Expert in Life Science, New Thinking, Future Growth, Sustainability & Transformation.

Stefan Brunnhuber, the New Way of Thinking, The Future of Growth and the Digital Transformation.

The endless growth deception

Unlimited growth in a limited world is impossible — this is something everybody knows. However, the standard solution proposed for handling this fact is to use renewable technologies that replace fossil energy and additional growth that will be distributed in a smarter way. With these measures, we will decouple our lifestyle from resource consumption and stay within the planetary boundaries.

This argument is dominating the scene, despite the fact that is extremely weak empirically. The lecture can demonstrate some of the flaws: First, there is over a dozen so-called ‘rebound effects’: Any time a new, more efficient technology is implemented, people use the additional savings to increase consumption, which reduces the initial gains in efficiency. The ultimate rebound is then the backfire, where the installed technology causes even more damage than the old one. Second, renewables have a higher resource consumption (steel, land use, water, aluminum and cement) then fossil ones. Thirdly, if we consider the demographic shift in the global middle class (affecting mainly housing, mobility, meat consumption), which currently stands at 1.5 billion people but will increase to 4.6 billion people within the next 25 years, of which up to two thirds are going to live in urban areas, where several dozens of the required megacities have not been built yet (!), the standard answer evaporates. There is no decoupling. We have to tell ourselves the unpleasant truth that we might have to think about a new model. The psychological mechanism explaining this procedure is called ‘cognitive dissonance’. We tell ourselves stories that no longer match reality, but we feel good about doing so. However, two new models appear to describe human behavior better: those of the mental minimalist and the effective altruist. Both are backed up by empirical findings in game theory, on empathy and on happiness. The core message: we need more life science instead of more technology fixes, expert-driven solutions, governmental reforms and ‘more of the same’ for a better world.

Working, living and doing business in the antropocene

For the first time in history, mankind is fundamentally changing the course of the planet: Through nuclear armament, the use of land, global warming, and biodiversity degradation, just to mention a few. This is why this new era that mankind is entering is called the ‘Anthropocene’ (P. Cruzen). In this era, ‘Business as Usual’ or ‘Wait and See’ strategies are no longer sufficient. 99% of geo- ecological disturbances are caused by 1% of events. We are badly equipped to respond to all this. In the previous era, the ‘Holocene’, we did not really experience limits and boundaries; we were able to think and act in an exponential way. This way of thinking has reached its end. We are confronted with relative and absolute boundaries and limits: Environmental science has identified some 9 such planetary boundaries. But this is just one half of the story. Besides these outer limits, we are confronted with inner limits—limits to our thinking and acting under conditions of uncertainty: risk aversion, mental framing, short-termism, distorted perceptions of correlations and causalities are but some examples. This lecture offers a comprehensive insight into this new age of humankind, describing the main theoretical features and empirical findings and offering a first meta-narrative for the 21st century. However, it places humans in the drivers’ seat.

Psychology of transformation

Mankind is undergoing an evolutionary transformation; There are several ways to interpret this mega-shift. Some authors call it the‘Great Divide’ between the tribalists and the globalists (Robb Smith), some call it a ‘Metacrisis’ (Sean Esbjorn-Hargen) affecting all parts of our lives. I call it ‘NEW THINKING’: a thinking in which we are able to identify that the ‘way a problem is mentally framed is the real problem’ (Susanne Cook-Greuter); in which more and better data, figures and insights from different disciplines, cultures, beliefs and political systems, generally speaking, critical feedback is integrated and used to improve our situation and not considered a threat to the identity of the person or the group, meaning that we see and appreciate differences and still search for common factors and consensus. We might end up with less information but more knowledge, less control but a deeper understanding, less independence but more interdependency, and we might end up not being a bigger fish in a smaller pond, but rather become a smaller part in a bigger, often unknown interdependent and limited whole. It is not the chosen governance or technology, but the chosen psychology that is the game changer enabling or preventing successful survival in the Anthropocene. None of these issues are new, at least not in part. What is new about this approach is that we have to find solutions and operate within an era of interconnectedness and boundaries. It is a more progressive way, where world-centric viewpoints, identities, values and mindsets dominate the mental operating system, where we are sufficiently critical towards our one point of knowing and admit the limits to our control, insight and management skills; where we start identifying inconsistencies, contradictions, and uncertainty and become capable of dealing with the unknown. Yet all this requires a different language, different emotions, a different way of communicating and a different way of dealing with one another. To put it plainly: Do we simply reshuffle the cards of the game, or do we change the rules of the game? Currently we just have to tell ourselves the unpleasant truth, but evolution has given us the mental capacities to face it. So we need a new thinking!

