Episode #87 Meeting the World unmasked – with Forrest Landry
“Love is that which enables choice. Love is always stronger than Fear. Always choose on the basis of Love.”
You might know Forrest Landry as the founder and CEO of Magic Flight, a company among the first to introduce the portable vaporizer to the world, but Forrest Landry is really a philosopher, writer, researcher, scientist, engineer, craftsman, and teacher who has been studying and practicing the varied High Arts since the mid 70’s.
Before creating Magic Flight, Forrest was a third generation master woodworker who found that he had a unique set of skills in large scale software systems design. This led to work in the production of several federal classified and unclassified systems, including various FBI investigative projects, TSC, IDW, DARPA, the Library of Congress Congressional Records System, and many others.
This work was a fun diversion, but Forrest’s heart has always been most focused on metaphysics – the study of what is, what is the nature of being, what is the nature of knowing, and why are we all here. And, so, the most challenging system design that Forrest has tacked is his work “The Immanent Metaphysics” a decades long effort to restore legitimacy to the practice of metaphysics and construct a rigorous, coherent and precise statement of, well, everything.
He talks to us this week of his experience in connecting with the world unmasked – about the considerations of life that it led to: what matters most and how we, too can connect with it.
Manda: I heard of this week’s guest when I was talking to fellow Conscious Evolutionary Rob Cobbold, friend of the podcast, who said he had been talking to someone who was amongst the most interesting people he had ever spoken to, and he thought there would be a good fit for the podcast. So I went off to explore and discovered that Forrest Landry at the age of 16, took himself out into the Forrest with a vow to meet the natural world unaided, not expecting it to come to him, but opening himself insofar as he was able, without expectation, without projection, without ego. And then he came back, and what he had learnt there, the meetings that he had had, the work that he had done to make that possible, informed the rest of his life. As you’ll hear, he’s the son of a woodworker, who became a woodworker. And there is no doubt that the forests of his name have had a huge impact on his life. But he went on to become an engineer, a physicist, a mathematician, a metaphysician. Someone who, as I understand it, has fed deeply into the work of Daniel Schmachtenberger and the Consilience Project, which means, insofar as I can tell, the single most inspiring think tank on the planet. So I really wanted to talk to someone who had walked ahead of us in our quest to meet the natural world in ways unencumbered by previous belief systems, and to find out the questions that arise from that, and perhaps some of the answers. So we had a fascinating conversation. And here it is. People of the podcast, please welcome Forrest Landry,
Manda: So Forrest Landry, thank you so much for getting up at whatever ungodly hour of the morning it is to come and talk to us at Accidental Gods.
Forrest: Good morning.
Manda: Thank you. And yes, good evening, as it is over here. You are, I think, one of the people that I have found most inspiring in terms of your depth and clarity of thinking, and what I’m really hoping on the podcast is that we can begin to explore what are the most important questions of our time, and then how can we ripple out the asking of those at a larger scale than is currently happening? So in order to get there, I’d like us to know a little bit more about Forrest Landry and in particular, if we can, your experience at 16 that you describe in your TED talk, which I will put in the show notes, of a commitment to connect to the natural world, and how that gave you the questions that then became a platform for some of the rest of your life. So we may have to go back a little bit before that to explain why a 16 year old would have the capacity to do that, and the interest and the ability. So tell us a little bit about how Forrest Landry came to be who you are now, through that?
Forrest: Well, very briefly, I grew up in a rural area in Maine, so I was fortunate to have contact with nature from a very early age, basically from when I became aware of myself as being, the playground that I had was essentially from the back of the house into the woods, for any number of miles. Another thing that definitely contributed to a lot of early exposure was basically my father is a woodworker, so we would sometimes interact with people who were basically collecting trees to cut into wood, logs, and stacking and processing the material so that it would become available for furniture making. So in that sense, you know, there was a first hand experience that would very much connect, you know, seeing the tree in the woods, and then also eventually seeing all of the things that would happen in between. So there’s a lot of contact in that sense. And so I got a real strong firsthand impression of what it was to make things, and to be creative, and to learn the trade of woodworking, but also to understand what that meant fully. And so in that sense, you know, there was always this very strong hands-on aspect. And I think that that’s also a key piece. When you look at the neurology and where our sensory information comes from, as far as the body is concerned, our hands have a tremendous number of neural connections that go to them. So essentially, the sense of touch is an intensely, dynamically connected thing in the brain.
I mean, it’s like quite a bit of our whole sensory experience of the world comes through our hands. And so in this sense, to work with one’s hands in the craft sort of way, to be engaged with the physics of saws and planers, and just to really understand how to shape and move things, you know, that’s a kind of non-negotiable in a sense. Like, nature doesn’t negotiate. It’s going to do what it does. And you need to learn how to work with it in that specific sense. So I was, you know, both, I think helped from the sort of guilds background. I mean, there’s the educational process, which is the common school system where, you know, there’s a teacher at the front and everybody’s sitting in desks. And then there’s the very hands on guilds training, which is essentially, you do the work. A customer comes and they want something, and you learn how to negotiate what that is. And you then go to the shop and from the resources you have, you make whatever is needed. And so in that sense, the hands on piece of it, I think, gave me a really deep neurological connection that helped to sort of create a sense of of immediacy with the natural world, and that this was the context out of which I came to really both value and appreciate the workings of the natural world.
Manda: Can I ask a quick question? Two questions, actually. First of all, what did you make what did you and your father make?
