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The Heart of a 


Mandala by graphic artist Marianne Murphy

 Diagram by Cyril Rothenberg


Our Mission


The Institute seeks to accelerate cultural and social transformation by promoting the search for wisdom in everyday life, education and politics. This work is at the heart of an evolutionary, political cosmology.


The Big Picture of evolutionary cosmology shows us humanity, today, poised on the edge of an epic transformation: either a spiraling down into ecocide and catastrophe or an ascending into a wisdom-based way of being in mutually enhancing relationship with the living Earth. The same evolutionary story reveals the search for wisdom as the uniquely defining quality of humanity's place in the community of being. We envision cultivating the practices of the search as the core of a new way of life in synergy with a flourishing Earth community.


In the Beginning...

Some fourteen billion years ago, the entire cosmos, what would become the great wheeling galaxies with their trillions of blazing suns, burst into being from a single point, in an unimaginably violent, unfathomably immense explosion of light and energy. Since that "Great Flaring Forth" the universe has been expanding, cooling, and growing in complexity…and consciousness. The delicate beauty of birds, flowers, forests, and oceans, the glories and tragedies of self-conscious humanity—all of this grows out of that single, infinitely mysterious, explosive beginning. The cosmos is not so much a place as it is a continually unfolding event. The discovery that the entire universe is evolving, growing from the utter simplicity of the Big Bang towards ever greater complexity-consciousness over vast expanses of time, has been called the limiting case of credulity. If you can believe this, you can believe just about anything. Yet our best science tells us it is so. The foundation of our new cosmology is that we wake up within the singularity of an evolving universe which created us culture-creating humans. We are living inside a miracle.

Blue Dragon or Sea Swallow

14 Billion years of evolution produced our companions in mystery like this Blue Dragon or Sea Swallow: The elegant, electric blue Swallow swims on the ocean surface, eating bluebottles storing their stinging cells in its own body to repel predators. It is found in one of the most diverse ocean ecosystems in the world, the coastal kelp forests off Cape Point, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Craig Foster.


A political cosmology is a worldview that functions as a reality map. It guides both the individual and the society in distinguishing reality from illusion, delusion and wishful thinking. A cosmology also includes a story of origins and destiny answering the big questions of life--Who am I? Where do I come from? Where are we going? And most critically---how should we all live together?


No individual and no society can flourish without a functional cosmology.   

Our current global political cosmology, rooted in 17th century thinking is failing. A new compelling cosmology is being fashioned in the wings but it is not yet center stage.   We are in crisis because were are between worldviews.  It is a crisis of unprecedented scale and depth, affecting all disciplines of knowledge, all areas of political, social and economic life. Most critically the old worldview, still ruling by default, is destroying the last intact wilderness ecosystems on Earth and with them the possibility of human flourishing.

The crisis is compounded by the  fact that we have no accepted method for constructing and truth grounding a worldview. Science has almost nothing to say about values and meaning. The humanities have been relegated to the sidelines. In the meanwhile the vacuum of meaning is filled with defunct ideologies, religious dogma, self-serving illusion and conspiracy theories. The outcome is widespread confusion, despair, mass delusion and violence.

None of our most critical issues are matters of technology or resources. Our crisis is a crisis of consciousness of meaning and values. How do we know what is real? How can we come to consensus about what is true, good and beautiful? What is virtue? What is wisdom and how do we pass it on to the next generation? Without answers to these questions we don't have a chance. As the philosopher of education Zak Stein observed: "Paideia comes before politics; it is the deep code of civilization. Failure of  education is the meta-crisis."  


for clarifying and grounding meaning and value in a reality-based worldview. A grounding in reality---a rough consensus regarding what is good and true--is a pre-condition for thriving individually and collectively.

The four practices of truth seeking comprise a single, dynamic complex which unfolded quite suddenly  in the evolution of self-reflective consciousness about100,000 years ago. This leap into the most unique and defining aspect of what it means to be human, emerged from the rich wilderness ecosystems along the rivers, lakes and beaches of the Southern African veld.  Consciousness was incubated within the beauty of wild nature.

The four primal practices can be represented as four quarters of a circle--a mandala--one of the oldest and most ubiquitous of cultural symbols.

The four practices are:

1) The Big Story; the Big Picture: Only the story, unlike theory, can symbolize unique events unfolding in time. Small stories of individuals, societies and cultures are nested within the big story of human creation from a living Earth, within an evolving universe. The larger context, the bigger story gives meaning to the individual part. 

