Sensemaking in the 21st Century: A Conversation with Noetic Nomads Founder Albert Kim

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Amidst the growing uncertainty of the world around us and the erosion of public trust and good faith dialogue, I was drawn to several thinkers and platforms which offered a critical analysis of the current state of global affairs. The frameworks and structures that we’ve relied on for so long are no longer a sufficient to make sense of events in an increasingly complex, divisive and fractured world.  With vast changes in the media, politics, economics we need to critically assess how we can become more informed and equipped to deal with the many changes, challenges and demands of the 21st century.

The real problem of humanity is the following: We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a crisis overall

Edward O. Wilson

Emerging in a narrow corner of the internet is a group of thinkers paving the way forward to more beautiful futures, thinking about how we can shift from zero sum (win\lose) to positive sum (win\win) societies. That is, how can we transition to a world which puts wellbeing above profit, appreciates the finite resources on the planet and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to get ahead?

Of this group is Albert Kim and his project Noetic Nomads. I have attended a couple of his sessions where he gathers a diverse range of intellectually savvy thinkers to discuss how we can foster collective wisdom and insights to address some of these difficult and complex issues we face today.

I reached out to Albert to get his thoughts on the current set of crises, and to learn more about how he navigates the modern media landscape.

  1. Tell me a bit about what got you interested in groups like the Stoa and Rebel Wisdom? What attracted you to the sensemaking space? 

I’ve been immersed in the holistic health/biohacking space for around a decade in an effort to heal/improve myself outside the conventional medical paradigm. Through podcasts such as Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio, I was exposed to the supplement company Neurohacker Collective around the year 2017. I then discovered the Collective Insights podcast hosted by Daniel Schmachtenberger and it had, by far, the most mind-blowing conversations I’d come across, period. Daniel eventually left the show which I lamented.

After COVID hit, I had an itch to search for more podcasts featuring Daniel, of which one was Rebel Wisdom. I then found the Rebel Wisdom YouTube and the Sensemaking 101 course, which changed my life, as well as The Stoa through a YouTube recommendation for one of Daniel’s appearances on there. So, basically, Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Sensemaking refers to the idea of making sense of the unknown and coming to an understanding of what is going on in our external environment.

2. What is Noetic Nomads and what are some of the goals of the project?

My tagline is that Noetic Nomads is a community of radical thinkers and doers coming together to co-create a more beautiful future. The primary goal of the project is to attract a diverse assortment of minds from across the disciplinary spectrum to work on projects in service of a better world. Secondary goals include providing a platform for which community members can create and publish their own content, offer services, and support themselves financially. A bigger goal is to actually bootstrap our own circular digital economy (with cryptocurrency, for example), create a digital nation, and perhaps integrate it with an intentional physical community.

3. Many have said we live in a ‘post-truth’ world, with media organizations which interpret facts to align with their existing narratives. What is your approach in sensemaking and arriving at truth?               

To state we live in a post-truth world is to presume we once lived in a ‘truth world’. I’m not sure when we lived in that world or what that world would’ve looked like. My approach to sensemaking and to arriving at truth is essentially to believe in that which is useful and/or in that which I like.

Much of the time what is useful is conforming with what many others believe, other times it’s to dissent, and there are times when it’s useful to believe in things which I know are likely far removed from any basis in ‘reality’, whatever that means. And sometimes I just believe in things which I like. I don’t think I’m much different than most people.                       

  4. Do you have any advice to try and look at different perspectives objectively, and resist the temptation to be drawn into various competing ideologies?

I don’t really believe in the concept of ‘objective’ reality—I’m more so into idea of intersubjective realities. The concept of an objective observer is a contradiction in terms. My advice to one trying to make sense is to understand that everyone including themselves is simply making up a story. It may be a useful story in one case or another, but it’s still just a story. Use your discernment to parse out which stories are most useful.

5. Lastly, how can we build a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible?

Love, and deeply rooted connection to the universe.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You can check out more of Albert’s work at Noetic Nomads – | Connect | Envision | Alchemize | Connect with radical thinkers, artists, technologists, and spiritual practitioners. Co-create a more beautiful future.


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The Polarization Series: A Look at our Moral Foundations

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In my last piece in this series, I argued that our minds are susceptible to a host of biases and deceptions which influence our decisions. We are inclined to jump to conclusions, and make up stories to justify our beliefs – even when we lack concrete evidence to back up our claims.

