Introducing an idea to better understand our worlds and their peoples

Our civilization is so complex that there is a widespread feeling of fragmentation, disorderliness, and incomprehensibility. How can ordinary citizens like you and me redress these major shortcomings in our social worlds?

We think that, despite the apparent difficulties, it is possible for groups of people working collaboratively to significantly improve their understanding of our worlds in all their exquisite complexity.

We think the on-going stability and thriving of our civilization depends on such a comprehensively informed citizenry.

Buckminster Fuller argued that comprehensivity, an innate-in-children but largely absent-in-schooling proclivity, is essential for the general adaptability of humanity. We aim to develop this germ of an idea into a system for improving humanity's comprehensivity.

We call for an on-going initiative with groups of citizens working together to explore our worlds and its peoples.

We aim to foster a comprehensivism that understands enough about enough of the vital aspects of how our worlds work and change to make sense of it all and of each other.

We aim to establish the vital importance of the epistemic virtue of comprehensivism, that is, the value of forming broadly and deeply considered comprehensions about our worlds.

We aim to foster collaborations where participants engage in dynamic explorations where they whet each other's ideas into sharper more incisive understandings to better learn how it all works.

We aim to build comprehensivism into a new tradition of inquiry and action.

We aim to unify our worlds both conceptually and physically.

Since dynamic, creative experimentation is the wisest way to start any new initiative, this site is just a starting point, some guideposts for beginning. Please carefully consider this draft schema or outline for creating the new tradition of comprehensivism that we aspire to bring forth. After reading about the idea and our nascent effort to implement it, let us know how we can improve it and how you can help us build it. Your on-going input will be essential for it to succeed!

The Vision

Become a Comprehensivist Become a better, more aware, more informed citizen

Learn how the world works … Examine how change is created … Learn how other people think

Explore diverse subjects broadly and deeplyLearn what the world means and what possibilities it holds

Understand more of the many traditions of inquiry and action that drive our civilization and our lives

Organize and Participate in Explorations to comprehend how the world works and how it changes

Become a better, more sensitive listener

Become a better, more articulate speaker

Practice the art of being a trimtab (small actions that effect big results)

Together we can gradually become more and more effective doers and thinkers in addressing the topics that matter in our lives and in the world

Engage to more incisively comprehend the whole Universe together!

The Benefits

  • To better understand each other in a world of silos and tribes
  • To better navigate our lives in a complex global civilization
  • To better form integrated multi-perspectival views of our worlds
  • To better team with others to achieve bigger objectives
  • To better imagine, assess, and communicate ideas and actions that may improve the operation and regenerativity of our global civilization
  • To become a social trimtab, that is, to better serve, coordinate, and guide associates, colleagues, and fellow-citizens as well as organizations, companies, and governments including our politicians
  • To improve our collective intelligence to make humanity more robustly adaptable to any and all possible futures
  • To provide a forum for the deliberation of the vital issues of our times which is necessary to effectively inform governance for our civilization
  • To help us achieve, on an on-going basis, Buckminster Fuller's great ethical aspiration “to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone”
  • To unify the world!

Collaborating Involves Group Explorations

What is Comprehensivism?

  • Comprehensivism means comprehending our worlds broadly and deeply.
  • It is a facility in questioning, conceptualizing, interpreting, and acting to build a multi-perspectival yet integrated understanding of the world, how it works, and how it changes.
  • It implies developing a large set of subjects about which one can effectively inquire, contextualize, interpret & assess, and creatively re-imagine and re-combine for meaningful insights and the forging of new possibilities.
  • It entails developing a faculty for helping self and others build a broad range of interests and concerns, comprehensive knowledge, and skills, that is, a faculty for comprehensivism awareness and competency.
  • It involves recognizing its inherent pathologies including analysis paralysis (an endless accumulation of information), value paralysis (an unrestrained accommodation of everyone's values), and the paralysis of wholism (an unlimited expansion of the whole). So it requires cultivating judgment to stay incisively relevant.

Since it is impossible for any one person to understand all of humanity's accumulated knowing and doing, comprehensivism may seem unachievable. The idea is that our individual and collective effectiveness in understanding the vital issues of our times will be improved through the dynamics of groups of people effectively exploring many different topics as broadly and deeply as possible over an extended period of time. Guided by the intention to develop an incisively integrated comprehension of our worlds and how they change, participants will inform and gradually hone their judgment both in the areas specifically explored as well as in gradually acquiring general adaptability. Bit by bit, they will become better prepared to ask more incisive questions and imagine more effective actions on subjects for which they have little prior knowledge or awareness. Their insights, new possibilities, and actions will percolate through society enhancing the collective intelligence and adaptability of our civilization as a whole.