2) Individuation and self knowledge: This is the process by which a person explores life and finds meaning through  seeking out and integrating archetypal  life experiences and sharing them through the personal story in community.

3) Face-to-face discussion as a mode of sharing, expanding and reality-grounding our life-experience and personal world view.

4) Democratic participation in community life. This includes community building, culture creation and collective decision making as a reality grounding practice.


This dynamic complex  can be seen as the core of the self-organizing capacities of  Homo sapiens--a highly individuated and socially complex species. It anchors creative imagination, individual autonomy, symbolic mind-sharing and collective action.  This dynamic can be seen clearly as ordering practices in many hunting-gathering societies and to varying degrees in small scale Indigenous cultures. The complex seems to reappear at labile moments in the history of civilization when worldviews start failing, crack open, and allow the primordial dynamic of truth-seeking to surface.

The practices of the truth quest flourish under particular political-economic conditions: small scale, self-sustaining, decentralized, face-to-face, democratic and egalitarian communities where individuals still live with direct experience of the wild Earth that birthed the human. The

Each practices has a particular focus but all are interconnected in the life of a whole human being in community. One cannot be practiced without the other three.

The Institute works to help catalyze the immense transition to a new worldview by promoting specific primordial practices of wisdom seeking as the core of a planetary paideiaEducation in its broadest aspect becomes the driver of radical social change.  In this way the truth quest works both as a personal search for meaning, the core of a way of life and as a method of cosmology building.


Means and ends join as the practice of the search itself becomes the heart of the better life we seek.


“We are moving into a time of steel-gripped necessity—a time of intense planetary compression . . . the world is becoming a super-heated pressure cooker in which the human family is crushed by the combined and unrelenting forces of an expanding world population, a dramatically destabilized global climate, dwindling supplies of non-renewable resources and mounting environmental pollution. The circle has closed and there is nowhere to escape . . . The world will seem to be going insane . . . and because we are wired in global telecommunication networks, all of this suffering will take place right in front of us. The electronic intimacy of television and the internet will intensify the pain by showing us the global dimension of our local suffering. These forces are so unyielding, and the stresses they will place on our world are so extreme, that human civilization will either descend into chaos or ascend in a spiraling process of profound transformation.”


Duane Elgin wrote this prescient description of the global crisis in 1993 in "Awakening Earth: Exploring  the Evolution of Culture and Consciousness."  This is an example of the sort of prophetic insight fostered by the bigger picture, the larger evolutionary story.


​​​The most glaring fact of our global crisis,  hidden in plain sight, is that our ruling worldview is absurdly obsolete. 17th century Liberal philosophers assumed that the role of the human was to convert the natural world into valuable commodities. They believed humans were recent arrivals on Earth created by God on the sixth day of creation to do what we wished with nature. In the words of John Locke, wilderness was "waste," without value or meaning until transformed by human labor into valuable private property. 


Our global, industrial--capitalist-consumerist way of life still embodies assumptions rooted in a centuries old reality map---what political philosophers call Classical Liberalism. By 1500 the political authority of West European Feudalism was collapsing. Centuries of a slow rolling holocaust---famines, peasant revolts, religious wars and then out breaks of the bubonic plague which killed one third to one half of the European population--turned Europe into what one historian called "a half-demented hell-hole." Revolutions took place in all areas of life. Liberal philosophers responded to this collective trauma and breakdown in authority by creating a revolutionary theory of government and economics. This centered around liberating  the individual from the superstition and tyranny of feudalism---the divine right of Kings, oppressive aristocracy and a corrupt  Church.















The exclusive focus on liberty meant neglecting responsibilities and duties. In a bold act of wishful thinking, Liberal philosophers proposed that the invisible hand of the market could dispense with altruism; that the market would  automatically convert private profit seeking into the best possible outcome for all.  This meant the primary function of government could be reduced to protecting rights and freedoms of the individual, or more bluntly, as Adam Smith put it, 'to protect the rich from the poor.'

For all its achievements it is now becoming obvious, to those with the fortitude to look at the larger picture, that continued obedience to this  worldview means catastrophe.

The point is not to throw out Liberalism but to miniaturize, encapsulate  and transcend its truths in a much deeper, more expanded understanding of reality-consciousness-culture. A more attuned way of life on Earth follows. 

In meanwhile the crisis is compounded by the relentless shrinking of public education into job-training and work-force development. Solutions based on the old cosmology simply make things worse. Effective action is blocked by self-interest, religious and ideological dogma and partisan power politics, leaving us paralyzed as we confront the abomination of human choices driving the sixth great mass extinction of life on Earth.


