All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
— Blaise Pascal
For awhile now, I’ve been saving perspectives on humanity’s underlying and ultimate challenges.
Some of these viewpoints are explicitly stated—like John Maynard Keynes referring to mankind’s “permanent problem.” Others are implicit, and I’ve taken the liberty to organize them into common themes where it seems to make sense.
I see this article as a work in progress—forever in draft form—because I will continue to add more perspectives as I come across them.
Quick Note: The intention of this post isn’t to downplay issues you see in the mainstream media today like inequality, the climate crisis, nuclear war, artificial intelligence, or other existential risks/threats.
Instead, I’m simply curious:
- If humanity was to resolve some or all of those problems, then what? Are there more foundational human issues that lie underneath or beyond the urgent obstacles of today that are our ultimate challenges?
- Or, perhaps we need to look at it the other way around: Are there more foundational human issues that need to be addressed first in order to resolve the urgent obstacles of today?
A growing number of people are beginning to see and discuss scenario #2 (emphasis added here and throughout the post in bold):
We are unlikely to effectively solve these problems unless we truly understand their ultimate source: the human mind. In our view, to survive and flourish…we must look inward. In an era defined by human impact, the most pressing questions of this time are about ourselves.
The duration and prosperity of our species’ journey together on this planet will, in part, be determined by the extent to which we can come to understand our minds and apply the lessons we learn to how we live our lives.
— Nathaniel Barr & Gordon Pennycook (1)
Here’s what we’ll tackle: Click a link to jump to a section below
- Humanity’s Consciousness: Waking Up to Awareness & Transcendence
- Humanity’s Mind: Wisdom catching up with Science & Technology
- Humanity’s Work: Post-Workism, Abundance, & Leisure
- Humanity’s Nature: Aligning our Human Nature with Universal Nature
- Humanity’s Meaning: Individual & Collective Purpose
50+ Deep Perspectives on Humanity’s Underlying & Ultimate Challenge (Hint: Ourselves)
Humanity’s Consciousness: Waking Up to Awareness & Transcendence
1. “The first and overarching Big Problem is to make the Good Person. We must have better human beings or else it is quite possible that we may all be wiped out, and even if not wiped out, certainly live in tension and anxiety as a species … This Good Person can equally be called the self-evolving person, the responsible-for-himself-and-his-own-evolution person, the fully illuminated or awakened or perspicuous man, the fully human person, the self-actualizing person, etc.” — Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
2. “Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But man’s task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.” — Carl Jung
3. “For, as all exponents of the Perennial Philosophy have constantly insisted, man’s obsessive consciousness of, and insistence on being, a separate self is the final and most formidable obstacle to the unitive knowledge of God. To be a self is, for them, the original sin, and to die to self, in feeling, will and intellect, is the final and all inclusive virtue.” — Aldous Huxley
4. “Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant. It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine.” — Bob Samples
5. “Life in the 21st century demands mindfulness—getting to know ourselves better and seeing how we contribute to suffering in our own lives.” — Bill Gates on Yuval Noah Harari
6. “One great challenge of modern life is to find the staircase (consciousness / self-transcendence) amid all the clutter and then to do something good and noble once you climb to the top.” — Jonathan Haidt
7. “Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos.” — Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
8. “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better … and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed, whether it be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable.” — Václav Havel
9. “We traded our birthright as partners in the drama of the living mind of the planet for the broken pot shards of history, warfare and neurosis. If we do not quickly awaken to our predicament? Planetary catastrophe.” — Terence Mckenna
10. “Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment…” — Nikola Tesla
11. “The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.” — Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History
12. “The problem in the West is people want enlightenment to be fast, to be easy, and if possible, cheap.” — Matthieu Ricard quoting Dalai Lama
13. “There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy
14. “There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges – the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
15. “The mystics, saints, and others make great efforts to wake people up. If they don’t wake up, they’re always going to have these other minor ills like hunger, wars, and violence. The greatest evil is sleeping people, ignorant people … The only tragedy there is in the world is ignorance; all evil comes from that. The only tragedy there is in the world is unwakefulness and unawareness. From them comes fear, and from fear comes everything else.” — Anthony de Mello, Awareness
Humanity’s Mind: Wisdom catching up with Science & Technology
16. “There are more people on the planet today thinking for themselves than ever before … Now, for the first time, a huge massive number of people are thinking for themselves.” — Sadhguru
17. “The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” — Oscar Wilde
