At the first first Evolutionary Salon, thirty scientists and social thinkers envisioned

  • an emerging movement
  • for the conscious evolution
  • of increasingly conscious social systems.

That's an intriguing idea. But what does it mean? What IS a conscious social system?

It turns out that this is a rich inquiry -- juicy and productive, taking us broader and deeper into life, as any evolutionary inquiry should.

One way for a social system to be conscious is for all of us who are in it to be informed about -- and oriented to -- the social system's life and well-being. Our many individual consciousnesses can then add up to a form of collective consciousness. Sometimes a collective "field of consciousness" permeates the whole system.

Consider a mundane example: Think about what happens when millions of us -- all at the same time -- watch a catastrophe like a tsunami, a disastrous hurricane, or a couple of giant skyscrapers collapsing on television news and the Internet. Together, as we watch and react, we generate a palpable field of awareness and concern that powerfully shapes subsequent events. Similar to the way magnetic and gravitational fields work, in this field of shared awareness every person and institution shifts in relationship to it.

Perhaps the most important shared awareness that we have is our collective indentity -- a shared perception that we ARE our group, community, country, or world. This recognition underlies most other aspects of collective consciousness. The more deeply we sense our common identity and the more care and esteem we have for each other and for the larger life we are part of, the more the human systems we live in emerge as coherent -- and potentially conscious -- entities. In well-developed forms of collective identity, we not only cherish our whole community, bioregion, or world, but see it living in and through us -- cherishing every part of itself, every individual or species, as a source of diverse delight and unique gifts. In this expansive form of identity we can often experience a deep, flowing communion.

So what is possible when we become a coherent living system together? The more we all know what's going on ... and care about what's happening to our whole community, society, and world ... and are linked to each other in useful ways ... and know what to do to improve our system's well-being ... the more conscious our system, as a whole, will become. As these factors grow, we COLLECTIVELY tend to act more and more like a coherent living organism that appropriately responds to the world around it. More and more, our community, society or world shows up as a living conscious whole.

So the consciousness of a whole social system naturally includes our individual consciousnesses. But more is involved. How are our individual minds informed, linked, attuned, engaged...? To answer this, we need to explore the structures, processes, and cultures that are as much "the system" as we are. This is covered in What makes a social system conscious?

See conscious social systems