This can partially explain why we are sometimes dumbfounded when questioning the judgements or actions of others. Of course, we all have the ability to act rationally, but our capacity to think clearly about issues is in large part shaped by our environment, as well as our emotions.

Let’s continue to peel the layers of and explore what factors influence our judgements.

With so much cultural and moral diversity apparent throughout history and across different societies in the modern era, is there anything that binds us together? After all, in spite of these disagreements on what we consider right or wrong, each of us humans share a common ancestry.

Moral Foundations Theory

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues developed a theory to try and answer these perennial questions. Moral Foundations Theory proposes that we all have a set of fundamental moral intuitions which guide our behaviour. In the Righteous Mind, Haidt puts forth six building blocks of morality. 

Moral FoundationDescriptionExamples
(1) Care\HarmWe are sensitive to others who are suffering, and are inclined to care for those who are vulnerable or in need.Care for a small child, or someone who is ill.
(2) Fairness\CheatingEnables us to be aware and reject ‘free riders’ in instances of group collaboration, that is those individuals who get the rewards of something but didn’t contribute.Explains our aversion towards those who are rewarded without ‘paying their fair share.’
(3) Loyalty\BetrayalEvolved to allow us to build coalitions and work collaboratively. Motivates us to reward those who remain faithful to a cause, while punish those who detract.Think of when your favourite player gets traded to a rival team.
(4) Authority\SubversionObedience to hierarchy, rank and position. Also includes the desire to follow traditions, institutions and shared values.Respect for parents and family, cultural traditions, and institutions.
(5)Sanctity\DegradationClosely associated what we deem as ‘sacred’.   On the flip side, feelings of ‘disgust’ arise in cases where someone degrades what we hold as sacred.Principles, objects or places we place an infinite value on.   Religious symbols, objects of patriotism including national flags, saints or heroes.
(6) Liberty\OppressionInclination to resist unwarranted authority, domination or tyranny.Desire towards equality and freedom.

Haidt comes up with yet another brilliant metaphor to explain a pluralist account of how we can all share these moral foundations yet have starkly different attitudes towards various contentious issues.

The analogy is as follows. All of us humans have the same five taste receptors, but like a variety of different cuisines. Cultures have different foods which satisfy our desire for sweetness. I may like churros while a friend may prefer baklava – nonetheless both desserts are satisfying the same taste receptor.  

Further, some of us could be more inclined towards foods which are more bitter, while others prefer foods which are sour. Just because we have the capacity for different tastes doesn’t mean we like them all equally.

Haidt’s thesis states that we are all born with the same six moral intuitions.  However, the variety and differentiation in our morals and values comes as a result of us our societal and cultural upbringings as well as our social interactions.  Different practices can satisfy the same moral foundation, and some groups may be drawn to some values more than others.

This allows for both rigid moral foundations, yet flexibility in the development of cultural norms.

Political Applications

What is interesting about Moral Foundations Theory is that can be applied to a range of issues, mostly notably politics.

Haidt’s research is able to help us discern what moral foundations underpin the values of liberals, conservatives and libertarians.

  • Liberals are motivated by (1) Care\harm and (2) Fairness\cheating foundations and (6) the Liberty\Oppression foundation. Focused on issues of fairness and social justice, liberals are driven by the desire to push for policies which expand equal treatment to minorities and marginalized groups. The attention is on the individual rights as opposed to the group.
  • Haidt found that conservatives appeal equally to all six foundations, giving the most weight to upholding tradition, social intuitions and shared values in order to uphold social cohesion.
  • Lastly, libertarians prioritize the (6) Liberty\Oppression foundation, namely advocating for freedom from interference by the state.

Search for the Grey Areas

Moral Foundations Theory offers us a starting point to better understand those who disagree with us on certain issues.  It is easy to simply talk past one another, especially in cases when two people have a different set of moral values.  As postdoctoral researcher Kristin Hurst notes,  

People on both sides of the political spectrum tend to frame their own issues using the language and arguments that align with the moral convictions of their own group. We can have a hard time recognizing the legitimacy of each other’s moral convictions and, because of that, find it difficult to craft arguments that resonate with people who prioritize a different set of values 

While we may not be convinced by another’s argument nor change our mind, at a minimum we can gain insight on which of the 6 moral foundations someone is appealing to.  With this, we can understand how to frame the issue in a way which is more sensitive to the moral concerns of others in order to try and develop a common ground on what is actually being debated.  

