Blind Spot: why the most important problems of the 21st century are invisible
Last modified: March 31, 2006
After a decade of research in the emerging field of strategic global sustainability, it has become apparent that a class of problems is increasingly arising in the 21st century that sits squarely in a biological blind spot for most people. These problems are global in scale, have long time frames and have difficult or impossible to predict impacts and cause-and-effect chains. Examples include global warming, depleted natural resources such as fisheries, global water issues, global poverty, and global disease. Even when seeming obvious to a majority of experts, these problems typically do not impact every day actions of most individuals or of most institutions, even those that will be directly affected. The challenges, no matter how important, are effectively “noise”. Thus, the importance of these ideas is not positively correlated with their visibility or specific actions. Three areas of science are coming together to help us understand why these ideas are invisible, how to make them more visible, and how to be strategic in addressing them. Human biology is the key. The three areas are: 1) the cognitive sciences, namely the emerging understanding of the embodiment of the mind and work describing how, via human physiology, learning and memory combine to build individual worldviews; 2) network and complex system theory that are leading to the understanding of the role of networks, such as small world networks, in cognition, including the direct implications this has for how memories and thoughts form and interact within each of our own neural nets; and 3) system science, especially on a global scale, is enabling experts to have increasingly better data on the problems many decision makers will be inherently blind to. This paper will describe the nexus of these three areas and the implications for global scale problems and strategic decision making.