Ruben Nelson - Abstract

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Surprises Ahead:
What will be special about the 21st Century
and why we need boundary-crossing research

I shall explore and defend the following line of reasoning:

  • Learning to research across boundaries is necessary in order to see, think and act in an integrated manner.
  • Seeing, thinking and acting in an integrated manner is necessary in order to see, understand and respond to the civilizational transformation we are in.
  • Understanding the transformation we are in is necessary in order to learn to cooperate with our own evolution as persons and a civilization.
  • Learning to cooperate with our own evolution will be required of us by the emerging character of the 21st Century.

I shall proceed by exploring the unfolding drama of the 21st Century.

Tension is heightened in a story when the protagonist misreads the situation she is actually in, and thereby systemically, but unintentionally, misbehaves, which makes things worse. The question that brings the audience to the edge of its seats is, “Will she wake up and figure out the story she is actually in, before it is too late?”

I shall argue that, as things stand today, no culture understands, much less acts as if, we live in a time of profound transformation, that this time is civilizational in scope. Nevertheless, we are already well into the process of changing our minds about the nature of reality, the nature of persons, and of our relationship to reality. It is time we awakened to these developments.

Tension is also heightened when the protagonist’s character and capacities are mismatched with those the situation requires. The second question of the drama is, “Will he find the courage to change enough to be able to survive and win?

I shall argue that for us this challenge is more hopeful; that there are signs that it just may be possible for a whole civilization to learn to cooperate with its evolution, and do so consciously. The facts suggest that for good and ill, persons are co-creators of their future. Our challenge is to grow into this work openly, joyfully and gracefully. I shall also argue that, in time, nurturing conscious human co-creation will become the only game in town worth playing. Will it be in time? We can only live as if this will be so. I shall also note a few of the factors that point to these realizations and responses as requirements of the 21st Century.

Having set this stage, I shall offer a few thoughts on boundary crossing, boundary crossing research and its contribution to the development of the new human-centred “meta-science” that must become the new “master science” of the future.