The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is "Brain, Mind, and Society." We're going to examine the ways in which leading developments in brain research and psychology are effecting global cultural change. With me today is Marilyn Ferguson, a Renaissance woman, publisher of the Brain/Mind Bulletin, which is published in Los Angeles, and author of several best sellers, including The Brain Revolution and The Aquarian Conspiracy. Welcome, Marilyn.

MARILYN FERGUSON: Thank you, Jeff.

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. You know, you are really noted as a generalist, a person who can find patterns and meaning in very, very diverse fields. Your writings include a wide range of subject areas, from spiritual literature to brain research to new developments in social reform. In your book The Aquarian Conspiracy you refer to these developments -- and I think you shocked many reviewers and many readers -- as a conspiracy. I wonder if we could begin by defining what this conspiracy of social elements was to you.

FERGUSON: I use the word conspiracy in a positive sense, and that's pretty unconventional. If you try, you have to think pretty hard before you can come up with a positive conspiracy, normally. But that seemed right. It seemed like the right word, because it did seem, when this occurred to me around 1976 as I was first beginning work on this book, that there were people who in a sense had a plot to make things work. They were helping each other across many different fields, disciplines, different parts of the world. And it occurred to me also at that time that the word conspire came from roots meaning "to breathe together, to be in harmony." It didn't originally have a negative meaning; it was not just conspiracies to take over governments and fix prices and so on.

MISHLOVE: It's close to inspiration, in that sense.

FERGUSON: Yes, that's true. And I used the term Aquarian to try to make clear that it was something benign. I didn't realize at that time that there are people for whom that word might push buttons, but I was really looking at it in the sense of the myth of a new beginning -- the wish, the hope, the popular image that there might be a new time, as in the words from the song "The Age of Aquarius" -- the time of the mind's true liberation. And about that time I also discovered that Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist, had once written about a conspiracy of love -- that if anything was going to save this society, it would be a conspiracy of men and women of good will. And the Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis had once written, "I hope to say a word in time to my companions, a password, like conspirators." And he went on to talk about giving a human meaning to the superhuman struggle, to give to the earth a heart and a brain.

MISHLOVE: Well, it's many years since The Aquarian Conspiracy first came out; it's now going into a new edition -- but there's a sense in which it's become more than just a conspiracy. It's becoming a major social movement. It's taking a funny twist.

FERGUSON: It's becoming mainstream.

MISHLOVE: A lot of research in science, for example -- brain researchers such as Karl Pribram coming out and saying that based on his holographic theory of the brain, we can begin to look at spiritual experience. And people who have been very rationalist all their lives saying we must look at the non-rational side.

FERGUSON: And people valuing the experiential. The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, who commented on America after the Revolution in the 1830s in a book called Democracy in America, said in there: "I should be surprised if some day America didn't become spiritual. Any society this materialistic is eventually going to become spiritual." I think that was an interesting processing on his part, a social observation. Because right now we are seeing how insecure our former securities have been, and our economic bastions and so on, and we can look at our wishful thinking, and realize that we need to have something that is more deeply substantial and meaningful in our lives.

MISHLOVE: You have an interesting quote that really stimulated me in this regard -- something to the effect that the worse things seem to be, the better they may be.

FERGUSON: Well, things do have to fall apart before you can rebuild them. There's a saying in our culture, "If it works, don't fix it." I think it's taken to the extent that we believe if it works even a little bit, don't fix it, because I don't know if I can handle the period of time between when we first stop doing it the old way and when the new way starts to really work. There's a period of time -- a man I know who's a management consultant calls it the "confusion gap" -- when during a period of transition things are bound to become briefly more chaotic and more confused, because you are going through the process of readjusting and realigning or renewing. In a company, an organization, a government agency, or in the family, during that period he calls the confusion gap, people in a sense want to run back to the old way, because at least it was familiar. You were asking me before we went on about the theories of Ilya Prigogine that I talked about in The Aquarian Conspiracy. I think that you see it even more clearly now. Prigogine won the Nobel Prize, I believe it was in 1977, for what was called the theory of dissipative structures. It's a very tricky one to talk about, but to make a long theory short, what it has to do with is that in living systems, in what he calls dissipative structures -- that is, organisms that are held together by energy that flows through the system -- that from time to time there are sharp shifts in this energy. At a certain point the old form can't hold; the structure itself falls apart. This happens in certain natural processes. And, strangely enough, it reorganizes at a higher level of complexity; it becomes more ordered. When I first heard about Prigogine's theory, I was thrilled.

