Change is on the horizon

(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)

My attention this week has turned to a subject much spoken about but seldom considered thoughtfully: change. The Internet has been ablaze with discussions about consciousness shift, 2012, the Mayan calendar, climate change, the end of the world, and what not. The video clip above is just an example. How seriously can we take all this? Yet, when I say change, I do mean much more than the ordinary oscillations of the world 'out there.' I mean fundamental change of a nature and magnitude not witnessed for generations; a change in the nature of life and of our very way of looking upon reality. The most obvious harbingers of change are straight-forward extrapolations of current social and environmental patterns: the monumental increases in consumption, waste, and resource extraction; climatic impact, including global warming; population growth; increasing signs of vulnerability in our economic system; etc. It is unthinkable that our current way of life, and associated values, can be maintained for another 50 years; perhaps even a lot less. Other signs of change are of a more intuitive nature, difficult to pin down, yet obvious to the person who intuits them. They have to do with a subtle but palpable and intense shift in the way people seem to look upon, and relate with, the world. In this article, I'd like to discuss these issues a little more. Unlike more recent articles, I will not seek to substantiate my argument with references or strict logic. Instead, you should look upon this article as a more subjective essay; a sharing of impressions, if you will.

At any given historical juncture, the way we humans relate to reality is based on a coherent set of subjective values, beliefs, and assumptions about what can be real and valid, and what cannot. In science, this is called a scientific paradigm. Yet, we can use the word 'paradigm' more generically here. One can speak, for instance, of the various religious paradigms that have been used throughout history to give people a handle on how to relate to life. A pagan paradigm, for instance, would entail a form of animism that allowed people to relate to the elements of nature as living, conscious entities. This way, nature would be respected as a living organism, not as a depot to be plundered. A Christian paradigm allows us to relate to nature as the Creation of a higher Being, to Whom we owe respect and allegiance, and on Whose judgement we ultimately depend for salvation. This pretty much guides and calibrates our way of relating to one another and to nature. Moving on to philosophy, the materialist paradigm enables us to eliminate guilt and see nature as a resource. Since it equates our consciousness and personal identity with limited and temporary arrangements of matter (that is, the body and the brain), materialism entails the notion that our time is limited. Naturally, at any historical moment, multiple paradigms co-exist, often even in the same geographical location.

Truly fundamental change happens when the most pervasive paradigm of a civilization or historical setting is suddenly transformed. This is much more powerful than a change in external circumstances, like an economic collapse or sudden climate change. Indeed, a change of paradigm changes the entire way we see and relate to reality. Therefore, it's fair to say that a change of paradigm changes everything. Today, with globalization, for the first time in known history there is a large degree of paradigm uniformity across geographical boundaries. Human civilization is currently driven, even in the continuing presence of religion, by a tight alignment between the materialist paradigm and our economic system.

As readers of this blog, or of my books, know, I believe there are plenty of reasons to be at least highly suspicious of materialism as a valid paradigm. Not in that I subscribe to the notion of super-natural forces, but in that materialism is too limited, given the evidence, insofar as the forces it recognizes as natural. In a way, materialism survives partly because of inertia (developments that contradict materialism take very long to trickle down to society at large, because of their abstract complexity) but mainly because of its symbiotic relationship with our economic systems. By linking consciousness and personal identity to limited and temporary arrangements of matter, materialism inculcates the following subjective values: Life is short and you've only got one to live. The only source of meaning lies in matter (after all, nothing else exists), so the game is to accumulate as many things as possible. We should consume as fast as possible, even at the expense of others or the planet. We have nothing to lose by doing so, because we're all going to die soon and then it's all over anyway. It's easy to see how such value-system is conducive to runaway consumerism and reinforces current economic structures. Indeed, in a significant way, our economy depends on this value system. So, in turn, our airwaves are swamped with advertisements that aim at reinforcing materialism. Even governments stimulate it. And while pointing this out, it's hard for me to be outright against such reinforcement policy, since our jobs depend directly on it. Here is a catch-22, if there ever was one.

