The Metamemetics and Epimemetics of What Homo lumens Experiences in Human Agreements

Are people predisposed to unconsciously accept and consciously choose certain kinds of agreements?  Do some people tend towards more vibrant or less vibrant experiences of the five primary relationships (to self, other, group, nature, spirit)?  Are people conditioned by the group’s agreements or do individuals condition the group’s agreements?  Do the agreements of a group live within the individual or are they distributed throughout the group?

While ecosynomics is at the early stage of exploring these questions, we might find hints for how to proceed from a parallel pattern in genetic research.  An individual’s genetic code is the code that design its biological form.  This code determines how the biological form can respond to different environmental conditions, turning on and off different attributes.  Where a genome is the genetic material of an entity, a metagenome is the genetic information of all the entities in a metasystem.  This information is distributed throughout the community.  Epigenesis is the process of how the environment an entity is in influences how the genetic code expresses itself, and then passes this new expression on to the next generation–nature and nurture.

Working with the concept of a “meme,” as a unit of culture that can be transmitted from one individual to another, we can look at the memetic code, the metamemetics, and the epimemetics of human agreements.  The “memetic code” describes the human predisposition to levels of vibrancy experienced in human interactions.  While people tend to be most comfortable within a specific range of vibrancy of agreements, as seen in the 3 circles of vibrancy, as Homo lumens people have access to all levels.  For some people, some levels are easy to access and others require development: nonetheless, they are all there in one’s memetic code.  “Metamemetics” then is the memetic information of all the members of a system that is distributed throughout the system, which we experience as the group’s agreements.  “Epimemetics” is then the interplay of nature and nurture in human agreements, which studies the question of how individuals and groups influence the level of vibrancy experienced they can take up in their agreements.

New areas to explore in human agreements, part of the Global Initiative to Map Ecosynomic Deviance and Impact Resilience.

Guest post — Consciously Choosing Abundance-driven Agreements

by Christoph Hinske, ISC Contributing Fellow, and Eyal Drimmer, Certified Vibrancy Guide

You can download a PDF of this blogpost here.


Abundance and Scarcity-Driven Agreements

The problem with most agreements is that we don’t see them.  They just are.  Most often we are not aware that what is happening around us is based on an agreement that one could potentially change.  It seems that life is “just that way.” In our day-to-day interactions, either at work or at home, we are engaging in a set of agreements and relationships, whether we realize it or not.  Sometimes the agreements work, resulting in vibrant experiences and great outcomes, and sometimes they do not, leaving us feeling depleted, fatigued and disappointed about the lousy outcomes.

In addition to shifting agreements in everyday experiences, many of us work to shift agreements in large-scale social change issues, such as renewable energy, food systems, poverty, climate change, and social justice.  Decades of attempts to address these big and small challenges with approaches rooted in scarcity have proven insufficient to the task.

Research at the Institute for Strategic Clarity (ISC) has identified many groups that are finding success in addressing these issues, starting from a very different perspective, one of abundance in human potential.  Ecosynomics, the social science of abundance, offers robust frameworks that take what we have learned in scarcity-based agreements framed by economics and puts it within the much broader, much healthier context of abundance-based agreements.

But how can agreements be made consciously so that people can choose self-determined higher vibrancy in their agreements?  We present a case study from Europe where we are in the process of guiding a group to abundance-based agreements. In doing so, we follow the Vibrancy Living Lab approach, which combines a guiding process with scientific research and social-impact creation to enable a positive contribution to the group and the community where it is embedded.

Starting from a Collapsed State

The example concerns a Community Supported Business (CSB) in a village in Germany; nine people comprising two families and many associates. While the main focus of their work resides on their CSB, they are also engaged in local education and regional politics.

Despite a great vision, the group found itself over the last years in a critical state: the financial situation was getting precarious, the group underwent some hard and energy-depleting times and some were on the edge of burning out. Furthermore, they had already started to lose belief in the meaning behind their venture and to unconsciously accept their scarce reality as given and unchangeable. With those agreements, practices and mindsets they were not able to ensure their private and professional successes.

Based on initial conversations about ecosynomic research, in early 2014, the founders of the community invited us to support them in overcoming their scarcity-driven practices by working out their own abundance-based agreements. 

