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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Idiot Opposite Me

Marcus T Anthony's new web site and blog can be found at

The human mind tends to work in binaries: good/bad, this/that, me/her, us/them, is/is not, and so on. Bart Kosko wrote a book quite some time ago called Fuzzy Logic, where he pointed out that this black and white thinking of the human mind creates distortions in the way we perceive the world. Being aware of the same problem, lateral thinking guru Edward de Bono invented a new word, “po”, to help move us beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

The older we get, the more we tend to label the world and life’s experiences according to  pre-assigned rigid categories. The world then loses its novelty, and we also forgo the opportunity to see things anew, or from the perspective of another. I developed a process called Harmonic Circles to assist people in moving beyond these kinds of binaries.

However, today, I am going to provide you with a piece of wisdom that a spiritual teacher of mine, whom I refer to as Jessica, once told me. She said that when she sat in a circle or group of people, she always took careful note of the person sitting opposite her, because that person represented a polarity that she needed to acknowledge. Ironically, the very first time I ever met Jessica, she was sitting directly opposite me in a large circle of people (and, no, she didn’t mention this idea at that time, but much later). I mentioned the amazing synchronicity that occurred as a result of that meeting in a previous post. As soon as Jessica saw me, she related precisely the same image that I’d had in a dream just a few hours before, where I’d seen my hands covered in blood. That synchronicity helped me to come to terms with an issue I had, related to sexuality.

It is often the people that we push away at a personal or intellectual level that have the most to teach us. The simple process of allowing yourself to look at the person opposite you, and ask, “What is it about this person that I need to acknowledge?”, can produce a great deal of insight. You can also take this in a metaphorical sense and ask the same question about a person whom you see as an intellectual or spiritual rival. Many people who read this blog have a spiritual perspective. “We” (if I may allow myself to place us in a group) often feel threat and hostility from sceptics and those critical of spiritual discourses and mystical experience. You can probably think of one such person or group right now. Is there something that you can learn from them? Is it possible for you to receive them without emotional judgment?

Note here the distinction between ‘judgment’ and discernment’. Judgment is laden with emotionality, while discernment is a nonattached perspective. You can still discern a perceived error in another’s thinking without taking it personally, or needing to change or destroy it. Judgment typically contains an element of destruction – there is an often unconscious desire to annihilate the object of judgment.

I would like now to recount a significant event in my life which helped me to understand this issue at a deeper level. It occurred in 2005, when I attended a Futures Studies conference at Tamkang University in Taiwan. I wrote about this in an essay for The Journal of Futures Studies the following year. Here’s a part of what I wrote there. It involves an somewhat uncomfortable encounter with Michio Kaku, the well-known physicist and author of Visions.

 Michio Kaku

In 2003 I wrote a critique of Kaku's highly successful book Visions, where I unpacked his representation of the future and found that it lacked "depth." In particular I criticised its techno-utopianism and its lack of integral, spiritual and non-Western perspectives on the futures of humankind. I also wrote a rather unflattering review of it on Amazon. com, which was not well received by Kaku fans! It was therefore with a little nervousness that I anticipated the conference, knowing that Kaku would be there, even though I knew that it was extremely unlikely that Kaku had ever heard of me or my article in JFS.

The first defining moment at the Tamkang conference came on the first morning of the conference when one of our colleagues was giving her presentation. Kaku had already completed his presentation. With some degree of dexterity I had managed up till that point to avoid a personal meeting with the physicist, which may well havebeen due to my own cowardice. Kaku was sitting with his partner near the front of the auditorium, and - as luck would have it - I was sitting just a few seats behind him. This was a perfect position to observe him. The presentation in progress incorporated a considerable smattering of Integral Futures and Wilberian theory. I was particularly interested to note what Kaku's reaction might be to such ideas. At first Kaku seemed interested, but soon began to take an unusually strong interest in the conference flyers, and began chatting with his partner. A little later he and his partner got up and snuck out of the room, well before the presentation had ended. It seemed that Integral Futures does not quite resonate with modern physics.

The second notable event occurred later that evening at the conference dinner, which was held at the university. All guests were seated at round tables with a dozen or so people at each table. There were scores of tables and hundreds of guests, because the dinner was a celebration of a special anniversary of the university, not merely for the futures conference. I recalled that a spiritual teacher once told me that you should always note who is seated directly opposite you when sitting in a circle, for that person mirrors an aspect of your own psyche that you have not fully acknowledged. According to my teacher, the opposite person represents a polarity of yourself; a cosmic synchronicity for the singular purpose of bringing something into your awareness.

The seating was all pre-arranged, so there was no chance of my choosing my own seat. So after I walkedin I searched for my name tag, and sat down. Of all the hundreds of possible combinations of people who could have assumed the position at my table opposite me, can you guess who was sitting at 180 degrees from me?

If you guessed Michio Kaku, you are correct.

