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28 Sep 2010

A Discussion about ‘Ways of Knowing’ in Transition …

Here’s a fascinating (albeit rather lengthy… make yourself a nice cup of tea and sit down to read this with that apple cake you just made), account of a discussion a few people involved in Transition Network held recently to discuss the balance between inner and outer work, and the validity of different ways of knowing.  It is offered here in the hope that it stimulates some in depth and insightful comments (I’m sure it will….).  The meeting was attended by Sophy Banks, Ben Brangwyn, Naresh Giangrande, Rob Hopkins, Peter Lipman, Hilary Prentice and Fiona Ward, and set out to explore the following four questions:

  • what is the role of inner work in transition?
  • what is the role of spirituality in transition?
  • what’s implicit or explicit for each of these?
  • what (relative) emphasis should we give to the various ways of knowing?

These questions had arisen, in part, due to the inclusion of “critical thinking” as a pattern in the next version of the Transition Handbook and some objections to Rob’s suggestion in that draft pattern that “critical thinking” was the only reliable way of knowing. Following the meeting, each participant agreed to write up their thoughts, so that the debate could be continued more widely on the Transition Network site.

These thoughts, in the order they were written up follow…

  • Rob Hopkins
  • Sophy Banks
  • Hilary Prentice
  • Ben Brangwyn
  • Naresh Giangrande
  • Peter Lipman

There was also a briefing document (MSWord) prepared by Sophy Banks in advance of the discussion. 

Some thoughts on ‘Ways of Knowing’ – from a discussion circle, 7th September 2010, Totnes, Devon, UK

Rob Hopkins (co-founder of Transition Town Totnes, co-founder of Transition Network)

This was a meeting which explored a dynamic ‘edge’ in Transition, that of the relationship between science/critical thinking and the ‘inner’ aspects of Transition and spirituality. It was triggered in part by my inclusion of a pattern on Critical Thinking as part of the rewrite of the Transition Handbook, as well as by an on-line discussion I briefly participated in which explored whether Transition was a ‘cult’.

That thread was a great demonstration of what Massimo Pigliucci describes in ‘Nonsense on Stilts’ as “the downside of scepticism: it can easily turn into an arrogant position of a priori rejection of any new phenomenon or idea, a position that is as lacking in critical thinking as the one of the true believer, and that simply does not help either science or the public at large”. However, it did get me thinking about how Transition can be perceived, what are the checks against which we determine information, and the potential for the inner aspect of Transition to open a door to pseudoscience. It felt timely and important to be giving some space to a discussion of these issues. The key consideration we focused on in the evening’s discussion was around ways of knowing, how do we weigh and balance different arguments, how to we distinguish between different information and between good science and bad science?

Climate change is a key example here. I meet people in Totnes who tell me that climate change isn’t real, that to believe in climate change is as valid a belief system as not believing it, because after all we all make our own reality anyway. However, the scientific consensus around climate change that has been built over 200 years of analysis, measuring and modelling is built on the formulating of hypotheses and testing them. It is the result of the organised scepticism of the scientific approach. It wasn’t intuited, channelled, dowsed or dreamt. When climate science is challenged, critical thinking and the scientific approach is the common language that acts as the final arbiter in such debates. Likewise with a range of topics, the scientific method is the touchstone. The question that arises though, and which was explored over some rather delicious blackberry and apple crumble on Monday evening, was whether quantitative science is the only valid way of knowing. There is, of course, a strong argument that that is indeed the case. Many scientists would argue that anything that can’t be measured doesn’t really matter, that it has no value. 

For me, critical thinking is a vital tool, our first, and primary, port of call in checking how we know what it is that we think we know. Transition is about how we design a way forward in a time of energy scarcity, economic contraction and with depleting resources, and it is clear that such decisions about how to allocate scarce resources need to be based on the best available evidence. In this sense, I would argue that for Transition groups to develop a literacy around this, an ability to discuss different studies and different research, evaluate opposing arguments, debate points of view and familiarise itself with the debates in the scientific literature is key, as important as, say, developing a culture of social enterprise or running permaculture design courses. Having a ‘Scientific Literacy’ group, one might suggest, is as important as having a Heart and Soul group. 

I came to the discussion with concerns about reports that one Transition Trainer had recently added begun adding an explicitly spiritual piece to the Transition Training. I left with some useful insights around the role of inner work, for which I am grateful to the other participants. One of the main ones is that while critical thinking is key to understanding issues, to analysing challenges, to checking things against, it doesn’t explain what we actually see happening in terms of Transition. Yes the climate science is clear, robust, unequivocal and very scary. Yet why is it that so few people do anything about it? Here we start to move away from the measurable, and into the less tangible world of fears, denial, psychology, all manner of far less rational and much more emotional thinking. In short, critical thinking is key to how we know, how we understand and analyse what it around us, but when it comes to responding, and understanding why people do what they do (or don’t), other insights are required. The idea that providing people with more and more robust scientific information will lead to their becoming more and more aware of climate change, and then becoming more and more engaged in solutions to the problem is quite clearly not what we see happening around us. 

A Transition on the scale we are looking at in the Transition movement will not be sustained or driven solely by our ability to understand scientific arguments. Any process that will be effective will also include an inner aspect, acknowledging the grief it engenders, the distress it creates, the letting go of a future we had thought to be a fixed certainty. Decisions we make as to what are the most appropriate strategies for an energy descent future will, alongside critical thinking, also inevitably be based also on ethics, values, and different ways of understanding, as well as on local politics, fears, commercial interests and so on. If logic determined our actions we would be living in a very different world!

The potential danger for me is that the idea that a spiritual aspect needs to be explicitly integral to the Transition Training becomes more widely accepted. This, for me, would be wildly self-defeating, deeply excluding for many people, and utterly pointless. Most peoples’ experience of getting involved with Transition is already that it is inspiring enough, reconnects them to others and to the support that challenging times will require, gives them some of the inner resources that effective Transition will find useful, and offers a sense of connection to a wider movement for change. That is sufficient.  

What concerns me is that Transition, and Transition training, is always accessible and open for anyone of any faith, or not. For me, those who feel that Transition is a spiritual process are having one experience, but that that is something that is implicit for them, not something explicit in how Transition is communicated. Some people find football a transcendent, spiritually nourishing experience, but it is not explicitly presented as such. Ultimately, in Transition, I would argue that critical thinking needs to be (where it isn’t already) the key thing we turn to first when evaluating new approaches, new information, new understandings. In terms of ways of knowing, the scientific method, checking back against evidence, continually challenging assumptions, is, in terms of ‘ways of knowing’, our primary method. It needs to be embedded deeper into Transition, with a communicating of skills to better enable this. At the same time, I think it is vital to distinguish between ways of knowing and ways of responding. Many studies have shown that our intuition, our feelings, our perception, are not reliable in the same way that well conducted tests and research are… one simple example of this is the famous awareness test video

The inner aspects of Transition, and what is being developed in the Training, focuses on ways of responding that explore insights from psychology, the effects of the powerlessness felt by many, the grief engendered by peak oil and climate change, what it means to be alive at this time. That takes us out of the world of the measurable, the testable, and the relationship between the two, the edge, will always be fascinating, frustrating and subject to different opinions, but it is vitally important to explore, and the creating a space for this is one of the things that makes Transition distinctive. I believe these two things can sit alongside each other, and was very grateful for this fascinating opportunity to explore what that might look like.

Sophy Banks (co-founded Transition Training, co-originated Heart & Soul group in Transition Town Totnes)


I started by owning some of my underlying emotional attachment in this. I come from a family with a strong scientific and intellectual background, which gave me an excellent grounding and confidence in science and critical thinking, and which was not great at communicating about emotions. I left my work as an engineer partly because I realised that I wasn’t going to find any answers to the big questions there – why is the world in such a mess? Why are so many people so unhappy when they seem to have what they need? Why are we building technologies that are so obviously destroying our means of well being? I found many more useful answers to these through my own inner enquiry, training as a psychotherapist, and then as a family systems constellator. I can see that my tendency is sometimes to want to downplay the importance of science, in reaction to an upbringing where it dominated the landscape of communication, and was the only explicitly valued way of knowing truth. In which I think my family and education was pretty representative of our mainstream culture. And that speaking up for the importance of inner worlds, of feelings, of the less visible layers of discourse and behaviour is something I care deeply about.

Many of the things I said in the discussion have been included elsewhere, or are in the background document I circulated. What follows is a round up of things that haven’t been covered so much by others.

On Ways of Knowing

I found it interesting that it’s possible for this group of people at the centre of Transition to be proposing emphasising the importance of critical thinking above other ways of knowing when the success of Transition itself is largely due to extraordinary intuition – sensing into what’s needed and finding a model that would appeal to so many in different places. And that has been acutely sensitive to how to communicate the tricky messages of Transition to many people who have been newly drawn to this kind of work as a result.  So I wondered if something happens where we are unable to see or value our greatest strengths, as fish don’t have a word for water. And that those of us with the most formal science education – probably me and Naresh, both with first degrees in hard sciences – spoke so strongly for being aware of the limitations of science as well as the grandiosity of some of the scientific establishment.

