Evolving the Future

The future conditions for humanity will be shaped in profound ways by how people think, feel, and coordinate their actions in the world today. This truism carries both great promise (for influencing the emergence of desired outcomes) and great need for caution (as there are many complexities and ethical concerns that complicate such efforts).

Every community that strives to become more prosperous, healthy, and resilient must grapple with the patterns of thought and behavior that influence their unfolding future while also discerning the causal mechanisms that drive change across multiple levels of their society. Historically, the sciences that study these change patterns have remained divided into disciplinary silos where insights from one domain have yet to be integrated with findings from other domains.

As an example, the behavioral sciences have researchers who study relational frame theory as a way to systematically explore how thoughts, feelings, and actions function together in the mind of an individual as they go about their lives. This large body of work informs how therapeutic interventions and educational programs get implemented for individuals and small groups in many diverse settings.

At the same time, there is a considerable amount of knowledge about ecological change from the physical sciences in fields like biology, geology, and atmospheric science that explore the population dynamics of social groups as they adapt to changes in their environments.

Real human communities are impacted by both the conceptual frameworks that influence social behavior within the minds of people and the ecological processes of the natural environment in which their communities are embedded. In order to build viable programs that coordinate action, practitioners will need to draw upon both areas of knowledge.

In their paper, Evolving the Future: Toward A Science of Intentional Change, an interdisciplinary team of scholars outlined an evolutionary approach informed by behavior analysis that holds the promise for designing tools that communities can use to guide their collective evolution. The point being that only when research findings are integrated across disciplinary fields will it become possible to attempt the management of real-world social complexity.

We are building a platform for this knowledge synthesis with a special emphasis on its translation into effective practices that can be used by change practitioners. Our rationale is simple: the global convergence of threats to humanity are so urgent and serious that change processes cannot be left to chance. Intentional efforts will be needed if we are to achieve planetary sustainability in any realizable form.

The Center for Applied Cultural Evolution is here to help curate, integrate, and translate knowledge from many scientific fields so that these intentional efforts have the best chance of success. Nothing less than the future of life on Earth is at stake here. And only the best knowledge available will suffice to help as communities all over the world struggle to achieve (or preserve) health and resilience in the midst of unprecedented global changes that are now occurring.

Further Reading

Biglan, A. & Y. Barnes-Holmes, Acting in light of the future: How do future-oriented cultural practices evolve and how can we accelerate their evolution? Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science 4 (2015) pp. 184-195.

Wilson, D.S., S.C. Hayes, A. Biglan, & D.D. Embry, Evolving the future: toward a science of intentional change. Behavioral and Brain Sciences Vol 37 No 4 (2014).