MISHLOVE: He demonstrates this in chemistry.

FERGUSON: In the laboratory.

MISHLOVE: He'll take a test tube of different chemicals and shake them up, and it looks all chaotic, and all of a sudden exquisite patterns form, right there in the test tube, or in the laboratory flask.

FERGUSON: And we know in our personal lives, that very often going through a period of great falling apart, what seems like the worst of disasters in retrospect turns out to have been the greatest of blessings -- something new, deeper, more useful, more meaningful has come out of this period of change. In a way, I guess, Jeffrey, we're talking about the importance of learning to embrace change, and it's a lesson that our society has been getting. The ideas that I talked about in The Aquarian Conspiracy were very difficult to discuss on a talk show in 1980, and in fact it was very difficult for somebody planning a talk show to even have a glimmering of what that was, how to simplify it. Two TV shows that I went on, the audience-participation kind, the host said to me -- this was 1980. Before I went on, I swear to you, two different hosts said the same thing: "Now don't make a fool of me."

MISHLOVE: Because they hadn't any way to get a handle on what you were saying.

FERGUSON: Yes. I mean, there was no way I intended to embarrass them, because I didn't even think, and I still don't think, that what I was talking about is that difficult or intellectually challenging. But at that point we were like -- I believe it was Darwin who wrote about how at one point the natives on a certain island could not see the ship coming, because they'd never seen a ship of that size. It was as if their eyes couldn't accustom themselves, didn't look there. And now we think about the new age having become fashionable, almost dangerously fashionable -- not dangerous to the society, but dangerous to the concepts. You know, it could be oversimplified, or become a pop thing that comes and goes. But now it makes sense to say the values we should look to are our spiritual values. The stock market crash around the world -- the new shot heart around the world -- I think made it very clear that the world economies are tied in together, and that doing it with mirrors doesn't work anymore. We may be -- I hope that we're not in for a Great Depression; I don't really think we are -- but even a severe economic shakeup may do what in some ways the Great Depression did. When I was a child my parents used to look back on the Depression almost with affection. I'm sure you've heard people talk that way.

MISHLOVE: One gets a sense that of all of the families and the young children who knew poverty during that time --

FERGUSON: And how they amused themselves.

MISHLOVE: Right, and how they really learned the values of self reliance and so on. It became a little bit one-sided, perhaps, but when everybody becomes aware of the problem on that level, then they start to do something about it.

FERGUSON: And when what has perhaps been the injustice is spread around a little more -- it's like a blackout, it's like a flood, it's like the earthquake we had in Los Angeles -- all of a sudden strangers talk to strangers. We shouldn't need a calamity for that to happen, and I think maybe it was an interesting coincidence that the earthquake so quickly preceded, it was so shortly thereafter, that the stock market crash occurred, and the news commentators and the people on Wall Street were saying, "Is this the big one?" Somehow it's like a splash of cold water. You need that every once in a while because we've become complacent. We drift. And cultures stagnate as well as economies. So to wake up, I think, in a way is becoming a respectable goal, whereas before people said, "What do you mean? I'm not asleep." There has been research suggesting that most adults are more or less half asleep all the time. Our EEGs don't even show that we're awake.

MISHLOVE: That's very interesting. Well, it almost seems to me, if one tries to relate the spiritual literature, which says we're all one, with our society, which seems to create barriers all of the time, and we view ourselves as separate -- and even biologically we think we are separate organisms, rather than part of one environment by and large -- that we need these experiences of shock, I suppose, to break through the crust of separation that we've created.

FERGUSON: It's also closely related to the idea of the now infamous near-death experience. I think by now the near-death experience has been described so romantically that people who haven't had one are jealous of those who have. It's a hard way to wake up, but in retrospect people are glad that it happened to them.

MISHLOVE: People find that their lives are extremely transformed by having had that contact with such an intense dose of spiritual reality.

FERGUSON: Some famous writer, I can't remember who -- Koestler or Hemingway or somebody who was once in a prison and thought he was going to lose his life in the morning -- said, "There's nothing like knowing you're going to be shot at dawn to focus your attention." When you said that the spiritual literature says we're all one, and it isn't necessarily real to people, it made me think of a time I was on a program in Santa Barbara. It was a program on spirit and science, and there were a number of speakers, and we all went out to dinner. As we started to order, someone in the group -- it was Fritjof Capra, I think -- said, "We are all one; but separate checks, please." And that is a paradox of our time, because even when we realize our interdependence, in a practical sense people feel: well, I'd like to do something about the homeless; or, I'd like to do something about the hungry. And they tend to think of the problem on such a large scale that they feel helpless. You feel as if, "What can I do? What good would it be?" Part of what I've been working on the last few years is another piece of writing about something we're calling the new common sense, that has to do with how people have an idea, or an image, a vision -- how visionaries live. We all have a visionary capacity. But how do people have an idea and then make it happen, and have another idea and make it happen? Or even, how do they keep renewing this thing that may have been successful; but if you don't keep changing, successful things become dead? A lot of it, I think, has to do with realizing that everything starts locally. I think it was Rene Dubos who originally said this.

