Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Tipping Points

Dr. Ervin Laszlo on tipping points.

This week I interview world-renowned systems theorist Dr. Ervin Laszlo. He uses the principles-of-systems theory as a dynamic framework for understanding the coming changes we face as we approach the year 2012. Listen in the find out why dramatic shifts, called tipping points, in Earth’s living system are becoming more and more likely each day.

Tami Simon: Dr. Laszlo, you’ve been looking at evolutionary theory and researching global change from a number of different perspectives for a long time. How is it that you first came across this date, 2012, when you pinpointed that time as a time of change? I mean this 2012 date—where did that come from in your work, in your calculations?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: It’s quite independent of the prophecies. I just became aware of a coincidence of calculations that I made independently of the prophecies of the end of 2012. Well, the calculations are not all that exact; they would say that probably within four to five years we will have a major change, a major phase change, in the fate of humanity on this planet, because a number of the trends that are now threatening to reach a critical point will probably reach a critical point by then. So by the time I looked at the various trends and then looked at the interactions between them, I saw that, well, what appeared to be originally a forecast for the end of the century then turned out to be the mid-century, then turned out to be within the next 20 years, then between five and 10 years. Now it turns out to be between three, four, or five years. And if you take that seriously, this three, four, or five years, then it could very well coincide with the end of 2012.

Tami Simon: Does that make sense to you, that it’s a coincidence, quote-unquote?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: There are no coincidences. I don’t believe in pure coincidences. And I think it’s more than likely that 2012 does mark a serious turning point in human affairs.

Tami Simon: And you mentioned that you had your own system of creating calculations before you were exposed to this date 2012. What is your system for calculating changes in society?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, it’s not so much a separate system as you’re taking all the calculations and then doing one thing that other people don’t do; that’s taking them all into account at the same time. As long as you take calculations separately, you get a different time horizon. For example, if you take the calculations for the rise of sea level, separately, then you’ve got a rise in sea level of maybe three meters by 2050. If you then take into account a number of other factors that affect the sea level rise, not just the melting of the ice but various human factors and other changes in the climate, the change is the ocean currents and this kind of thing, then this gets reduced. And you do this with 10, 12 of these major global trends and you take into account the cross-impacts, how one thing impacts on the other, and then the likelihood of this so-called point of bifurcation (a point of no return) coming about, is becoming a lot shorter. The time horizon is just becoming shorter. So that’s all I basically do. I don’t get a separate calculation—as a systems theorist, I don’t believe in just looking at one factor and ignoring the rest. I look at the whole thing. And this whole thing is a natural system—the biosphere—into which is inserted the human system; humankind with its economies, its societies. And if you take all these interactions into account, you’ve got a very sensitive system that’s very prone to break down.

Tami Simon: So could you tell me what the 10 or 12 measurements were that you used when you had come up with this idea of dramatic change, this prediction of dramatic change? What were the 10 or 12 different systems you were looking at?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: These are trends; they look at the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the hothouse effect. You look at the availability of water worldwide, the accessibility of water, and what it does to human health. You look at the level of the rise of the sea. You look at the potential for conflict among different cultures, particularly in those cultures, yet pressed to the edge of survival so that they are becoming highly frustrated and they want to strike out; the possibility then of maverick violence like terrorism happening, and the possibility that there will be reprisals at the level of military action. You look at the possibility of migrations (migrations already are happening of course, all of these things are happening already) but when do they reach a point where you can’t turn it back, you can’t cope with it any more? Migrations caused by the fact that large portions of the Earth might dry out, drought. Large portions of the Earth might be under water, large portions of the Earth might get unusually heavy storms, rainfalls. All of these kind of unfavorable conditions (for humankind unfavorable, if you take those into account) then you’ll find that humanity suffers. I mean people and populations will be exposed to very dire conditions. They won’t just sit there and die off(well God forbid that they would) but the probability is that these populations will get going, will protest, will strike back, will try to move to someplace else that they find better conditions of life, better chances of survival. So you basically add all these various factors together, and then you get a very vulnerable system, a system that is close to the point where it reaches the famous point—tipping point—where it’s very difficult to turn back, to re-stabilize. Certain things you can’t re-stabilize again. Just yesterday a report was published in the United Kingdom which says that scientists estimate that it would take about 100,000 years for carbon levels in the atmosphere to go back to what they were in the second half of the 20th century. Up to now we thought the optimistic estimate was maybe 50, 60 years (less optimistic) maybe in a century. But now it says 100,000 years. Not that it makes much difference—I mean, either we survive and in the next 50 years, next 100 years, even out to 2012 or not. But it just shows that these processes that we’re dealing with are highly sensitive and there have to be tipping points. So these tipping points we have to be very careful with. And what I’m saying is basically that what 2012 may hold for us is a series of tipping points, where one tipping point interacts with another—it’s like a domino effect and the whole system can go into tilt.

