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Victor Motti

BEYOND KNOWLEDGE: HOW TECHNOLOGY IS DRIVING AN AGE OF CONSCIOUSNESS by WILLIAM HALAL

A Book Review

By Victor Motti

THE story behind this book is that of a mature futurist, in his eighties, opening the doors into the possibility of global consciousness and maturity of human civilization. Bill Halal is a leading and respected author and lifelong teacher working in the field of futures studies and has contributed consistently over many years to the quality of both methods and content of foresight.

Beyond Knowledge as the key title of his book deals with a very important question: What is going to happen within the next few decades, and specifically until 2050, as a direct result of the ongoing Technology Revolution? Put it another way, what is the nature and the characteristics of the next revolution and what we know about the transition period?

We are very fortunate to notice his ideological position on the usual political spectrum from the left to the right. Halal clarifies from the very beginning that he supports centrist politics and does not approach the challenging task of diagnosis of the global mega crisis from an exclusively left or right viewpoint.

For example, he has a good faith in an improved version of capitalism called collaborative enterprise, which is not surprising given his affiliation to a business school in the US capital, Washington DC. Actually he believes that corporations, despite their focus on the bottom line of profit, can indeed change and contribute to the overall wellbeing of the society if regulated by some sort of lean responsive government. They will continue to be a fundamental source of cutting edge innovation which depending on the whole planetary maturity and wisdom, will be either extremely useful or harmful.

On the other hand, even though raised a Catholic, he is embracing modern science and spirituality and therefore is critical of traditionalist and fundamentalist organized religions. The mental or spiritual revolution and inner space transformation which according to him will herald the age of consciousness, are evidently related to a personal, secular experience and primarily driven by the whole range of technology revolutions and revolutionized access to higher education. This puts him within the integral futures tradition and close to scholarship circles led by Ken Wilber and Richard Slaughter.

Yet, his choice of the futures tradition is clear. In terms of the methodology and the tradition that determines the assumptions underlying the frameworks of his foresight, Halal follows primarily the empirical, scientific, evidence-based, expert guided forecasting systems. This is one of the key contributions of his book. We are given a somewhat rare opportunity to read from the output of a collective intelligence data management and analysis system that draws on the professional insights of an elite group of observers and analysts. It gives us key forecasts about the well-known trends related to the technology adoption rates on specific time horizons, with clearly specified likelihood intervals and level of uncertainty across diverse industrial sectors such as energy and environment, information technology, digital economy, manufacturing and robotics, medicine and

BEYOND KNOWLEDGE: HOW TECHNOLOGY IS DRIVING AN AGE OF CONSCIOUSNESS

biogenetics, transportation, and space. Scanning hits, clustering trends and macro conceptualization is the foundation of his remarkable approach to grounded theory building. What is emerging from the data collection in most cases is evidence based, reasonable, and makes a lot of sense to both experts and the laypersons.

A crucial product of Halal long time career in management of technology and corporate foresight is the development of his Life Cycle of Evolution chart that visualizes the consecutive stages of social evolution beginning from the geological age leading to the knowledge age and beyond, culminating eventually in the beyond the planet and space age. Through this Halal unlike most corporate foresight specialists joins the limited and high rank of those foresight scholars who care about the world macro history and the intellectual challenge of identifying the broad and deep patterns or laws of change on the global scale.

His central thesis is that the digital and AI revolutions are contributing to automation of routine knowledge work, enabling a higher consciousness stage in preparation for a job market described by creative work such as leadership, innovation, vision, wisdom and other higher order functions or qualities of consciousness and human spirit. Moreover,

in the future there will be a far more scientific recognition of human spirit and spirituality, combining it with technologies of consciousness, for a better united ethical world and civilization. Such a vision or forecast of the future is the direct output of the evolutionary framework behind his Life Cycle Evolution chart. Again this chart reminds us of all macro historians who are looking forward to the longer term futures of the entire world.

Yet, a somewhat problematic or rather controversial aspect of this book is the choice of the word consciousness as the key focus of the entire argument. He quite masterfully reviews and identifies the heart of the problem which is ignorance and misinformation in the age of easy and wide access to knowledge and the astonishing possibility of the AI taking the job of knowledge production and maintenance. However, there are two key weaknesses in the book that make it less appealing beyond the management, business, innovation, and the technology enthusiast audiences. First of all, Halal, despite his attempt to shed light on the scientific legitimacy of spirituality research and development, has a clear epistemological choice in favor of the US dominant empirical and scientific discourse or tradition.

Halal is Cartesian, he alludes to that on page 61, and will favor this particular school or tradition. However, there is a range of philosophies which simply do not accept the Cartesian assumptions about subjectivity, i.e. considering that subjective consciousness is beyond objective knowledge.

Halal accepts that there is some objective knowledge out there and all the subjective domains like values, purposes, beliefs, feelings, passions, desires, emotions, and in his own words on page 29 messy mental baggage, personal agendas, selfinterests, political ideals, etc. all fall outside or beyond knowledge. And therefore, the prescription provided for tackling the global maturity crises should be through some sort of purposeful altering of consciousness or the subjective domain at the personal level. This is hardly an acceptable point of departure for scholars with different perspectives and affiliations in philosophy and psychology. Consider, to name a few, Emanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend.

