I’ve been tracking the progress of The Consilience Project since the first time I heard social philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger mention it.
Consider this 101 post your “quick start guide”—what you should know before you jump into the deep end of the site itself.
🔒 If you want to go deeper, Premium members also have access to my The Consilience Project synthesis—highlights from my reading of the first 18 articles on the site.
Here’s a list of all the external sources referenced to compile this post:
- The Consilience Project (Main Project Website)
- Civilization Research Institute (“Parent Company” Website)
- Civilization Emerging (Daniel’s Personal Website)
- Overview from Helena (Founding Partner Website)
- Daniel on Social Media (Personal Facebook Profile)
- Daniel on the Foresight Institute | Apr 2021 (YouTube)
- Daniel on Dent | Apr 2021 (SoundCloud)
- Daniel on the Jim Rutt Show | Apr 2021 (YouTube)
- Pre-Launch 20-Slide Deck | Aug 2020 (Issuu)
- Pre-Launch Executive Summary (Google Doc)
- Pre-Launch Project Support (Google Doc)
The Consilience Project 101: An Introduction to the Catalyzing of a Cultural Renaissance
What are consilience and The Consilience Project?
What does “consilience” mean?
“In science and history, consilience is the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can ‘converge’ on strong conclusions. That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own.”
- “Why do we say consilience? That word means being able to take many different perspectives—different epistemic and values perspectives on the same topic—and get different insights about that topic. You actually get a richer, more multidimensional understanding through taking many perspectives. Rather than the idea that the perspectives are here to debate or fight with each other and one is going to win, we actually want to take all of them that we can. This is diversity and then synthesis.”
What is The Consilience Project?
The Consilience Project aims to:
Catalyze a cultural renaissance/enlightenment toward higher-quality sensemaking.
- Restore the health of our information commons by promoting public dialogue, civic virtue and participatory governance—the foundations of a functional democratic society.
- Seek to empower individuals to become more resilient to media manipulation, more capable of understanding the world, and able to meaningfully participate in creating the new culture and institutions that can address humanity’s needs in this next phase.
- Develop the full human capacities and orientations needed for effective, emergent governance adequate to the novelty and scope of the current problems and catastrophic risks we collectively face.
- Non-profit media organization.
- Not a news organization looking for newsworthy stories; instead looking for real epistemic opportunities and cultural leverage points.
- Two general branches/arms: 1. publishing and 2. movement-building.
- Publishing: will create a transmedia body of social theory and philosophy including articles, podcasts, videos, etc.
- Movement-building: will identify and “signal boost” groups/organizations that already exist and are working on facets of the new cultural enlightenment.
- No paywall: open access to all content.
- 5-year project lifespan: goal is not to be the center of a movement, but rather to support enough decentralized activity that the project is no longer needed.
Personal Favorite Descriptions:
Maybe it’s the ex-marketer in me, but I feel like The Consilience Project needs some punchy taglines to pique interest and clearly communicate their benefits. This section outlines some of my favorites so far.
- “We are living on the battlefield of an information war.”
- “Our goal isn’t just to provide better information, but to help people to improve their own information processing so they can better detect bias and disinformation.”
- “The project seeks to reboot the integrity of open society by advancing collective intelligence.”
- “The Consilience Project goes beyond and behind the news to provide consequential information about the world, and equips people with the evolving skills necessary to understand it.”
- “The aim is to change the trajectory of the public sphere from the radical descent of recent decades to an ascent towards a culture capable of participatory governance.”
Perhaps the most compelling way I’ve heard Daniel Schmachtenberger describe The Consilience Project to date is that it’s helping people develop a “memetic immune system”—less memetic hijacking, more cognitive and emotional sovereignty.
- “One of the things that happens as people start to get the aspect of media literacy is that they get a memetic immune system—they see that the thing that’s being called ‘news’ and even a lot of what’s being called ‘communication of science’ is actually narrative and info war for specific economic or political agendas. And, they start to recognize the tools of that like cherry-picking of data, or decontextualization of a fact, or Lakoff framing the fact—all that will make it through a fact checker and you can still lie with that stuff.”
- “So, they’ll be able to start to recognize that they are victims of a narrative war camp more than they are sovereign thinkers. So, the goal is that they can recognize it and have an immune system against it—a memetic, epistemic immune system—and then also develop the epistemic tools needed to actually make sense of complex topics.”
- “It’s not good guy, bad guy. Across the whole space, there’s a competition that creates distortions based on partial truths, or based on partial value sets. When they can start to see that and get out of it, then we start to create a new third pole outside of the polarity of people that can operate at the level of synthesis rather than thesis/antithesis. And, that becomes the strange attractor of culture.”
Key Problems & Success Criteria
What are the main problem areas addressed?
Democracy depends on the foundational capacities—public education and news—for collective sensemaking. A government of, for and by the people must equip individuals with the basic ability to make sense of the issues that need government response.
Our information ecology is polluted:
- Institutional decay, perverse incentives and the disruptive effect of new information technologies have contributed to a breakdown in sensemaking so complete that even the base facts of most critical issues are disputed.
- Rather than providing effective information to address the challenges at hand, our current media environment drives largely polarization, misinformation and outrage.
- State and non-state actors have come to use the new media landscape as an arena for information and narrative warfare, making citizens the contested territory of the great power game.
Historical problem-solving processes fail to capture the complexity of the modern problem landscape:
- It is precisely the novelty of the problem landscape that has impaired the ability of current social theories and institutions to provide solutions.
