Humanity currently stands on the threshold of a new global culture based on the enormous potentialities arising from an array of emerging technologies. At the same time, we face the possibility of global calamity based on a complex of issues--sometimes called the "world macroproblem"--that includes resource depletion, overpopulation, pollution, international terrorism and the threat of nuclear war. It seems clear that we must overcome the threat of the world macroproblem before we can enjoy the full benefits of the new global culture. Buckminster Fuller writes of Utopia or Oblivion, Ervin Laszlo of Evolution or Extinction, Jonas Salk of the Survival of the Wisest

Ultimately the solution lies in education. A comprehensive approach to the world macroproblem must tackle it on multiple levels; practical approaches to immediate problems of poverty, hunger and disease must be accompanied by the long-term development of more holistic ways of thought for emerging generations. This view has emerged from the work of discerning futurists over the last three decades. One of the most comprehensive is the study in 1970 by a group of futurists led by Willis Harman at the Educational Policy Research Center of Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The authors suggest dividing the challenges facing us into four distinct levels as follows:

  1. Substantive: pressing, applied or operational problems, such as famine, epidemic, etc., requiring immediate corrective action and the immediate application of resources.
  2. Process: political/social problems that inhibit the process of collectively setting priorities and developing strategies to solve the substantive problems.
  3. Normative: problems concerning the appropriateness and effectiveness of a people's values and goals, etc. that are the basis of planning and priority setting.
  4. Conceptual: problems that seem to be intrinsic to the way we think--to the particular vision or understanding of reality that is dominant in a culture--thus affecting the way of perceiving and doing and the formation of our normative values.

It is the substantive problems that continue to dominate the attention of governments, news media, etc., on a day to day basis, but it is the conceptual problems, those that are solved through education, that are most significant and most important for the long-term survival of our planet. Therefore, a new and comprehensive approach to education must accompany the humanitarian efforts directed at ending hunger, disease, and other types of suffering. The technologies that could support such a global effort are already in place; they only need to be applied appropriately. However, as experts and institutions investigate the educational applications of the Internet, it is clear that while this technology is appreciated for its application to distance learning and widespread training programs, few, if any, researchers in this area have grasped the need for a new content for education.

Purpose of the Institute

It is the purpose of the Harmonia Institute to develop educational programs to meet this need--from the most practical problems of literacy, numeracy, and economic development, to the most fundamental issues of normative and conceptual values--using the most advanced technologies to disseminate these programs through the Internet and other mass media.

The word Harmonia is Pythagorean in origin and indicates the principle that brings order to chaos and discord throughout the universe. Such a concept has application to more than ancient philosophy; a core group of futurists is beginning to recognize a role for such a principle in securing the future of humanity. In a famous statement in 1968, the Club of Rome set forth what they termed the "world problematique"--the complex of social, economic, and environmental problems that threaten to destroy our planet. Following from this, in the landmark 1970 study cited above, the futurists at SRI arrived at a similar view. After projecting a total of forty "future histories" and studying the results, they conclude that the current worldview and the technologies it supports, even though it has created enormous benefits on one level, has become obsolete, even pathogenic, and is now responsible for generating the world macroproblem. They write:

On the whole, it looks as though of some 40 feasible future histories, there are very few that manage to avoid some period of serious trouble between now and 2050. The few that do, appear to require a dramatic shift of values and perceptions with regard to what we came to term the world "macroproblem."

The authors of this study do hold out a slim but tangible hope for a solution, however. Their recommendation has nothing to do with economics, technology or politics. Rather, it hinges upon a complete change in our way of understanding ourselves and our world--a change that must be the goal of education.