Tami Simon: And how do you define a tipping point? That word, that phrase?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, there are several definitions. It can have a scientific definition, which is called a bifurcation or bifurcation point. I sometimes have called it the chaos point; the more popular way to say it is a point of no return. Let me just give a more scientific definition then explain it. The scientific definition comes from the modeling of complex systems. If you have a system where there’s constantly inputs and outputs, in other words, one that processes energy and information, then you can drive this system to different dynamic states. And how this system behaves, how it evolves over time, is mapped in what is known as a phase portrait of the system. This phase portrait is a very specific way of behavior in the system, it’s just typical for a given system. And it is governed by what are known as attractors. Now, ordinarily when a system is quite stable, then it has point attractors. If you look at it over time, how the various elements of the system behave, then it always goes back to a single point. And that’s a stable system. A dynamic system, that could be dynamically stable, has circular attractors, attractors that describe a trajectory. But they don’t remove themselves completely from the stable circuit, they move back again. But when you have an unstable system then you have chaotic attractors, also known as strange attractors, and these attractors create entirely new behaviors in the system. Very often these are not even foreseeable. So a tipping point in a scientific definition is the point when point and circular attractors are diminishing in importance and chaotic or strange attractors have made their appearance. When you simulate the system with a computer, you see that the strange attractors show up all of a sudden, the simulators themselves, the computer experts, say that they come out of the blue. All of a sudden they appear. And then they change the behavior of the system, and you can’t change it back again. Once you reach that point, there is no going back to the former stability.

Tami Simon: So when in a scientific experiment, or as we’re talking about here, as all of these trends are coming together in society, in the world, you reach this chaos point or tipping point, are there only two possibilities —either breakdown or breakthrough? Or are there multiple possibilities of what can happen at the tipping point or chaos point?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Surely, there are a lot of possibilities. Actually I would say there are almost unlimited possibilities, except one. And that one is to stay where it is. Because when a system becomes critically unstable, it cannot be maintained in its current condition. But when you play the scenario forward, run this film forward as it were, and then you find that some of these scenarios will tend toward stability at a new level (at a different level) a different kind of stability. Some of them will head toward other tipping points. So ultimately, in the final outcome of this tipping point is a kind of dynamic development that either re-stabilizes the system in a new condition or it will demolish the stability of the system and make it collapse. So ultimately the outcome is either breakthrough or breakdown—but how it reaches that, there could be a multitude of ways that it can reach these outcomes.

Tami Simon: In the history of humanity, have we seen other points that you would describe as chaos points that we then went through in a breakthrough–like way? Or a breakdown-like way for that matter?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, the fact that we are still here shows that we haven’t broken down all the time, and certainly didn’t break down completely. In history, these chaos points involve societies, and entire societies, cultures, civilizations. We have seen now a number of studies (Jarow, Jacob, Diamond for example) had shown the frequent breakdown of civilizations in history. We have seen that these breakdowns sometimes lead to the disappearance of the civilization, but more frequently to the transformation. Practical disappearance in the Inca, Mayan, Aztec civilizations, these were almost absorbed in the Spanish empire at the time. Vestiges have remained, of course, and now they’re trying to safeguard those. Completely absorbed civilizations were very often native traditional tribes that have been absorbed and simply disappeared, in the wake of the conquerors. Some have disappeared rather mysteriously, like the civilization of Easter Island, which was apparently a flourishing civilization but has created environmental conditions where the people couldn’t survive any more. There could be a number of reasons—there could be conquest, there could be internal instability, there could be environmental changes; a number of things can happen. But all these transformations, all the, rather, tipping points, normally lead to a transformation to a new level. The latest very striking one, I would think, is the disappearance of the communist empire in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Empire. A real [garbled] tipping point in 1989, Eastern Europe, you know, became liberated from the soviet domination. By 1990 the Soviet Union as an entity has disappeared and the most powerful political party on earth up to that point, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, not only was disappeared but was actually outlawed. So it is a complete transformation. Now, if you look at it through the Soviet’s history, you’d think that system broke down. But you look at it as people, as the Russian people, the Ukrainian people, and so on, then you see that these people are still there. They have transformed their civilization, they have adopted a new system. So a little bit depends on how you look at things. Not all civilizations die out. I mean the members die out, they transform and they take on a different hue, a different structure, a different dynamic. And that’s basically also the tipping point that we face—that in a very negative scenario before us, which says we could die out, we could become extinct, because of very catastrophic changes, like the runaway heating up of the atmosphere is possible, for example. It’s a possibility, it’s not there, we don’t know if it will come or not, but that could lead to conditions that would make the planet almost uninhabitable for humans. Another scenario of course is nuclear catastrophe(radioactivity) which could make the planet unsuitable for higher forms of life. So all these are possibilities. But I think the real concern that we should have is how we manage to transform the civilization, the system, the economic, the political, the social systems of the population of 6.7 (possibly more) billion people today, so they can live on this planet, they can live sustainably and peacefully, which is possible. But it does call for a basic transformation.