Forrest: Everything. Well, yeah, furniture for the most part. So there’s there’s kind of like three grades of woodworking. There’s what is known as sort of construction. So things like house building and stuff like that. And then furniture making, which would be tables and chairs and kitchen cabinets, was also one of the more lucrative aspects. And then finally, there’s sort of the luthier level, which is, you know, making musical instruments. And that is essentially a really high craft.
Manda: And did your name come from that Forrest? Was it because Forrests were your livelihood?
Forrest: Well, my mother apparently gave me the name, and her accounting of it was that it was told to her by me when I was in utero. So obviously I don’t remember this, but she has a somewhat natural orientation herself. I guess you could say a little bit of a hippy kind of upbringing aspect, although that wasn’t really evident very much in the life that I knew of her. So, yeah, the name was a given name, but the accounting of it is not always so easy to do that
Manda: It came from you, I love that.
Forrest: Apparently, but who knows? I mean, you know, this is this is one of those things. It’s hard to credit that, although it depends on how deeply you want to get into this whole theory of souls and so on.
Manda: Yeah, and we can’t prove anything. So let’s not head down belief systems. Let’s move instead to you as a young man deciding to go out. And it sounds like, you said you were going totally raw, totally naked, making 100 percent of the journey, not expecting nature to come to you, but you going into the natural world to meet whatever was there. Is there any of that that you can describe for us? Because obviously it’s intensely personal, we don’t want to go too deep, but just the the concept of it as a 16 year old. Was it a rite of passage? Did you consider it as such?
Forrest: Well, there’s a lot of dimensions to this. So one of them is that as I was becoming familiar with woodworking, I knew that there was a discipline to it. So there’s a kind of you need to know a little bit of algebra, a little bit geometry. You want to understand the physics of how things things work. And because I was a fairly precocious child in a certain sense, I suppose I, you know, I went beyond that. I got very interested in the subjects of mathematics and of physics as a topic in science and so on, and really came to understand and appreciate engineering in a broader sense. So instead of just working on wood, I started thinking about shaping metal, and what a machinist would need, and how to think about electronics, and what sort of things would be needed to construct and build products and stuff like that. So my interest and skill sets from, say, 12 to 13, 14 in that area broadened quite, quite extensively. One of the things that was sort of leading into this was that in a small town, I happened to be in a place where a lot of people would bring things by to have be repaired. So I was taking things apart and putting things back together again and learning how things were made, basically.
So I came to appreciate very much the sort of discipline of engineering, you know, that there is a rigour of mathematics, and there’s rigour of of process that allows you to figure stuff out. But on the other side of my life, I guess you could say there was this really deep artistic aspect. You see, my mother was a painter, and so she was very much on the emotional side of things, I guess you could say had a fairly tumultuous emotional life growing up. And that in a lot of respects, the whole depth of feeling, and the whole depth of emotion, was extremely present and extremely alive. So I guess you could say that for a variety of reasons, had a certain spiritual or religious impulse, which was quite strong. One of the things that was also an element of my upbringing was that my parents, for whatever reason, chose not to have me become enrolled in any particular ambient religion. So I wasn’t made a Catholic. I wasn’t made to join the church or to become part of of something. I was more or less left to my own devices to discover my own way.
Forrest: So being a highly sensitive person and deeply involved in the states of feeling associated with that, I found myself at one point asking this question, you know, in what ways could we have a similar level of clarity and clear understanding, deep understanding about the nature of how one’s innermost self relates to the world? One’s basis of feeling, one’s basis of spirituality and the kinds of things that evolve out of that. So in effect, there was just this very strong inner experience that kind of gave an extra dimension of experience. It was like I could sense things and kind of be aware of things in a way that wouldn’t easily be accounted for. And so I was thinking, OK, here is this, these areas where there is a clarity, there’s a sort of structural capacity. And I wanted to know what would that be like in an inner sense? What would be the interior clarity that could come and sort of structure, and what sort of maths might work in that space? And so I did a fairly extensive what would now be called a sort of literature review. I looked at a lot of different spiritual traditions. I looked at a lot of texts that were written kind of in this space. And I came to understand that there really wasn’t much that actually had that level of clarity, that you know, the materials in a lot of religious contexts, you know, deep traditions, have amazing depth and tremendous beauty and such, but you won’t find a lot of maths, for example. You won’t find procedural methodologies, you know. There are meditation practises. So there is, in Buddhism, for example, there are practises that do have a lot of specific detail associated with them. But you won’t necessarily see very often, or very much at all even, a connection between an underlying set of principles, and why those practises take the shape that they do. Yes, that detail, that particular piece of information, which is what I was specifically looking for, I was looking very much for what is the bridge between the principles and the practises, and how do we understand the principles really well in their formalism, as well as in their feeling? And so, you know, having clear states of feeling and clear formalisms, but in completely different places, I was like, how do we bring that together? So the upshot was, is that after looking at a lot of books over a long period of time, I eventually came to the recognition that if I wanted this type of material, if I wanted this sort of work to exist in the world, that I would have to myself create that. Like I could try to seek to move myself to where the leading edge of research was, or I could decide to become the leading edge of research. And since I couldn’t identify anywhere in the world where work like this was going on, then I basically said, well, if I really want this, I have to be willing to do what it takes to make that happen.
