The article is a revised version of a plenary lecture and available in the APLS Journal.
"Is Humanity Destined to Self-Destruct?"

Lynton Keith Caldwell

was delivered at the Eighteenth Annual Meeting of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences, September 4, 1998, Boston. Comments were invited for the Twenties APLS 2000 Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. August 31-September 3, 2000 and printed in APLS, Vol. 18, 1

Abstract. As the twentieth century ends, we may identify both constructive and destructive trends that will influence the future of humanity. Which set of trends will dominate the future is uncertain.  Attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors all interact to direct the flow of change over time. However, the options and constraints of human life are ultimately fixed by those cosmic elements of the environment over which humans have no control.  The modern assumption of a world without end or limits risks collision with that obdurate reality.  Facing threats to its long-term survival, humanity is challenged to learn how to build a sustainable future. A successful effort will require a concerted and cooperative effort among all fields of knowledge. This article identifies some of the trends that threaten humanity's future and suggests four lines of action that should be pursued in order to reduce the likelihood that humanity will destroy itself.

The attached comment by Heiner Benking was invited by L.K. Caldwell and will be subject to editorial changes. Please see the Journal and Society hompage and Caldwell's site in Indiana

Pls see the Comments of the Symposium:
Commentators include: Herman E. Daly, Is Humanity Destined?, Back to Basics in Environmental Politics, Sheila Jasanoff, Our Predicament: We Can’t Know Enough to Know, Donald N. Michael, The Hare and the Tortoise: Dead in the Heat? Cross-National Differences and Knowledge Gaps in Environmental Policy, Nicholas Watts,...
the full list of the twenty-eight contributions can be found at the end of my comment or at the APLS site.

Invited Comment by Heiner Benking in APLS Round-Table:

Show or Schau?
Lynton Caldwell (1999) allows us a look behind the facades or under the surface of the dangers threatening humankind. I subscribe to his analysis and synthesis of the threads and dilemmas, including his four lines of action. 
Given this unique chance to comment on such a fundamental and basic article, I will not lament over words, dates, or issues left out in his piece, as this would be the typical trick of people avoiding the big picture and the urgencies and immediacies at hand. Instead, I will try to go with him on a higher plateau of pondering where humankind is going and what the issues and challenges are in my view after reading his article.

Shared Images and Models

I definitely agree with Caldwell that we are in danger of losing our shared rationality. This danger is real, as we are not equipped by evolution for such fundamental and rapid change. Subject to this glut of new ways, means, and messages, we are out of touch and subject to confusion about the basics of our existence, like the "loss of distance" and the questioning of our feelings, positions, and perspectives in this new, strange environment. Being and feeling "lost in space" (slide 6), we try to avoid confronting our outdated world-models and views; instead, we invent "spaces of flow" or "a second flood" as part of a post-modern cyberculture. There are alternative and non-dualistic models that we can structure, merge, and morph (more about this later), but we are afraid of leaving the mold, afraid of leaving the shores and sailing into new lands. I will return to alternative models and views, even on very central terms like "net" or "space" later; at this point, I just want to give an example of how we use language metaphorically. I invite you, for example, to see "space" as an extensional potential that allows us to make issues real, and solid, and allows us to make issues and contexts real instead of making us feel "lost in space." So please take our terms for real, not as empty in a void of nothingness. We focus here on terms, as the modern technologies have usurped central terms like "space" or the "net." (slide 6) 
In a series at the Humboldt University in Berlin at the end of the millennium, which we called "Zeiten-Wende" or "Zeiten-Welten-Wende," (slide 4) I focussed on the modern media impact, on pictures and icons we use to paint and communicate possible futures. Examples from thinkers and writers through the ages included "show" (Illich), "varieté" (Huxley), "sweet mash" (in German, "brei" or pastry) according to the Grimm’s fairy tales. These pictures or analogies describe our modern world of edutainment, politainment, lawtainment, or bread and games as we know from Roman times, as in the following examples: images describing loss of control or freedom include "prison" (Orwell), "(second/final) flood" (Bible, Ascott, Lévy) "bomb" (Einstein for telecommunications impact). Lynton Caldwell is obviously not alone when pondering about our destiny, but he does more—he invites us take a "middle road."