Raising Awareness for Agreements and Interdependencies

Our first step was to empower them and bring back the feeling of self-determination. We chose two different approaches for this. The first was to stop “just doing” and to start observing. The second was the kind of relationship we entered. In this we decided to step into an unusual role. In addition to being external coaches and consultants, we also agreed to become full members of the group. This gave us more possibility to deeply resonate with them by still being able to mirror them in their dynamics.

The goal of both approaches was to raise the awareness of whether they would rather act out of scarcity or abundance-based agreements and to assess the benefit-cost of devoting resources into the development of abundance-based agreements. The first step into this direction was done through a collaborative Agreement Mapping. This exercise allowed them to understand their unconsciously accepted agreement system and (unintentional) practices leading to perceived scarcity. They were able to do so by tapping into the wisdom of four seemingly very distant fields that humans have used for millennia to understand their interactions, experiences, and produced results:

  1. Resource or economic lens: “How much do we have, of what, to achieve our goals?”
  2. Allocation or political lens: ”Who or what is in power, and who or what decides and enforces?”
  3. Value or cultural lens: “What criteria do they use, and what is important to them?”
  4. Organizing or social interaction lens: “What rules do they apply and how do they organize?”

These currently very distant fields have been integrated by ecosynomic research, allowing a group to understand if it is “stuck in scarcity” or “boosted by abundance.” Why did we do this, and why is this relevant? ISC research conducted in 95 countries proves abundance to be a desired state for any social system. While this seems obvious, direct measurement of this abundance is not. Without measurement, the group could neither take strategic decisions nor convince possible capital providers and shareholders of the importance of “all this fluffy abundance stuff.”

Mapping out the quality of their agreement structure allowed them to create a first understanding of how their embedded and interwoven assumptions shaped their interactions and how those interactions created the basis for the quality of their experiences and results. Understanding that, they started to see that their unpleasant experiences and poor results were a direct effect of the agreements they made on a daily basis in the four fields by (unconsciously) answering the related questions in completely opposite directions. They also started to see that by changing their embedded and interwoven assumptions and agreements they would directly change the experiences they have and the results they produce.

Measuring the benefits of and capacity for abundance gets its inspiration from the quality movement. Initially nobody knew how to assess the benefits of quality programs; this made investment decisions difficult. The innovation was to assess the cost of “no quality.” The insight was that the benefit of quality had to be at least as big as the cost of no quality. Likewise, the benefits of abundance are at least as big as the costs of scarcity, which is straightforward to measure.


After having this higher-level awareness of themselves and their context, we employed embodiment and systemic practices to open up concrete pathways for change.

Consciously Choosing Abundance-Based Agreements

Let’s have a closer look at the groups’ interrelated agreements and practices, as we saw them the day we started to be engaged with them.


After raising awareness of the current situation, the group collectively agreed to allocate resources into the development of abundance-based agreements and to explore practices that would allow them to intentionally start from abundance and collaboration rather than being unintentionally stuck in scarcity and antagonism.

Outcomes and Summary

Through raising awareness, we managed to close the gap between their wishful thinking and currently shared reality–that is, the difference between the espoused agreements and practices in contrast to the ones in use.  Some concrete outcomes are:

  1. They entered a mindset of “we do have more than enough of anything, we just have to find ways of how to manifest the potential we see into results benefiting our business and community.” They are now successfully innovating on their business model by exploring new markets, management, and leadership behaviors.
  2. They have a high-level AND in-depth understanding of their structures and how each individual drives them. Building on that, they realized the interdependencies between the different parts of their “system” and the importance of alignment within it. Both aspects are essential preconditions to relate in an effective, efficient, and abundant way.
  3. They have the awareness that with their scarcity-driven agreements they would by definition neither be able to have the kind of “healthy experiences” nor produce the kind of outcomes they envision.
  4. They are much more conscious and mindful in their daily patterns, leading to more thoughtful interactions. “We now know that we are not yet able to have everything we would like to have, but we also know now what the ground is we are standing on.”
  5. “I learned to respect my own needs and to share them with everybody in our community.”