The range of ways of knowing I listed – emotional, ethical, sensory, intuition, as well as rational – are genuinely ways of knowing different kinds of truth, and rational thinking or science alone will not help with all the questions we need to answer. Here are some examples:

  • What kind of event should we run in our transition project that will engage young single mothers?
  • How should we approach local government?
  • How do we deal with someone who is using up a lot of meeting time on their pet project?
  • What should I do when I am feeling exhausted? Or when you are?
  • How do we keep the energy of our project going?

Finding good answers to these kinds of questions relies on a mix of emotional intelligence and intuition. Knowing how a group works, understanding the issues faced by people in different circumstances, sensing what an individual needs in terms of support or challenge. Will science help us answer these questions? If I’m in a Transition group discussing these things I hope I’m there with people who are good at feeling into relationships, who are empathic and intuitive about what kind of events work well in our community, who are experienced in local dynamics, understand group working, and are practical about finding ways forward.

Some other kinds of question that need a different kind of knowing..

  • Is stem cell research a good thing?
  • Should we spend a health budget on knee replacements for active 70 year olds or more risky transplants for the young?
  • What should be the legal limit on abortion?
  • Should euthanasia be legal?

 These are ethical questions, and depend on your view and understanding of life. Transition groups don’t make these decisions, but people somewhere are doing so, and perhaps more locally in the future we’ll need people who can find answers that work.  I hope that they have a good grounding in ethics, and a compassionate and rounded view of life and how humans and our wider systems for living work. If they are trained in a way that has valued rational thought above all else I don’t think they’re equipped to make the decisions. Of course in the discussion there may be scientific research that is useful, and they will use their cognitive brains to ensure that they follow trains of thought, but the ways to get to workable, ethical answers will depend on something other than scientific research. 

None of this takes away from the enormous importance of being able to think clearly, and include scientific research where it is available and useful. We don’t need to set up a hierarchy in our tool box, or set one thing against each other. We need everything, and we need to be as skilful in all of them as possible.

On using discriminating awareness, the critical faculty in all ways of knowing

In all the ways of knowing the ability to distinguish between what is skilful, appropriate, constructive, and right, and what is not, is what’s truly important. So we need to know when our feelings are helpful, pointing to missing pieces; when we really need to express some emotion otherwise it will distort the clarity we are seeking; when our feelings are triggered by old patterns that aren’t really relevant to the current situation, and would be best taken elsewhere.  Similarly with intuitions, they may be fantastic or misleading, and the skill is to tell the difference. And with rational thinking – there’s a lot of poor science and misleading thinking around, and the word critical is critical.

How can we support healthy groups?

Something very common and usually unspoken in groups that work well is that people quickly learn who is good and reliable at different ways of knowing – who to trust about feelings, who’s good at research and facts, who knows what’s happening in the community and so on.

What goes wrong in groups that pattern language needs to address? My understanding is that the kind of problems that have arisen in Transition groups are more from people who are strong in one style of working wanting to dominate the discussion and marginalise others. The split between between creative / intuitive / process people and planning / rational / action people is common and can cause real difficulties. I haven’t yet heard of a group that is in difficulties because they don’t value or understand scientific debate – though I see other groups outside Transition who clearly don’t. The hardest thing is to stop the divide from causing a split in a group – to hold the tension and create healthy balance. So my sense is that we don’t so much need a pattern to emphasise the importance of one way of knowing, as a pattern or several that supports the use of appropriate ways of knowing, balancing and valuing the role of all.

Some points about emotions

  • In our western culture we are collectively defended against feelings – they are frowned upon in all our places or major discourse and decision making. Being emotional is seen as a reason for being excluded from political, academic, legal and other arenas of debate. So we don’t get to hear about what causes us anger, pain or fear in these discussions – and our feeback about what we’re doing is weakened as a result. (For example – in the aftermath of one of the shootings of many children in a school in the USA, mothers of those who were killed were excluded from the ensuing discussion about gun laws. The gun manufacturers naturally had a place at the table because they will contribute to the rational debate. Did that help to reach a better wisdom than hearing the truth about the suffering caused by guns?).
  • That they help us to know certain kinds of truth (what I care about, what’s happening for someone else, when I’m in danger, when something is unjust). We’ve evolved to know things through these feelings, in a different way to how we know things with our minds.
  • That emotions are always present, even in “rational” discussions – because of how the brain works.
  • That our clearest rational thinking can only happen when we are emotionally clear. As long as there are feelings present these will distort people’s capacity to think clearly. The extreme being actual an inability to perceive reality as it is, or to hear the truth when it’s spoken (such as climate change denial – an emotional, not rational process). So you could say that the key to good critical thinking is emotional intelligence and wisdom.


I’ve said some pieces about spirituality in the background document I sent round. I think there are clear reasons why we should speak about the spiritual dimension of Transition providing we’re clear about what that means (see that document), and don’t start to emphasise, or devalue, any particular tradition. We need to take the term spiritual in its widest terms, be careful about what language we use, respecting that spiritual traditions are both close to many people’s heart and lives, have done lots of good in the world, and have also been the cause of much suffering.

Inner and Outer

We talked a lot about the splits that occur in our culture – between rational and emotion, inner and outer, spirituality and science.

In the summary of models and terms I mentioned Wilber’s four quadrants, part of his Integral model. I gave an outline of the quadrants in the background document. In the discussion I proposed that there are a number of views of inner and outer, which might be summarised as follows:

  • inner doesn’t have any real existence or meaning. Consciousness arises from electrons firing, it is determined by the physical. This is scientific reductionism – science can know everything.
  • inner is valuable in that it serves the outer. Environmental movements sometimes have this approach – understanding behavioural change (inner) is useful because it shows us how to get the results we want (outer change)…
  • Inner and outer are both valuable, necessary and are different. Understanding and speaking about inner worlds enriches and deepens Transition. Discussions around how to create healthy, enjoyable, sustainable inner dimensions to our lives have meaning and value in their own right, just as the outer aspects do.
  • I guess a fourth view would be that consciousness is everything, the physical world has no real meaning, and the only place where it makes sense to do any work is inner.

 For me the third view is the only one that really works. We can’t reduce everything to either inner or outer, nor is one the servant or incidental by product of the other.

In the discussion we reiterated the interconnected loops of inner and outer – that our outer actions are shaped by our inner world view. Similar the outer world, our experiences, groups, institutions we inhabit, shape our inner experience, our beliefs and our world view. Understanding how both work, and also how they interrelate gives the deepest understanding of our selves, our times, and the greatest possibility of working effectively.

Reflecting on this discussion

I found this a fascinating process, to see how a small piece of writing could open up such a huge area of discussion. It felt like a long overdue conversation around inner and outer in Transition, and I was very moved by the willingness of the group who came together to really hear each other and get to the best answers possible. I felt like I heard much more clearly Rob’s point of view, and was reminded that I need to adjust for my tendency to underplay the role of science and rationality, when it’s such a strength of how I work as well as being vitally important for many kinds of understanding and decision making.

The other way we could have explored this is through some kind of process, such as a constellation. This would give a way of seeing how we are expressing not only our personal worldviews, but are also representing parts of the system – in Transition and wider – that we are involved with. I would still be very interested to find an opportunity to look at this issue in this way.

Hilary Prentice (co-founder of the Heart & Soul group in Transition Town Totnes)

Initial Feelings

It was exciting and a bit scary to be in this meeting, having been very active in starting the Heart and Soul group in the early days of TTT, but less involved more recently. Would I be able to join the current stream of thinking/feeling/understanding as it has developed? Are the insights that lay behind the inclusion of inner work from the start of this movement still relevant – or in fact have there been some differences in understanding about this from the beginning that we are collectively now becoming ready to address and make sense of?

– Micro and Macro historical context informing and shaping this conversation

Micro: From its very beginning, the Totnes ‘psychology of change’ group that Rob had called for morphed into ‘heart and soul’, as it seemed we needed to cover both psychological (heart)and spiritual (soul) dimensions of the transition we are in. It has always covered a broad field, including the early big sell-out speaker meetings eg with Peter Russell on the evolution of consciousness, and Marianne Williamson as an overtly spiritual speaker. These were, I understand, no more contentious than other kinds of speakers, and brought new people into the transition field. There are now transition initiatives whose ‘inner transition’ groups have chosen to call themselves ‘spirit of transition’, eg Presteigne. .

At a macro level: my understanding from the explorations of Ecopsychology, is broadly that one major root of the mess we are in arises from the division of science from religion, from the humanities, (outer from inner, ecos from psyche), where in earlier cultures and up to the medieval period, they were not separate. Hence philosophy, (now meaning love of sophy!) meant love of wisdom, and included equally enquiry into the inner and outer workings of the universe.

This separation allowed science and technology to experiment and act apon a newly inanimate material world, and to develop very rapidly, but literally ‘split off’ from spirit, from the worlds of meaning, emotional significance, or a deep morality. A divided rather than holistic consciousness; knowledge little tempered by wisdom. This division has also led to ongoing hostilities and reactivity between scientific and religious establishments , and a ‘swinging pendulum’; from persecution of scientists, to the killing of huge numbers of wise women, women healers as ‘witches’, to dominance by an aggressively materialistic world view, to an anti-scientific flakiness and avoidence of critical thinking, to a broad brush aversion to ‘flakiness’, sweeping all manner of alternatives indiscriminately into the dustbin. There are legacies of great wounding and trauma in the name of both religion and science.