Collaborating for comprehensivism welcomes participation from anyone willing to suspend their own certainties to conscientiously explore sensitively, boldly, and collaboratively. Sessions should involve no prerequisite knowledge, beliefs, metaphysical assumptions, or values beyond the communicating systems used to organize and conduct events. We recommend a crowdsourcing model where participants explore their own topics in their own order curated and explored by the participants themselves. At group events, they exchange experiences, interpretations, beliefs, feelings, values, thoughts, models, apprehensions, understandings, and ways of seeing (perceiving), thinking, and doing. That is, we envision building a new tradition that focuses on listening, sharing, and exploration and which accommodates and includes all backgrounds, beliefs, and cultural traditions.

Does the idea interest you?

What do you like about it? Do you have any concerns?

A New Tradition of Inquiry and Action

Collaborating for comprehensivism aspires to develop, democratize, and institutionalize a new tradition of inquiry and action inspired by the great polymaths of history like Aristotle, Archimedes, Zhang Heng, Hypatia, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), Shen Kuo, Omar Khayyám, Acharya Hemachandra, Hildegard of Bingen, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Leonardo, Athanasius Kircher, Christina Queen of Sweden, Ben Franklin, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Goethe, Buckminster Fuller, John von Neumann, Jacob Bronowski, Mortimer J. Adler, and Dorothy Dunnett. Although anyone can become a comprehensivist by putting into practice studying, thinking, and acting broadly, currently society produces too few comprehensivists, too few who are able to connect humanity's great traditions and its peoples. Our effort aspires to engage anyone who is interested to participate in and/or organize collaborations with a minimum of background, training, and effort.

There are many traditions of inquiry and action that purport to provide initiates with the means to grasp anything (or even everything) including our many spiritual, mystical, and mythological traditions, science and technology, Renaissance humanism, liberal arts education, transdisciplinarity, universology, consilience, wholism, integral theory, world-systems theory, cultural studies, semiotics, complexity, systemics, cybernetics, and synergetics. While these organizing systems are important cultural resources and should be better understood, none is universally accepted, their assumptions are often controversial, and most involve first learning particular ways of seeing and sophisticated practices of inquiry and action. Instead, collaborating for comprehensivism aims to accommodate the broadest range of people and their traditions in a quest, an exploration, whose direction is clear (toward the broad in scope AND the deeply incisive: toward comprehensivism) but whose destination is unspecified and open-ended.

In “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”, Buckminster Fuller wrote, “We have not been seeing our Spaceship Earth as an integrally-designed machine which to be persistently successful must be comprehended and serviced in total”. So comprehensivism is needed to effectively operate our spaceship effectively. It aspires to a planetary or cosmic perspective in both our conceptuality and in our practice.

Evoking The Cosmic Perspective

Comprehensivism Evokes A Cosmic Perspective

An idea to unify the world

In “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”, Buckminster Fuller (“Bucky”) called for an “uncompromised, metaphysical initiative of unbiased integrity [to] unify the world”. Could comprehensivism help unify the world?

An inspiring model for unification and comprehensivity can be found in the scientific theory of gravity developed by Newton, Einstein, and others. Evidently, every massive particle in the entire physical Universe attracts every other according to an exact mathematical formulation. This expression of universal physical love belies the boundaries and fragmentations of our present-day tribes and silos. It could be that we can similarly develop schemas or models that accommodate every idea and every person in a meticulously comprehensive gestalt despite how daunting it may at first appear?

In speaking about Dante's 700 year old epic poem “Commedia”, Giuseppe Mazzotta said, “the presence of viewpoints, various viewpoints, which one somehow manages to control, or know, all viewpoints. … Perspective means that … the perception of reality changes according to the position we occupy…. Dante uses this perspectivism [which] really means a way of assembling various points of view.” Likewise, comprehensivity assembles and integrates a broadly informed multi-perspectival view of our worlds. Collaborating with many people of different backgrounds, we can facilitate acquiring such a perspectivism. So our initiative engages groups of people to collaborate to gradually realize a broader and deeper and more integrated conception of our worlds.