So that’s the context in which this vow comes, this is essentially the sequence of events that led up to it. And the last piece that sort of makes the particular structure of why it took this form is if you look at a lot of religions that have a sort of deedy element in them, like if I really want to understand the deep nature of spirituality and to really get into contact with that sort of sense and experience, you know, there’s this notion that if you take steps, like if you do a little bit of work, that spirit will come and meet you, right? And that if I take one step towards spirit, that spirit would take, you know, ninety nine steps towards me. And this is a recurring theme. I mean, you see references to this in more than one tradition. And so it’s usually treated as a very encouraging thing, you know, that Spirit wants to meet you, or that nature wants to meet you. To some extent there’s a sort of teleology to this. But from my experience with physics and my first hand experience with nature, although I knew nature to be very, very accepting, I didn’t necessarily feel that my sense of teleology was actually an accurate way of thinking about it, that any sense of teleology was essentially a projection.
Forrest: And so I made it part of my commitment that I wouldn’t ask nature to anthropomorphise itself to me in any fashion whatsoever. That I would undertake to be and to become the sort of being that learnt its language, the language of nature, the language of spirit or the language of feeling and emotion and all the dynamics that connect all of these topics together. So there’s a sort of mystical element to this, which is not necessarily very easy to put into words, but which was very much the sense that in order to genuinely meet that, I have to prepare myself, rather than to ask anything to happen outside of myself. So that’s the reason why the particular vow takes that particular form, because it’s essentially me declaring specifically to myself and for myself that this is essentially the sort of fundamental criterion of how things after that were going to occur.
Manda: So this brings up so many questions. But the narrative has its arc. So you made your vow, did you just walk out of the back door into the woods behind your house? Did you go somewhere where you believed nature might be more raw, or more accessible? Where the first peoples had perhaps connected with nature more closely? Because your first peoples are a lot more accessible than ours in the U.K. How did you pick a place?
Forrest: Well, the first peoples, unfortunately, have been displaced from that. I didn’t know of any, I mean, the language had come through, like, for instance, you know, the Sagada Hawk County. Where did the name itself came from? A native language essentially. But none of the people that lived there were still there. And I didn’t know any of them while I was growing up. So I had no real sense as to what their philosophy or their belief systems were, or their practises, or where and in how they might have engaged in the natural environment. But I can tell you that as far as my sense of it was concerned, the place that I grew up had some strength to it. It had some real variety of nature. There happened to be several trees in the immediate area, which were quite, quite old. And in fact, I’ve never seen anything like them since. I mean, they’re not there now. They’ve this was quite a while ago, but they still are unique in my experience. And I’ve not necessarily travelled super widely, but I’ve travelled widely enough to know for sure.
Forrest: So it wasn’t that I had to go anywhere per se. I mean, where I was living out the backyard was was certainly adequate. The sense of the right place was already sort of established, and the sense of the time. So it was, it was evening, it would have been probably around 10, 30 or 11 at night. So it was dark. You know, I remember that it was a warm day. I remember that it was somewhat humid, but it was comfortable. And so the action itself was, again, my just sort of being in a place, and just very internally committing myself to that. It wasn’t like I, I may have sung or said something at the time, but there wasn’t anyone else there. So there really wasn’t any need for any kind of explicit demonstrativeness. It was more just a very, very clear internal choice. And just kind of like making sure that that was something that I would remember, and that it was held in mind, and that it was held fully, and that I was thoroughly checking through all aspects of myself to know that there was alignment behind this.
Manda: Right. It’s a fairly unique thing, it’s utterly unique in my experience in a 16 year old, but in any age to be able to make that alignment, and hold it, and step away from the projection and the anthropomorphism that almost inevitably seems to attend our connections with the natural world, unless we put a lot of time into it. I think I’ve spent the last five decades endeavouring to do what you’re just describing that you did at age 16. And I think maybe now when I set up the hill and watched the sun go down in the evening, which has been my practise for the last, since the new moon of this moon, so we’re talking very recently, that I might actually be heading in that direction. So you’re many, many decades ahead of me. And I thought I was quite committed to this. So I’m both impressed and intrigued. And we definitely don’t need the detail, because it’s different for everybody. But you came away from the experience with a sense, I think I understood, of a commitment and alignment of questions that needed to be answered. You came away different than you started. Can you say anything about that, the difference?
Forrest: Well, the main difference specifically was to, first of all, so you mentioned in the beginning, clarity and depth. And so the first thing that I was really doing was attempting to develop the skill of recognising when I was anthropomorphising. And that became a skill, and needed to become a skill of when I was making assumptions. So the first real, I think substantive, change was a consistent exercise of noticing when I was making assumptions, and then just trying not to make those assumptions. So part of it was was becoming very, very clear, for example, like you, you mentioned the, you know, if I had been in a native context, if I had been in an indigenous society, that although my experience and contact with nature would be much, much more vivid and much more entangled and involved, that there would still be cultural precepts of that particular tribe that would inform how I would perceive spirit or nature, or the powers that be in the sense of natural laws and things like that. And so in this specific sense, I was really disentangling my own perspective, and disentangling all the things that I had sort of experienced. It was a willingness to let all of that go. And to just keep coming back to, what is? What is the directness of the encounter? And noticing that as soon as I tried to go into experiencing what is, what I was bringing to that and then trying to remove that what I was bringing to it out, so that I could again encounter the ‘what is’. And so that became for a fair while, you know, sort of just this ongoing process.
And so there was inner emotional work that I was doing. There was a kind of descriptive stuff I was doing. So I was doing a lot of writing at the time. But I was writing, and then immediately after I would write something, like I’d do stream of consciousness. And then I would go back and I would analyse what I had written to see what was it that were the assumptions behind the thing. And so I was using the writing as a vehicle to do detection. I mean, the writing itself was of no merit outside of this. So those are the kinds of ways in which that showed up in the immediate term. Obviously I was still trying to live my life, and to find my way in the world, and deal with all of the things that come up in that in every person’s life. But I was treating all of those events as if they were tools to investigate how anthropomorphisation would happen.