Tami Simon: And you feel that the tipping point of 2012 is of a different magnitude than any of these other historic tipping points that you’re referring to?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: The next tipping point is a very different kind. I recall a little bit of Einstein’s saying when he says he didn’t know with what weapons World War III would be fought, but he knew what weapons World War IV would be fought with—the bow and arrow. Because it’s a qualitative change, we simply can’t survive, can’t make do with the same kind of instrument, the same way that we’ve been living as before. Now the basic difference—I’m going to give you a number of factors—the basic differences are these: one, that it’s global. Up to now these tipping points are local or regional. Now because of the interdependence of human societies and because of the dependence on the natural ecosystems which are now teetering at the very edge of their equilibrium, because of these conditions, the entire human community is heading toward a tipping point. Another difference is that here not one factor is operative, not just water, not just climate, not just cultural intolerance and war and so on, or pollution, but all of these factors together. So it’s a system-wide tipping point. A system-wide that is, contains multiple elements and is global in its outreach. Therefore this has never been the case before; we have never confronted this level of challenge before in the history of humanity.

Tami Simon: As a systems theorist, you mentioned many of the changes in the biosphere, in climate, sea level, population, etc. I’m curious how you see those changes interpenetrating with changes in human consciousness. And here at Sounds True, we’re publishing programs that help people in their spiritual development, and I’m curious what you think the relationship is between these changes in the ecosphere and the changes in human consciousness and spiritual awakening.

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, here you have to raise the question: What is the ultimate determinant of human behavior and of the operation of the social and ecological systems in which we live? I believe that the determinants are values, and then you can ask yourself, well what determines values? And then the answer would be yes, consciousness. So when you come right down to it, the ultimate point, the ultimate determinant, that decides how we act, which way we go, whether we become extinct, go down to breakdown, or whether we go up to the breakthrough, depends on the kind of consciousness we have. The course in which we can speculate on is what kind of consciousness we need, and it’s possible to do. But as a basic factor, just let me make that very clear, I think it’s not money, it’s not technology, it’s not political power or military power: ultimately the determinant is consciousness. Because consciousness then determines how we use money, how we use military power, how we use our wealth, etc.

Tami Simon: Do you think that the changes in the atmosphere and the threats that we now face as a human society are driving the development of an awakening of consciousness? That there’s a feedback loop there of some kind?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Absolutely driving, yes. Crisis drives change. It seems very obvious to me that the final election results of the November 2008 elections that brought in Obama was partly due to the financial crisis, because it created an awareness of the requirements for change. And therefore, any other candidate who says, “I am basing my whole strategy on change,” of course that is favored by a crisis. So if there is a crisis, breakdown, or a threat of a breakdown in a social order, it is a very powerful driver. In fact I would even go so far as to say that there is nothing comparable to it. A stable system, as long as a system is not threatened is very difficult to change. There are spontaneous innovations like there are spontaneous mutations, but usually they take a long time to come through. The system attempts to defend itself. You know, when you’re an innovator in a stable system, you tend to be locked up or excommunicated, to use the religious term … to be isolated from the rest of society because it’s a threat. Change is viewed as a threat in a stable system. But when the system doesn’t work, when it becomes unstable, then change becomes a very welcome factor, and then change becomes possible. It’s for good reason. Actually in Chinese culture the whole concept of crisis, which is expressed by the Chinese words for crisis Wei Ji, that means a combination of danger and opportunity. Wei means danger and ji means opportunity or chance. So the Chinese have learned this because in their 5,000-year history they underwent a number of these conversions, from one dynasty to another, usually quite a bloody period until the new level of stability was established. And then it underwent again, usually within a 400- or 500-year period. But we have got to learn it as well, about how crisis drives change, makes change possible, and it opens the way to innovation and to development.