If you give this some thought, it may become clear to you what the true power of the materialist paradigm really is. Its main strength is not necessarily how well it explains the available data from a scientific perspective; after all, there are more than enough anomalies in science today to question materialism in its classic formulation. Neither are the philosophical foundations of materialism very strong, as I sought to point out before. The strength of materialism is its symbiotic relationship with the economic system upon which we have all come to depend. This creates a self-reinforcing loop from which it's very hard to escape. The combination of materialism and our current economic system forms a point of stable equilibrium from which one can only escape by temporarily making things worse. In technical terms, to escape it one needs to kick the system out of a local minimum. How to pull this trick off is the most urgent question to ever face our civilization, because all trends indicate that the current state of affairs is unsustainable.

Now, if the underlying paradigm of our civilization does shift, that would be the most profound, intense, and otherwise extraordinary change in generations. What on Earth could cause such paradigm shift? What reasons do we have to believe that we won't keep on with the same mad game of optimizing for short-term, egocentric goals until catastrophe and oblivion strike? Well, I believe there are strong forces building up in the collective unconscious of humanity that may just pull that trick off.

Never before have we been so wealthy and dominating as a species. But have our lives ever been as meaningless as today, from an inner, subjective perspective? Materialism crushed most of the myths that gave meaning to the lives of our ancestors. Today, we are orphans of meaning. As Alan Watts so cogently put it (see video above, starting at 6:53 minutes), we go on chasing one material goal after the other, as if there were a little bag of magic goodies at the end that would retroactively confer meaning to the entire enterprise. This amounts to chasing ghosts; there is no bag of magic goodies at the end. What do we live for? Life has become a mad scramble for the accumulation of things and the status they confer, for the sake of ultimately leaving it all behind at death. There is no permanence, no meaning.

Shockingly, it is illusions that keep our mental balance. We need ghosts to chase, because once we see through the game, and realize what is really going on, we may question the sense of it all and succumb to depression. Zen teacher Adyashanti calls this the "dirty little secret of spirituality." Therefore, instead of surrendering to what our intuitions scream to us in our inner-most minds, we increase the stakes. Not only do we chase ghosts, the ghosts began to chase us. Competition, so we tell ourselves, does not allow us to relax. We have to one-up the others, work even harder and more aggressively, or risk losing the precious illusions we've managed to accumulate thus far, at great cost to ourselves and our families. The more we accumulate, the more we have to lose, so the net effect of 'success' is the opposite of what we would have hoped: We become even more paranoid, even more stressed out. Life quickly turns into an appalling nightmare; a self-created horror show where we play both victim and perpetrator. And since we don't know of any other option, all we can do is create ourselves some new ghosts and then go chase those, till the cycle repeats itself enough times that the illusion no longer works and we are left mentally broken; defeated. Many a celebrity or wealthy person have come to this sad juncture, where addictive drugs or suicide become real options.

You see, the illusion only works for as long as it lies in the potential future, just out of reach. Like the proverbial carrot hanging in font of the horse, the entire allure of wealth, consumption, and status lies largely in not having enough of them. By not having them, space remains open for our minds to fantasize and project numinous meaning onto those things. It is the achievement of success, the catching of the ghosts, that gives away the game by revealing its meaninglessness. Therefore, as things become more and more available to the masses, it actually becomes harder to keep up the illusion. It is the very economic success of materialism that carries within it the seed of its own destruction. When having a television set was a magical, nearly untenable consumer dream, rich in projected meaning, its materialistic appeal was huge. Now, other things have to be invented that can serve as receptacles for all of our numinous projections, from smart phones, to cars, to better sex, to a job promotion, etc. As with any addiction, it gets increasingly harder to achieve the same 'high.' Eventually, when our creativity can no longer keep up as far as creating sufficiently numinous things, the illusion will shatter. Might we be close to this point?

Most of us are very good at keeping up appearances. We hide from even our most intimate friends, and often from ourselves, what is truly going on in our minds. We fear being perceived as different, odd. Social animals that we are, we have an innate need to fit in and belong. Therefore, even if massive numbers of human beings were intuitively beginning to see the ghosts for what they are, illusions, it would still be hard to tell from just watching the news or chatting with colleagues at work. Yet, from personal experience, which is all I can rely on, I dare say that people are indeed beginning to see through the game. I see this phenomenon everywhere, though its manifestations are very subtle and discrete. Something is stirring up in the human collective unconscious. Critical mass is building up and we may be not too far away from what Malcolm Gladwell referred to as the "tipping point.'