Manda: And where does that lead you? I realise that’s a very big and very open question, but it seems to me, OK, we’re going to take a step back. When I started this, Accidental Gods, it was as a result of a vision at the winter solstice 2018. And part of that vision was of the Earth as seen from space and of many, many, many, many filaments of light around it. And at each crossing point of all these filaments was a node of consciousness. And some of those nodes were human, and most of them were not. But what emerged as the message was that what I needed to do was take my place as one of those nodes, and stop trying to think that I had to solve everything. And in trying to bring that to the world with a lot of sitting up the hill, what came was a four step process of reconnecting with the world, of creating an inner clarity, of learning to ask questions, and hear answers that feel authentic. And the final one was letting go of everything that we believed to be true.
So I think I’ve created this amazing new system. And you’ve been there for, I’m guessing, at least five decades. So I’m really interested in where that takes us. If we are able to let go of everything we believe to be true, which is by far the hardest to teach people, because in the end, you even have to let go of the bit that is convinced that it needs to let go. You know, it’s a completely circular internal argument. And then, and for me, it feels a very vulnerable space, because I don’t like uncertainty. I don’t like not knowing. I want to be able to plan the next moment, and becoming that kind of an edge walker, where we’re actually walking in the moment, being present, and asking the question, what do you want of me and able to answer or respond in real time, feels to me where humanity can go and has to go. But you’re there. You’ve been doing this as a conscious practise for for however long it is. And so where has it brought to you?
Forrest: Well, it’s a long story. You’re right about the number of decades or so of explaining it. Summarising all that’s not going to happen in a few minutes.
Manda: Well, let’s get to where we are now. We don’t necessarily have to go through all of the ways we got here, but where does it take you now in this moment?
Forrest: Oh, that’s also a hard question to answer. Let me kind of outline a few of the transitions. The first sort of kind of significant transition was again, we can have connexion internally. We can have connexion with ground, with nature, with the world, and we can have connexion with other people. So one of the things that became apparent as I was sort of, keep in mind, 16, 17, 18, you know, I’m starting to think about college and research and things like that. And so one of the things that became apparent to me very early on is this, that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to conduct this work inside of some academic programme. If I wanted to apply for a grant, for example, to spend time to work on this, they would want to shape the questions. So I had a very clear sense that the politics of that conversation would shift the questions that were being asked, so I explicitly detached from that. I basically said, I really need the questions to be free. I need to be able to ask the questions that are the right questions to ask, that are the deepest possible, the most meaningful possible questions that I can ask, without any inhibition on the willingness or the ability to do so. So in a lot of respects, there was a very strong move towards independence, and towards developing my own tools and developing my own resources, in the space, the exercises and the discovery of the principles and so on and so forth were in the same sort of way that I was saying, I’m going to make myself into the vehicle.
Like, what do I need to do to to become a person that can ask these questions? What do I need to do to become the person that could answer these questions? And so one of the things that I noticed was that I needed to develop my own tools in order to essentially embody that. So that process is itself something that had a real strong series of impacts as to where I am today, for example. Because at this point, having gone through, and there’s a bunch of other key transitions that happened after this. But having gone through those transitions, I find myself in a very surreal sort of sort of sense where, you know, there’s been this arrival of having a set of tools, having a set of things that resulted from the application of those tools, those principles and practises have have reached a level of clarification, a level of depth that, quite frankly, I would not have myself been able to imagine at the time. So I used to joke with people in my 30s that if I had found a time machine, or built one, you know, which that’s a whole other topic, we could talk about that, that if I had gone back into my past and met myself, like right around the time I was 16 and told myself what I now knew to be the case, I would not have believed me.
Forrest: Right? So in effect, it’s like how authoritative a piece of information, how, you know, whatever the source of that information is, if it’s yourself, right, if it’s your own first hand experience, it’s pretty hard to deny. So in this particular sense, I had had experiences that through my own first hand experience, and through the complete resources of the most powerful intellectual tools that were available, both in my own work and in the world. So in effect, you know, when we think about what is metaphysics, there’s just there’s a few key questions that sort of underlie the topic. One of the questions is, is what is? Another question is, how do we know? And those two, of course, are given labels. And the first one’s ontology, and the second one’s epistemology. There’s also this thing called axiology, which has to do with value. And I’ll come back to that some other point, too. But the idea here is that when we look at, you know, how we receive information and what ways we use to validate that information for that kind of dynamic, you know, when I look at the tools that we use to know something, or to have some idea, the very strongest and the most complete set of those tools, it’s on one hand, it validates the content, but at the same time it is the basis for those tools themselves.
There’s this intense interaction at that particular level. In fact I’m describing the very foundation of knowing itself. So you know, you can look at early philosophers, for example, like I mentioned Descartes in this context, he had this programme that he would take as true anything that he could not, even in principle, have doubt about. And so we arrive at, through this sort of exercise of, well, I can imagine that there’s this demon that’s got complete capacity to deceive. It can reach into my own mind and and change even the way I think.