Tami Simon: You’ve talked about this time that we are in as a decision window. And I’m curious if there’s any kind of mathematical formula—do a certain number of people need to make certain kinds of decisions about how they express their consciousness in the world? Do a certain number of people need to rise to a certain level of consciousness of our connection as a human species? Is there a number in this decision window that will make the difference for breakdown or breakthrough?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: There sure is a number, but we don’t know it. We don’t know what it is. And I don’t think we can know it, because we would need the powers of a divine being to be able to calculate all the factors that go into determining this number. Because it’s not a mechanical system … it’s not even just a biological system. It’s a social, psychological system, dealing with conscious human beings. With their own personalities, with their own quirks, with their own preferences, with their own cultural backgrounds, all of these are imponderables. We can’t just simply calculate them. So there is a number which is expressed usually as a critical mass. In a physical process, like a nuclear process, you know, when you’re a critical mass of atoms reaching a level of radioactivity, then a chain reaction gets going and the system then blows up or changes. And something similar is happening when you reach a crisis point, a chaos point, or a tipping point. But we don’t know what it is. Speculations are it could be one percent of one percent of the human population that reaches a higher level of awareness; maybe that will start spreading. We know that there are some indications … we know that when people meditate in a given environment, it’s called the Maharishi effect. Then when you reach about two percent of a city’s population or a community’s population of deep meditators, then all of a sudden crime rates seem to drop, divorce rates drop, also suicides—all in all these vital statistics of human well-being seem to improve. But again this is one very specific case of meditation and of two percent. What does it take for a human civilization with now 6.7 (or possibly more) billion people to transform their consciousness? What does it take to spread and how long does it take to spread? We don’t know. We do know that such a spreading has started already, the process is there, we don’t know whether it’s reached a critical mass to make a real difference on the global level and to make a real difference in time. That is to say, a real process of change can get underway before the roof falls in, so to speak: before this tipping point at the end of 2012.

Tami Simon: When you talk about a critical mass, that could of course be made up of the power of consciousness versus the number of individuals. It might not be a specific number of people because how would you measure the intensity of the consciousness of even fewer individuals?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, not just any kind of consciousness can create a positive change. We have to get the right kind of consciousness. By right kind I don’t mean too proscriptive. I just mean the kind of consciousness that makes people aware that they are not isolated individuals enclosed in their skin. And that their mind and spirit is not enclosed in the cranium, but that they are connected to others like a cell is connected to other cells in a living organism. That is sometimes known as a transpersonal consciousness, as the kind of consciousness that is open to information, open to relationships, which becomes aware of what is often expressed as oneness. But in a certain way expressed also as the whole idea of love. Love is a tendency, a desire, a trend toward belonging, toward oneness. And that kind of consciousness is the kind that can create relationships among people, that can create empathy, and that’s the kind of consciousness that could be powerful enough to change. Of course, if there are so very powerful people like this—spiritual leaders—they can, create a field of new consciousness, and that gets spread faster, of course. So obviously you’re quite right, the level of intensity does make a difference. But it’s the kind of consciousness that’s important above all. From the ego-enclosed selfish self-centered kind of consciousness to the transcendental, transcendent, transcending, and transpersonal kind of consciousness. I think that’s the key to our future.

Tami Simon: Now, as a systems theorist, we’ve talked about some of the systems in the biosphere and even the role of human consciousness. In these 2012 dialogs that we’ve been having, we’ve been talking to some people who are talking about the influence of galactic fields and alignments with various star systems, etc. And I’m curious if your work has included the impact of astronomical forces, unseen forces, the role potentially of unseen beings … that kind of thing.