Collectively, it is as though our capacity to exploit the apparently inanimate earth as well as each other has developed far beyond our inner growth/development/capacity to heal ourselves/maturity. ‘Brilliant’ technologies of war and of consumption are harnessed to separative states of consciousness heavily laden with greed rather than sharing, revenge rather than forgiveness, judgement rather than compassion, arrogance rather than humility….etc, ; the territory of inner growth, usually known also as spiritual growth.

Transition therefore needs not to side with one side of this split against the other, which would be to perpetuate rather than heal the problem. It absolutely needs to integrate and support our inner/moral/spiritual growth, as this is arguably where the problem lies. It is knowledge grounded in and held within our deeper growth in human collective consciousness that can take us through these times. We most need to grow in wisdom, more than in knowledge.

The inner/outer split historically has also split politics from the psychological/spiritual. Radical political movements have believed that if we change the outer (economic and social structures) then how we feel and are will change, we will become happy. Unfortunately political success has been limited, arguably because our old inner patterns eg greed, dominance, quickly reasserted themselves. Humanistic psychology, modern spiritual movements, have taken the opposite stance, that we must always begin with the inner, and that outer change will necessarily follow from this work….though with contradictions clearly appearing here, such as flying off to meditate…. I believe it has been a new and amazing opportunity in TTT and thence the Network, for these two positions to come together in one movement, to literally sit around the same table and talk to each other, and to constantly attempt to embody the integration of these two complementary insights.

However bringing two sides back together which have been split apart, may release pain and difficulty, as well as liberating energy and insight. These difficulties need to be understood in context, to be met with insight and compassion and care.

– Science describes the problem, inner work helps us with our response?

I don’t think this view, which is being explored by various of us here, is quite right. It feels like that split reasserting itself again, as it tends to. I would say that seeing that there is a problem, and roughly what it is, is happening all over the world, by people of much academic education or little or none at all. Indigenous peoples and peasants, dwellers of high mountains and encroaching deserts and flooded plains and cut down forests and threatened low islands – can and do often speak with complete clarity of the limits of the earth and hence of ‘growth’, of the total unsustainability of the huge industrial growth machinery that is plundering their world, and of the distortions of consciousness that go alongside this plundering machinery. I have found that the clearest most insightful psycho=spiritual portrayals of what we are in consistently come from such cultures . Glued to my television on the last day of the Copenhagen conference, I was greatly impacted by the power and simplicity and spot- on analysis of the speakers interviewed from the poorest countries and situations; everyone from the most polluting nations seemed to speak with fluff in their mouths.

I suggest that the diagnosis of the problem arises as much from aspects of consciousness /clarity of vision as from science, and involves a delving into the inner reasons for this problem as well as the outer manifestations of it. In finding solutions, we need to look to both science and the measurable and rational, and to addressing these inner dimensions. (And I think it would be great to have local science/rational thinking groups alongside food, building and heart and soul, as Rob says.)

– ‘The Healthy Holon’

When Rob’s experience of needing to defend Transition from the accusation of being a cult came up, I was immediately struck by some key differences. Cults tend to have a paranoid basis, be closed systems defined by a ‘them and us’, and to involve misuse of power, domination and control. The Transition movement is an open system, attempting to model inclusion, a richness of belonging, healthily devolved ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’, and seeking to move towards what is healthy – for individual, local community, and widening circles of community, human and greater-than-human. We have long known that a healthy human has mind, body, emotions and spirit, all ‘present and correct’ – integrated, in balance, with an easy flow between them. I think this is useful for us – that all of these can, and need to, be paid attention to, and gradually find their place, within this movement.

Rational mind has been associated with the masculine, emotion with the feminine. This is fine if these things are in balance within and between us; however under patriarchy, from which we are still emerging, the masculine was valued over, and dominated, the feminine. Males were (and still are) taught to cut off from their ‘weaker’, emotional, ‘feminine’ side, and to attempt to embody a superior rationality. Yet it is this very disconnected ‘rationality’ that has proved so dangerous. Much of the modern humanistic psychology movement sprang up after the second world war in a mushrooming of attempts to understand how the holocaust had happened ; a particularly crazy mis-use of ‘science’. Repeatedly, the insights came that humans can be trustworthy when all of us, feelings and all, is welcomed and integrated in our beings. Sophy spoke of the common defence of ‘retreating into our heads’, not really being in our bodies, or very present, as a way of avoiding our feelings, avoiding pain, avoiding feeling vulnerable. Again, this is surely part of the problem, not of the solution.

To me it seems clear that the right place for the rational mind is as a tool, within a circle of aspects of being a human, not at the top of a hierarchy where it has been put. That would be the same mistake as putting humans above, and disconnected from, all the other life forms amongst which we dwell, and has similar consequences. Science equally is a tool; it has been used to substantiate and clarify what is going on with climate change, which as Rob says, has been very useful ; it was also used the create the technologies to drill oil and gas out of the earth, and to turn them into plastic, fuel, and a thousand other things. Social and psychological research have been used to keep the market growing, to keep us consuming, and to keep us believing that war is a good idea. It depends greatly who is the master, who is asking the questions, and to what end the learnings are put.

So; Transition needs to be, and come across as, – well, healthy – based on clear thinking, emotional openness and intelligence, practical competence, and spiritually rich and rewarding. We would lose people if we seem irrational and flaky, but we will also lose people, and weaken what we do, if there are whole areas of human life and mystery that we dare not touch, that we cut ourselves off from. I thought it was amazing timing that the day after this discussion I received an email about a ‘World Spirituality’ free teleseminar, bringing together a very large number of world leading spiritual teachers, to look at pressing questions of our times, including spiritually addressing the environmental and social turning point we are at ((Centre for World Spirituality). Of course pushing transitioners who are not interested to engage with this would be wrong, but surely this is also exactly something that could be mentioned in the transition newsletter, as potentially of interest to many, as we meet the challenges ahead, and attempt to reweave our broken web. I think the movement is already much richer for the inclusion of the emotional, intuitive and spiritual, whether explicitly in heart and soul projects, and the transition trainings, or implicitly, in the incredible lightness of all that Rob does, and in the courage and heart of zillions of others as they do what they are drawn to do.

– Finally; patterns

As well as the possibility of including emotional intelligence and mindfulness, and ethics as a ‘backstop’, I have been wondering if there might be another one – that includes the importance of being able to sit with not knowing, to sit with paradox, with the fact that sometimes two opposite things are both true, or are true at different levels. To hold our beliefs lightly, to practice tolerance to each other, to be genuinely inclusive, in these ways a rainbow movement. To allow our different stories to be told, and to hear without judgement. The pattern of ‘not knowing’, perhaps?

Ben Brangwyn (participates in Transition Town Totnes and co-founded Transition Network)

– how I was feeling

I started the meeting feeling a lot of grief on account of all the pain and suffering caused by unfair power structures throughout the world, all the species that have already been lost and all the tough times ahead, particularly for those poorer people in climate sensitive locations. And I also felt happy and privileged to be in the group discussing these matters.

– knowing through intuition

While much of science is about knowing through rational thinking, it seems absolutely crucial to recognise that in many instances it was intuition that created the initial scientific breakthrough (see quotations below). This important stage seems to have been missed out in the accounts of science that I recall from school. Intuition seemed to be kept to the arts classes or perhaps the soccer field. Our society’s focus on rational seems an inaccurate reflection of the skills and aptitudes needed to journey beyond our ecologically destructive systems.

– rational thinking

There’s another problem with the way we use our rational ways of thinking, and that problem becomes really apparent when we look at our climate or our ecosystems. Any long-term rational thinking around this subject would force us to make dramatic changes in how we behave. However, it looks like combining rational thinking with a short-term perspective causes us to create completely unsustainable systems, exemplified for example by industrialised agriculture and the plight of fish stocks worldwide. And when you combine that approach with a linear way of looking at the world and its resources – as opposed to using systems or complexity theory – you create even more grossly destructive systems.

– feeling safe, expressing and exploring our feelings

It’s my experience that for any person to feel able to express deeply held emotions, they either need to feel very safe (or perhaps very desperate). I’m not entirely sure how Transition Initiatives have done so well in this area – we frequently get feedback evidencing this. Maybe transitioners are becoming skilled in the art of active listening; maybe simply sitting in a circle to collectively confront the big questions of our time helps people feel safe; could be that the heart & soul groups are raising general levels of emotional literacy; perhaps Transition Training is building emotional resilience in communities; maybe it’s the act of naming the process that we see people going though – denial, negotiation, anger/fear, grief and acceptance.

Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, it seems that transition groups are making a lot of headway in this area. However, it feels to me that we’re just skimming the surface, and that transition will deepen and accelerate in proportion to the safety, resilience and literacy we can inspire in the emotional realm. There’s more work for us to do there, for sure.

This is important, because if a large part of knowing involves an emotional element, then to having access to that emotional content is a prerequisite for knowing. So if we can pay attention to making sure we, and the people around, are feeling safe, then we’ll be able to put more trust in our knowing because it’s underpinned by a clear and uncharged (as opposed to stressed and confused) emotional state.