Engaging with them, you can now a) see and feel the higher-level awareness of “why do I experience what I experience and how I can change it” and b) see and feel the positive energy and motivation to grow into the possibilities they see, which is completely different than the original drive to simply escape scarcity. They are able to do so since they experienced what it is like to work with abundance-driven agreements. Yes, they are now able to work out of this understanding and feeling, rather than just pushing away from something they do not like.

Furthermore, they not only regained trust in their own abilities and goals, but also started to reframe their shared purpose, as well as each individual’s unique contribution to the group.

We think the key learning of this case study is to take time to understand the agreements that (un)consciously drive the behavior of your business. Understanding your agreements builds the basis for lasting success and vibrant interactions, thus, having great experiences and producing above-average outcomes. Awareness, collaboration, and alignment seem to take a lot of time and energy, but there is a massive return for every minute of this investment. During our process the Japanese proverb “If hurried, go around” evolved as our guiding principle, because the fastest way is often not the straightest.

Orbiting or Crash and Burn — Belief-planets and the Gravitational Pull of Coherence

We stick with many things because they seem to work.  Or because that is just the way it is.  That is the hand of cards you were dealt, so stop whining, join in, and play. If and when we even try to rise above the daily slog and question why–why we play by these rules, if I don’t like the experience or outcome–the world’s response slaps us back down to the ground.  If we try and try, again and again, the response gets stronger and stronger, experienced eventually as a crash and burn.  Gravity wins.  In this case, the strength of the argument that slaps us back down is in its coherence, the way it holds together and the way it corresponds with our experience.  “See.  Here is the evidence.  This is the way life really works.  And, because of that, this is also true.  See.  It works.”  This internally consistent story is very hard to argue with, thus the crashing back to the ground.

And, the experience of the questioning mixed with the experience of a crashing back down might also be indicating not that gravity always wins, rather that you haven’t risen high enough to get into outer orbit.  Gravity wins; until it doesn’t.

In recent reading on a different topic, I came across a really helpful characterization of this phenomenon, described by a writer I have cited a few times recently, for the ideas that he has sparked in me.  So, while he applies this idea to another context, I thought his description was so well written, that I would rather cite it in full than try to paraphrase it.  In The Big Picture (2016), a theoretical physicist at Cal Tec, Sean Carroll writes:

No analogy is perfect, but the planets-of-belief metaphor is a nice way to understand the view known in philosophical circles as coherentism. According to this picture, a justified belief is one that belongs to a coherent set of propositions.  This coherence plays the role of the gravitational pull that brings together dust and rocks to form real planets.  A stable planet of belief will be one where all the individual beliefs are mutually coherent and reinforcing.

Some planets are not stable.  People go through life with a a very large number of beliefs, some of which may not be compatible with others, even if they don’t recognize it.  We should think of planets of belief as undergoing gradual but constant churning, bringing different beliefs into contact with one another, just as real planets experience convection in the mantle and plate tectonics near the surface.  When two dramatically incompatible beliefs come into direct contact, it can be like highly reactive chemicals being mixed together, leading to an impressive explosion–possibly even blowing the entire planet apart, until a new one can be reassembled from different parts.

Ideally, we should be constantly testing and probing our planets of belief for inconsistencies and structural deficiencies.  Precisely because they are floating freely through space, rather than remaining anchored on solid and immovable ground, we should always be willing to improve our planets’ old beliefs and replacing them with better ones…The real problem is that we can imagine more than one stable planet–there can be multiple sets of beliefs that are consistent within the sets, but not among them (117-118).

Is the scarcity-only-based planet-of-beliefs the only experience we have?  Or is there another planet-of-belief forming, one based in abundance also?  What will it take to rise high enough to orbit one, to see the other?

Surely Everyone Else Is Disengaged in the Same Way I Am

Equally disengaged and disengaged in the same way are not the same.

Equal.  We can both be disengaged.  We can experience this directly, in our body. None of me shows up.  I feel unseen.  My voice is not needed.  We can see evidence in the residual artifacts.  Only a small percentage of the people present are talking.  If you ask, most people don’t know why they or others are in the meeting.  We can be disengaged to the same depths.  We can both experience low vibrancy in the relationship to self, other, group, nature, and spirit.  And, I suggest, we cannot, by definition, be disengaged in the same way.