Making Concepts Real and Adding Context
And that is exactly what I am working on and want to outline here: real alternatives. We have three alternatives: we can either immerse ourselves in the issues, or take on an observer status that makes us a little more immune to the details, or as the middle path, oscillate between the different perspectives, but in a way that we know where we are and what we are looking at, and in which context. Our exercise is one of physical and of mental mobility at the same time, bridging objects and subjects, re-establishing of creativity and fantasy in combination with questioning identities, values, levels, proportions, and consequences along and across scales, cultures, languages, and times. In this physical and deep immersive model, called "House of Eyes", children have tested alternative positions and perspectives for years.
Our middle route here is trying to leave dualistic traps of being right or wrong. It is not an easy perspective, especially if we only can use words instead of concurrently feeling and showing what we do. So just consider one moment not being right or wrong, or only in one place or one model, at any one time, but instead being able to see their relativity, the various aspects, and be able to be concrete or solid in an artificial terrain or model. If we follow this thread just one further moment, we can imagine embodying issues in extensive spaces as peace rooms, situation rooms, or order spaces, instead of "playing" in war rooms or with models like architects and designers. By considering the difference of abstract "spa-t-ial" and embodied "spa-c-ial" conceptions, we might be more prepared for modern times of media and tele-technologies, and use the new "space-scapes" to combine concepts and their context.
Caldwell has urged us to try something new, especially when we are confronted with high risks and have no safe and clear direction to take. He has encouraged us not only to share and care, but to dare! We have done so over the years with children, and also tried to open the eyes and ears of "elders" with varying results. So the way forward may be a way back, by eliminating too much abstraction and coming back by drawing on many senses/intelligences (Gardner), or poly-aesthetics in the sense of Kueckelhaus, Menuhin, Mozart. In our "House of Eyes" we invite such a concert of perspectives and senses in order to not get lost in the one and only right view. Immanuel Kant warned us that "concepts without percepts are empty, percepts without concepts are blind." So what I propose here is to look into other ways and means, to study how, for example, the Japanese bio-holistic "baa" concept might allow us to appreciate other forms of space, nested spaces, and space-scapes.

This section with the figures was later inserted into the comment!

please see also the "postscript" file below.
On the WWW we are able to include picures and links, giving you and idea and structure which allows you to go deeper. I have added an arbitrary collection of presentation folios to help you get where and how I want to explore issues like I learned to explore with models pleases we can not go to, like in the deepers regions or levels of  Planet Earth or some Outer Stars. I will reference in the article to the figures but can not "develop" the whole story in this very short comment. Please also note the later added "epiloge" which provides some entries into the context and background.

The Problem:

  PLEASE NOTE: all figures are "click&zoom-able"  pictures.  F11 in "Microsoft worlds" will bring you to the "full screen"..
Observer or Trustee and Stakeholder?
I met Lynton Caldwell at a roundtable at the EMEC'93 conference in Baltimore. There the panel "experts" from policy, science, and engineering met with activists and housewives, playing the typical confrontation that they experience in environmental dialogue and mediation. However, this time they changed hats and positions, assuming different views. In this way—through the rotation of viewpoints—agendas, tactics, and strategies became not only visible but obvious. The idea is to solve problems by taking on the partners’ position—and to reflect upon it—just as the Sufi say: "If you want to solve a problem, take your own viewpoint out." This is exactly what we do with the House of Eyes—we create a cognitive panorama in which there are three spaces and time on a continuum.

Overview (slide 7) or Overclaims and Oversimplifications?
I see a trap in our dichotomous thinking and a way out in accepting different levels of thought. Eho tells us that knowledge is only in the detail and with the specialists?  Who tells us that there is no overview and orientation possible and that the last generalist died 200 years ago? In knowledge organization, for example, we differentiate between detail, route, and survey knowledge. Why must we feed our children details and noise, cultivating a strange myth or dogma, and avoid giving them coherent and complete alternative "overviews"? Coherence models are not only possible, but feasible.
The Approach:
  PLEASE NOTE: all figures are "click&zoom"  pictures. F11 in "Microsoft worlds" will bring you to the "full screen".

Is There a Meta-paradigm ?