– reaching people through their deeply held cultural stories

It’s not really disputed now that one of the main drivers of humans’ behaviour is their deeply held stories or myths. It appears to me that these are frequently the result of something other than rational thought. Some examples of what we might call cultural stories that I’ve encountered are:

“I have no power”, “the government will fix the problem”, “technology will prevail” – these are all stories that prevent people from taking steps towards something other than ecological destruction and social inequities. Similarly, “They will stop us”, “I’m not clever enough”, “people will never cooperate” act as a brake on potential actions.

People can concurrently hold contradictary myths. My personally held myths certainly seem that way. My very deep sense of “I have extraordinary power” battles daily with “I’m an insignificant little pipsqueak of dubious merit”. Similarly, my myth that “People’s level of cooperation can be mind-blowingly mature and intelligent” has to daily square up to counterpointed “There’s a darkness in the human soul that relentlessly seeks destruction of self and everything else around it”.

This light and shadow is part of me and part of the world I’m looking at. It feels that my work in transition is to shine a stronger light on the creative and life-affirming elements, while demonstrating where the shadow might be leading us. And in helping individuals to make explicit to themselves their own personal myths – both the light and the dark – I don’t find using a cognitive approach to work at all.

I feel reasonably adept at using strong emotional content – through writing, talking and modelling – at shining a stronger light on our life-affirming facets. On a broader scale, I’ve witnessed Joanna Macy’s processes, used by expert practitioners, doing an amazing job of helping people confront their own unhelpful personal and social myths. In transition groups, I’ve seen active listening open someone up in such a way that they were able to switch off one of these limiting myths. Warmth, friendship and connection can help too.

And there are other people for whom neither the cognitive nor the emotional is going to help them make a change – it’s going to have to be experiential. They’ll have to see the shelves slowly emptying of bread, or their car rusting in the driveway, or their bank account shrivelling up before they finally realise that the government isn’t going to fix it for them and that it’s time for that myth to be switched off.

– in summary

For me, “knowing” isn’t the challenge – there’s myriad data out there to back up the transition approach at an individual and community levels. The challenge for me is making a meaningful connection that makes a person feel safe enough to push aside unhelpful personal myths and explore new ones. And it feels a privilege and honour to be walking alongside so many people who are doing just that.

– how I felt at the end

It always feels deeply affirming to be in a group where everyone has a voice and a right to be heard, and no one abuses that right; where divergent views don’t create discordant relationships and where everyone comes expecting to learn something. Westminster could learn a thing or two from tonight’s proceedings – both in terms of style and content.

– quotations

Mathematical reasoning may be regarded rather schematically as the exercise of a combination of two facilities, which we may call intuition and ingenuity. – Alan Turing

The only real valuable thing is intuition. – Albert Einstein

There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance. – Albert Einstein

A marriage of animus and anima, in which reason represses intuition, just as husbands traditionally repressed their wives, cannot achieve scientific greatness because it asphyxiates a thinker’s greatest asset. A scientist’s mind must be a more progressive union in which reason guides and strengthens intuition as a colleague and friend. – Kelley Harris

Naresh Giangrande (co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and co-founder of Transition Training)

Firstly it feels important as Ben says above to acknowledge that there are other ways of knowing something is true or false other than critical thinking and its handmaiden the scientific method (which in any event can’t prove anything true, it can only disprove ). Clearly, critical thinking is vital in certain circumstances and not in others. When used properly it can cut through erroneous, or poorly constructed arguments and lead one to make good deductions and create satisfactory outcomes. In other circumstances it does not.

In areas of ethics, aesthetics, love, and the abovementioned intuition, it is like using the proverbial hammer to cut wood when you really need a saw. Or turning it around, everything becomes a nail if you only have a hammer. We are richer and more complex than our minds lead us to believe. Finding our way through certain aspects of Energy Descent Pathways cannot be discerned using critical thinking alone. A cursory scrutiny of the climate change debate shows that very clearly.

Widening the question, there are many examples where even though we have more advanced and accurate ways of thinking and knowing about our world, we still revert to clearly inferior, outdated and simplistic models and ways of knowing. I am thinking, for instance, of why we adopt a linear way of thinking when systems thinking and modelling lead to much better understandings that more clearly reflect the world around us. You could label this poor critical thinking. However I think it goes much deeper than that and points to the safety issue Ben raises above that lies at the heart of why our culture adopts, or clings to, a single (albeit very powerful) tool when clearly multiple approaches are necessary; and why simplistic attitudes and modes of thinking are used instead of more sophisticated but complex ways of knowing.

My hunch is that there is an expansiveness necessary in both approaches, and an ability to embrace uncertainty. The roots of the inability to cultivate these qualities are rooted in deep psychological trauma and this may well lie at the heart the difficulty in making one the most profound shifts in paradigm that we as a culture are being called to do. This is why it feels important to examine and understand this issue and also have more than critical thinking in our tool box.

Peter Lipman (Chair of Trustees, Transition Network; part of original core team of Transition Bristol)

I found the evening totally fascinating, and am still very much in a process of developing where I stand in this discussion.  I started from an assumption that we pretty much all use both critical thinking and other ways of knowing, and that developing more clarity about this is very important.

One example of such a use of more than one way of knowing for me is my own response to Stoneleigh’s talk, after it had had such an impact at the last (2010) Transition Network conference.   I’d been keen for her to come and talk because I’ve been reading her blog for years, and mainly interacting with it using critical thinking to assess her analysis.  Does her description of our financial systems stack up against what I can see?  Is it coherent?  Does it explain events?  Does it have predictive power?  Yet it felt key for me when I was reacting to what she’d said in the final session at the conference to explore not my abstract, intellectual response, but instead to try to look inside, at my feelings.  In particular I talked about my relationship with money – and looking at that led me on to my relationship with fear, and the energy that I find if I engage with my fear instead of trying to pretend that it isn’t there.  For me, a meaningful exploration of such things has a strong spiritual element as it relates to deep beliefs about truth and beauty.

In addition it is becoming clearer all the time that facts alone aren’t sufficient for us to change our lives – the science on climate change is clear, and the extraordinary consequences of our continuing with our current ways of being just as clear.  Yet we continue with those ways, all the time knowing what we do.  Given that, I believe that to change what we’re doing, we’re going to have to change inside – which means gratefully accepting that critical thinking is a key part of a range of ways of knowing but must be accompanied by other ways too.  That doesn’t mean though that critical thinking doesn’t have a very particular role – I agree with Rob that it is absolutely key in checking, as he put it “how we know what it is that we think we know”. 

However if we rely on critical thinking it feels very important to acknowledge how we’ll inevitably use it within instinctive, culturally determined (and so apparently invisible) parameters that we need to struggle to be aware of.  When I talk to people who don’t share some of my beliefs about (for example) the dangers brought by continuing economic growth, let alone its impossibility, as well as wondering why they can’t see what seems so obvious to me, I usually end up asking myself just what it is that I can’t see which is right in front of me.

I also find Rob’s distinction between ways of knowing and ways of responding very useful – my response to Stoneleigh’s impact at the conference was personal in a way that an abstract assessment of her overall analysis isn’t.  On the one hand I believe that as humans, as beings who make sense of the world we’re in through stories, personal reactions are vital and powerful, and on the other that they can easily alienate as many people as they attract. 

Another important layer of this discussion for me is how much our approach must inevitably be culturally mediated – Transition has been developed in a culture riven by a whole series of oppressions and so naturally to some degree reflects them.  As a middle class, professional white man, whatever my beliefs, I end up in a different place in many hierarchies to working class people, people of colour, women etc.  In exploring how to counteract that and seek not to perpetuate it, I need as much emotional intelligence as I can muster to add to a political analysis.  For me, this is another reason why we all benefit from looking inward, and questioning what might feel natural and inevitable to us.  

So for me heart and soul work is absolutely crucial to Transition’s thriving and development.   However, acknowledging that isn’t the end of it.  I believe that for Transition to succeed it must strike a balance between raising fundamental questions about our current ways of being and remaining open and inviting to all sorts of people, whatever their identification, encountering it.  For that to happen I think that many of us might need to engage with a variety of possibly strange and uncomfortable ways of knowing while doing everything we can to make sure that no-one feels forced to do so.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


28 Sep 2:16pm

Thanks for this discussion.

I would like to take part in Transition becoming more integrated in the Wilberian 4Q sense. Each of the quadrants has a type of truth, and a scientific method for disclosing important information, and of course our methods for exploring our inner selves – which help us understand who we are, what is important, and what our relationship to the earth is – are undeveloped in our culture. I think it would be good to see transition as not just about transforming “upper right quadrant” issues – climate change and peak oil, but about creating sustainable culture and selfhood -different ways of thinking and being for a different world.

Culture takes place in our inner selves, and we need to develop methods for knowing those inner selves. To that end, perhaps certain “patterns” of the new handbook and exercises of the transition movement could be focussed on things like mindfulness, personal transformation, deepening interpersonal and person-place connections, simplicity, developing the ecological self, feeling connectedness to place. I think these experiences, feelings and skills are, so to speak, the inner aspects of transition that will allow the movement to continue to deepen and face the deepening challenges, so that we don’t just create a different external world, but a sustainable culture – as the two are always linked! But the inner skills must be developed just as much as the outer.