Same.  Every human–Homo lumensis unique in how life is experienced, in what is specifically experienced, in why one engages and interacts the way one does.  We might share generalities (we engage physically, emotionally, intellectually) and specifics about how the generalities combine (i.e., temperaments, specific lines of intelligence).  The properties that emerge along the way make each person unique, such as our own personality and life choices.  No two humans are the same, in the particular way they each engage in life’s most important and mundane questions.

If we are equally disengaged and not the same, then I should not assume that the pathway to engage–to get out of being disengaged–is exactly the same for all of us–which usually looks like what I want for me to engage.  Then, if I want us to be engaged, I need to inquire, to find out what is happening in the experience of these others with whom I want to experience being engaged.  From that understanding, it is often quite easy to find a way to engage all of us.

Another way of understanding this is to think about what engages each person and how we experience engaged people.  If Homo lumens is already engaged, then it must look different in the unique gifts and contribution each person develops and contributes, as they tangibilize their own potential.

So maybe, nobody is disengaged in the same way I am, and a more interesting exploration might be to inquire into how we might individually engage in our unique experience together.

How Do I Know If the Agreements I Accept Are the Ones I Would Choose? — The Purpose of the Ecosynomics Framework

Does our “normal” practice today for how we organize our interactions with other people, following the guidelines provided by best practice, lead to the outcomes and experiences — the ends and means — we expect?  What we expect for all of our efforts?  If not, are there examples of people whose practices do?  Everyday for everyone?  Ecosynomics is a name we have given to the emerging science that is identifying, describing, and connecting them.

We find that the outcomes and experiences of our interactions are a choice, a choice in human agreements.  For there to be choice in human agreements, Ecosynomics requires “disciplined discourse, discourse in which there are substantive as well as procedural tests of the worth of statement” (Anderson, 1990, Pragmatic Liberalism, p.47).

Whereas “explanation in physics will inevitably take the form of laws of force and motion…[and] in biology, explanation will have to do with ideas of the development of organism…[for] this is what explanation in physics and biology means…Such core presuppositions of a discipline are not really subject to criticism or experimental analysis.  They are rather constitutive principles of the enterprise” (p. 47).  In ecosynomics, we base explanation on the outcomes and experience human beings have when they interact, through their agreements, thus its constitutive parts are agreements. experience, and outcomes.

The question for testing the value and validity of human agreements, whether they are unconsciously accepted or consciously chosen, is whether they lead to the expected outcomes and experiences, the ends and the means.  If they don’t, we change them.  If we don’t know how, we can look to see whether someone else has figured out how or we innovate on our own.  Some of these agreements are more relevant, of greater value, and some are more rigorous and coherent, more valid.  It would seem that the human experience, in great part, is about the search for forms of agreements about how we interact that lead, ever more so, to the experiences and outcomes we expect.  The ecosynomics framework shows that it is possible to test the value and validity of forms of agreements.  What do you want?  What do you agree to?  Does it work?

Who Is First? Me, You, Us, Nature, Spirit?

“Most people think self-oriented and other-oriented motivations are opposite ends of a continuum… Yet, I’ve consistently found that they’re completely independent.  You can have neither, and you can have both,” with UPenn Prof. Duckworth quoting Wharton Prof. Adam Grant (Duckworth, 2016, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, New York: Scribner, p.159).  Angela Duckworth’s research shows that people who most persevere–her paragons of grit–have found and work deeply with both (1) their own passion, their relationship to their own self potential and its manifestation, and (2) the purpose for their engagement, their unique contribution to the group (which she refers to as the other).

Grant’s and Duckworth’s research, and that of others I have shared in earlier blogposts, supports what we are finding, that where you experience a vibrant relationship with your own potential and its development, you also experience a vibrant relationship with the other and with the group, where your unique contribution is invited and acknowledged, and with the source and process of creativity.  The research suggests a correlation–these primary relationships tend to be at a similar level of vibrancy–where one is, the others tend to be.  This is correlational, not causal.  We don’t really know which comes first, which would be the causal explanation, only that they tend to be at similar levels of vibrancy experienced.

