The Roots of Our Crisis are Epistemic

The Regenesis movement recognises that the roots of our crisis are epistemic. They are anchored in our deeply held worldview about the nature of reality and the privileging of humans over all other species and lifeforms. They are also anchored in the relationship between humans and technology, particularly the technologies that have evolved since the Scientific Revolution and the idea of a universe governed by mechanistic laws that once understood could be harnessed for human benefit in service of the idea of PROGRESS.  As we have seen, this idea of progress is shaped and mediated by certain socio-political systems, such as market capitalism in the West, and state capitalism as in China and their various hybrids. All, however, reflect the hubris of modernist scientific materialism.

The Consilience Project explores what this means for humanity in relation to the pace and extent of technological change and innovation that has characterised society through the intersection between new digital technologies, bio-genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. Even entrepreneurs mining the cutting edges of technological innovation, such as Elon Musk worry about the unintended consequences of artificial intelligence.

Many AI enthusiasts talk of the Singularity, when AI merges with human intelligence to create a new world order of transhumanism.

The idea of technology as values neutral at the service of humanity draws on Genesis 1.26 in the Old Testament: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

It also draws on the split between mind and matter, between emotion and rationality, that has defined Western civilisation going right back to the Greeks and the foundations of the Western philosophical canon.

The Consilience Project was established to examine the current existential threats posed by advances in technologies created by humanity, driven by these two frameworks.  Their project states that at no other point in history has humanity faced such a wide range of novel catastrophic risks. “Our civilization has never been more vast, complicated, and fragile. This systemic fragility is exacerbated by new technologies, geopolitical instability, an ecological crisis and a reliance on global economic supply chains. These interlocking, interrelated problems are known collectively as the metacrisis. The Consilience Project’s primary aim is to clarify and reveal the nature of the metacrisis to enable comprehensive solutions to global problems.”

The Consilience Project publishes novel research at the leading edges of global risk mitigation, governance design and culture. Their content explores the key challenges and existential threats facing humanity, and the underlying problems with current approaches for addressing them. Through this they outline how our social systems and institutions need to be redesigned if free, open, non-authoritarian societies are to survive.Technology, Values and Society

In  wide ranging article exploring the problem of a technological innovation culture that assumes that technologies are values neutral, but where they have unintended social and cultural consequences, the authors call for the development of Axiological Design – that is, values based design approaches.

The assumption about the neutrality of technology is part of the scientific search for values-free objectivity in arriving at scientific facts. According to Langdon Winner this created ‘technology orthodoxy’ based on the following 4 assumptions, that are based on modernist scientific materialism.

  • Comprehension – humans fully understand the technologies they create
  • Control – our tools are firmly under our control
  • Neutrality – technologies themselves are neutral. Technological benefits and harms depend on how humans use them
  • Progress – technological infrastructures require complex, large-scale, high-energy, highly resource-demanding systems; to continue building and perfecting such systems is itself a definition of ‘progress’.

These ideas are anchored in the assumption that physical matter constitutes all that exists and leaves no room for “subjective qualities” such as value. This idea—that value is purely subjective—reached its climax with postmodernist expressions of skepticism towards all universal frameworks of value. The result has been a progressive deepening of the separation of technology design from considerations of value. Thinking about design in this way leads innovators to “move fast and break things” and focus effort on “disruptive” technologies and the role of innovation in economic development (Schumpeter).  The Consilience Project maintains that this has resulted in ‘nihilistic design’ which we have seen played out in the pervasive influence and unintended psychological and behavioural consequences of the smart phone and social media.

Due to the historically unprecedented technological innovations and a complete restructuring of human life around an expanding stack of increasingly complicated technologies, this rapid boom in progress has made techno-scientific progress the default religion of the modern world.  To understand this the Consilience Project identifies the following layering of technology and social formation.

Layers of the Civilisational Tech-Stack

  • Tools – human-scale artefacts
  • Technologies – application of complex scientific knowledge to solving problems
  • Ecologies of technologies – sets of technologies that are symbiotically related and co-evolving as nested functional units
  • Infrastructures – multiples of different ecologies of technologies embedded together – supply chains, transportation, communication, markets, etc
  • Technological Epochs – a duration of historical time characterised by a specific suite of infrastructures that are interrelated as the foundation of a social system. Epochs are marked by discontinuous breaks form prior infrastructures, and the emergent social dynamics resulting from new ones, eg pre-industrial to post-industrial


Humans have come to live in massive networks of operationally related technologies, which have come to form whole ecologies and infrastructures supporting every aspect of conscious experience. Ultimately, this new human reality constitutes a technological epoch with distinct material characteristics and societal dynamics.