Ed Straker
28 Sep 3:03pm

That link to the cult research site was informative.

I think it’s going to be difficult for people to integrate with transition without having their preexisting ideologies challenged. As long as people cling to ideologies that features infinite growth on a finite planet and a top-down disconnect from nature as its basis are going to find it impossible to accomplish more than short-term band-aids in their resilience efforts.

I mean, it’s too much to ask to walk through the doors of Transition expecting them to somehow “solve” limits to growth without anybody having to reevaluate their views on difficult topics like per capita energy use, reproduction, etc…

Transition should be more than everyone just rushing out to the town square with shovels to plant apple trees and then driving home to our McMansions in our SUVs.

Andrew Gillett
28 Sep 3:36pm

At Transition Training in Cambridge last year, one of the trainers referred in a favourable way to the dubious hypotheses of Rupert Sheldrake (e.g. morphic fields). There is also the issue of ‘alternative medicine’, as discussed here:

It seems odd to accept the need for urgent action based on the science of climate change, while at the same time ignoring scientific evidence on health and medicine. Such contradictions are likely to alienate many people, including those with knowledge and skills which could end up being invaluable, such as scientists, doctors and engineers.

28 Sep 10:57pm

Fascinating discussion!
” Many scientists would argue that anything that can’t be measured doesn’t really matter, that it has no value”
Do they? Can you give some examples? I think that is a misunderstanding of Critical Thinking and the scientific approach.

It seems to me most of you miss the essential idea of science, which is a method of inquiry that can in principle used wherever a hypothesis can be formulated: viz:

– are some ways of communicating climate change more effective than others?

This is something that in principle can be (and is) studied scientifically, not as precisely as in physics, but it is the bread and butter of social science- including everything from consumer research to opinion poles to psychology. Of course emotional and psychological areas also can be and are studied using the scientific method.

This is not strictly speaking the “only” method of knowing, it is simply the most accurate and the best we have, a self-reflective method that continually improves itself.

It boils down to this: either we are using science to evaluate things or we are guessing, or making things up. The latter might be the default position in the absence of data, but to pretend it is some other, equally valid “inner” way of knowing is delusion.

In principle, my emotional reaction to the state of the world, or a beautiful sunset, can also be studied scientifically- there may be a measurable effect on my brain chemistry etc, middle-aged men may be more likely to respond in such a way etc;
I think behind this discussion is a fear of “losing the mystery” or somesuch- see Dawkins “Unweaving the Rainbow”. The discoveries of science are far more awe-inspiring than any religion or ideology.

Tony Buck
29 Sep 2:08am

I believe it is possible to merge with the power of the universe that in English we call God – and in that merging you can know what God knows – indeed, I have seen one person in this state, and I have been studying what he said for the last 30 years.
However, I don’t want anyone coming into a Transition meeting and imposing their spirituality or touchy feely philosophy on me.
I also believe that although some people think they are part of a religious group or not, everyone in the universe has their own unique religion based on their insights, knowledge, feelings, inner connections, experience, suffering, etc., no one can escape this.
So, lets keep our mystery to ourselves in the Transition tent, but behave, interact, act, be, do our duty, assist, work, with the best human qualities of kindness, firmness when needed, love, determination, compassion, insight, mercy, gratitude, and above all, patience.

Tony Buck
29 Sep 1:52pm

Rob, I was also interested in these two sentences of yours: “Yes the climate science is clear, robust, unequivocal and very scary. Yet why is it that so few people do anything about it?”
Isn’t this more a problem then of people not having the SKILLS and ACTION KNOWLEDGE to manifest climate change mitigation (CCM)? I’ve noticed that most of the early responders to the Transition groups are college educated people with mainly theoretical knowledge, which is fine. But they can’t just go home and start retrofitting their houses for CCM. So I don’t see how inner belief systems are the main cause of inaction.
My heat bill was 310 dollars last winter, which for the east coast of the U.S. is pretty good. But when I realized what the future of energy was going to be, I just got on with it. You see what I’ve done at

David MacLeod
29 Sep 7:29pm

Fascinating discussion, and one that I think is very important to the ongoing development of Transition work.

Sophy wrote: “I think there are clear reasons why we should speak about the spiritual dimension of Transition providing we’re clear about what that means (see that document), and don’t start to emphasise, or devalue, any particular tradition. We need to take the term spiritual in its widest terms, be careful about what language we use, respecting that spiritual traditions are both close to many people’s heart and lives, have done lots of good in the world, and have also been the cause of much suffering.”
I am in agreement. At our recent Transition Cascadia Summit, we had a discussion about Heart & Soul groups, and Transition US board member Vicki Robin expressed concern about Heart & Soul groups that begin to emphasize one spiritual approach over another…often without even being conscious that they are doing so. This is a very valid concern that we need to be very aware of, and I think we need to develop our groups in ways that bring awareness to this tendency and work to avoid it. However, I don’t think that necessarily means we need to avoid spiritual issues altogether. Perhaps we have a top level Heart & Soul group that performs administrative functions and holds the big picture of all that Heart & Soul/Inner Transition work includes (psychology of change, effective tools for working well together, spirituality, etc.). This group could then oversee sub-groups that might choose to focus on their own traditions or paths that work for them. There might be a sub-group focussed on psychology/psycho-therapy; another one for “Christians in Transition”; another for “Buddhists in Transition,” etc. It would need to be made very clear that Transition is non-sectarian as a whole, but also that Transition acknowledges the important role that spirituality can play in supporting people’s transition to a post-carbon future.

Another approach might be to have Inner Transition Open Space days, where we begin with sharing something like Sophy’s remarks above, and then people are invited to work on Inner Transition in whichever ways their particular interests direct them.

I also agree with Sophy and Daniel regarding the use of Ken Wilber’s 4 quadrants model. It is a helpful tool for distinguishing inner and outer, the individual and the collective. I recommend his book “The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion” for a better understanding of how both science and spirituality are valid ways of knowing, how they are different, and how they can effectively integrate. And his book “Integral Spirituality” for a better understanding of what post-modernism can teach us – that all our knowing is somewhat conditioned by our experiences in the intersubjective realm. And, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, the book “assumes that no particular position is completely wrong and looks for patterns of meaning across the world’s wisdom traditions.”

Bart Anderson
29 Sep 7:57pm

Although I read the post eagerly and agree with many of the comments, I think the discussion misses the main point.

Namely, how does Transition handle different belief systems?

One problem is that most Transition members belong to a specific sub-culture: one that is verbal, liberal-minded, “nice.” We want people to share our values because, after all, aren’t they universal? And of course, they are the right ones. The discussion above is an attempt to reach a consensus on what those values are.

But I don’t want to work just with people I agree with. I want to include Evangelical Christians, smalltown Republicans, militant Communists, Hindus, Muslims, Unitarians, freemarket Libertarians. These are the kinds of people who live around me and who are in my family.

Jow can Transition be structured so that people with different belief systems can take part without feeling threatened? So that we can learn from each other, instead of trying to convert each other?

Item: a wonderful soil conference began with five minutes of Christian prayer.

Item: a Transition Training offered the opportunity for nude conversation in outdoor hot tubs.

Item: individuals have confided to me that they feel very uneasy about some of the New Age and Encounter-type exercises. I could see many of my boyhood friends run shrieking from the room if they were forced to partake in something so foreign to their culture.

Some ways to deal with the wide variety of cultures:

1. Admit the fact that there ARE different worldviews — not just OUR worldview versus a variety of flawed worldviews in need of fixing.

2. Provide ways for different worldviews to be expressed, and to contribute to the community.

3. Avoid proselytizing for one’s own belief system, either conscious or unconscious.

4. Gain an appreciation and tolerance for other belief systems.

On the other hand, there ARE certain guidelines which do need to be firmly established, for example, against bullying and intolerance.

michael Dunwell
29 Sep 8:36pm

Thank you for sharing your very personal thoughts/feelings about this: you’ve confirmed my instinct that I was throwing in my lot with the right people. Your discussion reminds me of the difficulty the deep ecologists had when it came to writing their manifesto; somehow it didn’t happen! But that was because they were trying to make it credible in rational terms.
This discussion has everyone reaching for their moment of enlightenment and mine was Teilhard de Chaudin, 1955, (!) in his book The Phenomenon of Man (publication prohibited by the Vatican until after his death, on account of his being a Jesuit priest.) in which he said that we are evolution become conscious. Ever since reading that I have been trying to work out the implications… and still remain in awe. We really can’t blame ourselves for having difficulty with reason versus the creaturely legacy; we are in it with all the rest. Your discussion was such a beautiful example of the paradox we now have to unravel, from within ourselves as well as from this weird dissociated brain we’ve been given. And to think that we are supposed to be saving the planet from… ourselves!
Please, Transition, keep on the questioning track and avoid religious, political, academic or any other labels; you’re doing fine as you are.

Andrew Ramponi
29 Sep 10:09pm

I agree with Graham that science is fundamentally critical thinking; that is asking questions until there are perhaps no more to be asked.

Questioning oneself can be particularly useful. Careful scrutiny of ones motives often shows up an underlying bias towards what we believe to be true, for reasons other than it’s essential truthfulness.