The perennial question is, “Which comes first?”  The self, the other, the group, nature, spirit?  This seems to be a question that elicits lots of opinion and dogma, and has for thousands of years.  Maybe a more fruitful question explores where we get the most leverage in shifting our experience to a more vibrant one, where the vibrancy experienced in all five primary relationships is higher?  Some of our research suggests that the highest leverage is to start with yourself, because it is the easiest and most direct intervention we each have on a continuous basis.  While it is definitely hard work to change your own perceptions and behaviors, you have permanent and continuous access to them, and you get to choose.  It is much harder, if not impossible, to do this for others.  So, maybe a more interesting question focuses on where the leverage is.  The self?

As the Adam Grant quote I started with suggests, maybe the power of being able to choose an experience of higher vibrancy comes from not having to choose a point on a continuum between serving your self or another, because the five primary relationships are not tradeoffs, rather something achieved together, because they are fundamentally different, because they are independent.

Guest post — Homo lumens — Where Attention = Love = Energy

Guest post by Leslie Ritchie-Dunham, Director of Creative at Vibrancy Labs

The work of Vibrancy is to surface, understand and rethink the underlying agreements of how we, as Homo lumens, recognize and organize ourselves.

Why do we do this? Because what modern organizations are still doing for the most part; how they work, how they are structured, how they ask people to enter into and accept unhealthy agreements already set in place, isn’t working for most. So people tend to disengage, many even actively disengage (i.e., consciously hurting the organization through their lack of engagement), BUT, if you ask, anyone and everyone (at least every person I have asked) wants to be more engaged in their work and lives, wants to connect more to others and to the earth, to work more and harder on something they love, to just love more, to live more, and enjoy the ride together more.

So why don’t we? Because of Available Capacity. Just like on your iPhone. If you buy the 8G iPhone you will fill it up pretty quickly, so then you get the 16G, and then the 32G and finally the 64G, maybe even the 128G! And what happens… yup, regardless of the amount of storage you buy, they get filled up too darn quickly with all those wonderful photos of friends and family, entertaining videos, songs for every moment, seemingly infinite docs, notes and drawings, and all the interesting stuff one finds online that is really, really cool and you don’t want to forget or that just might be useful some day…

People fill their phone to its available capacity. People do the same thing in their lives, for the same reason. They shine their light to the capacity available in any and every moment (unless the impulse has been educated out of them…). Because people are Homo lumens, or beings of light, and they are all these forms of light energy: life, light, energy, color, bodies (mass) in space with movement, playfulness, thought, intelligence, joy and love (and of course potentially all the opposites as well if not engaged).

ALE Graphic

The ALE graphic, above, was my first graphic, done years ago, to demonstrate the insight that Attention = Love = Energy. They are all manifestations of the same universal energy. We as Homo lumens manifest all three through our thinking, feeling and willing.

A human being as a being of light naturally wants to fill all the available capacity they can find with their creative gesture through their own unique forms of expression. And they will look in the nooks and crannies of their lives (just like on our phones) to find those spaces of a bit more available capacity to fill. The more spaces of available capacity they find to fill, the happier they are, the more they shine and it just goes up and up and up until they hit the Available Capacity Bar.


Humans beings, as beings of light, shining through our thinking, feeling and willing. What is the available capacity of our cultural and organizational structures for us to shine within?

What is the Available Capacity Bar? It is the bar (or ceiling of glass, or even brick as the case may be) of available capacity set by the structures of modern culture and organizations. Overall these seemingly set structures keep the available capacity a human being can shine into shockingly low. In fact, many, if not most organizations keep the available capacity bar below the point where a being of light can function in any healthy way. So people have to medicate themselves because it is unnatural for a being of light to NOT shine. It is actually quite painful to be required to extinguish the light that wants to shine from each and every one of us.

So what if? What if we discontinue using cultural and organizational structures that by their unconscious, or perhaps even conscious design keep the available capacity so painfully low? What if we actively start to design organizational structures that, instead of continuing to foster that low bar, actually raise the available capacity bar?  And, as we change the organizational structures, we can begin to change the cultural structures as well.

This is what Vibrancy does. We do this by helping people, through their organizations, make the flip from Unconsciously Accepted Agreements to Consciously Chosen Agreements. We do this by shining a light down into the basements and foundations of our cultural and organizational structures to find the agreements we are actually working from, so they can now be seen and understood.

