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Towards a University of Earth?

Exploring the cognitive entanglement between lifetyle diseases and planetary ills (Part #1)


Crisis of crises
Eliciting appropriate thinking
Standard Operating Procedures'
Identity as a strange loop
Imaginal training
Converging preoccupations with time
Enabling the cognitive vehicle
Cognitive and process challenges

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Annex B of Cognitive Implications of Lifestyle Diseases of Rich and Poor: transforming personal entanglement with the natural environment (2009)


Crisis of crises

There is a sense at the global level of lurching from one crisis to another, with a degree of recognition of an emerging 'crisis of crises'. This was first noted decades ago by John Platt (What We Must Do, Science, 166, November 1969). The moment has apparently now been recognized by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who recently declared:

We are living through an era like no other. There are multiple crises: a food crisis, fuel crisis, flu crisis and financial crisis... Each is a crisis we have not seen for many years, even generations. But this time they are hitting the world all at once. We have never seen any era when we have been hit by all these multiple crises at the one time... Peacekeeping has experienced serious setbacks. Today we face mounting difficulties in getting enough troops, the right equipment and adequate logistical support. This supply has not kept pace with demand. (United Nations peace missions in perilThe Guardian, 8 July 2009)

Such a crisis of crises is now mirrored at the individual level in the 'lifestyle timebomb' (Peter Gluckman, et al., 2008). By whoever this mirrored challenge is recognized, it is increasingly obvious that there is fundamental incapacity to respond to this condition in new ways. It would seem that institutions are cognitively incompetent in ways that they are 'constitutionally' incapable of understanding -- as in the case of a person suffering from a lifestyle disease.

Curiously this condition, despite an impressive track record of disasters, is accompanied by a form of intellectual arrogance and a questionable confidence in 'human ingenuity' (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap: how can we solve the problems of the future?, 2000). It ignores the probability of the unexpected as variously argued (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007; Karen Cerullo, Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006). There is certainty and overconfidence, where a degree of humility might be more appropriate (Unknown Undoing: challenge of incomprehensibility of systemic neglect, 2008). This is especially evident in the personal encounter with lifestyle disease.


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