Again, the only reason we insist on the old, failed game, inventing new ghosts to chase after catching previous ghosts and discovering they were illusions all along, is that we don't know any better. We were just never told what else to do; not by our parents, not by our school teachers, not by anyone. Thus, we desperately try to avoid depression and other forms of mental pathology by the only means we know: Replacing old projections with new ones; accumulating more things and status. Yet, the only true, sustainable solution lies in seeing the projections for what they are, mere projections, not objective reality. The numinous power of things is only real insofar as we lend things this power. We are the source of what we desperately seek, not the 'outside world;' and it has been so all along. There is no 'external' meaning. But we are woefully equipped, in our society, to pursue a path of self exploration. Long ago have we dispensed with elders, with archaic traditions and myths, and many of the metaphors that could now illuminate our way. We orphaned ourselves from meaning. So we will have to face the inevitable breakdown of the illusion of meaning-in-things, whether it happens shortly or in many years, without much in the way of guidance. This is my concern for myself and the rest of us.

Materialism will be replaced as a paradigm, I believe, well within my lifetime. It has run its course and can no longer nurture the human psyche; we cannot survive in a vacuum of meaning. Thus, it is our own innate need for meaning that will kick the status quo out of the local minimum; out of the current equilibrium point. It is our need for a new way to relate to life that will, at first, make things worse, so we can find a new path for improvement. Our challenge will be to collectively find a way to bump the paradigm strongly enough to dislodge it from its current equilibrium point, but gently enough not to suddenly and completely destroy the economic system upon which we depend. Are we capable of doing it in a smooth way? Honestly, I am sceptical, though I remain open-minded. For the same reasons that I don't believe human beings are capable of organizing huge secret conspiracies, I also find it difficult to imagine that we can organize ourselves enough for a smooth and orderly transition of paradigm. It will be a bumpy road. But the prize on the other side of the storm will, certainly, be handsome.


  1. Bravo! I was glued to the screen while reading that. Well done Bernardo.

  2. A thought provoking article. Crisp analysis & useful references. I wonder though how the world of post-materialist paradigm would look like, after all the dust of transition pain settles down? Once one embarked on the path of predictions, should not stop half way...:-)

    1. Good point. I promise I'll try and fantasize a bit (in an educated way) in an upcoming article!

  3. That was an excellent read. Even turned the tv to mute, very unusual for me!

  4. A recent post on at the is a Mckenna talk in 2 parts - The world and its Double may be of interest to those that enjoyed this post from Bernardo.

    in the podcast Terence Mckenna says the prevailing ethos is 'he who dies with the most toys wins'

  5. At there is i think a related talk by Terence Mckenna in 2 parts called 'The world and its Double'.

    Terence says the prevailing ethos is'he who dies with the most toys wins'

    I think that those that enjoyed this post from Bernardo may find Mckenna's talk of interest.

  6. Ah, Bernardo, I too have the feeling that things are coming to a crunch point, when people come to realise the limitations of materialism--in both senses of that word. That is, both in the belief that the material is all there is, and that the only thing worth doing is accumulating more things (consumerism).

    That said, I often wonder if it is a peculiar phenomenon of developed societies. Certainly, consumerism hasn’t been without its benefits. The desire to have things and not to be trapped in dirt poverty, coupled with democracy and capitalism, works very well to bring a society out of said poverty despite the excesses of a few. And if we think in terms of Maslov’s hierarchy, then in spiritual terms, it’s very helpful for needs at the base of the triangle to be fulfilled. And even rampant consumerism, as you have so ably pointed out, eventually leads to the yearning for transcendence in more and more people, so perhaps contains its own antidote. As more societies become developed, even more people will experience the same yearning.

    Ultimately, I suspect we all yearn for the same thing, though according to our spiritual state, we give it different names. At a certain point, we may think of it in terms of acquiring material possessions, and maybe we have to go through that stage, have to experience first-hand that achieving it brings nothing of lasting value. Perhaps we have to make our mistakes and can’t circumvent them.