18. “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.” — Henry Ford
19. “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” — Albert Einstein
20. “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” — Isaac Asimov
21. “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” — E. O. Wilson
22. “We are living in space-age times with people who are living with Stone Age minds.” — Daryl Davis
23. “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall … until we answer those huge questions of philosophy that the philosophers abandoned a couple of generations ago—Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?—rationally.” — E. O. Wilson
24. “Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign.” — Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History
25. “The most urgent problems of our world today are the problems we have made for ourselves. They are human problems whose solutions will require us to change our behavior and our social institutions.” — George Miller
26. “The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.” — Charlie Munger
27. “When I think about the world today and the challenges facing mankind, I don’t think the problems are technical. I think they’re human.” — Nichol Bradford
28. “In order to make peace with technology, we have to make peace with ourselves.” — Tristan Harris
29. “Responding to a radical crisis that threatens our very survival – this is humanity’s challenge now. The dysfunction of the egoic human mind, recognized already more than 2,500 years ago by the ancient wisdom teachers and now magnified through science and technology, is for the first time threatening the survival of the planet.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Humanity’s Work: Post-Workism, Abundance, & Leisure
30. “Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” — John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren
31. “Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen instead to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines. In this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever.” — Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness
32. “In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.” — Peter Drucker
33. “The great challenge of the twenty-first century is to raise people everywhere to a decent standard of living while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible.” — E. O. Wilson
34. “Reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.” — Bill Gates
35. “Abundance is harder for us to handle than scarcity.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
36. “Most of modern life, all our diseases, are diseases of abundance, not diseases of scarcity.” — Naval Ravikant
37. “Creativity is the last frontier … automation over a long enough period of time will replace every non-creative job … that’s great news. That means that all of our basic needs are taken of, and what remains for us is to be creative, which is really what every human wants.” — Naval Ravikant
38. “The machines came and took away the power of your muscle. Now machines are coming which will take away the power of your memory (referring to intelligence/intellect) … in the future, the only thing that matters is what kind of a human being are you?” — Sadhguru
Humanity’s Nature: Aligning our Human Nature with Universal Nature
39. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” — Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
40. “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'” — Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut
41. “Priorities must be Planet-Society-Economy as opposed to Economy-Society-Planet … The reality of the world we live in is that the economy is the wholly owned subsidiary of the biosphere.” — Ron Garan, Astronaut
42. “Driven by greed, ignorant of their connectedness to the whole, humans persist in behavior that, if continued unchecked, can only result in their own destruction.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
43. “There are no borders or boundaries on our planet except those that we create in our minds or through human behaviors. All the ideas and concepts that divide us when we are on the surface begin to fade from orbit and the moon. The result is a shift in worldview, and in identity.” — Frank White
44. “Your definition of the word ‘home’ would rapidly expand to encompass the planet in its entirety, and for the first time, you might fully understand what it means to be one human family.” — Ron Garan, Astronaut
45. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” — John Muir
46. “I’ve often heard people say: ‘I wonder what it would feel like to be on board a spaceship,’ and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth.” — Buckminster Fuller
47. “Earth is not a platform for human life. It’s a living being. We’re not on it but part of it. Its health is our health.” — Thomas Moore
48. “In the 1980s, simplicity was seen primarily as ‘downshifting,’ or pulling back from the rat race of consumer society. Several decades later, there is a growing recognition of simplicity as ‘upshifting’ — or moving beyond the rat race to the human race.” — Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity
49. “The solution for a lot of the world’s problems may be to turn around and take a forward step.” — Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia
50. “Humanity can still prosper for 150,000 years … but this depends on choosing a voluntary simplicity … growing qualitatively, not quantitatively.” — Matthieu Ricard
51. “Voluntary simplicity does not mean a return to a more primitive past but rather a movement ahead to a more sophisticated, compassionate, and collaborative future.” — Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity
Humanity’s Meaning: Individual & Collective Purpose
