That is, when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own.”
Team, Advisors and Partner Organizations
Meet the team behind the Consilience Project and the organizations that we have partnered with.
The Consilience Project is developing a body of social theory and analysis that explains and seeks solutions to the unique challenges we face today. It focuses on the deeper generator functions beneath the world’s major problems, drawing on the best of social theory while showing where existing theories and institutions are no longer adequate to fix the current problem landscape. The aim of the project is to help catalyze a cultural enlightenment that will develop a new set of shared values and capacities adequate to the needs of our time.
Why This Matters
It is precisely the novelty of the problem landscape that has impaired the ability of current social theories and institutions to provide solutions. The world is facing unprecedented catastrophic risks, arising from the intersection of exponential technologies, planetary boundaries, geopolitical instability, and economic and supply chain fragility. The institutions to which people would turn to make sense of these risks and organize collectively to address them are outdated at best and usually also corrupt. More of our political and social energy is spent on infighting than effectively coordinating towards solutions. When we do take action towards solutions, our legacy problem-solving processes define problems in narrow ways that give rise to solutions that cause new problems as externalities. Cultural and institutional decay continues to advance, while our real problems and catastrophic risks rapidly accelerate in complexity and scale. We need fundamentally new problem-solving and coordinated choice-making capacities that are adequate to address the novel complexity, extent, rate of change, and significance of the issues we now face.
Rather than providing effective information to address the challenges at hand, our current media environment drives largely polarization, misinformation and outrage. Society’s foundational capacities – public education and news – have been damaged to such an extent that almost every consequential topic succumbs to vehement polarization. Over the last 20 years, the internet and social media have changed the media landscape beyond recognition. Consolidated media companies with partisan aims have taken the place of investigative journalism and subscription-based or local news. Social media’s algorithmically-driven filter bubbles have reinforced bias and tribalism. As a result, common concepts of trusted authorities and shared truth have largely collapsed. State and non-state actors have come to use the new media landscape as an arena for information and narrative warfare, making citizens the contested territory of the great power game. Institutional decay, perverse incentives and the disruptive effect of new information technologies have contributed to a breakdown in sensemaking so complete that even the base facts of most critical issues are disputed. These are the signs of a broken culture.
The Consilience Project will address a range of critical questions at the heart of this dilemma.
- What is unique about today’s challenges that did not exist when our current social institutions and problem-solving processes were developed?
- What are the common underlying drivers of these challenges so we can work towards solutions that are actually adequate to address the problems?
- Are there aspects of previous social systems (e.g. political, economic, civic, educational, media, etc.) that are effective and need to be included in the social systems of the future? What are their failure cases and where are they fundamentally inadequate to address the nature of the issues of the 21st century?
- What do these answers reveal, in terms of design considerations, about the development of new institutions, problem-solving processes, and systems of coordination?
- What developments in public culture are needed for these new processes and institutions to arise from the people rather than being imposed by an authority?
- What are the necessary characteristics of the new cultural renaissance and how can we help to catalyze its emergence?
Beta Version Note
This is a very early proof of concept phase; the nature of the content and project will start to take clear shape over the following several months.
What We Are
The Consilience Project seeks to build a body of social theory that will begin to address these questions and outline the way out of our current state. At the core of the project, The Consilience Papers seek to provide scaffolding for a cultural movement toward higher-quality sensemaking and collective problem-solving.
The Consilience Papers will be a series of interlinked, long-form articles that take three distinct forms: our Foundations Series, Situational Assessments, and MetaNews. Collectively, the Papers outline the problems civilization faces now and moving forward – both where they are continuous with and wholly distinct from the types of problems that have been faced in the past.
The Foundations Series provides a grounding in the social theory and essential history that is necessary to understand and address the unique problems of today. Articles will be inter-referential and logically congruent, exploring the systems of social organization developed to date and establishing their relevance and inadequacy in relation to our current moment. The deep problem assessments explore the design constraints and possible structures of new institutions and social systems. Each of these articles will link to a number of adjacent Foundations pieces and related Situational Assessments.
Situational Assessments link directly to related Foundations pieces, providing context and real-world examples of the principles and philosophies described. These assessments aim to provide clear situational overview and insight on important current events. The topics covered in the Situational Assessments are selected on the basis that they will help to generate the most comprehensive understanding of the world – and not necessarily just because they are happening now. The application of theory and epistemics is made explicit so the pieces are all stand-alone lessons, in addition to the knowledge and insight they offer on the specific topic.