    Then there’s the point that the transcendent object of desire is often ill-formulated. You alluded to such things as climate change, the science of which I have studied quite closely and come to the conclusion is a case of mass hysteria. Nevertheless, it has accumulated a kind of faux spirituality which I suspect is a kind of warped Christianity with a heavy emphasis on sin and punishment, not to mention attempted vilification and marginalisation of disbelievers. The transcendent object of desire is seen as a green utopia in which everyone is converted to the doctrine that humanity (except the enlightened ones who agree) is inherently bad.

    None of this is to say that there aren’t some legitimate environmental issues: there are. But in my opinion, the climate change farrago is creating more such issues (and others) than it is solving, and drawing attention and resources from where they could be more usefully applied.

    [I find the Spiral Dynamics (SD) formulation to be a quite fruitful means of analysing the general arc of human evolution, though am not implying thereby that it isn’t without its faults and can’t be improved upon. Check out:

    for an introduction if you aren’t already familiar with SD.]

    It’s not just having an awareness that things need to change, even the sensation of an imperative to do so. It’s also HOW to change, and I suspect that we simply don’t know that, at least at the societal level, though individuals may be able to make progress. I think any attempts to make changes at the societal level by doubtless well-meaning people will most likely lead to problems, just as has climate change hysteria.

    It will happen despite and not because of heavily organised attempts to make it happen. This has always been the case with constructive human evolution. Typically, a few key players aiming for something without having grand visions for the whole of humanity come up with ideas and approaches that are exactly appropriate for the prevailing situation, and catalyse change. I mean, no one ever predicted the appearance of the Internet in its current form based on its origins. It just grew like Topsy, the kernel of an idea whose time had come.

    Meanwhile, all each person can do is to attend to his or her own spiritual needs for growth. If Sheldrake is right, then at some point it’s possible a critical mass of awareness will enable accelerated development in many others, and transform societies. But personally, I think we should resist the temptation to try to force things along.

    Michael Larkin

    1. Michael, what a fantastic comment; an article in its own merit. I agree with your comments, and will trust you on your comments regarding climate change, since I did not study that question closely myself. I particularly like this passage, with which I agree entirely, and cannot phrase it in any better way than you did; so I'll simply copy it:

      "That said, I often wonder if it is a peculiar phenomenon of developed societies. Certainly, consumerism hasn’t been without its benefits. The desire to have things and not to be trapped in dirt poverty, coupled with democracy and capitalism, works very well to bring a society out of said poverty despite the excesses of a few. And if we think in terms of Maslov’s hierarchy, then in spiritual terms, it’s very helpful for needs at the base of the triangle to be fulfilled. And even rampant consumerism, as you have so ably pointed out, eventually leads to the yearning for transcendence in more and more people, so perhaps contains its own antidote. As more societies become developed, even more people will experience the same yearning."

    2. Hi Bernardo,

      I'd like to endorse what Michael has said about 'climate Change'. The mere fact that this used to be called 'Global Warming' (a definite prediction), until it became clear that the earth has not warmed over the last 16 years, and it is now called 'Climate Change' (which merely predicts unusual weather!), should ring warning bells! Now storms, high temperatures, low temperatures, floods and droughts are all used to support the idea of CO2 induced climate change!

      One clue as to how this has developed can be found in a book which exposes the way in which science has become extremely intolerant of alternative theories, and associated data in a whole range of areas - including Climate Change.

      Of course, anyone who has explored alternative ideas of mind, or indeed of the whole of reality, knows this phenomenon at first hand. The fact that neuroscience can ignore the amazing phenomenon of NDE's, or when that fails, torture the data to try to fit NDE's into their preferred theories, speaks volumes about the way science has evolved over recent decades.

  7. I thank you for your complimentary reply, Bernardo. But please, don't trust me (or anyone) on climate change - it's important to do the research on that for oneself, looking at the claims on both sides. Nearly everyone, regardless of their position, agrees that the earth is warming, and that CO2 may have some effect on that. The question is, how significant that is and how climate feedbacks play into it. I think climate is a homeostatic system with overall negative feedback; climate alarmists thinks positive feedbacks are involved which will lead to - wait for it - a (catastrophic) tipping point.