So what I perceive could be completely illusionary because it’s projected into my imagination. And after an exercise of really like taking that as a basis, you come to sort of I think, therefore I am. That’s one thing I can know. And so that’s, it’s impossible for that to be a deception, because anything that’s … that’s as nuclear as it gets, basically. And so in a certain sense, when we’re looking at this sort of construct, one of the things that came out of this sort of work on my part was, is that, well, anything that’s intrinsic to the process of doubt can’t be doubted. Anything that’s intrinsic to the nature of process, period, not just the process of doubt, because doubt is a process the same way the perception’s a process, so anything that’s intrinsic to the nature of perception, or the nature of comparison or the nature of observation, even communication, is going to be truly primal. And the basis for the notion of knowing at all, because in order for there to be knowing and remembrance, there has to be somehow a sort of experience, some sort of perception. So there was arrived at this incredibly profound, incredibly deep nuclear, subnuclear, understanding of the relationships between these concepts as being intrinsic, as being indelible, as being like unalterable. And at the same time, so you get the sense of, OK, this is clearly right. This is for whatever meaning we assign of the word truth, that this is clearly true, in the sort of capital T absolute sense. And at the same time, because of this social disconnection that I mentioned earlier, that enabled all of this to happen, it’s actually quite hard to communicate this to other people because they’re coming from within their own mindset, their own anthropological context. And so on one hand, you can have this notion that what you’re holding is intensely meaningful, intensely valuable, is ultimate in some sense. But in the context of the social world, in the context of things that are not nature, not self, it’s literally impossible to communicate at that level of depth. So this just basically means that your experience is surreal, because you have this infinite value in one sense, and zero value on the other, and you are constantly experiencing that.
Forrest: So you have, one hand, it’s kind of delightful, right? I mean, the sense of the surrealness is certainly humorous, but at the same time, it just never goes away. So if you’re asking about what is my current experience like, well, that’s largely the character of it. In a sense, the subsequent transitions led to ideas that could clearly be relevant at a civilisation scale over over millennia. And so we get this deep sense of, OK, the world has troubles: like we have our environmental issues, there’s pollution issues, there’s cultural issues, and all sorts of things that are happening as side effects of the use of technology, the marketplace processes, the social dynamics of how we’ve evolved to be, and so on. And so, in effect, there’s this sense that these tools aren’t just meaningful, but actually necessary and vitally important to the world at large. But in order to explain how that feels, on one hand, you have this sort of deep egoic sense, right? Because as you mentioned, at a certain point, you have to let go of even the notion of self. In order to have contact in this, like, people ask me about free will and choice from time to time. And I basically say, well, it’s more correct, rather than thinking about ourselves as having choices, that it’s more correct to think of choices as having selves.
Manda: That, OK, that feels that feels like possibly a whole other podcast, I can, because that is really, really interesting. But I would really like to bring us back to what you said just before that: we are in, you know, we’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, we’re hurtling towards a cliff edge. There’s a wonderful author who I’m sure you know, Cory Doctorow. Have you read his work? And I listened to him recently. And his metaphor was, we are all in the backseat of a bus which is being driven faster and faster to the edge of the cliff by someone who is holding the wheel and is determined not to turn it, and which is, feels very accurate. And it feels to me as if you have the tools to persuade the people who are holding the wheel to turn it.
Forrest: Er, yes, I don’t know if ‘persuade’ would be the right word. I think to some extent what I’m doing is I’m building an aircraft to try to attach it to the top of the bus! So even if they go off the cliff, it’s OK. We want some wings, we want them right now! And if we could turn the bus, that would be much better. If we can make the engine stop, that would be great. There’s all sorts of remediations, but at the very least, we have to make sure that one of these things happens.
Manda: Yes. Yes, exactly. And so how do we do that? You said at one point that we need to upgrade our capacity to imagine, which I love, because it seems to me that all of the people crowded in the back of the bus with us, the ones for whom we still have language, but not communication, part of it is that we are storeyed beings as well as everything else, and if we don’t have a story that takes us forward, if all we can see is either more of the same, or the bus going over the edge of the cliff, which is endlessly iterated Forrest, and you know, our modern media is very good at describing how bad things could be. And no one, as far as I can tell, is busy working out how things could be if we managed to get the bus, you know, into the air, or any of the other metaphors we just used. So how do we do this? You and I, and the people who are in this ecosystem which is not in the majority yet. How do we ripple out the better capacity to imagine?
Forrest: Well, I think, you know, when you said there isn’t imagination of what it could be, I actually came across this cultural phenomenon called solar punk. There’s steampunk and then there’s solar punk. So, in fact, there are some artists and people who are starting to really ask the question, what would the alternative narrative be? Can we imagine a future that integrates nature and humanity, and really work out the dynamics of rather than having marketplaces that we have an economy, that we have ecology? And so in effect, there is a series of, at least at this particular point, kind of awarenesses and sort of metaphoric dreams that look in that direction, that basically establish okay, what can we imagine as a hopeful future? What would that look like? And how would we experience that? And so just incidentally, on MFLB.com, I just recently put up like one of the most, might even be the last article I just put up there, was you know, there’s an article on the Internet called a Solar Punk Manifesto. And so I says, well, these are all questions. And so I took and I wrote the questions that are associated with the manifesto, which are largely the questions that you just asked, which are, you know, how do we do this, and what are the kinds of things that we need to imagine, and what sort of directions do we need to work in that might be worth looking at? Because, again, it’s a series of questions. That’s not a complete set of questions. It just happened to be the ones that connect to this sort of movement for constructing narratives that would help people to basically say, yes, this is a realisable future. Yes, there is a way for us to think about this. But I myself, I’m not personally oriented around narrative that much. I basically go for the questions and start to think about, you know, what are the tools that we need to answer these questions? And that gets back into a lot of the work.
Manda: Ok, so what are the tools that we need to answer these questions, then?