I am not saying that his scholarship is not sound or not scientific. So basically nothing is wrong with it. I am saying that there are other philosophers and their followers who don’t accept the dominant Cartesian philosophy like he does. Take the Kantian view, who says that the objects of experience and the nature of things as they are in themselves are unknowable to us. Or even the more radical Feyerabend who says that all scientific knowledge is simply subjective consciousness.

So there is a plurality of perspectives. Some leading forward looking experts such as philosopher-psychologist turned futurist Thomas Lombardo have extensively discussed such a plurality and the historical debate among philosophers and psychologists about the polarity of subjectivity versus objectivity and its role in knowledge at great length, concluding with a reciprocal interdependent relationship between the two. WFSF President, Erik Øverland, has also worked on perspectivism in futures studies; the epistemological principle that perception of and knowledge of something are always bound to the interpretive perspectives of those observing it.

Second, like Lombardo, Halal chooses, rather with courage in the context of the

US society, the principle of evolution as a fundamental driving force, giving it a high importance for achieving maturity and wisdom in a unified world of the future. But he does not cover the history of consciousness evolution in the US and in particular the New Age Movement during the 1970s. He only briefly mentions on page 33 the New Age saying that they were only focused on goodness whereas consciousness should include hate, conflict, and delusion. It is not absolutely clear for the reader what are the key similarities and differences between the Age of Consciousness, the mental and spiritual revolution ahead of us before global order and space age in 2050s, and the more known and well recorded New Age and Counter Culture teachings and practices in US history. For most Americans, consciousness has strong links with embracing Eastern, Buddhist, Taoist, Mystic, and Sufist viewpoints if not also the psychedelic and the drug culture. Halal is actually including two New Age signature lifestyle i.e. use of psychedelic drugs and sex as spirituality among his list of technologies of consciousness on page 139.

This is actually a good constructive criticism because perhaps in a later edition it will help him make a big differentiation from the sort of spirituality that is embraced by the historical New Age movement and people in the US. I think that the reader would ask what is really different in his spirituality from the New Age people. Although, he is not expected to actually give a full account of the history of consciousness and spirituality in any book on consciousness.

Therefore, the choice of the term: age of consciousness, as something which lies beyond the age of knowledge, will only limit the size of the book readership to mostly people with background in technology, business and management. Perhaps a somewhat better title would have been the age of global consciousness, after all the emphasis on a global transformation toward maturity and wisdom is the key message throughout the book, although my own choice will definitely be planetary consciousness to make a distance from the globalization and the globalist and internationalist mindset which is often presented in contrast with nationalist and religious ideologies.

Alternative planetary futures and planetary consciousness are my own favorite words and I am hinting at a possible further expansion of the whole idea in his book. It is neither a criticism nor weakness but a suggestion for further development and building upon the idea. If Halal had used throughout the book the term global consciousness that would have been much better and less problematic because he was avoiding the term consciousness alone; a topic of huge debate and disagreements. The term planetary consciousness is not always seen as related to all life forms and is related to the planetary era, global citizenship, cosmopolitanism and the next era of civilization.

Another choice might have been the age of post-knowledge in exactly the same way we talk about a post-industrial society or post-modern theory of knowledge. This might bring Halal even closer to other groups of futurist scholars such as Zia Sardar who write about the postnormal times and like him quite rightly identify our transition period as characterized with complexity, chaos, and contradiction.

Given Halal’s primary metaphor of an adolescent’s transition stage for more mature planetary civilization we could even use the more established terminology in anthropology; that is the age of liminality. The problem of many futurists and macro historian thinkers who correctly point out the nature of large scale changes and the subsequent stages of social-technological evolution is that they cannot easily coin a neologism for the next stage. In this regard, like Sardar, Halal is no exception.

Halal has a bold vision, supported with a rich and comprehensive set of irrefutable evidences, and given his optimism if we change our course of thinking and action in due time we can avoid the worst case scenarios during the next decades, save the planet, and even calls, like futurists Wendell Bell and Erik Øverland, for some universal values, universal perspectivism, a universal common socio‐cultural identity, and global ethics which should be more inclusive, inspired by female deities, caring, cooperative, appreciative of human diversity, more democratic principles for governing the corporate world, transcending the misleading artificial versus natural polarity, and using the vast potential of cutting edge information and knowledge technologies for a successful transition away from the age of liminality.

I found great resonance with Halal’s ideas about the rising age of planetary consciousness and planetary identity. In particular, the emphasis that individuals should cultivate their conscious mind and evolve it with sustained conscious intent, or as Lombardo calls it a purposeful evolution of consciousness. These individual wise cyborgs might bring the same mega effect of creating desired new civilizations, social structures, and cultures over the next few decades. This recognition itself is an intended change of consciousness if we stay away from the human centric worldview, largely inspired by ancient mythologies, religions, and deities and put in their place a plurality of some modern belief systems.

He actually clarifies his position on the belief systems on page 70: “Some type of belief system is unavoidable. Our goal should be to create more sophisticated belief systems that accord with the complexity of modern life.” There is a great and important distinction between Globalization and Planetization and Halal has masterfully, deeply, and fabulously clarified and highlighted this evolving binary opposite and calls for a valuefocused transformation of consciousness for planetary wisdom.

BEYOND KNOWLEDGE IS DRIVING AN AGE OF BY WILLIAM HALAL