MISHLOVE: "Think globally; act locally."

FERGUSON: "Think globally; act locally." And it became the theme of futurist conferences. It's a wonderful saying. A while back it occurred to me that maybe the point needs to be made that everything has to start somewhere.

MISHLOVE: I suppose it's a question of the here and now. I mean, every moment is an opportunity for being in touch.

FERGUSON: And big projects start from tiny little acts.

MISHLOVE: It can just be a question of maybe opening up a little more when you say hello to your neighbor.

FERGUSON: Absolutely. Not long ago there was a television documentary that I saw, about Supreme Court rulings. In virtually every important case, it was what appeared to be a minor local concern that was bumped up and up and up through the courts, and became some kind of momentous, landmark decision. But it was a carpenter here; it was Rosa Parks on the bus. It's the integrity of your individual act. And it all comes from individuals, too. It doesn't come from groups. Institutions don't do anything. We have anthropomorphized institutions; we say, "The University of California announced such and such, did such and such. General Motors did this. The U.S. does that."

MISHLOVE: You see these cartoons of the buildings talking to each other.

FERGUSON: Right. In fact, I resent sometimes seeing the headlines that say, "U.S. Does Such and Such," when it turns out that it was a couple of people in the administration who made an announcement. I didn't do that; you didn't do that. It was like an individual somewhere said something, and I think that in a way we disempower ourselves when we think of great institutions and companies and agencies and organizations doing the wheeling and dealing. We also aren't holding individuals responsible. A man I know who is the head of human resources training for a large national company said that one day he was driving to work, and he suddenly had this realization, and when he got up to his office he said to his secretary, "Do you realize that TRW doesn't exist?" And she said, "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" She left, and pretty soon he called in two more employees to his office, and he said, "Do you realize that TRW doesn't really exist, that there is no TRW in the way we think of it?" And one of the people said, "Well, sure there is. There's this building." He said, "We lease this building." He said, "It's all people. It's individuals. And in our mind we have made this into a company." I remember one time that a couple of friends and I were trying to battle a situation in our part of Los Angeles, where a neighboring community was trying to force a freeway away from them, which was OK, but they wanted to put it through our park. We didn't think that was a good idea, so we began organizing to protest and so on. Various groups of neighbors would come to the hearings, but at some point we wanted to be able to act in an official way. One man had a brother-in-law who was a printer, and the brother-in-law printed stationery that said, "Save the Arroyo Foundation." There were basically three of us in the Save the Arroyo Foundation, but we had elegant stationery. And pretty soon they would announce, when CalTrans held their hearings, "This bill is opposed by the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the Sierra Club, and the Save the Arroyo Foundation." People, I think, have no idea what a vacuum of power there is. In much the same way, I think that we have missed a lot of territory where there's power where we could take action -- not just in political situations, but in terms of taking advantage of the science. If we wait around for the scientists to tell us what it means, we're going to wait a long time.

MISHLOVE: But there is a sense, I think, in which the new brain research and the research in parapsychology is suggesting to us that we have an enormous amount of latent power -- that everybody could be a visionary, everybody could be a decision maker, a person who exercises their free will.

FERGUSON: Everybody could be a leader. Leadership in a way is a rotating function; it isn't a person. I think of the movie The Flight of the Phoenix, in which James Stewart took leadership of a group of people whose plane had crashed, because he happened to know something about airplanes. It turned out it was model airplanes, but at that moment he knew more than anybody else did. And indeed I think we're learning from practical experiments -- like for example the effort to teach thinking in elementary school, and research from laboratory experiments -- that we do have these latent intelligences, and that we've greatly underestmated who we are, what we can do.

MISHLOVE: We seem to be learning more and more about the mechanisms by which we would deny ourselves. We repress our abilities, or we almost hypnotize ourselves into thinking that we don't have this enormous amount of creative power.

