by Emanuel Kuntzelman
Just as an individual must be open minded to open the doors to personal transformation, so must a society be open-minded to transform our social systems. To do this requires a change of attitude in relation to our values and loyalty to a given group. We now have to visualize ourselves as a member of the whole of humanity, and not just a limited group of familiar traditions and values.
Moving into the age of, I hate to say, globalization, it is critically important for societies to understand and expand into the concept of humanity as a whole. To do this, one must engage in a double process. On the one hand we have to decrease the insistence that our traditional ways of life are the best, while on the other hand we must simultaneously increase our awareness and acceptance of thought systems that are alien to our own. This is particularly important in respect to both politics and religion.
Historically, nation states and religions have encouraged their group members to constantly affirm the validity of their system ideals. We must understand other ways of thinking are not inferior to our own, and quite likely can contribute a diversity and creativity that when combined with traditional believes can enrich our lives. The mind gets neurologically situated to ways of thinking and will generate warning signals or a reluctance to embrace new ideas. This is the lazy brain doing its usual customary work, but we have to make an effort to overcome this in the same way that we work to overcome bad habits. We must discipline ourselves to embrace different social values and traditions.
I have full confidence that this is within our capability. Let me give you an analogy based on Ilya Prigogine’s studies on molecules. Prigogine won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1977 for developing this theory of dissipative structures involving molecular systems and chemical reactions. Essentially, this structure was a chemical system that was intentionally put under a great deal of stress. As the system was continually pushed out of balance to the brink of destruction, it was literally able to dissipate by breaking down its own system to acquire new energy in order to recreate itself.
What Prigogine demonstrated was that if a system was put under a life or death situation, it could reorganize to survive. Now, last time I checked, molecules don’t have brains and these test demonstrated almost intelligent behavior in a non-thinking system.
To give you a better understanding of what this means, I always think back to Toffler’s introduction to the book Order Out of Chaos. He said we should imagine these molecular systems as ping pong balls in a large glass container. Half the balls are white and half the balls are black in a mixture. When the system is put into stress to the point where the system must have a structured order to survive, Prigogine found the molecules could do this. Toffler shows this by saying that one half the white balls and half the black balls should reorganize. The system could organize itself accordingly to survive and change these configurations at certain critical moments if that was necessary for survival.
Although I first read about these experiments 30 years ago, it has always remained one of the more fascinating images in my mind. If seemingly mindless molecules are able to demonstrate an ordering of systems when threatened, then why can’t we expect to be capable of accomplishing the same ourselves, as self-aware individuals? After all, we do have a head start with a brain and consciousness.