According to Georg Kühlewind, we are in search of the only new paradigm, a paradigm in which all other paradigms originate. Thomas Kuhn started his "paradigm" thinking with the baseline of the physical sciences. In his book Consilience, E. O. Wilson uses the bio- or life sciences as the yardstick and schema for lines of thought. Maybe, as one alternative, we could come up with a meta-paradigm as proposed at a 1996 Council of Europe conference  for "new ideas in science and arts, new spaces for culture and society." The "meta" maps the context, the origin, the background, and so we suddenly have a map to localize ways and forms of reasoning. 
The painter Franz Marc wrote that pictures can help us to "arrive at another place," help us to "see with new eyes." In this way we can realize, as some children do, that there is not just one or ruling hierarchy when we think deep or lateral/diagonal (spacially); instead, we have to assume that there are multiple hierarchies, meshing and forming a new fabric, depending on where we are and what our angle of focus is.

Applications for Another Pattern Language? (slide 12)
This language based on spacial metaphors and embodyment evolved when we were thinking about patterns and fields as real. Are there applications, and can the findings be shared, or are we talking here about just another creative, artistic outcry?  First, we can share levels, proportions, horizons, and also "feelings." Second, we can consider new forms of multi-modal, multiple access search machines for the world wide web. And last but not least, we can engage in "culture navigation," which allows us to access and assimilate content from libraries and museums around the world, making multi-media, multi-lingual, multi-cultural connections, caring for a 'humane' multi-lingual (information) society. Another possible field is social systems design, and that might be close to what Caldwell is looking for.We must find ways to reach people. 
Let us start with the traditions of story telling. In one story, Mamun, the son of Harun al Rashid, saved his just-inherited, fast-deteriorating empire for decades by having artists design a positive, aesthetic, shared model/vision/picture—in this case, a model of a beautiful city and rich community. By jointly constructing positive futures, we can create realities that can become "true" if we share the dream and work on it! (late note: see the "Ethics Summit" presentation which covers the story from 1001 night in greater detail and how we can create new stories like this one, and develop the art of story-telling and dialogue.)

Space as Potential or Forbidden Land 
Caldwell's article urges us to look for a way out so we are not destined to whatever real or imagined fate. The main stumbling block seems to be in thinking dualisitically, hierarchically, and analytically. We avoid lumping when we can split everything, and we avoid anything that is not tangible (even when some of us can agree upon it, at least for a certain end or purpose). Last but not least, and maybe the central issue here, might be our concept of order, and even more deeply rooted, our concept of space. One basic is that space, like a container, can be emptied or filled—for example, with air or water. Goethe said we need both: analysis and synthesis. It is like breathing in and breathing out. We may forfeit our futures and put an end to science if we just do one, as when we just specialize without generalizing. 
Such misconceptions are deeply rooted. We could learn a great deal from native communities, who consider "space" as potential full of depth and surprise. Space has potential and depth; we are not by nature flatlanders.There are such things as spacial cognition and spacial mental models, and we should review the work of the founder of "cybernetics," the late Norbert Wiener. Wiener saw a social mission in his work and coined the term "cyber," from the greek word "cybernetes," so that we have a "steering-man," who need not be a captain. We can all be sailors, and so we need maps (stars), a gyro, and a vehicle/boat. And suddenly we are close to the central questions of society: orientation and frameworks, common frames of reference.

True Visions Make Worlds

What we have covered so far is the question of identity and how we can share. This has to do with our modern mental isolation. Werner Kollath has said that "much is known, unfortunately in different heads." We must invite everybody to design real images and models, models that can bring us together and help to develop an antenna (Gregory Bateson) for what is not at hand, but has levels, proportions, and consequences. Nelson Goodman has put it aptly by noting that visions can be tangible and real: "People make visions; true visions make worlds."

The Difference: Show versus Schau
We covered above the metaphors of varieté and show, which see humanity as passive—as spectators or observers, remote and detached in an age of "entertainment." The word in German, "schau," has an extra dimension to it, the dimension of depth, which allows us to be part of the picture. "Schau," as in weltanschauung, is more than a certain belief system or school of thought. It is much more than seeing; it requires engaged, active communication and concern, being part of and moving "hands-on" in the field, scene, or drama. Goethe put it aptly in the foreword to his Farbenlehre:
The mere gaze of an object cannot engage us (completely). Each look flows into a careful examination, each examination into a meditation and each meditation takes us into a connection. With each attentive look into the world we already begin to theorize about it. If the abstractions we fear is to be harmless and the experience we hope for is to be real and useful, we need to engage skillfully with consciousness, self-reflection, a sense of freedom, and—to use a daring word—a sense of irony.