FERGUSON: We anesthetize ourselves, you're right. There's a new disorder that they've given a name, alexithymia. It means when they ask you how you feel, you can't tell them; you can't read your own feelings, basically. And I think this is a natural consequence of a failure to appreciate even our very sensory systems. Forget extrasensory; extrasensory I think flows naturally out of waking up our other senses. But for various reasons, often emotional or cultural-behavioral, we quit seeing what's there, we quit hearing. Our listening becomes selective; we develop a certain kind of tunnel vision. And who is to say? It happens day by day by day; it isn't that you wake up one day and say, "I can't see anything." No, it's just a gradual phenomenon. And it isn't just modern society. Wordsworth wrote about it in his famous poem "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality": when we were little children, trailing clouds of glory do we come; and then gradually the prison house of custom closes in. So I think a lot of what's happening now is that people get a glimmer of being awake here, and they say, "Hey, I like that."

MISHLOVE: So in effect, what you're talking about, using the metaphors and the research of modern science, is really part of the human dilemma, essentially. It's an age-old problem; and Marilyn, you've expressed, in effect, a lifelong commitment to helping wake people up through your writing and through this social organization that you do, and through the attempt that you're making to unify all of these diverse disciplines, and show people there is an optimistic viewpoint, there is a way in which we can tune in to the positive changes that are happening, and then allow them to occur -- to get on the bandwagon of the good things.

FERGUSON: Well, one of the things that I've noticed, Jeffrey, is that people don't have a sense of purpose. Most people don't have a sense of purpose. One time my husband, Ray Gottlieb, and I were doing a seminar for about four hundred people in Canada, and I just suddenly, impulsively asked the audience, "How many of you feel you have a sense of purpose, you know what your purpose is?" And maybe one out of four, one out of five, raised their hand. I thought, this is a pretty select group of people. They came to a seminar in order to be more awake; they cared about it, they had some concern. So I started to think: all right, the people who do have a purpose, those people that I know, where did it come from? Working my way backward from that, I came up with kind of a scheme, so that if people don't have a purpose, here's how, here's the recipe. You look around you in this society, and you take your own powers of observation seriously enough that you decide what you think needs doing. What's missing? What ought to be happening? And then of those things that you have taken notice of, you pick the ones that you think most need doing, that people are not paying enough attention to. Then you're like the boy who had to stick his finger in the dike. You are the person who saw this. This is now your cause. It gives you a reason to wake up in the morning. And what I've found over the period of about six or seven years now that I've really been looking at this phenomenon of achievement, what I call visionary behavior, is that one of the most important qualities of a visionary person is passion -- caring, energy, the ability to pick oneself up and dust oneself off and keep going again. And the only way you get that is to have a sense that you might be able to do something, and that what this thing is that you would do matters. What I've noticed is that if people have the idea that they want to make a lot of money, or they want to be a writer, or be a political leader or whatever, it doesn't work.

MISHLOVE: Ego gets in the way somehow.

FERGUSON: Yes, because what you have to want for it to work, for you to achieve at a high enough level to make a contribution at a valuable enough level that people will let you do it and want you to do it, is you have to really want to serve. If you think of something that you really want to give to people that they need, you may make a lot of money from it. If you have a message that you really care about, then you may work at it long enough and frame it clearly enough and go out there and work at it long enough, that people read it or hear it or listen to it. So it's service that seems to be another key factor.

MISHLOVE: And I suppose, without making it sound too altruistic, another way to look at it is that if you really want to be selfish, do it in the service of your higher self.

FERGUSON: Well, it's ironic, because it is both the most selfish and the most selfless thing to do. Because we're not separate. My welfare isn't separate from your welfare. And part of what we're talking about as the new common sense is the sense of the whole. We have all of these senses that we more or less take for granted, which may be or not as alert as they could be. But what of the sense of the whole thing, including that which we can't put our fingers on?

MISHLOVE: Because there's a sense in which -- speaking of the new common sense -- all of the developments that are happening in science and systems theory and Prigogine's work and brain science and social thinking now, are leading to view things holistically.

FERGUSON: They're converging, yes.

MISHLOVE: And that's, I suppose, the basic conspiracy
-- that we realize we're all in this together.

FERGUSON: And the disciplines can't be separated. It was Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, I think, who said, "Nature doesn't know the difference. Biology isn't separate from physics."

MISHLOVE: Marilyn, we're out of time now, so I'm going to have to thank you very, very much for sharing this half hour with us. It's been a pleasure to be with a person who's able to so beautifully and calmly integrate these diverse teachings from physics, chemistry, social science, and spiritual teachings. Again, thank you for being with me.


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