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: I’m aware of it; I’m acquainted with these kind of ideas. As a scientist, I don’t know how we can actually test these or experiment with them. But certainly there are effects and indications that there are powerful influences acting on the human psyche. And that is not accidental … that is perhaps the process of waking up. So I’m well aware of this—the astronomical data would suggest that there are going to be real disturbances in the electromagnetic field and the dual-surface magnetic field, a possibility of the reversal of the poles of the planet by 2012. A number of things seem to come together at the end of 2012. There are also indications that our entire solar system is entering into a higher level of energy zone in the cosmos, more photons in cosmic space in this area. Some sensitives say that they can see us entering a cloud of light. So there are a number of things—some of them can be scientifically calculated, many of them require this kind of intuition that sensitive people have. That they all seem to point—and probably not entirely coincidental—point in the direction that there is a major change awaiting us in that period, near the end of 2012.

Tami Simon: Now Dr. Laszlo, you’ve been working with a lot of these ideas for quite some time, for many decades, and I’m curious to know what has happened win the last 10-20 years that has surprised you, that has seemed different than perhaps you would have expected earlier in your career?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, the processes are speeding up. I didn’t realize that they actually are speeding up to this extent. So individually many of these things are not calculable, not predictable. But the totality of what we have is a human, global, and civilizational process—a global civilization is taking shape before our eyes. There’s a global civil society emerging. The global political system is still based on national power, very often, but in certain respects is overcoming that. For example, the development of the European Union is to some extent faster than some skeptics, Euro-skeptics, would have foreseen. I was hoping that it might move in this direction. The level of information on the world is surprising—who would have foreseen that we would have this level of communication? The cell phone revolution, the Internet revolution. But really you have a global brain emerging in the world made up of all these cells that are intercommunicating which are individual human beings. This is faster and this was not really foreseeable. I recall not too long ago, maybe in the mid-1960’s, having a teleconference with some communications expert and another set of experts. I was asked to be one of them in Hamburg, Germany, talking about what would happen if you allow this network of networks to appear and be accessible by the public (which was tentatively known as the Internet, but people didn’t even know what it was, they just mentioned this a possible name for it). And at that point, you know, it’s incredible, and now of course we can hardly live without the Internet. There are certain things that you can only do through the Internet. I was just coming in from the airport to the studio where we are talking and I see on the side of a bus a sign that says you can book a cheap ticket on the bus, but only through the Internet. So nowadays there are a number of things you can’t even use any other means to get without using the Internet. And all this is a phenomenon that was not foreseeable … that was surprising.

Tami Simon: You know, several times you’ve mentioned the 6.7 billion people that are currently on the planet. And I’m curious if your research and investigation have come up with a certain ideal number of people that the earth can support—a limit to how many people?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Upper limit would probably under 10 billion—that really would be pushing it. I think 8 billion would have to work, because if you’re going to stop at anywhere less than 8 billion, that means that we would have to suffer a population dieback of catastrophic proportions. So we will have to prepare to support up to 8 billion people on this planetin maybe 20-30 years. It’s a very big question whether we can do that, whether we can even support the just under 7 billion that we now have. But it’s unlikely that the physical endowments of the planet would be capable of supporting, providing sufficient living space, sufficient physical resources, for much more than 8 billion people. Not a question of energy—energy there is plenty. You might be surprised to hear me say that but it’s an incredible flow of energy that the planet is bathed all the time, We are using a tiny, tiny fraction of that and as we learn to use more of it, this energy flow from the sun, we could support practically an unlimited population. But people don’t live on energy alone, obviously, you have to grow the food, our bodies still have a DNA structure of information that has been around now for 100,000 years or so, and we can’t change it at will. Be we can makes little cuts, little manipulations here and there, but we can’t rewire ourselves. Not in the foreseeable future. So we will still have to live on the planet, we have to take natural nourishment to live in the biosphere, and sue the resources of the biosphere. So when you take all these things into account, then you’d say yes, you’d better try to keep up to 8 billion people alive but that is the upper limit, and that is a very, very great challenge already.