Forrest: So as you mentioned, the capacity to increase the flexibility of imagination is largely going to come out of the kinds of interactions we have with that narrative. So in other words, there’s the people that create narrative, and then there is essentially our understanding of what are the things that come up as questions when people engage with that narrative? So you ask a lot of hard questions, but somewhere along the way, we need to sort of think about the why and the what. BBecause if we don’t really know the the deep nature of what is, in terms of what’s possible to do either with technology and what principles are informing that, but also who are we when we’re doing it? So, for instance, if I’m going to move from a place of, you know, having language to being in communion, being in communication, then there’s a skilfulness that wants to come with that, but that skilfulness might not have been provided by evolution, and we might have, ourselves in our current embodiment, a lot of things that that evolution prepared us for, but wouldn’t necessarily have prepared us for how to deal with all this technology. So to some extent, there’s an imagination component, and then there’s also a sort of right reasoning component. And that itself has to come from a values component. What’s sacred? So in my work, I tend to think about things from the point of view of governance, but that’s because it’s in the intermediation between value systems, what we would normally think of as maybe religious or spiritual impulses, and what would be marketplaces like this ‘see and touch’ ordinary reality that all of us inhabit. And so when we’re thinking about how do we translate values into the kinds of policies that would result in good education, that would help people to develop these skills, or create the kinds of context in which the social interactions allow for the emergence of cultures which allow for the emergence of these narratives, which allow for the emergence of new capacities of imagination.
Forrest: Right? So it’s not just about constraining the marketplace so that it doesn’t go off the rails and make pollution and existential risk that’ll get us all killed and so on. It’s the notion that if we understand ourselves well enough, and we understand, if we genuinely inhabit and imbibe the value systems deeply enough, clearly enough, then from that intersection we can start to come up with clear plans about how to actually get from here to there, and also to know specifically what ‘there’ is. So in terms of my own description of this, the ‘how’ is about the transition, how do we, like if we’re making a bridge, ‘how’ would be how do we build the bridge? But the ‘what’ would be essentially where is the bridge going? Where’s the island, or the other continent, or the footings that the other side of the bridge is going to land on? So having a clear vision about what does a healthy future look like? What does a thriving humanity look like? So I’m not just saying thriving economy. I’m basically saying thriving humanity. If you think about what is the function of government in a classical sense, it’s to protect the land and the people. And even that ordering is important. The land is first. The people second.
Forrest: If you don’t protect Land, there’s no future for the people.
Manda: Yes. So it’s not just a thriving humanity. It’s a thriving web of life.
Forrest: Exactly, right? And to go beyond just protection, but to actually creating the conditions for which that thriving can actually occur, which itself is dependent upon a series of principles, a kind of ‘why’. So in other words, if we know a lot about what went wrong to get us here, but also what went right, that’s still going on, that’s right now. There’s a lot of things that technology has been very good for. And there’s a lot of things that humanity has has gotten better at. I mean, you know, if you look at it right now, we’re in a relative calm. There’s fewer wars, there’s less poverty. I mean, there’s still a lot of it out there and so on. But overall, the conditions for people has generally improved. Not completely, but in many cases, if I were to go back to the Middle Ages, you know, people living in suburbia still have a higher quality of life than maybe a king did in the Middle Ages. You know, as far as medicine and as far as, you know, just just overall possibilities and interactions and such.
Forrest: So in effect, when we’re looking at the ‘how do we do this’, we want to know that that footing that’s the place that we’re reaching to is actually going to be solid, that it’s is going to hold the weight of all of civilisation and all the designs that we put on it, that it’s not just that, oh, we can imagine some future. But that imagining isn’t Pollyanna. It isn’t some Utopian dream that can’t possibly be realised. It’s grounded in a clear understanding of deep concepts, that the hope itself comes from a space of knowing, that we can basically say, yeah, this is a realisable future. This isn’t actually something that is impossible to do. It’s something that’s very possible to do. And being possible, we want to make it more likely. Because if that bus is going off a cliff, that’s currently the most likely scenario. So we need to make the positive future more likely. And to do that, we have to some extent have a real understanding of ourselves as a species.
Manda: And we have to get that quite fast, because there is a time constraint. You know, the bus is accelerating, the cliff edge is quite close. We haven’t got three or four generations to do this. This is our generation, is doing this. And I love that you say it’s not Pollyanna. I’ve been writing with some friends a television script endeavouring to do just what you’re saying. And I go and talk to television people and I say, you know, we need to do exactly what you said. We need to work forward to a future where everything thrives. And they go, don’t you think that’ll be a bit Pollyanna? It wouldn’t quite have the narrative drive in the, you know, the thriller sense that we really need for television in the 21st century.
Forrest: Well, now they’re coming from a marketing point of view. And you see, this is where when we notice what are the things that are, you know, they’re thinking from a marketplace orientation which is basically still in the you know, the notion of success is now going to be defined in terms of the degree of penetration into the, I mean, just think of the metaphors that are coming up here, right? And so, in effect, there’s a sense here of, you know, really noticing that, by the way, the market factors are themselves driven by, you know, obviously greed and lust and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, in effect, there’s a need for us to step back from being driven by those kinds of things. You know, we want to have conscientiousness in terms of our interactions. Which basically means, to some extent, noticing what’s happening while it’s happening.
Manda: Yes. And yet still making something that everybody wants to watch, because making a tiny little niche programme that eight people and their mothers watch because they were all involved in it isn’t going to be useful. So up to a point, they’re right. I don’t think that looking forward to a future where we might all thrive is necessarily going to be slipping through the tulips. I think it is going to be hard, and there’s going to be quite a lot of hurdles on the way. And the bus might teeter on the edge of the cliff. I remember, do you remember when we were kids, the Italian job?
Forrest: I vaguely remember.