If we are correct in this tentative belief that the various aspects of the world macroproblem, although they may be ameliorated or postponed by certain technological achievements, are intrinsic in the basic operative premises of present industrialized culture--if this is correct, then it follows that education toward changing those premises, directly or indirectly, is the paramount educational task for the nation and the world. This means that education should be directed toward responsible stewardship of life on earth with the associated changes in values and premises. It probably includes adaptation to a new and evolving metaphysic that will support these changes (since values are always rooted in an implicit picture of man-in-relation-to-his-world) . . . (emphasis added)

Here they are proposing a normative solution to the problem, changing fundamental premises through education, while simultaneously indicating that such an approach rests ultimately upon a conceptual shift--the adoption of a new metaphysic. In fact, what they are suggesting is no less than the regaining of that profound worldview that lies at the root of every major religious or philosophical movement in our history. This emerged from a second study conducted at SRI in 1974:

Although most of the views of man we have surveyed have come into being during a particular era, often borrowing and adapting views of other cultures, there is one view that has remained surprisingly unchanged since it was first formulated in the Vedic era of India, about 1500 B.C. Although this view has always remained somewhat underground in most cultures, it has remained visible, in almost unchanged form, as an identifiable image of humankind in so many times and places that Huxley has termed it the "Perennial Philosophy."

The Perennial Philosophy

This term was initially coined by Liebnitz, but it was Aldous Huxley who popularized it in a book of the same name which has become a classic. Within this he defines the Perennial Philosophy as ". . . the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality behind the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in man something identical with divine Reality and the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the Immanent and Transcendent Ground of all things." Such a view may not enjoy wide acceptance in the modern world; its ontological premises may still need to be reconciled with the scientific world view. Professor Jonathan Shear speaks to this issue: "Its metaphysical claim of a "divine reality" in particular goes beyond what the modern scientific mind may be willing to entertain. But major aspects of its psychological and ethical implications are supportable independently of this metaphysic." These appear to have enormous practical value for the educational model that is needed to steer Planet Earth in the direction of Utopia rather than Oblivion. The SRI team, in the second of their two studies, agrees: ". . . This view of man, if it can be experienced by more than the small minority of persons who have apparently realized it through the centuries, would seem to provide the needed sense of direction and the holistic perspective and understanding described . . ."

Harman and his SRI colleagues are not alone in this view. In the decades following the publication of their report agreement has grown among many thinkers that recapturing this mode of thought is essential if our planet is to survive and flourish. "To speak of the possibility of a happy future for mankind," according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "without a fundamental change in the currently held conception of what man is, is no more than a sentimental and fleeting dream." In the mission statement of the Club of Budapest we find a similar statement. "When all is said and done, we come to a basic insight: we need a more evolved consciousness. Entering the 21st century with the consciousness that hallmarked the 20th century would be like entering the modern age with the consciousness of the Middle Ages. It would be not only inappropriate, but dangerous." Other thinkers have identified this fundamental change in slightly different ways. Carl Sagan spoke in terms of surviving "technological adolescence," Huston Smith has written about "Forgotten Truth," and Ken Wilber speaks about reviving an understanding of the "Spectrum of Consciousness." Smith and Wilber are referring to the notion often called the "Great Chain of Being" that "has, in one form or another, been the dominant official philosophy of the larger part of civilized mankind through most of its history" but which has been lost following the scientific revolution and the resulting emergence of the materialist viewpoint. "Among scientists in particular," writes Wolfgang Pauli, "the universal desire for a greater unification of our worldview is greatly intensified by the fact that, though we now have natural sciences, we no longer have a total scientific picture of the world." He continues:

Since the discovery of the quantum of action, physics has gradually been forced to relinquish its proud claim to be able to understand, in principle, the whole world. This very circumstance, however, as a correction of earlier one-sidedness, could contain the germ of progress toward a unified conception of the entire cosmos of which the natural sciences are only a part.

The Great Chain of Being, or the Spectrum of Consciousness, is nothing other than an understanding of the full range of ontological levels inherent in the universe, in contrast to the one-dimensional, purely materialistic view that currently dominates our thinking and that Wilber calls "Flatland". Reviving such an understanding means to escape from Flatland or, as popular parlance has it, "to get out of the box."