- The institutions to which people would turn to make sense of risks and organize collectively to address them are outdated at best and usually also corrupt.
- Cultural and institutional decay continues to advance, while our real problems and catastrophic risks rapidly accelerate in complexity and scale.
Domain-specific solutions often lead to externalities / second-order effects across complex systems:
- Our legacy problem-solving processes define problems in narrow ways that give rise to solutions that cause new problems as externalities.
- Current debate surrounding risks, breakdowns, and systemic failures remains focused on specific domains and fails to take into account the inevitable second-order effects.
Modern problems are interlinked and cross-domain:
- The problems we face at this moment in history are spread across many domains, and the solutions needed to address them must correspond to the underlying generator functions at their root.
- In the fields of technology, finance, military, civil society, public culture, and the media, problems of coordination and incentive have become profoundly interlinked, giving rise to new catastrophic risks.
- The world is facing unprecedented catastrophic risks, arising from the intersection of exponential technologies, planetary boundaries, geopolitical instability, and economic and supply chain fragility.
We need new problem-solving and coordinated choice-making capacities:
- We need fundamentally new problem-solving and coordinated choice-making capacities that are adequate to address the novel complexity, extent, rate of change, and significance of the issues we now face.
- To mitigate the risks we face, humanity will need to develop new forms of social life based on new technology and updated approaches to problem-solving and coordinated choice-making.
- Beneath these changes will be new forms of social theory, to allow our collective ability to make sense of the world to keep pace.
What does success look like?
Success is the emergence of a truly decentralized cultural renaissance that elevates collective intelligence and cooperation to a level commensurate with the issues humanity faces.
The markers of success / essence this project hopes to imbue include:
- Increase sense of hope that individuals can make sense of things.
- Increase desire to learn and capacity to understand the world.
- Increase the quality of public sense-making and good faith civil discourse.
- Increase personal agency and resilience to media manipulation.
- Decrease polarization/tribalism and outraged certainty on all sides.
- Desire to think more clearly and critically and holistically.
- Desire contribute meaningfully and to find ways to authentically engage.
- Seriousness about the issues we face.
- Greater clarity on what a healthy culture is and why it is upstream from all the problems that need to be addressed.
- Sense of a way forward that is not partisan, that doesn’t serve class or market interests, that has both wholesomeness and capacity, that has the kinds of virtue and intelligence that can inspire people to develop themselves and transcend cynicism—towards a civilization that can actually coordinate effectively and solve problems.
Crucially, success will only be realized by acting as a catalyzing agent for a larger cultural movement:
- Social theory and an improved awareness of problem space is only the foundation for a wider cultural movement that is needed to fix the sensemaking and meaning-making processes at the base of our culture today.
- Our movement-catalyzing arm seeks to facilitate the work of projects addressing issues in education, journalism, open-science, social media and information technology.
- The cultural shift needed to do this will require a movement commensurate with the technologies and actors exerting the damage.
- A movement at this scale must be decentralized and spread far beyond the immediate reach of The Consilience Project.
3 Types of Articles
“We want readers to feel that each piece of content mattered and increased their understanding of the world. And across many pieces, that they feel an increasing capacity to make sense of the world in general being developed.”
1. Theory / Foundation Series:
Lays the groundwork for an open, earnest conversation that is adequate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
- Provides the framework to understand what society must preserve from social theories and the lessons of history—and what must be updated for a global civilization to survive.
- Explores the systems of social organization that brought us to this point—and what might need to come next.
- Explores the design constraints and possible structures of new institutions and social systems.
2. MetaNews Analysis:
The news attempts to make sense of the world; MetaNews attempts to make sense of the news.
- Exposes and makes explicit the fundamental reality of the media landscape: explaining motives, biases, polarization, propaganda, misinformation, and narrative manipulation.
- Aims to make sense of consequential issues: how polarization/fragmentation developed, the techniques/dynamics in use, etc.
- Equips readers with practical insights, patterns, and principles: deepening individuals’ understanding of what they see or read and making them feel comfortable undertaking their own assessment of the news.
3. Situational Assessments:
Explore the theory described in the Foundations series from the perspective of consequential current events.
- Focuses on discrete topics of significance and consequential current events occurring around the world—providing a clear situational overview of the topic alongside deep insight and analysis.
- Identifies all of the relevant facts and perspectives of a given topic, places them within the appropriate contexts, and outlines the theoretical models that explain why and how certain things happen or do not happen.
- Aims to give the reader enough raw information to be adequately informed on a topic; in addition, it seeks to provide a dynamic understanding of the factors involved, which can be applied independently to past, present, or future situations.
The Consilience Papers:
The interlinked articles of all three types are collectively referred to as The Consilience Papers, which once complete will form an open body of knowledge on questions of societal design and existential risk.
- Guides a flow of knowledge from underlying theory, through current events to the issues that have become highly polarized and drive social conflict.
- Outlines the problems civilization faces now and moving forward—both where they are continuous with and wholly distinct from the types of problems that have been faced in the past.
- Provides scaffolding for a cultural movement toward higher-quality sensemaking and collective problem-solving.
Stay tuned for a future 201 post where I’ll read, summarize, and synthesize all of the articles currently on The Consilience Project site.
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- 35+ Deep Daniel Schmachtenberger Quotes on Civilization Design, Game Theory, Sense-Making, Sovereignty, & More
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