When a Situational Assessment covers a topic that is publicly polarized, it will be interlinked with a MetaNews Analysis. This provides an overview of how the polarization developed, explaining the techniques in use across the media landscape and detailing how the narrative fragmentation occurred. A MetaNews piece specifically makes explicit the instances of misinformation, propaganda and narrative manipulation, as well as identifying the effects of media technologies in potentiating group think and other biases. A rigorous process for accuracy and bias correction is combined with an explicit emphasis on the epistemic tools being employed to increase individuals’ critical sensemaking skills.
The interlinked articles of all three types will be developed over the five years of this project and are collectively referred to as The Consilience Papers.
A body of social theory sufficient to address the world’s problems requires a form of media that is correspondingly complex and networked. Over time, The Consilience Project will become a novel type of transmedia object. The articles will be decentralized but interlinked; this fractal nature means the reader can follow their interests, taking their own path toward a deeper understanding of the world. The Papers all address aspects of an emergent social philosophy, with references to source work and a glossary of key terms. Beyond the Papers, podcast dialogues, other media forms (animations, infographics, summaries), and related forum conversations will help to expand access to the ideas at the core of the project. In addition to original content, The Consilience Project will become home to a generative community grown through structured forums, facilitated dialogues, partnerships, and innovation prizes. Through the development of this transmedia publishing approach, The Consilience Project seeks to empower individuals to become more resilient to media manipulation, more capable of understanding the world, and able to meaningfully participate in creating the new culture and institutions that can address humanity’s needs in this next phase.
What We Are Not
There are already many news organizations, current affairs journals, science journals, traditional educational organizations, and political and social movements. What The Consilience Project is seeking to do does not fit into any one of these categories.
We are not a news organization. Helping people understand the issues of the day is a critical function for the world, but it is not our goal nor within our capacity to try to do justice to the entire space of current events. The appeal of each piece is not that it is a trending story – its appeal is the importance of the content enduringly, for the particular situation addressed as well as for its cross-applicability elsewhere. We are not a news organization looking for newsworthy stories; we are looking for real epistemic opportunities and cultural leverage points. We aren’t optimizing for clicks or total reads or downloads; instead, we want readers to feel that each piece of content mattered and increased their understanding of the world. And that across many pieces, they feel an increasing capacity to make sense of the world in general being developed.
We are not a science journal. We will talk about world issues that require making sense of the science, which involves a multitude of studies, disciplines, conflicting opinions and interpretations, politics, economics, etc. But we are sensemaking around scientific topics rather than conducting or producing original “science.”
We are not driven by the size of our audience, journalism prizes or favorable coverage. Instead, success for us is the emergence of a truly decentralized cultural renaissance that elevates collective intelligence and cooperation to a level commensurate with the issues humanity faces.
The essence this project hopes to imbue is an increased feeling of hope that individuals can make sense of things; an increased desire to learn and understand more; a desire to think more clearly and critically and holistically; a seriousness about the issues we face and a deepened desire to contribute meaningfully; a sense of a way forward that is not partisan, that doesn’t serve class or market interests, that has both wholesomeness and capacity; that has the kinds of virtue and intelligence that can inspire people to develop themselves and transcend cynicism; greater clarity on what a healthy culture is and why it is upstream from all the problems that need to be addressed; a desire to find ways to authentically engage. These are the markers of success for The Consilience Project.
Our Ethical Commitments
In an effort to address the erosion of trust in the media and guard against the biasing forces that arise from perverse incentives and human fallibility, we have implemented the following commitments:
The Consilience Papers constitute the core body of knowledge work at the heart of the Project. But social theory and an improved awareness of problem space is only the foundation for a wider cultural movement that is needed to fix the sensemaking and meaning-making processes at the base of our culture today.
The cultural shift needed to do this will require a movement commensurate with the technologies and actors exerting the damage. A movement at this scale must be decentralized and spread far beyond the immediate reach of The Consilience Project. Our success will only be realized by acting as a catalyzing agent for this larger cultural movement.
Our movement-catalyzing arm seeks to facilitate the work of projects addressing issues in education, journalism, open-science, social media and information technology. We see these organizations as components of the broader movement towards a cultural renaissance.
The Financial Stuff
We will be filing and publishing our 2020 990 form in November of 2021 on our website and GuideStar. You can view our federal extension application here.
The Legal Stuff
© 2021 by the Civilization Research Initiative
The Civilization Research Initiative owns all copyrights to the work of The Consilience Project.
The articles on this web site may be redistributed in other media and non-commercial publications as long as the following conditions are met. The redistributed article may not be abridged, edited or altered in any way without the express consent of The Consilience Project. The redistributed article may not be sold for a profit or included in another media or publication that is sold for a profit without the express consent of The Consilience Project. The articles on this web site may be included in a commercial publication or other media only if prior consent for republication is received from the Consilience Project.