Our political culture is fragmented by the small scale of paradigm bound, self-interested thinking. We are overwhelmed by the immensity of our problems. Lacking an effective method for building and re-thinking cosmologies, education becomes the meta-crisis. The work of the Institute is to offer the search for wisdom, or the truth quest, as the foundation of public education and the primary process of cosmology construction. We promote education as  the driver of radical social transformation.





Amidst the chaos, we find at the leading edge of our best science an epic creation story which dwarfs in scale, grandeur and precision all past cosmologies. It provides a meta-narrative, an all-inclusive frame, constructed from the astounding revolutions in astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry and psychology. The great discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, Darwin, Mendel, Einstein and others tell of the underlying unity in the diversity of life forms; how humans share genetic coding with all living creatures; how all life, as well as the Earth itself, is made from elements manufactured in colossal stellar explosions. The stars are literally our ancestors; human beings are the self-reflective consciousness of the growing, living Universe.


The fact that humanity emerged from the living tissue of the Earth over immensities of time contradicts the founding assumptions of the ruling worldview of Liberalism and its way of life. But we can be encouraged by the fact that the new cosmology resonates with some of the deep wisdom of primal and indigenous societies which defined what it meant to be human for so long. This reminds us that the natural world is the primary sacred community; that consciousness and culture paradoxically separate us from, and connect us to,  this larger reality; that we are responsible for the ordering of our consciousness. Accordingly we are also responsible for the impact of our choices on the Earth community.

While this comprehensive understanding of evolution should change everything, it has changed almost nothing . . . until now. 

'Dendro-thrope, part tree, part human.' Face of //Kabbo

The spirit of //Kabbo, one of the last teacher from the /Xam San Bushmen on a Kokerboom tree in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The San are the oldest indigenous culture living in their place of origin. Photo courtesy of Craig Foster.



A powerful way of accelerating change in culture and consciousness can be found at the core of this new cosmology. The new evolutionary story tells of humanity shaped by the bush and beaches of  of Southern Africa, flourishing through four interwoven, primordial practices of the truth quest. This four-part method of truth seeking offers a way of democratizing wisdom together with  a way of  aligning the highest good of the individual with that of society and the entire Earth community.  Since these practices are rooted in the evolutionary dynamics of self-reflective consciousness, they are intuitive and immediately available to all. We  draw on them implicitly in making our life choices.


The history of philosophy shows how we draw on the truth quest in a more self-conscious way when one worldview is dying and we are constructing  another more viable cosmology.  As this process is clarified and pursued intentionally it can dramatically accelerate  change.

The Truth Quest as Personal and Social Transformation

The evolutionary epic enables us to find the truth quest in operation in the politics societies of early hunter-gatherers and many indigenous societies.


The four practices of the quest are  energized and guided by the reality of human beings emerging from the living Earth. The world of nature is experienced as the closest face of the Source ---supremely valuable, exquisitely beautiful, profoundly mysterious—‘sacred.’ Wilderness is our temple.  Re-wilding of self and the world becomes a high ethical  calling and the foundation for the practices of truth-seeking.

Intimations of an Ecozoic Era: The Truth Quest as a Meta-paradigm

The truth quest provides a model for personal and social transformation towards an ever more conscious, more attuned way of life. But it also provides a method for making meaning and thus cosmology construction--a 'meta-paradigm,' or a paradigm for the construction of paradigms. The practices of the quest emerge organically from the fact that we wake up to self-reflective consciousness within an unfolding reality whose origin and destiny are the deepest mystery. The beginning and end are in principle unknowable. The practices of the quest express the paradoxical structure of consciousness-reality-culture and thus the impossibility of certainty but the necessity of knowledge seeking.

No previous cosmology has explicitly offered the practices of its own truth-grounding as the heart of a more life-enhancing politics. A critical mass of human beings, making this leap in conscious self-reflection, and living by these practices, could accelerate an evolutionary advance into an Ecozoic Era where humanity and the Earth flourish in a mutually enhancing relationship.

Policosmology mandala






Future Primal book cover
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Dr. Louis G. Herman

The Institute includes the work of University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu professor Dr. Louis Herman. 

Click here to learn more about the book.

The Institute was consulted on the Oscar-winning Netflix film 

My Octopus Teacher. 

Click here to watch

Dr. Louis Herman discuss aspects of the film during the making of the documentary.

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