That said, blackberry and apple crumble is truly good, and so right for the season…

David Eggleton
30 Sep 1:42pm

I would have loved to be in that circle! All my efforts, outside of it, to eventually “complete” the official guides to Transition are based on the whole person paradigm, which is ancient, but recently re-presented (Stephen R. Covey, 2004). I commend it to all.

Here are short pieces I’ve written about its value for Transition:

Asking what is knowing is not the same as asking what is the knower?

David Eggleton
30 Sep 3:23pm

P.S. 1) That question mark was inadvertant, should be a period, but I cannot edit it. 2) Maybe my final sentence should have been “Asking what are facts is not the same as asking what is the user of facts.” 3)I’ve fixed the link associated with my name.

Dave Dann
1 Oct 9:11am

I think the fundamental problem here lies with some peoples’ desire to bring together everyone in ‘one big movement’ – called Transition. Is it really necessary? Why? I can’t see that the activities of the average Transition Initiative differ much from those of a Friends of the Earth group.
The agonising of the Transition central committee reminds me of 1970’s Trotskyists trying to determine whether the Soviet Union was a ‘degenerate workers’ state’ or a ‘workers’ degenerate state’. The rest of us try to work out why you think that is important.
However, it’s your life…

1 Oct 9:13am

Sam Harris, “Science can answer Moral Questions”

1 Oct 9:28am

“4. Gain an appreciation and tolerance for other belief systems.”

There are belief systems that promote female circumcision and honour killings;
there are belief systems that promote or condone corporal punishment in primary schools (see the Sam Harris link above);

I neither “appreciate” nor do I tolerate such belief systems;
nor do I appreciate or wish to “tolerate” the post-modern values I see promoted here that claim I SHOULD learn to tolerate and appreciate such values;
how then can my “belief” system be appreciated or tolerated by yours?

Another example: how can Transition tolerate and appreciate the mainstream values of continual growth, “burn baby burn” and consumerism?

1 Oct 9:54am

I meant “drill baby drill” (!)

maggie jeffery
1 Oct 12:22pm

Hi! I am so pleased this debate took place and deeply hope it will develop! I believe this is a nettle that must be grasped because there is an imbalance between Science and the Imaginal World – a loss of Myth – (the Feminine)that has brought about such an existential crisis that fuels consumerism, addiction and other challenges we face.

The second point I want to make is this. When the Health of the Nation document came out (1990)in response to findings that Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke were linked to Lifestyle Factors, I was working in Health Education and became very frustrated with the information giving and “telling” that was happening. People’s hearts weren’t engaged, motivation was nowhere. There are parallels here within the environmental movement. Inner transition relates to personal growth of awareness, usually triggered by challenge. Gurdjieff said, “Consciousness cannot evolve unconsciously”.

Finally, words are dodgy. The difference between spiritual and religion seems to be often confused. Psychosynthesis uses the term Transpersonal effectively! It’s important to honour where an individual is – how he perceives his world and the words he attaches to that worldview. We cannot force inner growth but we can be open, available and respectful – and crucially take time for our ongoing inner work as and when the time is right.

Ed Straker
1 Oct 3:44pm

“…how can Transition tolerate and appreciate the mainstream values of continual growth, “burn baby burn” and consumerism?”

That’s a question I think Transition needs to ask.

Does it want to avoid rocking the boat and gently superimpose a safety net of “resilience” underneath BAU, or does it want to directly challenge BAU?

Bart Anderson
1 Oct 8:10pm

I think there are two threads of discussion here.

– The fascinating and deep topic of critical vs intuitive modes of perception. I hope this discussion continues. Some people find it helpful and enlightening.

– The question of how to deal with different worldviews (or modes of perception) in day-to-day Transition work.

I agree with Graham and Ed that this is important question, but I disagree with their formulating it as an Either/Or choice.

Instead I would posit a pattern called “Intelligent coalition building”. Something like:

“The task of Transition requires working with people with different views and backgrounds. It is not easy. If one is too exclusive, one ends up as a dogmatic sect. If one has no “rules of engagement,” one can be manipulated or pushed in directions contrary to the values of Transition.


1. Listen and try to get the Big Picture of viewpoints different than one’s own, rather than repeating stereotypes. Be slow to make harsh judgments.

2. Appreciate the fact that every belief system, including one’s own, has had its dark side. No one is without flaw. This helps combat self-righteousness.

3. Search for shared values or areas where cooperation is possible. For example, many of us are leery of the military worldview. Yet military think tanks have produced some of the best analyses of the effects of peak oil. I’d argue that we both have a shared interest in getting information out about peak oil, so some limited cooperation is possible.

4. Practice the difficult task of expressing disagreement, and maintaining a good relationship. Avoid personal attacks and black/white thinking. Develop personal relationships, so that you are not just relating on an abstract, intellectual basis.

5. Look to the past for examples to emulate and to avoid. E.g., the Rock Edicts of the Indian emperor Asoka about 240 BCE, one of which says:

“A man [sic] must not do reverence to his own sect or disparage that of another sect without reason. Deprecation should be for specific reason only, because the sects of other people all deserve reverence for one reason or another. By thus acting, a man exalts his own sect, and at the same time does services to the sects of other people. By acting contrariwise, a man hurts his own sect and does disservice to the sects of other people.”

Other examples: Popular Fronts of the 1930s and 40s. U.S. Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Current day Unitarian-Universalists who apparently include Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans and atheists). Judaism and Hinduism which allow wide variation in beliefs, as long as some traditions are followed. Even the Roman and Turkish empires which allowed one to believe as one pleased, as long as laws were obeyed and taxes were paid. Also, the early United States which allowed multiple faiths, rejecting the idea of a State Religion common in Europe of the time.

6. Think carefully about firm behavioral guidelines. For example, against:
– willful manipulation or lying.
– bullying and personal attacks.
– continual disruption of a group or community.

Transition Palo Alto
Transition Silicon Valley
Energy Bulletin

1 Oct 8:50pm

Graham, not to put to fine a point on it, Sam Harris is a crank. He got pretty badly pasted by people who actually know the meaning of words like ‘moral’ and ‘science’ over that nonsense.

I do think it’s a good idea to take a scientific approach to ethics and metaphysics; but being a dogmatic atheist is something else entirely.

1 Oct 10:13pm

“…Sam Harris is a crank…” thanks for putting me right on that one, what do i know? Do I take it that you wouldnt be so tolerant of people who support Sam Harris’ worldview? maybe you could point me to some of the more erudite critiques.

“…The fascinating and deep topic of critical vs intuitive modes of perception…”

Im not sure that these are “modes of perception” actually. Critical thinking is either something you do- a process of questioning, remaining skeptical, and not taking things at face value, always asking for verifiable evidence;- or something you do not do.

intuition is something that just happens, but although it clearly has evolved for survival, is simply not reliable, as the video Rob links to at the start shows (and there is a whole field of study and large body of literature on cognitive errors of this kind).

The “worldview” that some of those in this discussion appear to hold claims that intuition, or guessing or just making up random opinions, are equally valid and should be respected as equal to critical thinking and rational, evidence- based approaches.

Thus, “nonsense” (eg homeopathy) is claimed to be equal to “sense”.

This worldview is deluded, and therefore dangerous. I neither appreciate nor do I want to be required to tolerate such ideas;
of course, I am surrounded by people who do think something along those lines, so I have to tolerate them and work alongside them to an extent; but so far as i am able i will challenge those beliefs and work to limit their influence;

it is because of the prevalence of those views and the reluctance of others to challenge their hubris that Transition is percieved by some as a cult; and they have nothing to offer IMO the original aims of Transition (adapting to PO and climate change).

I am fascinated that Sophie proposes Wilber’s model, Wilber spent hundreds of pages (in his early books at least) exposing the inherent contradiction of arguing that all “ways of knowing” are equal or should be equally respected;
he called this the “mean green meme”- exactly the ideology Sophie and the others express themselves, it seems to me;

Wilber had his own ideology to promote of course- you can read an in depth critiques here:

While we are on the subject of ways of communicating climate change, what does anyone make of this?

I do applaud Rob for arguing for an evidence-based approach, and trying to distance Transition from religion; it would be fascinating to get some empirical data on what proportion of people involved in transition are actually drawn to it for the “inner work”- and equally, how many are alienated because of it.

David MacLeod
2 Oct 10:46pm

Graham wrote:
“I am fascinated that Sophie proposes Wilber’s model, Wilber spent hundreds of pages (in his early books at least) exposing the inherent contradiction of arguing that all “ways of knowing” are equal or should be equally respected;
he called this the “mean green meme”- exactly the ideology Sophie and the others express themselves, it seems to me;”

To clarify Wilber’s stance, he clearly exposed the errors of extreme post-modernism (that all interpretations are equal), but he has also extolled the partial truths that post-modernism offers (that “truth” has a subjective component).

First, on extreme post-modernism, From The Marriage of Sense and Soul, chapter 3:

“”But – and here we must part ways with extreme postmodernism – all interpretations are not equally valid: there are better and worse interpretations of every text. Hamlet is not about a fun family picnic in Yellowstone Park. That is a very bad interpretation, and it can be thoroughly rejected by any community of adequate interpreters. All interpretations are not created equal – and that brings to a crashing halt the major claim of extreme postmodernism.