52. “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” — Joseph Campbell
53. “As the concerns of survival recede, human beings will naturally evolve into perceiving higher things.” — Sadhguru
54. “For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” — Viktor Frankl
55. “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
56. “Only a small proportion of the human population gets to the point of identity, or of selfhood, full humanness, self-actualization, etc., even a society like ours which is relatively one of the most fortunate on the face of the earth. This is our great paradox. We have the impulse toward full development of humanness. Then why is it that it doesn’t happen more often? What blocks it?” — Abraham Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature
57. “He (Maslow) defined self-actualization as discovering what you are meant to do and committing to the ardor of pursuing it with excellence. The purpose of free society, I would suggest, is to systematically increase the percentage of people who do exactly that.” — Jim Collins
58. “Despite the severity of our physical problems, our deepest challenge is to overcome an invisible crisis: a lack of collective consensus and cohesion around a compelling sense of purpose.” — Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity
59. “The most foundational challenge facing humanity is not devising solutions to the energy crisis or climate crisis; rather, it is bringing visions and narratives of the human journey into our collective awareness that empower us to look beyond a future of great adversity and to see a future of great opportunity.” — Duane Elgin
60. “As tribal cultures developed into the ancient civilizations, certain functions began to be allotted to certain people: ruler, priest or priestess, warrior, farmer, merchant, craftsman, laborer, and so on. A class system developed. Your function, which in most cases you were born into, determined your identity, determined who you were in the eyes of others, as well as in your own eyes. Your function became a role, but it wasn’t recognized as a role: It was who you were, or thought you were. Only rare beings at the time, such as the Buddha or Jesus, saw the ultimate irrelevance of caste or social class, recognized it as identification with form and saw that such identification with the conditioned and the temporal obscured the light of the unconditioned and eternal that shines in each human being. In our contemporary world, the social structures are less rigid, less clearly defined than they used to be. Although most people are, of course, still conditioned by their environment, they are no longer automatically assigned a function and with it an identity. In fact, in the modern world, more and more people are confused as to where they fit in, what their purpose is, and even who they are.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
61. “Many people who are going through the early stages of the awakening process are no longer certain what their outer purpose is. What drives the world no longer drives them. Seeing the madness of our civilization so clearly, they may feel somewhat alienated from the culture around them. Some feel that they inhabit a no-man’s land between two worlds. They are no longer run by the ego, yet the arising awareness has not yet become fully integrated into their lives. Inner and outer purpose have not merged.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
62. “Then comes the reconciliation of outer and inner purpose: to bring that essence – consciousness – into the world of form and thereby transform the world. The ultimate purpose of that transformation goes far beyond anything the human mind can imagine or comprehend. And yet, on this planet at this time, that transformation is the task allotted us. That is the reconciliation of outer and inner purpose, the reconciliation of the world and God.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Concluding Thought: Start with Yourself
Let’s say you want to change the world. How can you start changing humanity’s consciousness, mind, work, nature, and meaning?
Paradoxically, the best place to start is with yourself.
- “Busy remaking the world, man forgot to remake himself.” — Andrei Platonov
- “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” — Rumi
- “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” — Aldous Huxley
- “It’s easier to change yourself than to change the world … Live the life you want other people to live.” — Naval
- “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” — Robert M. Pirsig
If it’s true that “the macrocosm reflects the microcosm,” then you’d see the cumulative and compounding effects of more and more humans taking personal responsibility for their own lives.
- “Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world.” — Sri Ramana Maharshi
- “To end the misery that has afflicted the human condition for thousands of years, you have to start with yourself and take responsibility for your inner state at any given moment. That means now.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
- “The character of a society is the cumulative result of the countless small actions taken day in and day out, by millions of persons. Small changes that may seem unimportant in isolation are of transformative significance when adopted by an entire society.” — Duane Elgin
- “There is something greater than history. Somewhere, sometime, in the name of humanity, we must challenge a thousand evil precedents, and dare to apply the Golden Rule to nations.” — Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History
What do you think is humanity’s ultimate challenge? Please let me know in the comments.
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Also published on Medium.