A collaborative effort for comprehensivism inspired by the science of gravity and informed by perspectivism could unify the world. Not only would a comprehensively informed conception of the world be more unified than our fragmented ones, but a side effect of identifying and sharing comprehensivist considerations, insights, possibilities, and actions would tend to help everyone better understand each other and better coordinate their actions which would tend to unify the world. These effects might make our civilization more robustly adaptable to any and all possible futures.

Collaborating for comprehensivism is a nascent initiative to engage groups of citizens in diverse explorations to develop comprehensive comprehensions to unify our worlds conceptually and physically.

How it works

Comprehensivism as a tradition hasn't yet been established. There are no textbooks. We cannot be sure that our ideas will work. We welcome your experiments to test our ideas and to try out your ideas so that over time we may learn the best ways to foster comprehensivism.

We have organized more than 300 events that have served to prototype the idea. Based on that experience, we offer these recomendations and suggestions for how collaborative groups might be structured so that we might build an effective community of practice:

  • Groups would ideally meet face-to-face on a recurring basis for a series of conversations (generally exploratory dialogues, but other activities may sometimes be used) to explore a wide variety of topics. Explorations will be broader and richer if participants have diverse backgrounds, knowledge, and skills. So diversifying your group will be well worth the effort.
  • Each exploration must ensure the psychological safety of participants so respectful but penetrating probing of strong differences can be effectively engaged and integrated into meaningful outcomes.
  • Ideally, all participents will contribute their thoughts and feelings about the subject. Event facilitators ought to start each meeting by inviting each participant to introduce themselves and to comment on the topic to get everyone comfortable with sharing their ideas and to provide stepping stones for exploration.
  • Topics ought to be curated so that with a minimum of preparation participants with no prior awareness of the subject can effectively explore its nuances. Requiring some preparation will produce richer events. Some events should be based on books, videos, or other resources that require more preparation. Please experiment. If too many events involve too much preparation, participants may not feel prepared and may not contribute to the conversation. Good condensed summaries can make advanced ideas accessible for everyone. Topic curation involves preparing participants to explore a subject deeply even when they have no background.
  • All life is an experiment. Emerson
  • Our focus on exploration requires that all participants must suspend their certainties so they can fully engage and examine each other's ideas. Participants are encouraged to share their relevant ideas and even their judgments, but certainty derails exploration. Asking someone who is a bit too certain to explain why they hold their beliefs and then asking the rest of the group to share their beliefs and their justifications for them will often facilitate a transition to a deeper exploration. The group must strive get beyond the shallow batting around of opinions and beliefs that we typically witness on TV. By exploring the range of opinion in the group with a suspension of certainty, everyone can feel heard and most people will naturally transition from partisan “believers” to explorers who listen to and collaboratively build on each others' ideas.
  • Each participant ought to organize topics for the group to explore. This is important: only by assessing what is lacking in your own or your group's comprehensivism will you be able to steer you and your group to more effective considerations. Groups should compassionately mentor any member who struggles in organizing their topics.
  • All subjects ought to be “on the table” for exploration. Even seemingly parochial topics can engage our comprehensivism when we recognize that everything is interrelated (witness the physics of gravity!) and we see the challenge of our resistance to a topic as an opportunity to work through our blocks to a more encompassing comprehensivism.
  • Groups may benefit from exploring meta-issues such as the importance of listening, voicing, respect, suspension of certainty, and other skills for fostering more effective dialogue and exploration.
  • If participants boldly explore the edges of their knowledge and their differences, the meetings will end without conclusion and with everyone in a state of cognitive dissonance. That is to be expected: it indicates a successful session! The discomfort of cognitive dissonance may be reduced by ending sessions by asking participants about what they learned, what their takeaways from the dialogue were, and whether they glimpsed further into comprehensivist seeing, thinking, or practice. Participants will then be able to build on these insights later.
  • Given how complex our worlds are, it can be expected that it will take years to develop a confident comprehensivism. Participants and groups should be patient with their progress yet not shy away from challenging themselves to consider many unfamiliar perspectives. Progress may require confronting and accommodating your biggest intellectual weaknesses, fears, and aversions!

Every group will be different. Every topic will be different. Organizers will try experiments. Some won't work. The basic outline above should provide a rough and ready guide for most groups. If you learn something from your practice, please share it with us so we can all learn more quickly.