“The difficulty is that, in its totalizing attack on truth (“There is no truth, only different interpretations”), extreme postmodernism cannot itself claim to be true. Either it must exempt itself from its own claims (the narcissistic move), or what it says about everybody else is equally true for itself, in which case, what it says is not true, either. As Gellner summarizes the disaster: ‘So, if true, it is false, so, it is false.'”

Second, on the partial truth post-modernism gives us, from “Excerpt D”:

“what both Heidegger and Foucault are saying is that what naive awareness takes to be a pregiven world (given to everybody and just lying around out there) is actually co-created and enacted by various collective (or intersubjective) networks. I am simply suggesting that those world-creating networks (or “conditions of existence”) can be approached from the inside (a la Heidegger) or the outside (a la Foucault)…..

Foucault’s work had many features, but it always focused on varieties of intersubjective networks and their power over individuals. …The history of Foucault is a history of postmodernism in a nutshell. Now that the dust has settled, now that the absolutisms of postmodernism have been exposed, and now that postmodernism itself is beginning to adopt a smaller, more accurate self-image—and, as always, with 20/20 hindsight—it is becoming much clearer what partial truths were embraced, what absolutisms were exalted, and what remedial measures are helpful in rescuing the enduring if partial contributions of postmodernism. It is also clear that the one genius of recent postmodernism was Foucault. …Foucault was simply brilliant—and dangerous—when it came to elucidating the extraordinary power that social practices have in molding what we call truth, meaning, and knowledge. After Foucault’s contributions, no one can ever take intersubjectivity for granted. One must come up with a coherent explanation of the various types of cultural nexuses with which individuality is enmeshed (or the ways that subjectivity is entrained with intersubjectivity), or reveal oneself as hopelessly pre-postmodern.”

Carl Gunther
4 Oct 9:42am

Much of this discussion turns upon a single question: What is it about the Transition Movement’s activity in the material world that evokes and excites a “spiritual” response?

The more general question would be: Are there certain kinds of activity that create an imprint of the “divine” (according to some definition of that term) within the limited material substrate in which we presently find ourselves? Gandhi said that “A religion which takes no note of this world and only harps on the one beyond, does not deserve the name.” But what, exactly, is the connection between our material world and the “divine” (whatever that may be)?

I would suggest that the transition movement evokes a resonant response that is identified as “spiritual” because of the movement’s focus on nature and society as holistic entities, and in particular because of its focus on restoring the integrity of society and of nature.

While the explicit goals of the Transition Movement are to adddress peak oil and climate change, it has chosen to approach those goals through means that restore the integrity of communities and of nature. The movement’s identification of, and catalyzing of, the potential for such integrity releases the human and societal energy that has been bound up in denial of our system’s mortal crisis.

This denial has evolved beyond the specific suppressed information about energy and the climate into a more generalized depression. When a credible approach to those issues is presented, it makes such denial unnecessary, and the energy that had been bound up in that suppression gets recycled back into the movement.

The movement has thus become not just a movement to address a crisis, but a movement to restore the integrity of our social and ecological systems. I believe that this is the phenomenon that has been identified as “spiritual,” and that the release of such energy is also the main reason that the Transition Movement has spread so “virally.”

The classic grief situation is the death of a person who was interwoven into a bereaved person’s existence. The bereaved person’s internal model of the world incorporates the deceased person in a number of critical places, and so the bereaved is temporarily unable to conceive of life in a way that does not involve that person. To be without a working mental model is terrifying, as one’s internal model is one’s way of coping with the world and of responding to daily life. Denial is one response that preserves the model by blocking out knowledge of the deceased person’s passing.

If denial persists, a more general shutdown of mental processes may be required in order to avoid acknowledging the constant reminders of the denied event. This is known as depression.

The alternative is to weave a new model that describes a new way of being that incorporates an acknowledgement of the deceased person’s passing. Such revisions to one’s model require creativity, and so grieving is not just the dulling effects of time passing, but rather is a creative process of defining a new nexus of relationships and commitments that work within the new situation that was created by the bereaved person’s loss.

Peak oil and climate change create the same kind of existential challenge to our models of the world that an essential person’s passing can create in our personal lives, and so they likewise require a creative approach if we are to get past denial and move on to more constructive activities. This helps to explain why the Transition Movement, by providing such creative approaches, has evoked such a resonant response within the persons and communities to which it has spread.

But why should the movement’s holistic perspective on society and nature, that emphasizes the integrity of each, be identified as somehow “spiritual?”

Spirituality, when stripped of its specific religious garments, is a focus upon the relationship of the finite person (who is limited both in space and in time) to an unbounded universe that consists of everything, and that has no temporal limits. In particular, it seeks to make that relationship meaningful and consistent.

The Infinite is unique; there can only be one thing that includes Everything. Since there is nothing outside of the Infinite, it is the only thing that is defined entirely by its own internal relationships, rather than by its relationship to other things. This means that the Infinite is immune to any external manipulation, and hence is the prototype for, and the only perfect example of, holism. It is the one thing that is completely undetermined, and that therefore exists entirely due to its own intrinsic qualities.

This means that the Infinite has Being only to the extent that it is internally differentiated (diverse). Such differentiation depends upon the existence of diverse finite things, such as we are, and such as the natural world exhibits in profusion. Conversely, complete homogeneity within the Infinite would remove all distinct internal features, and such a lack of diversity would equate to a lack of Being, which would amount to universal Nothingness.

Distinct things, for their part, derive their distinct existence from internal cooperative processes. This means that Being itself is characterized by an interplay of cooperation and diversity. Such cooperative diversity is also known as integrity.

The relationship of the finite to the Infinite is defined by immanence, the reflection of the eternal and unlimited within some (and to varying degrees, each) infinitesimal part of Infinite Being. Religions sometimes refer to this as the Divine made manifest.

If we equate the Infinite with the “divine,” then, since holism is a defining quality of the Infinite, a focus upon (and promotion of) holism (integrity) by an individual (or a movement) represents an immanent manifestation of that divine quality within this material world. And that very relationship of a finite being to the Infinite is immanently (and more concretely) reflected in that finite being’s understanding of, and support for, the holistic integrity of the social and natural contexts that include it. To act upon such larger (but still finite) contexts in a way that restores their integrity makes those contexts “concrete universals” that express the relationship of individuals (and this movement) to the perfect holism (and integrity) of the Infinite itself.

Such reflections of the large within the small, through immanence, are key to resolving the related dichotomies of “inner vs. outer,” “determinism vs. free will,” and “science vs. religion,” that have been raised, both explicitly and implicitly, throughout this discussion.

Determinists view distinct things as being manipulated by their interactions with other distinct things according to certain laws, such as those of physics. But distinct things exist only by virtue of internal cooperative processes that themselves immanently (holographically) reflect their larger environments.

Such an immanent reflection of one’s larger context is not the same thing as manipulation by that context. If a person models in her mind the society in which she lives, and then acts as a citizen on the basis of that model to present to her peers a distinct future vision for that society, that is not a manipulated behavior. Rather, it is an instance of society reflecting upon itself, through that individual, from a unique and personal perspective. So it is society’s creativity (also known as “free will”) at work, as it evolves its diversity through the insights of individual citizens. But it is personal creativity (and free will), as well.

The disruptions that we currently face to the integrity of our world are largely due to immense hierarchies of domination that maintain their control through manipulative systems of rewards and punishments that target and reinforce a narrowly-defined individual identity. The analogue of such systems within the world of religion is the “god outside the universe,” a paradoxical figure that intervenes with arbitrary power into the world much as the elites at the tops of these control hierarchies intervene into the cooperatively diverse natural and human systems that have created what real being there is on this planet.

While the Transition Movement has not yet been attacked by these coercive systems, as it expands in scale, its bottom-up approach will necessarily bring it unfavorable attention from those quarters. If we look at like-minded movements operating in less privileged demographics, such as the Navdanya collective of India, we can see that dealing with such attacks is an ongoing aspect of their daily activity.

A focus upon the integrity of one’s larger environment as being key to one’s own integrity, and hence to one’s individual interest (since integrity equates to being, and nothing is more fundamental to one’s interests than one’s own being) is an aspect of “spirituality” (or whatever other name one might prefer) that serves to insulate a movement and its members against rewards and punishments that are focused upon the physical comforts of a more narrowly-defined individual (or centrist organizational) identity. This means that cultivating those “spiritual” aspects of a movement can have important practical effects in protecting the integrity of that movement in the face of attempts to coerce or otherwise manipulate it. A classic example of this would be the courage of the Gandhian movement for Indian self-determination in the face of coercive attacks by the British imperial control system.

This is yet another indication that a spiritual focus should not be perceived as an optional “add-on” to the movement’s more narrowly defined climate and energy goals. But to have such a focus without excluding people who agree with those material goals, the movement must identify and formally adopt only the most essential aspects of spirituality that pertain to this struggle, and incorporate only those essential features into the movement and its practice.

Whether this is referred to as a “spiritual” practice or as something else, these issues and phenomena do exist, and I believe that it is possible to develop a perspective regarding them without abandoning intellectual rigor. Conversely, I believe that a failure to define and explore these issues would miss an opportunity to understand and promote a phenomenon that is critical to prospects for the geometric, rather than linear, growth of this movement’s influence.

