PREFACE to Global Mind Change by Willis Harman
Berrett Koehler Publishers Inc 1998
If the world that science tells us about is reality, how does it happen that we don' tfeel more at home in it?
The factors and forces to bring about a global mind change are already in motion. Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societ- ies have come about not from dictates of governments and the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their minds- sometimes only a little bit.
Some of these changes have amounted to profound transforma- tions-for instance the transition from the Roman Empire to Medi- eval Europe, or from the Middle Ages to modern times. Others have been more specific, such as the constitution of democratic govern- ments in England and America, or the termination of slavery as an accepted institution. In the latter cases, it is largely a matter of people recalling that no matter how powerful the economic or political or even military institution, it persists because it has legitimacy, and that legitimacy comes from the perceptions of people. People give legiti- macy and they can take it away. A challenge to legitimacy is probably the most powerful force for change to be found in history. To the empowering principle that the people can withhold legitimacy, and thus change the world, we now add another: By deliberately changing the internal image of reality, people can change the world. Perhaps the only limits to the human mind are those we believe in.
The first twenty years of my professional life were spent teaching electrical engineering and systems analysis at a major university. The next twenty were as a social scientist and futurist in a contract research organization, helping clients in government and business do strategic planning over a very wide range of practical policy issues. My particular task was to help them think about the issues in the context of the future environment in which the conse- quences of their decisions would manifest. To deal with thes puzzles full time, day after day, was an unusual privilege, and learned much. As the years went on, I found that a picture was forming in my mind of the meaning of our times and of many plausible alternative futures. The picture got clearer, and by the time I retired from that career and moved on to a third (the present one), I had little remaining doubt about the fundamental nature of the transformation we are living through. Although I was aware that some aspects seemed preposterous to most, I was convinced (and my conviction continues to strengthen) that the real action today is changing fundamental assumptions.
In 1977 I accepted the invitation of Edgar Mitchell and the board of the Institute of Noetic Sciences to join them in "expanding knowledge of the nature and potentials of the mind, and applying that knowledge to the advancement of health and well-being for humankind and the planet." (The word "noetic," from the Greek word "nous" meaning mind, intelligence, understanding, implies the three ways in which we gain knowledge: the reasoning processe of the intellect, the perception of our experiences through the senses, and the intuitive, spiritual or inner ways of knowing. Noetic Sciences is the systematic study of these all-inclusive ways of knowing, which form the basis for how we see ourselves, each other, and the world.)
Since the work of the Institute is at the heart of the contempo- rary "paradigm change"-it is precisely in this area that the basic assumptions underlying modem Western society are most called question-1 knew I had found an ideal place to be.
But the task is not easy. People are threatened by the awareness (conscious or unconscious) of impending change in their lives. The prospect that "truths' they have known all their lives might superseded by some other beliefs can be especially threatening. Thus there is a tendency to "fight back"-to actively oppose the change. Note the fundamentalist reaction in all parts of the globe to modern society's embodiment of change as a way of life-techno logical change, increasing power of institutions, weakening of older value commitments.
You can imagine that critical examination of the basic assump- tions undergirding modern society itself will be all the more threatening. Sociological and historical researchs shoe that during similar
revolutionary changes there are, typically, increases in frequency of mental illness, social disruption and use of police to quell the disruption, violent crime, terrorism, religious cultism, and accep- tance of sexual hedonism. These signs are, of course, visible today, and they may well intensify before they return to more normal levels. They are all basically responses to the underlying anxiety and uncertainty to the unconscious threat of change.
Understanding the necessity of change probably reduces the threat as one sees that world society can not continue much longer on its current, increasingly nonviable tract. But societal change implies individual change, and it is that which brings on the sharpest anxiety. The next decade or two are particularly critical. I believe the key challenge is not to try to resist a change that may well be inevitable, nor is it to be zealous in fomenting a change prematurely. It is, rather, trying to help our society understand the nature and necessity of the forces of historical change we are experiencing, to go through the change with mutual cooperation and caring, with as little misery as possible.
Through truth-telling and dialogue and sincere attempts to see the world through the other person's eyes, together we can come to an understanding of what it is that needs doing, and to a joint commitment that it gets done. All my life I have heard the admoni- tion "Don't just talk; get out there and do something!" The problem is that in times like these we are all too likely to do what turns out to be the wrong thing. If it is to represent the best advice for such uncertain times, the maxim should probably be turned around: Don't just do something get out there and talk. In this third career what I feel most keenly to be my own mission is to promote that dialogue and contribute to that understanding. This book is a step in that direction; I hope it is a helpful one.
Willis W. Harman