Evolutionary Philosophy – Daniel Schmachtenberger: “Phase shift for humanity” (Part 4)

Here is the fourth and last part of our translation of Daniel Schmachtenberger `s talk with David Fuller. At the end of the text there are further links to Schmachtenberger `s work.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: When we think about the caterpillar to butterfly metamorphosis: Inside the chrysalis it ´s not a caterpillar or a butterfly, it ´s goo. And that goo phase, that liminal phase – the caterpillar is actually dying. Because the caterpillar doesn ´t just loose weight and grow wings. If you look at it, the caterpillar has a genetic code to gather parts, to gather minerals and amino acids and sugars that are going to then be reassembled into a butterfly. 

If we were just looking at the caterpillar and we didn ´t know it ´s gonna be a butterfly and we were looking at it ´s getting bigger and it ´s eating everything and it ´s not pollinating anything, we would predict that it eats itself into extinction. Except at a certain point, it gets rich enough biochemistry that it triggers this movement into the chrysalis, it starts to dissolve, it gets reorganized at a, you know, amino acid level into something that now pollinates the plants, that the caterpillar decimated across these vast spaces and now helps the evolution of the whole system. 

The butterfly phase could not have been predicted from the caterpillar phase (…) very much like fetuses in the utero, the fetus couldn ´t go past 40 weeks in the utero, 50, 60 weeks – it dies and the mom dies. But it also couldn ´t come out much earlier, because it wasn ´t ready to make a phase shift. 

It comes out when it first can. It has finally evolved to the place that it can actually do breast milk rather than get food from the umbilical cord directly – but it also comes out when it has to, there ´s a fairly narrow window of transition. 

The same is true for an animal developing inside of an eggshell, right, there ´s a finite amount of resources and when it runs out, it has to emerge, but its also the first time that it can emerge, that the system can handle the transition.

So we see in nature this kind of precedent – these discrete nonlinear phase shifts, because there ´s a curve of „in utero“, and then there `s a shift and then there ´ s a curve outside. But that discrete phase shift that comes through the birth canal is different than either the phase before or after. 

So when you are asking „are any of the caterpillars going to be able to do the pollination thing?“ – it ´s the wrong question, right? The problem that we see is the caterpillars are eating everything, that´s true. And that the ressources get assembled for a fundamentally different set of reasons – if we say, how do we maintain strategic competitive advantage – that ´s what the leaders are trying to do. The leaders of all companies are trying to maintain strategic competitive advantages against the other companies. A country is across other countries. But of course, the moment you have some sort of asymmetric advantage and you deploy it, everybody sees it reverse engineers make modifications on it, and you just raise up the level of rivalry for the entire playing field.  

That itself is what is terminating. The seeking of strategic competitive advantage, the rivalrous dynamics, that is what actually self-terminates with this level of power. So it ´s how do we take all the technological capacity and start to use it for something that is not trying to have power over – but to have strength to not be deformed by other power and be able to be anti-rivalrous. 

David Fuller: So if there ´s a society we ´re going from, this sort of idea of the caterpillar to the butterfly – does that mean each individual person has to go through that same shift, and if so, what does that mean, or how does that look?  

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Individually, yes, as families and small groups of people, yes, as communities, villages, tribes, larger groups of people, yes, all the way up to everybody. It ´ s an individual and collective sense making and choice making process. 

An individual is necessary, but it ´s not sufficient. If you have a bunch of people that are making sense on their own, they can never make sense of the complexity of the whole world, if they don ´t figure out how to have meaningful collaborative dynamics with other people. And if they have collaborative dynamics with some, but then not others and they get into a competitive dynamic, than the others figure out how to disinform them to be able to win, and you get same dynamics. 

Stop trying to win at the dying game

So we either figure out anti rivalrous omni-collaborative type dynamics, or we cap out at a level of collective intelligence less than we need. So as individuals, saying okay, on my own, I dont know how to change macroeconomics, I don ´t know how to create whatever the post democracy governance system is, I don ´t know how to make a closed loop materials economy, what can I do to at least be starting to become a citizen of the future world myself? 

One thing I ´d say is: Stop trying to win at the dying game, not just the dying game, but the game that ´s killing everything. 

If you ´re still trying to win at that game – you can ´t also claim to take seriously anything meaningful. That ´s one thing. And then also don ´t just get get stuck in being angry or hopeless or just your own development and go off to a Lotus-seater-thing. Actually be dedicated to progressively better figuring out what you can do to make a new game that works for everybody

David Fuller: It sounds like there is a kind of almost spiritual dynamic to it in terms of getting past one ´s own ego.

Daniel Schmachtenberger: If you can ´t get along with your family members and your ex-partners and you ´re pretty sure that you are right about things and they ´re wrong about things – and you think you have any idea of how Israel and Palestine can get along or how the US and China can get along, you are just silly. And so you really don ´t get to even have an idea about politics if you don ´t actually know something in an embodied sense around how to deal with differences and how to do real conflict resolution.

David Fuller: So it sounds a bit like Jordan Peterson: „Clean your room, pay attention to what you can pay attention to, before you try and fix anything else“. 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Foundations are foundations. Those are important. So the other critical thing is that you can ´ t assume that other people are going to fix those issues and you can just kind of chill and the world will work out.

That also doesn ´t mean that you should freak out and go in existential angst or on hyperdrive, without knowing what to do … but progressively lean in more and say „Okay, there ´s a path so we can make it, but it ´s nor a given at all that we do.” 

Yet, rather than ask whether we do or not, how do I help determine that we do, how can I engage. And that will require learning a bunch of sh… that you don ´ t currently know and that maybe nobody has synthesised well yet. 

And that ´s what being an imaginal cell in the transition from the caterpillar to butterfly really means, is taking some empowered responsibility for being someone who ´s recognising. That you can ´t just run the instruction manual that was given historically and the new instruction manual doesn ´ t exist yet. And it ´s actually – the time of people in that liminal phase is to work out what is, what are the new structures? 

David Fuller: What does that look like for an individual to learn?  If someone is watching this and would say, okay, I need to learn stuff, what are those things that we need to learn? 

Daniel Schmachtenberger: Well some people might have a very clear sense of in the picture, of all that needs done working on the future of education and how to facilitate the development of young humans to be healthy sovereign humans. It´s really their focus. Or health care or the new materials economy, whatever it is. If one is wanting to become comprehensively more educated about civilization changes needed writ large, pay attention to the people in this video that you resonate with, and go find more of their work and then go and pay attention to the footnotes and follow them.

Here you can find Daniel Schmachtenberger `s website with a collection of his podcasts, articles and talks.

A talk by Daniel Schmachtenberger in particular on COVID-19 “as a crash-course in systemic risk” can be found here.