I spent the entire evening chatting with my futures colleagues immediately beside me, while nervously avoiding dialogue with Kaku. Yet as the evening progressed, I could not help but notice that I was not the only one at fault. After a time Michio and his partner were left sitting by themselves. I did not notice anybody approaching them or initiating conversation with them. And much to my shame, I count myself amongst those people. The night came and went and in the end the reality is that I – a man who likes to consider himself a multi-disciplinarian – sat opposite one of the world’s most notable physicists and I could not be bothered to raise a single word with him. I would like to present some elaborate excuse as to why I failed to talk to him, but there is none.

So Kaku came and went and somewhere in between he and I (and most of the other futurists present) seemed to have missed each other. In my defense I did make a rather belated attempt to right the wrong. On the afternoon of the second day of the conference, realising that I was a complete coward, I rushed up to Michio just as I was about to board the bus for the after-function excursion. Michio was not going on the bus, so I knew that this would probably be the final opportunity to say something to him. I introduced myself a little nervously. Much to my surprise the expected karate chop to the forehead never came. Michio smiled politely and returned the greeting, and then I jumped on the bus.

What can we make of this seeming division between Kaku and many of the other futurists? What was the barrier? Surely if we call ourselves integral futurists we must also embrace Kaku's vision – even if we consider it limited – not simply discard it without so much as pausing to listen. One explanation might be that Kaku was irrelevant to the conference. Conversation about Kaku's presentation amongst my colleagues that I was personally witness to tended to be critical. They said it was dated, utopian, and dare I say "shallow". Kaku had found a niche and was milking the market for some extra cash, said another colleague.

While I am in agreement with certain parts of these analyses, my belief is that we (largely) ignored Kaku predominantly out of our own arrogance. Secondly, we have not fully integrated or embraced Kaku's preferred domains of enquiry. Many of the futurists at the conference presented papers with a heavy emphasis upon Wilber's upper-left (the intentional, first person). In particular there was a heavy emphasis upon spirituality and consciousness evolution. Notably, this is the very domain which Wilber has been accused of privileging himself. Others incorporated strong cultural and social perspectives, consistent with Wilber's lower-right and lowerleft quadrants. Besides Kaku, few of the presentations I observed embraced the upper right (empirical). 3

Let us be reminded of what Slaughter has suggested about the methods of Integral

Integral Futures work therefore reaches across previously separate realms. It regards developments in the LR with the "eye" of perception that it consciously adopts in the UL. It will participate in shared social processes in the LL and take due note of the interobjective realities in the UR. In other words the invitation to consider Integral Futures work is an invitation to move and act in a deeper, richer and infinitely more subtly interconnected world. (Slaughter 2003. Italics added.).

By such standards, we failed to live up to the tenets of our own philosophy. There is not much chance of our being truly integral if we do not even have the "integrity" to so much as talk to the out-of-field guests we invite to our futures conferences. The question must be asked: why not? After all he was arguably the most famous and prominent presenter at the conference, and his research knowledge in Visions was gleaned via interviews with around a hundred of the world's most prominent scientists and thinkers.

If we are to achieve integrality it must be a genuine integrality, not a token or "shallow" integrality. At the Tamkang conference we had one of the world's great physicists as a guest, and many of us effectively snubbed him. And that remains a source of some remorse for me as a Futures practitioner.

The entire affair suggest that synchronicities may be a more common than we think - perhaps as close as the person sitting opposite us. Today, take a look at someone opposite you. Note if you are resisting something about them. See if you can own that concept within yourself, and receive it without judgment. You may just find it growth experience.


  1. Terrific post, Marcus. The polarities you mention are similar to what exists in astrology. An Aries is attracted to its opposite sign, Libra, a Gemini to a Sagittarius, and so on. That's the simplistic version. The deeper version, astrologically speaking, is that the sign opposite our own holds attributes we lack - and vice versa. From now on, I will surely notice who is sitting opposite me!

  2. Trish didn't mention it, but just before opening your post, she deleted a comment from our blog in which someone suggested another commenter was an idiot. Seconds later, she laughed as she saw the cartoon. - Rob

  3. Yes, it is interesting to take this process seriously. Some interesting things emerge!

    Interesting about the "idiot" comment - maybe you can direct the poster to this threead!

  4. Thank you, Marcus.
    My direct experience is that there is no 'other'.
    Everybody 'out there' is a reflection of me and my stories.
    Great fun when allowing what is to simply be.
    Essentially we are all One.

  5. Always the person who most gets on our t*ts is the one who's showing us what we don't want to look at - it's a universal law, isn't it?

    A friend of mine had a great fridge magnet which read: "The truth shall set you free. But first it shall seriously piss you off."

  6. I know that as soon as I have a bad reaction to someone it is probably because the mirror they are holding is reflecting something I don't want to see.

  7. Hey! I can clearly see the fact that you deeply get the sense of what you are telling about over here. Do you own a degree or an education which is somehow related with the topic of the blog post? Can't wait to hear from you.