Perennial Philosophy, Technology and Education

We should note that making the Perennial Philosophy a core component of a world-wide educational program does not involve introducing a foreign conceptual perspective into each of the world's many, diverse cultures. Nor is it primarily a matter of communicating abstractions that require intellectually sophisticated audiences and are thus out of the reach of younger people. On the contrary, the themes of the Perennial Philosophy are found explicitly in the teachings of all of the world's major wisdom traditions and religions, and implicitly in the myths, stories, and images that shape the cultures of the world. These themes can thus be brought out for children and other intellectually unsophisticated audiences through the power of story-telling, building on familiar, readily accessible story lines, as well as by dialectical techniques of question and answer. All of these techniques lend themselves very clearly to the emerging technologies of the Internet, specifically, the story telling power inherent in multi-media, animation etc., and the interactive capabilities inherent in on-line communications. Similarly, the need for an ongoing dialog aimed at reconciling the rifts between the arts and sciences, and between science and religion can be greatly facilitated through interdisciplinary programs in higher education. Further, it is clear that the currently emerging technologies form the basis for a global delivery system for all such programs.

Imagine a highly interactive, synchronous, internet-managed learning experience between distant locations over vast national and international networks, providing learners with an ability to obtain simultaneous distance learning services from their geographically dispersed organizations, schools and other colleagues. This is the domain of the "Virtual Private Learning Network" or VPLN . . . Technology is being used to make learning accessible anytime, anywhere, and better than ever. The question is not about technology but rather about how to create content that is engaging, motivating and leads to successful performance outcomes. Now we are getting closer to the Holy Grail.

All of the above suggests that developing an educational program, built around the model of the Perennial Philosophy, and tailored to exploit the capabilities of the Internet and its emerging, associated technologies, is not only technically feasible but highly desirable. It is the purpose of the Harmonia Institute to develop such a program.

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

In an age of rapid and often confusing change, the challenge of understanding and dealing with the future becomes more critical even as it becomes more difficult. One of the greatest of all futurists was the architect and mathematician R. Buckminster Fuller. It was a meeting between Fuller and Harmonia Institute founder Peter Westbrook that stimulated the initial thinking behind this project. Fuller was in Seattle, signing copies of his new book Critical Path. As they were talking, one of the managers of the bookstore came up to them and said, "Mr. Fuller, look at all the doom and gloom books we have on our shelves. Why are people so negative about the future?" Bucky responded without hesitation. "You don't have to know anything to be negative. But to be positive you have to know a great deal!"

We would all like to be positive about our future but only knowledge can create this possibility. Fuller himself went a stage further. For years, he lectured throughout the world, declaring that mankind is in the process of taking a final examination, in which we will choose between Utopia and Oblivion. The Harmonia Institute is dedicated to the idea that new knowledge is emerging with the potential to change our world in ways that are almost beyond our capacity to imagine, that this is the knowledge that we need in order to pass this all-important final exam, and that this knowledge should be the focal point around which a twenty-first century system of education should be constructed. There are multiple views of what this knowledge might be, but it seems clear that those working in this field are struggling toward a consensus, one which suggests that, even after three decades, the model developed by the Stanford futurists, based on the Perennial Philosophy, may be the most useful.

Buckminster Fuller had another metaphor that is most cogent here. He characterized humanity as the crew of a spaceship awakening after a lengthy slumber. We are beginning to realize, not only that we are hurtling through space, but that we do not have the operating manual for the ship! The essential view of the Perennial Philosophy is that the operating manual is to be found in the realm of human consciousness itself, and the clues to its whereabouts are to be found in the creations of the human mind, from the formulations of science to the archetypal forms of myth and the cosmological structures of music. Herein lies the core of an ideal system of education.

Mass Communications and the Mythic Image

As the techniques of mass communication become increasingly powerful, this in itself raises concerns both in the areas of education and of entertainment. What are the effects of rapidly shifting musical forms and visual images on the learning process, on the brain, and on the nervous system of audiences? The development of the Internet, computer animation, and other aspects of mass communications have greatly increased both the speed and the volume of images entering our consciousness, both as individuals and as a culture. But it is essential to realize the extent to which such images influence our thoughts and even change our physiology. In this context, the artist can no longer think of art merely as personal expression; he or she is having an enormous effect upon the environment. The images and music currently entering through this modality are dominated by lower psychic functions including such things as crude sexuality and gratuitous violence.

