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State of Emergence is a new podcast about how we respond to the urgency of our world crises & catalyze human transformation. Hosted by @TerryPatten.

Mar 20, 2021

Integral scholar and Exostudies pioneer Sean Esbjörn-Hargens joins Terry to explore an integral approach to conspiracy theories and “exo realities” — including the anomalous phenomena that challenge our current models of reality. Sean begins by sharing an illuminating series of wise guidelines for navigating our post-truth conspiracy-theory-filled culture. Then, he and Terry  build upon our recent episode with Jeffrey Kripal by considering the strange territory of anomalous phenomena in greater detail — what’s “real” about them, what makes it possible to experience them, how they require our scientific frameworks to evolve, and how increasing public awareness might serve as a catalyst for moving society into wiser structures of consciousness. As committed spiritual practitioners, they also consider the potential risks of becoming fixated on fascinating phenomena, and how we might integrate them without letting them distract us from the nondual heart and ground of Being. 

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens is a leader in the application of integrative thinking to leader development and organizational design, and has made significant contributions to the fields of integral ecology, integral business, integral education, and integral research. Sean created and hosted the four Integral Theory Conferences and founded MetaIntegral — a social impact network that supports change leaders around the world in applying integrative principles. Most recently, in 2018, he founded the Exo Studies Institute, pioneering an integral approach to anomalous phenomena including UFOs/ETs. Sean has been a long-term practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, A. H. Almaas' Diamond Heart, and Celtic Christianity. He has published and edited numerous articles and books, and his recent article on non-human intelligences is titled Our Wild Kosmos! Currently, Sean is the Dean of Integral Education at the California Institute for Human Science where he also serves as Program Director for two integral PhD programs.

Here are some of the questions Sean and Terry explore in this episode:

  • What are Sean’s 16 ways of practicing wise responses to conspiracy theories and those who believe them? 
  • What emotional and cognitive capacities does it take to “hang out in the unknown” instead of jumping to conclusions?
  • What exactly are “exo studies?” Why are they important? Can they catalyze a major shift in human consciousness and the practice of science?
  • Which 10 recent events — from New York Times bombshell articles to Pentagon admissions — have led to a new widespread legitimization of UFO and ET studies? 
  • What are the 3 major “ontological realms” of anomalous phenomena? Can they be experienced and understood in our ordinary waking state of consciousness, or do we have to open to different modes of knowing in order to experience them fully?
  • Can spiritual practitioners explore and integrate exo realities without becoming fascinated and distracted from the conscious divine reality from which they arise?

Sean’s 16 Guidelines for Practicing with Conspiracy Theories

  1. REALIZE THAT WE ALL ARE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS: Keep in mind that we are all are conspiracy theorists of one strip or another – we have strong biological, cognitive, and social-cultural tendencies that predispose us towards conspiracy thinking. No one is really is immune. We are all in this together. It is psychologically commonplace – though it gets magnified or distorted under certain circumstances. 
  2. CLAIM YOUR SOVEREIGNTY: Stay in our own sovereignty and energy management around the content. – it can be intense and disorienting.
  3. DON’T BELITTLE CTs or CTers: Avoid belittling them and encourage others not to – as it encourages an environment that is not conducive to engaging them.
  4. DETERMINE WHAT KIND OF CT IS IT? Determine if it is a rational or irrational CT (or an evidence-based CT vs a speculative CT) – how much evidence and what kinds does it have supporting it. 
  5. DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN GOOD DATA POINTS vs NARRATIVE: Keep in mind that CTs often are based on good data points and insights and are pointing to “gaps” we ignore at our own peril. Differentiate the data points from the narrative. Acknowledge the “facts” (if they are solid/verifiable) but don’t blindly accept the “links”. 
  6. ACKNOWLEDGE THE “DEEP MEMETIC FRAME” INVOLVED: Identify the deep memetic frame being presented and connect with that w/o affirming the content of the CT. CTs tend to resonate with our deepest sense of how the world is (i.e., our worldview).
  7. HANGOUT IN THE GAP: Acknowledge that the official story doesn’t add up but refrain from committing to a CT – allow for multiple possible non-official stories to contain potential explanations. Allow yourself to “reject” the official story but holdback from identifying with a single CT narrative.
  8. TALK ABOUT CTs & SEEK CT PERSPECTIVES: Talk with people about all of this - Seek the perspectives of the CT believer. Chances are they have some good points and reasons for their position. 
  9. AVOID HAVING A CT ABOUT CTers: Avoid falling into us-them dynamics and simple explanations for complex scenarios esp. ones that have some concerning data points supporting them.
  10. LOOK TO SEE IF CTs ARE FEAR OR GROWTH BASED: Look to see if the CT actually moves us toward a better society – evolves systems or consciousness by exposing hard truths, demanding transparency, accountability, etc. or does it attempt to better society by instilling fear, racism, separation, division. Be wary of any version of a CT that dehumanizes people.
  11. EXPAND YOUR MEDIA DIET & AVOID DIGITAL ECHO CHAMBERS: Expand your media diet to avoid digital echo chambers – engage in a diverse source of information – avoid algorithm selections for you.
  12. AVOID DEMONIZING BIG Xs: Be cautious when you demonize Mainstream (Big) Media, Big Pharma, the USG (Big government) and instead strive to point out the aspects of those “others” you find problematic – be as specific as possible. 
  13. UPDATE AND REFINE YOUR PERSPECTIVE: Keep updating and refining your own perspective even when it contradicts earlier positions you had. Don’t stay static in your own thinking – try and add to it vs replace it with some other position. Lean into doubleness, “good “contradictions, and complexity.
  14. PRACTICE & PROMOTE EPISTEMIC REFLEXIVITY & HUMILITY: Practice epistemic reflexivity (reflecting on your own thinking) and epistemic humility (reflecting on your own biases, tendencies, limitations, projections). The more metacognition we can develop the better. Unhelpful CTs often involve simplistic non-reflective modes of thinking and analysis. Encourage others to do these types of thinking practices and look for them in our information leaders.
  15. HELP REBUILD OUR INSTITUTIONS: CTs are thriving because we have lost trust in science, government, and journalism – for some very good reasons I might add – all of these institutions have been found to have taken advantage of our trust in them. How do we rebuild those institutions – what are the checks and balances that can create a healthy knowledge and information ecosystem. 
  16. BE COMPASSIONATE WITH EACH OTHER WE ARE ALL IN A SENSE-MAKING CRISIS: Individually and collective we are facing a crisis of sense-making and meaning – we need to be compassionate to ourselves and those around us as we all try and figure out how to navigate this terrain.

For more information on Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Terry Patten, check out the following resources:

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