When the true underlying agreements are seen and understood, people can either consent to the existing agreements by choice, or take them out back and throw them in the dumpster so that we can start again. But on purpose this time. With clearly understood, agreed upon purpose this time. And, as we start to develop these new structures, learning from the organizations already forging ahead out of a similar understanding and desire, we will learn, and we will add the ability to keep raising that available capacity bar in our organizational structures so people can continue to find new ways to shine. Because, unlike our phones, we as Homo lumens can generate our own infinite available capacity.

And why? Because that is what people do. That is what Homo lumens do. They strive to shine. And they strive to shine together, each interaction capable of setting off an exponential chain reaction of energy as our lights fuse. That is why we love to come together, to ride together through this life, relishing those mega-ton moments of juicy creative explosions along the way.

When people shine together and make those creative explosions, we all benefit. As more and more people live into their consciously chosen agreements, the available capacity bar just keeps getting higher and higher and higher…. and we all get access to that increased capacity, thus raising the vibrancy/capacity level of the world.

Vibrancy is a choice. We can, individually and together, make choices for ever more conscious agreements, by doing the work to identify and understand the underlying agreements we have accepted, to examine them and choose for ourselves ever more available capacities of love, connection, experience, work, play, joy, and life. As Homo lumens it is too painful to do otherwise.

Where Am I Actually Disengaged, in Your World or Mine?

I have read quite a bit lately about the very high percentage of people, across the globe, who report being disengaged at work.  A recent McKinsey study of millions of employees confirms this finding–most people are not engaged at work.

This does not make sense to me.  I experience that Homo lumens is always generating creativity, somewhere.  Maybe it is not that people are disengaged at work, rather, as Prof. Ellen Langer suggests, they are “otherwise engaged.”  They are engaged, just not with what the leader wants.

What if the experience of being disengaged is living in an external reality that is simply different from your internal reality.  While you might be disengaged in the external reality others observe, you are highly engaged within your internal reality.  There are plenty of passionate, creative ideas flowing within you all of the time, in your engaged inner reality.  The “problem” is that you do not share this creativity in the external reality, for whatever reason that disengages you.

If this possibility makes sense to you, then the question for leaders might not be about how to engage employees, as they are already engaged.  People don’t need to be engaged or motivated, they already are.  The question then becomes how to release the engagement people already have in their internal reality into their engagement in their external reality.

If people are already and always highly engaged, in their internal reality, then maybe leadership focus should be more on how to stop disengaging people.  This shifts the effort from trying to energize automatons to working with the creativity that is already there.  It is not surprising to find, as in the Gallup and McKinsey studies, that the companies with disengaged people also have disengaging practices, with underlying agreement structures that promote low relatedness. Our own vibrancy survey confirms this.  An antidote would be to work with agreement structures that promote higher relatedness.  Higher relatedness with the people that you hired in the first place.

Step #4 — Ask What Agreements Shape Your Experience

You can choose the experience you want.  In the third blogpost in this series, you decided what experience you wanted.  In the 4th step, we ask what agreements shape that experience.

Underlying your experience is a set of agreements that determine, in great part, what experience you have.  These are the rules of the game.  In the following 2-minute video and 2 audios, we explore what agreements are and how you see them.


A 23-minute conversation between Jim and Jackie regarding agreements (click on the MP3 file Making an Agreement)


A 44-minute conversation between Jim and Orland Bishop about agreements, what they are, why they are important, and how people work with them (click on the MP3 file Orland Bishop and Jim Dialog on Agreements).

What agreements can you see that shape your experience?  Could you choose different agreements?  Could you talk about this choice with the other people in the group?

In the next series of blogposts, you and I will explore how to design agreements.

Step #3 — Choosing The Experience You Want

You can choose the experience you want, every day.  In the second blogpost in this series, we mapped your experience on the 3 Circle diagram.

In the 3rd step, you choose the experience you want.  Given what you saw in the mapping of your experience in Step #2, is that the experience you want in that group?  Is that the experience that you feel is available to the group?  The experience that the group could have, if it only decided so.  Here are some blogposts describing ways of seeing what you know about this choice:

In this 3rd step, describe the experience you would prefer.  Describe how this is different than the current experience.

In Step #4, we will look at the agreements underpinning this difference in experience.