They argue that technologies are created with both values and material outcomes in mind. When technologies are brought into the world they create a future: material, social, psychological, and cultural.  Changes to human behavior and value systems may play out over the long term as second- or third-order effects, but they are nevertheless part of the matrix of impacts in which technology innovation must place itself.

They argue that the ecology of technologies surrounding the smartphone—the smartphone technology ecosystem—has resulted in an epoch-making shift in how humans relate to each other and the world around them. It has changed human behavior and psychology more profoundly in just two decades than perhaps any prior technology (religion, cultural movement, or empire) ever did in an equivalent timeframe.

The scope of its impact on human society is difficult to estimate because of its far-reaching and intimate impacts on the very nature of human communication, thought, and social organization.

The smartphone has become central to human existence because humans highly value communication and information. But an inevitable result of enabling communication at a distance is a change in how humans value face-to-face interaction. Instant messaging and “Facetime” have come to replace in-person contact as the default modalities of communication. Easy access to nearly unlimited information also inevitably changes the value we place on skills such as memorization, information recall, and the ability to study and learn from books. A GPS device on your phone is designed to get you where you need to go, and it does that. But it does much more – over time reducing your ability to navigate without it.Axiological (Values-based) Design Thinking

According to the Consilience Project, this is design that acknowledges that in addition to whatever its physical impacts, it is also affecting the behaviors and thus the psychology of the people using it (and with proliferation, the society as a whole). As such, technological innovations must have design goals and constraints related to the psychological and sociological effects as core elements of the design process.

Instead of assuming technology is either good or bad by definition, technology should be understood as intrinsically value laden and value creating. As technologies take hold and proliferate, they should be understood also to have the potential for forming new, unknown, and unpredictable values. Technologies are both encoded forms of human values and at the same time encode potential and unknowable new values, for better and for worse.

Technological Design Assumptions

  1. Technology is created in pursuit of values, and results in the creation and transformation of values. Technologies change and augment existing systems, both determined and unintended
  2. Technology requires the creation of more and different technology; multiple new technologies evolve together as functionally bound sets, forming evolving ecologies of technologies.
  3. Technology comes to form a ‘second nature’ shaping our bodies and movements as a human-created habitat, and thus is deeply habit forming, both for individuals and societies. Cities and homes in the 21st century constitute a fundamentally new kind of environment within which humans are continually adjusting themselves. We are thus formed and forming, shaping the environment as it shapes us.
  4. Technology changes the nature of power dynamics in unpredictable ways, creating an environment that advantages some humans over others, setting up selection pressures that force personal adaptation to and adoption of new technologies. As technology spreads there is a cascade of new social pressures that reconfigure existing personalities, worldviews, and value systems. Sometimes, adopting a new technology becomes basically obligatory. Technology creates a need for itself; it makes itself valuable.
  5. Technology impacts the kinds of ideas we value, the quality of attention we pay, and our conceptions of self and world.

The lessons of the last century have shown us that without a change to our fundamental approach, technology is likely to continue to damage the fabric of our minds, relationships, and cultures. Virtual reality could deepen society’s problem of addiction and desensitize us to the pleasure of nature and offline life, or it could be a tool for immersive learning, allowing us to inhabit the experiences of others in previously impossible ways. Robotic automation could create technological unemployment and an unprecedented underclass, or it could help liberate humanity from drudgery and make positive changes to economic systems.

Ecologies of technologies emerge in the context of existing social dynamics, such as inequality, conflict, and the usual games of power, money, and status. At one level certain technologies seem to favor the distribution of power and the freedom of users, yet at another these same technologies prove disproportionately useful for those who already have the resources and intelligence to take further advantage. While in principle everyone may have access to supercomputing via the cloud, in reality this “decentralized service” tends to further advantage those already most advantaged. Multinational corporations and governments can use cloud capabilities to accomplish massive outcomes—such as ubiquitous surveillance and the processing of big data—whereas everyday people use it to store their photos and music.

Existing ecologies of technologies and infrastructures must be judged by their effects on bodies, minds, families, cultures, and the environment. Future technologies must be designed according to methods that take human value and experience seriously enough to be constrained by their limits—such as sanity, dignity, and justice.However

However this revolution in design thinking does not occur in a political vacuum.  Rather just as we have seen the evolution of universities from institutions of higher learning and research into corporate institutions predominantly serving the needs of the political-economic system, the reality is that whatever the intentions of axiological designers, without a revolution in the fundamental epistemic basis of our society towards a REGENESIS framework and understanding, the continued story of PROGRESS and technological entrancement that has marked the modern and post-modern era, will continue to play out..