Manda: That was a British film. And there’s gold at the end of the bus that’s off the edge of the cliff, and all the guys are on the edge that’s still on the edge of the cliff. And if they move towards the gold, it is definitely going over. And the last line of the film is him going, hang on, guys, I’ve got a really good idea. And then it cuts, and that’s it. And you never know what the idea was. And it feels to me like we’re very close to that bit where we’re on the seesaw and the gold is all at one end, and we’re all at the other. And so, yes, we need the how, and the what, and why. Insofar as you understand it at the moment, what does a thriving humanity and web of life look like? What is the what?
Forrest: That question is broad, could we make it a little more specific? I mean, I can talk about things in terms of different structural layers. Like, for instance, you know, we have what we think of as the economy and it rests on infrastructure. And the infrastructure is created out of what the cultural ideas are. The cultural ideas come from essentially our internal structure of ourselves as biological beings. So you know, partitioning that is is a thing.
Manda: It’s a whole other podcast.
Forrest: I mean, but there’s so many layers. For example, if I were to talk about, you know, the relationship between man, machine and nature, then I can get to a little bit more of a nuanced perspective of it. But it isn’t necessarily going to be something people will relate to. So, for example, right now we tend to assume that nature serves man, because we extract from nature. And we attempt, we build machines, and we think that these machines are to serve man, because we built them for us, but mostly they serve the corporations, so they serve the few at the expense of the many. And the interaction between machines and nature is just extractionary itself, right, to sort of support the extraction process. A much healthier way to think about this would be that man supports machine to support nature. So we don’t think of machinery as being for us. We think of all of the causation, and all of the dynamics of computers and the Internet and all the rest of that sort of stuff, as not being for our sake, as being the means by which we heal the ecosystem; which we create thriving, which we create prosperity, not human prosperity, but ecosystem prosperity. It’s clearly the case. I mean, the thing that makes it going off the cliff is that, you know, if the ecosystem crumbles, you know, our capacity to make food for ourselves is is diminished, right? And the capacity to find all the things that basically make our lives meaningful is in the context of the natural world. And if the natural world is gone, the meaning of our lives just becomes empty. So in a sense, there’s a very strong reorientation of ‘who does it serve’? Who does technology serve? And it’s not that it serves a ‘who’, it’s a service of ‘what’. It serves nature. So, in effect, you know, it’s a little bit like our whole expectation as to what is the function of communication, what is the function of technology, wants to reorient so that the cycle of life is preserved in a larger way.
Manda: This arises then from a value system. We need a common value system, which at the moment I would suggest we don’t all have. There isn’t a common human value system.
Forrest: There is and there isn’t. So one of the things, this goes back to the Accident of Unconsciousness. So that TED talk was essentially my attempt to respond to this question. If we take traditional economic notions of value and we use that to assess, you know, the total value of all transactions that are happening in a given year over the entire planet, like literally every market transaction, every debt exchange, all of that stuff. It’s roughly speaking, somewhere in the neighbourhood of around three hundred and fifty trillion dollars per annum of global economic activity. But if we use that same notion of value in the context of the whole universe, right, all that is, do we have any capacity to even be aware of at all? Then the actual economic value of this planet, and all of the things that are on it, and the total value of life, is something like one quadrillion quadrillion dollars. So, you know, three hundred and fifty trillion isn’t even a rounding error in that context. Like a quadrillion dollars is, you know, a single quadrillion dollars would be, you know, roughly of the same order of magnitude as, you know, a thousand trillion dollars.
Manda: So hang on,a quadrillion is 10 to the power of 12. And so a quadrillion quadrillion is ten to the power of 144?
Forrest: Basically, yeah. You add the powers together, so it would be twenty four. And again, these are approximations, but even if we were off by 12 orders of magnitude, it would still be enormous, right? So, you know, and we’re certainly not more than two orders of magnitude off on either of these metrics. So there is at least at a minimum, eight to 10 orders of magnitude separating the actual value of life on Earth, taken as a totality in the context of the truth, which is the universe’s truth, right? I mean, that’s as far as like there is something that is an isness. So, relative to the context of all isness, the value of life on Earth is enormous. And, you know, our current assessments of economic value are so far off base that to some extent that it isn’t even a question. We’re basically making really, really poor choices. So in this sense, we’re looking at what is the common value system? Well, the value of your life, the life of every family that you’ve ever been a part of, or that you know of, or that has ever lived, and could ever live from this point onwards, including the value of all your livestock, every blade of grass, every bug and microbe over the entire surface of the world, is a common value.
I mean, if the notion of meaningfulness is going to have any grounding at all, if the notion of value and purpose is going to have any grounding at all, somewhere along the way, it’s going to come down to these sort of levels. And so I don’t necessarily think that this is conscious in a lot of people, but it’s certainly embodied, because the very fact of having a body is to some extent already to acknowledge. So in this particular sense, I would suggest that to the degree that we can become at least a little bit more aware of the actual genuine value of the totality of all life, and the more that we make choices on that basis, the deeper the alignments are going to be an easier it’s going to be to make good choices.
Manda: There’s so much in that I would like to unpick, but I am aware that we’re running out of time. So just as we’re closing, I have heard you speak about choice and the making of good choices, and ‘omniwin’ choices, because it is all down to choice. It’s down to individual choice, and then it’s down to our collective choice. We can choose not to go off the edge of the cliff, or we can choose just to carry on as we are. And I’ve heard you say that the win-win, the omniwin choices feed into each other. You make one winwin choice and it feeds into the next, and it becomes easier and easier. Can you say a little bit about how people listening can orient themselves towards the sense of a win-win choice at every moment of their living?