As Erich Neumann, Ken Wilber and others have shown, the images found in mythology and art throughout history can be seen as reflections of distinct stages in the evolution of consciousness; understanding these stages, and the stage through which our world is currently passing, allows the artist to play a critical role in the transition to a successful future.

The Perennial Philosophy can play an important corrective role here. For it has its own iconography, sometimes referred to as "sacred art", and the mere presentation of "sacred" images has a profound natural influence upon any audience, with clear effects on various level of mind and body. Furthermore, these images already occur throughout the world's many cultures. As a result, the appropriate use of such material can help revive the cultural integrity in societies currently swamped with commercialized music, movies, etc. created for American audiences. Thus, it should also be an aim of the Institute's programs to inject a positive influence into the fields of music, entertainment, and publishing, doing so through programming that is itself highly appealing to a mass audience.

Components of the Model

Developing an educational system to fulfill all the needs outlined above requires that basic problems of content, relevance, and distribution be addressed.

  1. Content: As music historian Edward Lowinsky observed, "The present era is characterized by a complete lack of any philosophy which would bind together the multitude of phenomena and of human activities into one meaningful whole. More is necessary: man must recapture a new unity of vision." Helping to develop the relevant unity of vision must be a core component of our program, drawing on such viewpoints as the Perennial Philosophy. Scientists, scholars, artists, and educators world-wide are working on this essential issue. It is one of the aims of the Harmonia Institute to develop relationships with many of these researchers, to provide financial support for their work, and to elicit their contributions to our programs.
  2. Relevance: Following the work of Jean Piaget and others, researchers have shown that children go through well-established stages of development, each calling for different educational procedures. Further, it is known that people learn in different ways in various cultural settings. Research is also being done on how to optimize computer-based learning, and a number of organizations are already testing and implementing computer-based learning programs in school districts in the U.K. and elsewhere. It is our intention to incorporate their research into our educational model.
  3. Distribution: The Institute is entering into partnerships with existing companies in the areas of Internet broadcasting and other IP-based services to develop the financial and technological resources to develop and distribute its programs. Primary among these is Television Communications Network whose rapidly expanding fiber optic network, proprietary software and commitment to world-wide educational programming will allow for widespread distribution of Harmonia Institute programming. It will also interact with government agencies, foundations, and other research and charitable groups working in the areas of education, environmental issues, etc., with a view to helping them disseminate information and training through the mass media.

Education for a Positive Future

It is the conviction of the Harmonia Institute and its founders, that educational programs can be structured that can move Planet Earth in a positive direction, and that the Internet and its associated technologies is the emerging medium for the implementation of these programs. There is a growing network of people whose thinking is moving in the direction we have been discussing. They form an informal faculty for a virtual university. Furthermore, the many traditions that have contributed to the Perennial Philosophy already contain many levels of teaching aimed at different age groups and levels of sophistication. From such resources rich courses and programs can be developed that would apply to every potential audience, from young children to mature adults, in every part of the world. The technologies of the mass media will allow these programs to be developed in forms that have great beauty and power.

Major universities throughout the world are already beginning to use the resources of the Internet for their educational programs. This has been termed "Distance Learning." It is not our intention to compete with them by offering another version of Accounting 101 or yet another MBA program. Internet-based training is enormously important, but this cannot be the total focus of distance learning if the Internet is to fulfill its potential for education. The thrust toward vocational instruction aimed merely at careers at the expense of deep understanding of the world and our relationship to it has been dubbed the "Titanic syndrome" by futurists--passengers fighting for the best cabins on a sinking ship. An approach built around the Perennial Philosophy is overdue and, in our opinion, just waiting for the right medium. The combination of this ancient knowledge with advanced technology will have an enormous impact. If it is successful, we may be able to choose "Evolution" rather than "Extinction", "Utopia" rather than "Oblivion".

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