Each of the political paradigms or ways of seeing the world have both positives and negatives. For instance, there is a tradeoff between promoting individual rights (liberalism) and upholding traditions and social cohesion (conservatism).

Issues arise when we divide others into right or wrong or slip into black and white thinking. Rather than becoming fixated on our differences we can try to work towards searching for the ‘grey areas’, the things we can agree on and search for compromise.


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The Power of Art: How Beauty Can Save the World

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Beauty will save the world

Fydor Dostoevsky

It seems awfully naïve, and perhaps a bit idealistic to ponder such a question – but in this article I want to explore if art and beauty save the world.  What did the existentialist writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky mean by such an ambiguous statement, and how can art make a difference in a world divided by conflict, strife and division?

It was when I was travelling in Europe, and sitting in one of the many breathtaking cathedrals, that I was filled with inner calm – a sense of peace and solitude swept over me. External events and the frivolous pursuits of the everyday world felt insignificant, so trivial. Existential worry and anxiety became drowned out by the beauty and wonder that was revealed to me in that moment. Nothing else mattered.

Great art, that which has been able to stand the test of time, points to the transcendent, the infinite, and the absolute.

 Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience. Through art we are sometimes visited – dimly, briefly – by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.

Like that little looking-glass from the fairy-tales: look into it and you will see – not yourself – but for one second, the Inaccessible, whither no man can ride, no man fly. And only the soul gives a groan

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture

Throughout history, religions understood that the communal experience of the arts in practices of worship provided us with a glimpse of the sacred. Rituals of worship including art, music, and dance lured people to cherish the spiritual side of human existence. It drew us towards altered states of consciousness and higher truths, unveiling the illusive nature of material things and earthly pursuits. Connecting to something greater than ourselves, awe and beauty signal to us that there was something beyond the limited constructs of the human mind – a reality which words and language cannot fully describe.  

Beauty presents us with an ideal to strive towards. Further, it provides us with meaning, our ‘why’ and purpose to help us conquer the many uncertainties in life.  Coming to us through flashes of insight or intuition, beauty acts as a signpost which reveals the path towards the good life.

In the final analysis, it is the gift of aspiration as well as of hope.  

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

It is said that Dostoyevsky’s idea of beauty is characterized by the love of God. Jesus’ death and resurrection is one of the many reminders for humanity that redemption, joy and bliss can be found on the other side of suffering. The cross presents us with a symbol of hope, representing the idea that good will always transcend over evil. Our suffering is not in vain, but is a guide towards a higher purpose.  

This experience of awe, reverence and beauty in art and in life is of course is not exclusively limited to the domain of religion. Nietzsche, an atheist, was particularly fond of the idea that life itself can be treated as a work of art. Nietzsche thought of humans as inherently creative beings, who wish to assert their individuality by bringing something original and authentic into existence.

Art presents us with the opportunity us to rise above hardship by using difficult experiences as inspiration and raw materials in working towards a more wholesome meaningful life. We turn chaos into order and the apparent randomness of our existence into wonderful harmony. Think of the many great songs that reflect on the common experiences of sorrow, heartbreak or grief.  

Through this catharsis we realize we are connected through a common bond with the rest of humanity as we share those same feelings and emotions with others. We hear the same story over and over again just with different words. 

Through the pursuit of beauty we shape the world as a home, and in doing so we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows.

Roger Scruton

Within this enduring beauty and truth that is illuminated in great art, we can arrive at a better understanding of citizens from different cultures and traditions. Art offers us portals into the worlds of those who are seemingly different from us. Rather than acting in hesitancy or suspicion, we can come towards greater empathy and compassion.

For we all have the same drives to experience beauty, moments of awe and wonder in which our consciousness transforms from ‘me’ to ‘we’ or from ‘I’ to ‘us’. For a brief period, selfish egotism all but vanishes, and new possibilities arrive. A new door opens for us all.

In beauty, and through beauty we are united as one.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness

John Keats, Endymion
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