Are you ready to collaborate for comprehensivism? Why? Why not?

What do you think of our approach to fostering comprehensivism?

Why It Works

Our approach for collaborating for comprehensivism aligns the interests of citizen-stakeholders through a mutual commitment to understanding each other and how our worlds work and change. This motivation is explained in the Buckminster Fuller quote: “One of humanity's prime drives is to understand and be understood”. Furthermore, dynamic, interactive dialogues where each participant is engaged to explore assumptions, to listen sensitively, to speak and be heard, to build ever broader and deeper meanings, and to identify new possibilities in subjects that matter can be thoroughly engaging.

One of our key ideas builds on Buckminster Fuller's idea of a trimtab:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trimtab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trimtab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trimtab. — Buckminster Fuller (“Bucky”)

Participants are trimtabs helping each other get leverage on their mutual goal of comprehensivism. That incentivizes contributions to broaden and deepen each exploration. Over time, participants ought to diagnose their own and their group's strengths, weaknesses, possibilities, and concerns for building a more meticulous, comprehensive, and integrated set of models of our worlds. Such navigational assessments will indicate new directions to explore for honing their sense of the world. These group trimtab effects align participants, group, and purpose.

At the societal level, each session focuses on aspects of our civilization's vital traditions and issues. These subjects are trimtabs to consider new perspectives and their stakeholder concerns. The insights from many such meetings from many allied groups will percolate through society. If such broadly informed comprehensions strengthen our collective intelligence, they would improve our adaptability and improve the governance of our civilization. Such ideas may help identify and align our interdependent interests producing a more robust, regenerative, and thriving society. These combined societal trimtab effects may even help achieve the ambition of Buckminster Fuller “to make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone”.

Such an initiative to engage citizen-explorers in collaborating for comprehensivism could help unify our worlds physically as well as conceptually.

Collaborating for Comprehensivism Integrates People and Ideas

How To Get Started

Right now, Comprehensivist Wednesdays is the only group experimenting with the idea of collaborating for comprehensivism anywhere in the world. Unless its format and time work for you, you will need to organize your own group. Since no one is able to organize groups on their own, group organizers will need to find others to help. They will need to find other participants at least, but aides, assistants, partners, and co-organizers would make the workload lighter and more effective. Who can help you get started?

The first step is to commit to help organize a collaborative group. Then you can work toward a first session. Spend some time considering: How do you want your group to work? Write out your ideas and your story as you'll need them for recruiting participants and for facilitating sessions.

Next, prioritize first things first: choosing a venue, a topic for the first meeting, announcing the first event, how to start the meeting, handling lulls in the conversation, handling conflicting views and personalities, and ending the event. What contingencies can you anticipate and how would you handle them?

Getting people to your event will be challenging. A marketing effort will be required. Since large groups are more difficult to organize, starting with a small group of maybe 10 or 12 (or even 5) people will be easier. can bring one or two new people to your events, but their service is very expensive. Facebook and Eventbrite offer some free event organizing services. If you get creative, you may be able to get going with minimal or neglibile expenses.

What is your draft plan to get started? What kind of help do you need to get started?

Spontaneous Organizing

We would like to see this initiative take off as a social contagion where groups spontaneously form all around the world. We are working to imagine what kind of infrastructure would best support that result. Let us know if you have any ideas.

You are welcome to just jump in, start organizing a group, and share your results with us.

To help folks get started, we have a Resource Center with topical essays that we have used to organize explorations. You can either use them directly or use them as inspiration for forming your own topics and curricula for your initiative. In addition, we have a mailing list to keep interested people advised of comprehensivism related initiatives.

To help finance our work we offer a few paid services for individuals or organizations who want more guidance, support, or service.

Mentoring and/or Support Services

We can provide paid coaching/mentoring and/or other support services for your efforts by telephone and e-mail. If you need some guidance or support to help you start or nurture your group, let us know.

Group Organizing Services

We can also help you run a group for an on-going fee. If you need us to help you organize and run a group, let us know.

Consulting Services

If you think our ideas for exploration, collaboration, comprehensivism, or collaborating for comprehensivism can help your organization, let us know.

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Participants and organizers discuss comprehensivism, organizing events, resources and skill-building, asking and answering questions, building a community of practice.