Nicholas Hedlund & Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (Part 1) – Grappling with the Metacrisis: Understanding and Responding Effectively to the Great Challenges of Our Time

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens Nicholas Hedlund Grappling with the Metacrisis

Nicholas Hedlund & Sean Esbjörn-Hargens are big picture philosophers with extraordinary big hearts as well as big minds, dedicated to understanding how consciousness, culture, and nature relate to each other, and to forging a path for the Earth and civilization to flourish rather than fall apart. In this dialogue, the world of metatheories comes alive with urgent, purposeful meaning, because as Sean and Nick point out, integrative metatheories like Ken Wilber’s integral theory and Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism are the only tools that provide a useful framework for us to talk about and confront the vast web of interrelated and wicked problems we face on every level at this time. Now, we are only just beginning to understand the nature of the metacrisis—how the external crises are driven by interior crises of sensemaking and meaning making—but how do we bring everyone to the table to find solutions? How do we get the wisdom of these approaches to bear upon the crises we face? 

It turns out that heart connection—love, caring, and being willing to listen and to change—is a crucial, key ingredient for us to move forward in a positive way. Nick and Sean express both heartbreak and wild enthusiasm—heartbreak that our entire planetary community is so threatened and we have only a small window of time (till 2030) to transform our consciousness and culture into taking a cooperative and reverent approach to life, and enthusiasm to be alive at this pivotal time where everything hangs in the balance. Recorded December 7, 2022.

“We really need both—we need big Heart to connect and be friends with each other and love each other and we need that in equal measure to big Mind.”

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Topics & Time Stamps – Part 1

  • Introducing philosophers Nicholas Hedlund & Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, who coined the term metacrisis (01:30)
  • Nick’s mystical experiences early on and awareness of the crisis the Earth is facing led him to find a way to study the big picture beyond the partial perspectives offered in different university departments (02:57)
  • For Nick, the metacrisis is connected with his own spiritual path and the questions “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “What does it mean to be human at this time?” (06:34)
  • Sean started with studying animal consciousness, then added philosophy, psychology, and biology for an interdisciplinary understanding, focusing on ways of relating to the natural world—environmental philosophy (07:10)
  • Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory brought Sean into deeper contact with nature, culture, and consciousness, and opened his heart (10:45)
  • Nick & Sean coined the term “metacrisis” to illuminate more than simply the sum of all the crises, but also how they overlap and intertwine: the holistic complexity (13:01)
  • Wicked problems: if we solve any of the crises, the solution grows more problems (14:45)
  • All the crises share a network of root causes, deeper causal structures that underlie the symptoms we are experiencing—crises of  interiority & spirituality, sensemaking & meaning making, are drivers of the rest (15:17)
  • Our global problems are actually global symptoms (16:55)
  • Nick & Sean created a big picture symposium series where scholars/practitioners familiar with Roy Bashkar’s critical realism and Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory (and familiar with the work of Edgar Morin, who uses the term “polycrisis”) came together to dialogue (17:45)
  • The value of integrative metatheory: bringing the metacrisis into view, exploring the relationship between culture, consciousness, and nature, allowing us to actually talk about the situation and coordinate ourselves into action (19:18)
  • Why is having a good theory of ontology (Bashkar’s critical realism) and of consciousness (Wilber’s Integral Theory) necessary? (21:54)
  • Ontology = the study of reality, the study of being, the truth of things beyond our knowledge about them vs. epistemology which is our knowledge—how we know the world and gain knowledge about reality (22:48)
  • Critical realism: there is something real, a deep strata, beyond what we see or observe (24:44)
  • What are some of the great challenges and the core elements of the metacrisis? (26:05)
  • The ecological crisis and sense of urgency because we have crossed many of the planetary boundaries, e.g. with CO2 (28:40)
  • The ecosocial crisis, the ethical crisis, the existential crisis form the (external) polycrisis (30:17)
  • The epistemic crisis of sensemaking is an internal crisis (31:29)
  • Worldview clashes and an Integral forestry story of successfully building communication: taking perspectives, seeking perspectives, and coordinating perspectives (32:50)

Resources & References – Part 1

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Sean Esbjörn-Hargens Metacrisis

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens is a global leader in the application of integrative thinking to leader development, organizational design, and mixed-methods design. In 2011 he founded MetaIntegral, a social impact network that supports change leaders around the world in applying integrative principles. Sean’s passion lies at the intersection of design, integral theory, and embodiment. He has published and edited numerous articles, chapters, and books. His most recent book is Big Picture Perspectives on Planetary Flourishing. He also is the Program Director of the MA/PhD program Integral Noetic Sciences at the California Institute for Human Sciences.

Nicholas Hedlund Metacrisis

Nicholas Hedlund, PhD, is a visionary philosopher working at the nexus of philosophy of science, worldviews, and socioecological transformation. He received his PhD in philosophy and social sciences from University College London, studying under the philosopher Roy Bhaskar. Nicholas also holds a master’s degree in philosophy & religion, as well as one in psychology. He is director of Eudaimonia Institute, an emerging social innovations lab for planetary flourishing. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and peer-reviewed journals. He is co-editor of Metatheory for the Twenty-First Century: Critical Realism and Integral Theory in Dialogue and Big Picture Perspectives for Planetary Flourishing: Metatheory for the Anthropocene, Vol I. He currently teaches at the California Institute of Human Science. 

Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos and Show Notes by Heidi Mitchell

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