” It’s a compelling idea, especially in contrast to the prevailing view, so I was delighted to welcome Jordan, a longtime friend, to join me on this episode of Thinking Ahead. To my mind, the modern world has been, at least in part, defined by the assertion of the individual self, the universal self, the modern ego. In earlier eras of human history, the self was seen as a repository for all kinds of Gods, instincts, and archetypes—it was the playground of muses; the battleground of angelic impulses and demonic forces. Many of those predilections were tamed in the effort to become a more unified, individual sense of self that is the hallmark of the modern world, and I certainly think that was a good thing. But has something been lost as well? Are we making room for all of the dimensions of who we are? In the postmodern era, there has been a movement to reclaim and more fully appreciate a sense of the diversity, difference, divergence, and multiplicity, in culture—and perhaps within the individual as well. I find it fascinating to trace the evolution of the human sense of self—or selves—as it interacts with the evolution of culture. And whether we are ultimately one, or many, there’s no doubt in my mind that our psychological health will benefit from making more room for our inner diversity.