Thanks, Lynton Caldwell, for outlining or setting up the stage and putting some conditions and historical contexts straight, so that we cannot avoid looking for a more complete picture. Thanks for challenging us to go beyond the gridlock into new borderlands, and for helping us to get rid of too many, final and fixed "knowns" and introducing us to a world of unknowns. These are worlds where we develop "awe the more we gaze" (Santanya).

1  For additional information concerning my views, please visit the UPDATED  ! http/ and
[Author Profile] 
Heiner Benking is a facilitator who has worked as a technician and engineer since the early 1970s in construction and infrastructure projects. He has studied geophysics, business, and other exact and fine arts and sciences, and began working as a town- and state-planning consultant in 1977 (including five years in Saudi Arabia). In the early 1980s, he joined the leaders in the field of computing and computer graphics in international applications, sales, and marketing positions. He has been part of the Automation Group San Diego since 1981, and was on early advisory boards of Computer Graphics World. He helped design the Global Change exhibition for the German Chancellery in 1990, and has worked since that time with children and decision-makers to make better use of our human potentials in order to secure common and positive futures. He worked with the President of the Alfred Wegener Foundation, working on image and outreach, establishing fairs like the Geotechnica’91 and the Local and Global Change exhibition. He served from 1993 to 1999 as an international associate for a technology and computing think-tank (FAW), and has worked on projects for the International Society of Panetics, The Club of Budapest 1995-99, and the Millennium Project (AC/UNU). Correspondence should be addressed to POB 410926, 12119 Berlin, Germany (E-mail:

PLEASE go to:
PLEASE go to the "construction "site" of "SYSTEM EARTH" in the GLOBAL CHANGE exhibition:
see the ENGLISH synopsis:
and as one of the building blocks, the TOPOGRAMM System:  a  series of building blocks available in 1990 is "under cosntruction" for the web. WE even called it "bridges and a masterplan" later...

We have recently (summer 2000) played with the issue of "show or show" at the
EXPO 2000 World Exhibition in Hanover...

Protecting Humanity’s Future: Threat, Response, and Debate, Gary Bryner, Show or Schau?, Heiner Benking, Universal Basic and Secondary Education, Joel E. Cohen and David E. Bloom, Is Humanity Destined?, Herman E. Daly, Pluralism and the Complexity of Knowledge, Bruna De Marchi, Social Choices for Sustainability: A Question of Equity and Justice, Lorraine Elliott, Only Politics Can Save Us, Gerard Fairtlough, Humanity’s Survival is a Matter of Environmental Common Sense, Max Falque, Sustainability, the New Challenge of Governance, and Post-Normal Science, Mario Giampietro, Is the Third World Destined To Be the First One?, Renato Guimaraes, Jr., The Persistence of the Species, Garrett Hardin, Back to Basics in Environmental Politics, Sheila Jasanoff, Can Humanity Avoid Self-Destruction?, Mohamed Kassas, Human Race at Crossroads, T. N. Khoshoo, An Issue We Ignore at Our Peril, Kai N. Lee, Toward a Self-Critical Environmentalism, Martin W. Lewis, Democracy and the Integrity of Commons, Lennart J. Lundqvist, Integrative Science as Adaptive Device in Environmental Crisis: A Perspective from Ecology,     Carlos Martin-Cantarino, Is Humanity Destined to Self-Destruct? Our Predicament: We Can’t Know Enough to Know, Donald N. Michael, Paradoxes of Progress: How Can Humanity Improve Environmental Thinking and Environmental Action?, Giridhari Lal Pandit, Will Malnutrition and Diseases Limit Human Numbers?, David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, Is There a Common Humanity?, Yvonne Rydin, Cancer-Risk Models and Statistical Casualties: Caldwell and the Need for Public-Interest Science, Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Outliers and Advocates: Glimmers of Hope for the New Millennium?, S. Holly Stocking, Learning the Lesson of Interdependence, Leslie Paul Thiele, Causes of Troubles in the Struggle for Existence, Tatu Vanhanen, Environmental Politics at Thirty: Caldwell, Churchill, and an Unruly World, Geoffrey Wandesforde-Smith, The Hare and the Tortoise: Dead in the Heat? Cross-National Differences and Knowledge Gaps in Environmental Policy, Nicholas Watts,
Response: Perspectives on the Self-Destructive Tendencies of Humanity: A Symposium Response, Lynton Keith Caldwell

This issues also includes other discussion papers like the
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (Edward O. Wilson)
Reviewed by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Howard L. Kaye, Michael Ruse; with a response by Edward O. Wilson