    Michael Larkin

  8. Hey Bernardo. Great post, as always. I don't think I've ever read something which so well capitulates my viewpoints as your writings do. I was just curious about something. I think there is sufficient evidence which suggests that there exists a sort of collective consciousness among human beings. What are your views on language?

    If you look at near death experiences, here is thought process occurring. People report "hearing" (telepathically)conversations/and understanding them, and can later report what was said.

    It's also been noted that when one learns another language that they develop a sense of social adherence to other speakers of that language. This is the case with myself, at least. I've come to learn over 8 languages and I find an ever increasing sense of connection with speakers of that language. Not sure if this is just because I now have an extra point of commonality or if the explanation has more to do with Sheldrake's morphic resonance theories.

    At any rate, what is your view on language as it relates to consciousness. Why is that "internal voice" (which seems to continue after our brain is off line) in a specific language? How do we "hear " our thoughts in our head?

    I hope these questions even make sense lol. Just trying to form connection between my two greatest interests (metaphysical concepts and linguistics)



    1. Robbie, interesting questions. As an idealist, I believe reality itself exists only insofar as it is in mind. As such, the workings of reality are the workings of mind. We know that the way we think largely follows language structures; we think in language, at least at the level of the ego. Going further, people (including myself) who have found themselves in very deep meditative states have arrived at the insight that the unconscious mind also has a tight relationship with syntax. So the entire mind, conscious and unconscious, seems to operate in a somewhat linguistic manner. If that is true, and if Idealism is true,'reality is made of language,' like Terence McKenna used to proclaim without further explanation. :) So yeah, I think language (not a particular language, but the structures of syntax) play a major and yet undiscovered role in the construction of what we call reality.

  9. Hi Micky,
    I don't really have a Facebook presence... maybe I should. Let me give this some thought! And of course you can suggest a forum. What do you have in mind?
    On the new paper on Tononi's 'theory,' there's nothing new to me. I still hold the exact same position as in the article I wrote. To some degree, the journalist even confirms my statement that Tononi's theory explains nothing, but simply provides a heuristic yardstick. He wrote: "In the same way that a thermometer made plain the concept of temperature (for a boiling pot of water or a person’s body), a consciousness yardstick could ultimately lead to a better understanding of the substance of consciousness itself." There you go; complete with a promissory statement at the end. :)

  10. As you know, I think we are moving towards a pandeist paradigm -- and so, readying an abandonment of theism while taking a pass on atheism as well, to embrace a model of a created Universe wherein our existence encapsulates a fragmentary experience-generating mechanism for our Creator's elucidation. I think of Pandeism and its family of theological models as bringing forth a Copernican Revolution of spirituality!!

  11. Bernardo,

    I really enjoyed this post. I hope you're right about our collective weltanschauung getting an overhaul - even if I'm not excited about the massive chaos I feel will occur initially in reaction to it happening. I was reading your post to distract me from studying for a course I'm taking in my doctoral psychology program - here's a tidbit from my course notes:

    "...We know that consciousness can be altered by changes in the structure or chemistry of the brain… thus, consciousness is a physiological function, just like behavior.

    ...It is postulated that the evolution of verbal communication is what gave rise to the phenomenon of consciousness."


    1. Hi Philemon,
      Yeah, faulty logic often infects our textbooks... :)
      Do graduate psychology students still get exposure to Jung's ideas? Your nickname, of course, suggests you're a Jungian.
      Gr, B.

    2. Hi Bernardo,

      Fortunately there is at least an occasional reference to Jung and a brief overview of some of his main ideas in my program. Unfortunately, it really isn't much more than a half hour lecture during one course out of an entire five year endeavor. Most of my Jungian exposure is extracurricular and on my own. You might be interested in the work of Jeffrey Raff - a Jungian analyst who has borrowed several ideas from Henry Corbin (e.g., "the imaginal") and granted this nonphysical reality as a genuine reality, populated with genuine, actual entities. His focus is on contacting one's "ally" - essentially, your own personal Philemon.