Tami Simon: So we’re reaching that upper limit because of a lack in food and water supply, if it’s not energy that we’ll need?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Living space, quality of air, quality of the soil, availability of water (of course not just amount of water but the quality of water), it has to be clean water, non-polluted, etc. The temperatures have to be in the right range—think of the Earth, sometimes called the Gaia System, sometimes called Gaia, the living system, a quasi-living system. Think of it as an organism that has its own balances. If you press it too far, it’ll change. If we’re moving to another type of equilibrium, the system itself will survive, but it will no longer provide favorable conditions for a human population, certainly not for a large human population. How far do you press it? That’s the question. How many people it can keep alive? You press it too high (too high energy levels, too high temperature level, for example, too much drying out, too much heating up), then less and less people will be able to survive on this planet. Already some estimations by James Lovelock, the founder of the Gaia theory, speak of 5-6 hundred million people who will be the upper limit for living on this planet for the next ten thousand years. And now of course we have 6 thousand seven hundred million people, so this would be an enormous enormous dieback. Which is very questionable if the rest of population could survive when that many people would simply die out.

Tami Simon: This term that you’ve introduced that we’re in a decision window between now and the approximate time of 2012 … I’m sure for some people they feel like, “Hey, I can make decision about my life, and the state of awareness that I’m in and how I connect with others.” But that just doesn’t seem like it will be powerful enough to make a difference on the kind of level that you’re talking about, when we’re talking about population control and things that seem so out of my ability to influence. How would you respond to that?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Back to two notions. One is the beautiful saying by Gandhi, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” The other one is what is known as the Butterfly Effect. When you have an unstable system, a critically unstable system, with these chaotic attractors that I spoke about a moment ago, then very small changes can create very large effects andcan change the dynamic of the system. So don’t give up—everybody’s behavior can make a big change. The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt the power of a small group of people to change the world.” And then she added, “Nothing else ever did.”

So there we are, you know, in the last analysis: it’s what people do, what you and I and others do, how we behave. We’ve got to wake up to the fact that we are living on a finite planet, we are living on a living planet, and we have to interact with it as with a living organism. And we cannot go beyond its limits of what it can tolerate, because it will change. It’ll go on, but we may not go on.

Tami Simon: Can you explain the Butterfly Effect, from scientific perspective, and how that’s not just a piece of poetry that the flap of a butterfly affects the weather halfway around the world? I mean, it sounds nice, but is that really true?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: Well, not literally. I doubt the flap of a butterfly has really created a change in the weather, but in principle there is something like this. Think of it in the following way (there’s a nice image one can use): think of a whirlpool in a river, a small river or brook, and at one point it creates a whirlpool—the water goes round and round as it flows down. Then insert a leaf into this whirlpool and watch the movement of the leaf. Before it reaches the whirlpool it moves pretty predictably, it moves along the river, it can sometimes get into the back eddy and then it gets stuck. But as long as it moves in the main stream it’s moving down with the river. It gets into the whirlpool, and the whirlpool is a chaotic system, then the leaf starts going around and around. Now the leaf might keep going forever around and around, except that there’s a very tiny effect. Say you blow on it a little bit or there is a little pebble falling in or another leaf coming in. Just a tiny little effect, and it’s just enough to push that leaf a little bit further one direction or another, and all of a sudden the leaf either will fall back into the center or will move out of the whirlpool and disappear downstream. So a chaotic system is such a sensitive system—a tiny little input will change it. And every system that we’re dealing with has inputs, because they’re all systems that interact with their environment, and they all receive pushes and pulls of various kinds. Now when a system is stable, it rebalances those pushes and pulls, it keeps its equilibrium. But when it’s unstable, any little push or pull can create a decisive change, so the system all of a sudden jumps out of its equilibrium and moves into an entirely different kind of trajectory.

Tami Simon: And just one final question: you’ve been working on these questions of evolution and what happens at a point of chaos, for so many years, and I’m curious about both what motivates you and what sustains you?

Dr. Ervin Laszlo: I don’t know … it is something that is motivating me, something that is driving me. I feel that living in the midst of it we are living in a dynamic system with movement toward the critical point. It’s a very exciting process. If you’re pessimistic, then of course you say, “Well, what’s the use? ” But if you are pessimistic, you’re not really a good system thinker, because you look only at one side, you look at it as if it was a mechanistic system that’s bound to collapse. You’re dealing with a quasi-living system, a society and ecology, the whole planet. And this is a very exciting process. All of us, we have this tremendous power—to decide our destiny. It’s been said that our generation is the first that can decide whether we will be the last. But I could also say that our generation is the first that can decide whether we will be the first generation of a new civilization. This is now in our hands. We’re living in this chaotic system and it won’t stay like this forever—we either break down or we break through. And the difference is literally in our hands. It’s exciting and it’s wonderful and it’s sustainable and it drives me, and I’m sure that it drives others who realize that this is the case.

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