Ed Straker
4 Oct 12:37pm

Here’s some more issues to mull over…

First off, since Transition (at least in the US) is still a fledgling movement, it’s being judged in large part based on the initiators. See the other thread where one person character-assassinated Tina Clarke, for instance.

It’s natural that early-adopters in Transition are not going to be your average Joe, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing this. So people should try to separate Transition overall with the inclinations of the initiators. Just as Transition is said to be inclusive, that inclusiveness should not preclude Transition initiators who are pagan/animist/anarchist or whatever.

Secondly, Transition should decide the limits on its inclusion, ideologically. Should Transition court people who openly deny climate change and peak oil just because they are willing to lend a hand here and there in community building? What if it’s something more subtle than that. What if their ideology doesn’t reject the cult of growth and they are looking at Transition as merely a get-out-of-jail free card?

Should Transition be seen as merely a band-aid that we slap on to BAU or something more revolutionary and disruptive? If Transition sees BAU collapsing, what good does it do to walk on eggshells anyway?

When I was in Transition Training I was told that we weren’t supposed to go out there and court the average Joe. We were supposed to court people who are more in the phase of questioning BAU. As such, Transition is not supposed to be everything to all people. Active Transition worthy of a Great Unleashing may represent only 5% of the town’s population, which would be a lot by doomer standards but in no way an all-hands-on-deck movement.

So to what extent should Transition feel obligated to water down its message to the point of irrelevance?

Third, I asked what Transition should do about active blow-back from the community, and I wasn’t given any advice. In the US especially there will be lots of push-back from conservative types. Just look at the rise of the Tea Party right-wing, which is largely an anti-intellectualism movement that would like nothing more than to roll the clock back to a Back to the Future version of the 1950s complete with full-serve Texaco stations.

At some point I think Transition has to have the courage to stick to its ideals, even if it means limiting its appeal. It was this very point that Greer used to criticize Transition: that the only way Transition could reach critical mass would be to make itself palatable to a public that simply doesn’t want to agree to the core politics of Transition.

Remember that the point of commonality that is going to bring people to Transition is going to be economic collapse. But without some consensus about peak oil and global warming, I really don’t think the things that need to be done are going to get done, either outer but especially inner.

maggie jeffery
5 Oct 8:19pm

A book pertinent to this discussion is Rollo May’s, “A Cry for Myth”. People need their inner stories to give meaning and purpose to life and this book discusses this loss as one of the main challenges faced today.

I also believe that the Transition Movement spoke to the imagination of many people in the face of what has been called overwhelm and in so doing inspired that last creature in Pandora’s Box. Hope.

Shane Hughes
12 Oct 2:18pm

critical thinking as the only way of knowing. Is the EU really banning herbal remedies? This seems like an approach where its critical thinking and nothing else (critical thinking fundamentalism) possibly driven by fear. If you can’t prove it works – we’ll extract your right to use it. I’ve got a science masters based on the application of critical thinking and have a great deal of respect for it but not as the only way of thinking for all people. that’s madness!!

Don Hall
25 Oct 3:03am

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

For the last two hours or so, I have read through nearly all of the postings here and all of the links. I think much good has been said already and I commend Rob and the Transition Network for publishing and continuing this discussion online. I think it is a sensitive and critical discussion and demonstrates in a very clear way that Transition is the exact opposite of a cult by embracing a diversity of opinions and making even its inner-workings public.

That said, I have included the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote above for two reasons, both of which I believe are relevant to this discussion and Transition as a whole:

1. The debate between science and spirituality, critical thinking and intuition will not be resolved in this comment thread, nor probably ever. It has been going on long before us and will likely continue long after. Moreover, because of the decentralized, organic nature of the Transition Movement, whatever is decided by the Transition Network on this issue will certainly be listened to, but not necessarily obeyed. We will inevitably have to learn to deal with people doing things in the name of Transition that we disagree with.


2. The Transition Network, and you, Rob, in particular, are a powerful force for shaping opinion throughout the movement. Using this discussion as a starting point, I would like to see greater definition brought to the issue of what is meant by “Heart & Soul” or “Inner Transition.” I believe this can be undertaken in the same spirit as the original “12 Steps of Transition”: as guidelines, not commandments, and open to revision as the Transition Movement grows and evolves.

So far, in the absence of clear guidelines, besides the “Heart” section of The Transition Handbook and Sophy’s “Inner Worlds” presentation in Training for Transition, a few themes have repeatedly emerged. One that I have noticed is Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects. Another is Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s Universe Story.

My belief is that this represents Transition at its best. Both of these bodies of work are expansive and inclusive, deeply related to our current environmental, social, and economic crises, and widely known and respected. Of course, they will not appeal to everyone and some may even find them objectionable. But I think that this is another area where Transition, as a whole-systems approach, needs to take leadership and not simply position itself to avoid controversy.

Another methodology that I would like to include for consideration as an “ingredient” of Inner Transition (if you will) is MIT Professor Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the aforementioned U is essentially a map of the creative process, blending head and heart together into something that is more than the sum of their parts. I highly recommend that you check out this video if you are interested:

Overall, to echo what many have already said, I believe that whatever is referred to as Transition Heart & Soul should:

– Help oneself and others navigate the difficult and complex transition we are currently undergoing as a species;

– Not pressure anyone into adopting a certain set of beliefs;

– Not promote one spiritual tradition above another; and

– Not alienate those who might otherwise support Transition by espousing extreme views.

I think one of the most beautiful things about Transition is that it refuses to be stuffed into any one box. It is open to experimentation, but at the same time has a vision that unites the movement and ensures that the word “Transition” actually means something. This is an extremely difficult balance to strike, but, if we are able to do it well, I am convinced it will make all the difference in the world.

Thank you again to Rob and Transition Network for your integrity in grappling publicly with this issue! I look forward to reading responses and continuing this conversation with you all!

Janet Smith Warfield
4 Nov 11:16pm


I loved the Scharmer YouTube video. Sophy, I also deeply appreciate your contributions here. I note both of you use a large measure of first person singular language. How honest and refreshing!

Having been reared Unitarian, I was rather surprised around age 30 to experience what I later decided to label “a mystical experience.” I made that decision solely because my experience fit the qualities of a mystical experience described by William James in his book “Varieties of Religious Experience.” Those qualities are:

1. Ineffability
2. Noetic quality
3. Passivity
4. Transiency

At the time, I had no idea what had happened, nor did I have any vocabulary with which to structure it. God forbid that I should talk about it to Unitarians, many of whom were rigid intellectuals and atheists. I would simply be ridiculed.

I do know the experience was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. Suddenly, significant pieces of my life puzzle fell into place. Somehow, I suddenly “knew.” Suddenly my life had meaning.

My process was certainly not Scharmer’s download process. I’d been struggling with a huge personal challenge that no downloaded system was solving. When I moved into Scharmer’s second process of observing and trying something new, suddenly everything fell into place.

Of course, I wanted to tell everybody what I’d learned and “knew.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that nobody had the foggiest idea what I was talking about. In short, there were many words I could use to talk about the experience, but I couldn’t communicate it.

The rational, analytic question I was asking was: “If words are a creation of mind, how do you use analytical, divisive words to communicate a unifying, holistic experience?” As someone mentioned, it was like using a hammer to saw wood. The tool was wrong for the job, but it was the only tool I had.

As I played with words and the way we use them to chop up our experiences, I kept searching for better ways to use them. Better, to me, meant non-authoritarian. The experience was about awareness, freedom of choice, and building connections and relationships that made sense, not about following someone else’s rules.

Poetry was fine. Stories were fine. Analogies were wonderful. Questions were excellent.

Third person statements generally sounded authoritarian and felt like somebody else’s downloaded perspective. Not only that, to have meaning, they had to be understood in a particular experiential context, and often, they weren’t true in other experiential contexts.

Second person statements often sounded judgmental, as did words like “should” or “ought.” For the most part, I eliminated them from my vocabulary.

I don’t begin to have the strict scientific training that many other writers here do. However, don’t many scientists and philosophers hypothesize that all our words, doctrines and symbols are simply different ways of structuring phenomena? That’s where I ended up, too, as the result of my “mystical” experience.

It kind of levels the playing field, doesn’t it? We darned well better respect different points of view and try to understand their experiential meanings, underlying conditioned thinking, and unconscious emotions.

While from one perspective, we do have a level playing field, from another, there are simply some courses of action that generally work better than others in accomplishing specific goals, some word choices that are more effective than others in creating a peaceful planet, some people who have more training, education, and skill to accomplish particular tasks. To use an analogy, if I were exploring the rain forests of Ecuador, I’d rather be accompanied by an Achuar elder than an American businessman.

Would it be fair to say that we can “know” only in the sense that certain word patterns and symbols give structure to similar human perceptions and experiences? This may be nothing more than a group perceptual agreement, but it’s certainly useful.

Don, I agree that we have to hold the tension of what appear to be opposites until we can understand each set of words in an experiential context that makes sense. Thought is rife with paradox. Understanding and action resolve it.

Perhaps what we really do is create. Together, can we create a peaceful, powerful, prosperous, respectful, sustainable planet for all?