Forrest: Well, again, it becomes a sort of practise, right? So the principle is that there’s always a Win-Win choice. If you take that principle seriously, and of course, there’s ways to understand that, and there’s a theory of ethics that underlies that. And the theory of ethics comes from a set of axioms, which themselves have a bunch of implications. But if we ignore all of the intellectual stuff and we basically say, how do I make a choice, that’s the most win-win? If I, first of all, take the intellectual stuff as providing the principle, and I have the notion that there is a win-win choice, then the question becomes, can I imagine it? Now, so I’m presented with a certain circumstance, and so I’m going to be aware of some possibilities, right? I’ll probably say, OK, well, I can do X. I can do Y. I can do Z. Can I add to that list? So, for instance, for whatever the possibilities are, if I look at the options that are available and I notice that each of those options has certain trade offs, then I’ve become aware of what the trade offs are, I become aware of the various things that are in play as far as that choice is concerned. I’ve become aware of, therefore, the things that are valuable, or the things that are important, the things that I want to account for.
Forrest: So now I have a sense as to what omniwin means. Because if I didn’t ask the question about, you know, what are the trade offs involved with the options that I believe that I have, then I haven’t learnt the language of the problem well enough to know what it is I’m actually trying to solve. I want to learn myself what the language is, so that if a solution were to be imagined, that I would recognise it as a solution. So to some extent, we do need to encounter the problem at least well enough to learn its language, so that we can therefore embody the solution through recognition. So that’s kind of the first part. So believe that a win win solution exists. Then, study the solutions that you have, to try to understand the interplay between the things, learn the language of the situation. Then use that language as a vehicle to try to construct new options, new solutions. And then from that, iterate; so over time, you will have been increasing your capacity to imagine solutions that are win-win. If you run out of time, if you need to make a choice in some finite period of time, then, you know, obviously pick the one that’s the most win-win.
But as you encounter future choices from that point, because every choice will lead to consequences, and those consequences will have changes occur that create new possibilities, that will result in new choices. So in effect, there’s a sense by which, as we get better at going through the exercise of noticing what win-win even means, then we become more effective at imagining what win-win looks like, what it feels like, how it would possibly be, and we increase our capacity to choose that thing that we can now imagine. Again, because of the development of skill seeking to do this, and in each case and again, this is an ongoing process that will take time, but on the other hand, it pays dividends. Because as we develop choices that are just better, the overall situation improves, our wealth increases, our capacity for happiness increases and so on. And for those who are saying, well, you suggested it as a belief, I’d say, well, no, actually it’s a theorem. And here’s how we can understand this to be true. Then we can get into the depths of that. But that takes some time, obviously.
Manda: Yes, we might, if you ever have the time, come back for a second podcast. But at the moment, I think that’s, yeah, a pretty good place to end. With the addition that, so win-win, for those not familiar with the language, is making any decision based on no harm being created and in fact, treating others as you would wish to be treated and creating at every choice the maximum capacity for both parties in any negotiation to come off as well as possible. Is that a fair assumption of what win-win means?
Forrest: It is. There’s there’s ways to open it even wider than that. So in other words, I’m making choices now to open up the possibility of both my future choices and the future choices of all that are involved, and that I’m really paying attention to not just the actuality of what happens, but the potentialities that come from that.
Manda: Yes. All right. And my limited experience of practising this is that the actual energetic feel of my body changes, that I’m not working out of a position of pushing against, and of fearfulness, and of retraction. But I’m working from a position that feels more authentic, that feels like I have more agency, and that feels as if I am moving with more flow. Is that your experience also?
Yeah, it’s basically being discerning, right? So in other words, noticing when the context is one of reflective inquiry. Like if people are working together like you and I are, we’re sort of exploring these things. And so we’re standing side by side asking questions, trying to figure stuff out. So to some extent, you know, be discerning about the contexts, such that we can move it from social advocacy, which is what a lot of people’s conversations are currently, to ones of reflective enquiry. It’s basically like, well, I hear that you value this thing. I hear that this is important to you. Can we explore the depths of that importance? Can we find a way to really move into that space that everybody basically comes away from this feeling really good? And not just that it looks good, or that it feels good, but that it is actually a good choice. And so there are a lot of people that are really, quite frankly, depressed, and haven’t had the hope that that’s possible. In fact, if you take science and technology as being ‘the ground truth of the world’, and then even the notion of choice itself doesn’t seem realistic. Whereas in this particular sense, I would say that the notion of the real is actually bound to the notion of choice just as much as it’s bound to the notion of change and causation. And that in this sort of recognition of the notion of ethics becomes a real topic, and the notion of good choice becomes a real topic. And that we are therefore, if we’re going to embody a sense of divinity, a sense of enlightenment, or the good qualities of what it is to have a meaningful life, that we will seek then to manifest that not just in ourselves, but in everything around us as well.
Manda: Magic. That feels like an extremely good place to end. Fantastic. All right. In that case Forrest Landry, thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast.
Forrest: Many blessings. Good to be here. Thank you.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Forrest for the depth and clarity of his thinking for the places that he has gone on, the trails he has blazed and the possibility of the hope that arises from them. Because we all have choices. We all make decisions all day, every day. And if we can reach that win win place where we open up the potentiality for other people, if we can bring humanity and machines and the natural world into a space where we are working to make the thriving of the natural world greater, not lesser, then I think that the bus teetering on the edge of a cliff has a chance of not going over the edge. And that’s what we’re here for. You and I, Accidental Gods, all of us.
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