Jeremy Lent, "The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find our Place in the Universe" (New Society, 2021)


In this episode of Systems and Cybernetics I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Jeremy Lent, talking with him about his newest book The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe. Lent is a former Tech CEO, and is founder of The Liology Institute. His previous book The Patterning Instinct prompted The Guardian’s George Monbiot to comment that “almost every page caused me to rethink what I held to be true.” I’m right there with you George – I had the same reaction to this book. The Web of Meaning offers a compelling foundation for a new story of interconnectedness, showing how, as our civilization unravels, another world is possible. Lent investigates humanity's age-old questions — Who am I? Why am I? How should I live? — from a fresh perspective, weaving together findings from modern systems thinking, evolutionary biology, and cognitive neuroscience with insights from Buddhism, Taoism, and Indigenous wisdom.

Jeremy and I had a fun time discussing our favorite systems thinkers from Bateson to Wiener, to Maturana and Macy. We agreed upon our preference for Margulis’s cooperation theory — “life did not take over the world by combat but by networking” — over Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’. And how do spirituality and ancient knowledge systems fit into the systems conversation? Lent writes that “…we can define spirituality as seeking meaning in the coherent connections between things, rather than in the things themselves. In this sense, spirituality and systems thinking are intrinsically aligned”. Amazing. I am confident readers will have their own Monbiot reaction and make their own connections — facilitated by Lent’s wise insights throughout the book.

Listening to this conversation will provide a mere appetizer for readers who want to explore “patterns of sustainable flourishing” and explore questions like what is humanity’s role? I encourage diving into Lent’s work and asking: “can we complete, through conscious tending, what Tao and Te have generated since life began… to use the unique features of conceptual consciousness to integrate with nature rather than try to conquer her?”. Toward the symbiocene. Just imagine.

Kevin Lindsay is a 25+ year Silicon Valley software product strategist and marketer, and graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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"What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?" - Gregory Bateson
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