      It's an attractive idea, considering we could all use a wise, caring, psychically integrative presence in our lives - especially if we are to all figure out how to live in a reality that could drastically change.

      Your thoughts on the non-sustainability of our current global society caused me to think about "peak oil" and that whole crowd that has been banging the drum of a coming collapse in the global infrastructure and a return to a localized form of living, as our globalism slowly disintegrates and we find ourselves having to awkwardly find ways to live without readily available and affordable fuel.

      It is strange to both be terrified and exhilarated at the same time.

    3. Thanks for the heads-up on Jeffrey Raff; sounds interesting and I'll have a look. I haven't found my personal Philemon yet.

  12. Interesting point about language. Thinking about it, languages, at least those I am aware of, have lots of transitive nouns that perform actions on other nouns. Objects as actors on other objects creates the idea of separation and multiplicity. I find it surprising that the subconscious mind would be based on syntactical structure.

    I wonder if poetic language might approximate most nearly to the subconscious mind. Gerard Manley hopkins can he can blur the distinctions between nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., and not follow expected word order. Check out Richard Burton reciting "The leaden echo and the Golden echo" here:

    or Paul Webster reciting "As kingfishers catch fire" here:

    Michael Larkin

    1. Amazing poems and phenomenal recitations. These are going straight into my favourites... thanks!

  13. Hi Bernardo. I really like the stuff you're writing on this blog. I read your books Meaning in Absurdity and Dreamed up Reality. Great stuff. I am a zen buddhist teacher and cannot help wonder if you ever studied Yogachara-madhyamika Buddhist philosophy, since what you write so closely mirrors this ancient teaching on reality.
    On this blog somewhere you made four statements with varying degrees of sceptisism starting with "My conscious perceptions exist." In my view that is stating what we literally cannot doubt a bit to strongly. In buddhist thinking around this we would rather say: "conscious perceptions happens", or simply "experiencing is happening" or even just "experiencing!". This is because to assume that there is SOMEONE having these experiences is not something we can be absolutely sure of. There is experiencing but maybe no one "owns" them. To assume an owner creates an (abstract) object called I, me or the self. According to Buddhist philosophy such "objects", whether we call them "souls" or "brains" are nonexistent. No one is having the experiences - it's JUST experiencing!

    Famously this is discussed in the age old buddhist story about the snake, the rope and the no rope.
    1. Someone walks in the jungle and sees a snake. Runs back to his friends and says there's a dangerous snake in the forest.
    2. The friends walk back with him and one of them lifts the "snake" up and says, " this is no snake. It's a rope". The man mistook a rope for a snake, something that often happens. That is, we understand the apparent dreamed up reality for a personal dreamed up fantasy.
    3. A third friend (a buddhist philosopher) looks at the "rope" and says, "That is not a rope." He argues that "a rope" is an abstract conceptual designation, a label, and not something truly existing. Maybe this "rope" had never been used for binding anything and might even have been constructed by some artist to pretend to be a rope. Maybe the artist had put a label on it saying: "This is not a rope", but the label had withered away. The other friends argue that even though the label "rope" is only a designation, there is still SOMETHING there. Fibers, cells, molecules, whatever. The man denying the rope, says that this is just more labels, abstract entities with no inherent existence apart from EXPERIENCING. But there is OBVIOUSLY SOMETHING HERE! the others say dangling the rope in front of the sceptical buddhist. Yes , he answers, but not some THING, but rather experiencing.

    So no things exist apart from experiencing, and to then create another abstract "object" called the experiencer, is simply according to buddhism a fallacy.

    sante Poromaa

    1. Hi Sante,
      Thanks for this nice comment!
      No, I never studied Yogachara-madhyamika, but now that you pointed this out, I guess it will be inevitable. :-) I had noticed before that there are similarities between my philosophy and Buddhism, particularly Zen (as you pointed out), so I read some books by Alan Watts and watched talks by Adyashanti, both of which I learned to enjoy very much. I guess the truth is forcing itself from our collective unconscious,as it did in the remote past, so I'm not really surprised different people are saying the same thing from different angles.
      I guess you'd like "Meaning in Absurdity" as well. In it, I explore the idea that there is only experience, and NO experiencer.
      Cheers, Bernardo.