Why Don’t We Know What We Are?

I discovered even more of my ignorance the other day.  I did not know that we, as a human race, and as a deeply evolved tradition in science, did not have a clear definition of what we humans are.  I was taught that we are Homo sapiens sapiens.  I assumed this was pretty obvious, and thus well defined.  Then I heard a talk by an archaeologist and read a BBC article stating that, “we can’t agree on the defining features of a human…Science has yet to agree on a formal description for our genus, Homo, or our species, sapiens..

The article goes on to describe how long this has been unclear, “the 18th-century biologist Carl Linnaeus..was the first to standardise the way species and genera are named and defined. He named thousands of species in his seminal 1735 book Systema Naturae, but when it came to our genus, he got a bit metaphysical.  When he named each animal genus, Linnaeus carefully noted its defining physical features. But under Homo he simply wrotenosce te ipsum“: a Latin phrase meaning ‘know thyself’…Clearly, there is no shortage of possible scientific definitions we could legitimately apply to our genus. But there is no consensus about which definition is the right one, and given how strongly opinions vary, it seems unlikely that the issue is going to be resolved in the near future.  It might seem surprising that we struggle to define the very thing we are. But perhaps it is exactly because this debate centres on humanity that consensus is so hard to find.”

These observations of the lack of clarity of what we are, as human beings, leads me to wonder whether it is because, like with many things, the answer is hard to see because we have backed ourselves into a corner from which we cannot find the answer.  Linnaeus rekindled the ancient Greek aphorism to know thyself, categorizing us as the being who knows him/herself, Homo sapiens.  Then we proceeded to try to characterize and differentiate ourselves by our material form, our externally visible biology.  Know thyself is inwardly focused.  The shape of our forehead and size of our brain is outwardly focused.  Maybe we struggle to characterize that which makes us interesting and unique in our contribution to each other and the universe, what I characterize as Homo lumens, because we look more at our physical form than what it is housed in and what is produced creatively from that physical form.

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Harmonic Vibrancy – How Does It Show Up in the World? Results from a Survey

Harmonic Vibrancy. People are quite adept at explaining their experience of the many textures of harmonic vibrancy they encounter in any set of agreements among humans.  They feel its existence, they sense its vitality, its balance.  They can taste it, smell it, see it, and perceive its warmth.  They can hear it.  There are places they love to go, homes they enjoy visiting, conversations they relish.

As Homo lumens – beings of light – people are highly sensitized receptors of the infinite textures of harmonic vibrancy, the human experience of the flow of spirit.[1] Harmonic is the fitting together, the experience of something extra, something special emerging.  Vibrancy is the experience of vitality, exuberance, flourishing.  People know when they are in the presence of higher or lower harmonic vibrancy.  They use this knowing, whether conscious or unconscious, to guide their interactions with other people, always seeking greater harmonic vibrancy, greater social health.  Quality of life, often described in terms of happiness, is the experience of the flow of light, not the temporary attainment of a specific amount of light.

Why Care. Thousands of years of human experience show clearly that scarcity and abundance are perceptions – perceptions of one’s relationship to the flow of life.[2] Everyone is clear that they suffer most when in the presence of the perception of scarcity and that they live most fully when in the presence of the perception of abundance.  Everyone is seeking greater abundance.[3] The challenge comes in how to achieve it, with an infinite number of philosophies and frameworks for achieving it.  Most pathways do not lead to greater abundance: some do.  More and more people are discovering pathways that do.

Questions This Raises. If people care about the harmonic vibrancy they experience, what are the characteristics of this harmonic vibrancy?  Can people discern higher and lower levels of it?  What is the role of leadership in the experience of harmonic vibrancy in a group?  Do all groups have access to this higher harmonic vibrancy or does it depend on the resources the group has?

What We See. We surveyed 126 individuals about groups of people they had experienced.[4] They told us the following story.  In some of the groups, they experienced total scarcity, in others some scarcity and some abundance, and in still others they experienced deep abundance (see Figure 1a).  They told us that the groups where they experienced greater harmonic vibrancy, they also experience a higher quality in the group’s leadership (see Figure 1b).  They also shared that where they experienced greater overall harmonic vibrancy, they experienced a greater harmonic vibrancy in their relationship to their own self, to others, to the group, to nature, and to spirit.  These relationships are experienced at similar levels of health – when any relationship is strong, the others are also relatively strong, and when any relationship is weak, the other relationships are also relatively weak (see Figure 1c).

Implications. These findings go directly in the face of prevailing theories of economics, where one relationship (e.g., the self, the other, the group, nature, spirit) prevails over all relationships.  This changes how we deal with the resources that sustain human life, how we organize our work together, and how we exchange value in our agreements.  If there are indeed groups where people experience the deeper abundance all humans desire, and these groups seem to have similar characteristics, what does this mean for how we engage in groups together?

Recent Observations. Our recent read puts the number of collectives experimenting with new agreements based implicitly on ecosynomic axioms at over ten thousand.  Some are well known as radical departures from simple economic principles, while others are just being discovered because of their much greater performance outcomes, described in exceptional terms under traditional indicators and with additional expressions of much higher vibrancy and harmony.  These collectives are redefining health, how it is assessed, and how it is achieved.  They are sustainably doing what others thought to be impossible, in the most normal of ways.  A school in El Salvador has tripled the local percentage of young girls entering and staying in primary school.  A community health center in Texas maintains top-hospital level services for an increasingly uninsured population, when all other centers are cutting even basic services.  A textile mill in North Carolina pays living wages to its high-craftsmanship shop workers in an industry that has outsourced its low-margin, commodity products to low-skilled workers in Asia.  A small town in New York created the equivalent of hundreds of jobs by circulating millions of dollars of trade with its own local, complementary currency.  A private currency system in Japan has replaced a large percentage of expensive, hospital-based elderly care not covered by the national insurance plan, with people exchanging “caring relationship” credits.  These collectives are redefining ordinary, by acknowledging and stepping further into the multiple manifestations of light.

Next Steps. To identify, connect, and support these experimental collectives, the first step is to begin to define a model of health.  We have developed a model of ecosynomics, a first step in this direction.  With this model of health, we are working on two pathways to identifying the 100,000 collectives: through observers and through surveys.  We are connecting with and engaging observers on the fringe of many different disciplines.  As thought leaders in their own fields, they are aware of many of the emerging models, which we hope to connect across disciplines. We are also expanding the survey.  We invite you to join our exploration of ecosynomics and the agreements humanity is discovering to save itself, by taking the survey yourself, or visiting our website (www.instituteforstrategicclarity.org).


[1] Understanding the human experience as Homo lumens – a being of light – leads to very different observations than Homo sapiens – being of wisdom or understanding.   As a knowing being, once we know something, we think we are done – I studied, now it is time to do.  I already know what to do.  As a light being, we are always on the path to more light, an infinite source.  While knowledge could also be seen this way, it is usually not experienced this way.

[2] From the Oxford English Dictionary, we can distinguish among scarce, sufficient, and abundant.  Scarce means restricted in amount.  Sufficient means an amount adequate to the purpose, enough.  Abundant means overflowing, more than sufficient, plenty.

[3] Interestingly, this seeking of abundance is directly in contrast with the economic observation that something is only of value, from a supply-demand perspective, if it is scarce.  Others will want it because I have it.

[4] The 126 people surveyed come from 17 countries, range from 21 to 77 years old, and tend to have a graduate education.  They described groups ranging from less than 10 people to over a 1,000 people.