Financing our future

There is no way to think and manage our future without rethinking and reshaping our monetary system. Every endeavor that fails to offer a solid plan for how to address the upcoming challenges — from alleviating poverty to accessing health care, to entering schooling, to finding a job, to tackling the degradation of the environment to name but a few — remains a purely theoretical and rhetorical exercise from a financial perspective. This lecture offers a new, evidence-based and out-of-the-box approach that mainstream economy is missing completely. In a nutshell: it is about a parallel monetary system, operating optionally and complementarily to the given system, which is going to be the game changer. And we are talking about big money. Research has demonstrated a 6 trillion USD bill necessary to, really, finance our common future. The elephant is in the room, but nobody wants to talk about it.

What we all believe in

Religious beliefs and their impact on society and science have been one of the most overlooked topics in modern times. This lecture aims to elaborate and identify the characteristics and common ground for interfaith dialogue. Current interfaith dialogue is dominated by historical analysis, theological interpretations of texts (exegesis), and disputes about institutional and organizational structures of competencies, power, influence and hierarchy within each religious administration. However, the common denominator emerges neither from the rational discursive dialogue of interpreting texts (such as the Bible or other holy books), nor from disputes about organizational and institutional aspects (power, hierarchy and influence), nor from humanitarian commitment, as this is shared with most secular NGOs. It is the mystical tradition in each faith that determines the different specifics of every world religion. Empirical findings (fasting, mantras, mindfulness, transcending ego states among others) in neurobiology, developmental psychology and medicine demonstrate the power and leverage any interfaith dialogue can achieve, making a substantial and sustainable contribution both to society and to personal individuation. Our interfaith dialogue will always miss the point if it fails to refer to this finding.

A psychogram of terrorism

Responding to daily terror attacks, ongoing asymmetric wars, managing disturbed citizens going on killing sprees in schools and public spaces is leading to massive military and police armament all over the world. We spend over 2 trillion USD a year on all kinds of security measures to defend ourselves from ourselves, from friends and enemies. However, these armament responses are just one side of the coin. Referring to findings in behavioral science, this military reflex risks triggering false assumptions and lopsided responses. We are constantly falling into the self-made trap of a vicious circle of ‘fight- defense and fight-response’. From a social and life science perspective, the topic requires a different approach. Taking the 2 trillion USD bill we are using to defend ourselves from one another, we need to invest a similar amount in humanitarian and civil projects in order to provide a context that offers humans the option to respond, interact, experience life and think differently.

The “creativity response” or the future of education

Despite increased expenditure and general enrollment rates, educational output is globally stagnating, if not declining. There is increasing empirical evidence that we need a completely different approach to enhancing the learning curve; this holds true for early childhood, primary education, secondary education and higher education. It is not the cognitive part of the curriculum that makes a difference, but rather the non-cognitive features (including stress management, impulse control, self-regulation, emotional attachment etc.) that improve creativity. This ‘six– pack’ includes exercise, nutrition, social contact, mindfulness-based practices, sleeping well and multisensory learning. This lecture describes very simple, affordable, evidence-based and efficient strategies that can be implemented promptly without additional costs.

Stefan Brunnhuber, born in Augsburg/Germany. After having finished vocational training as medical first responder at the Red Cross and as a car mechanic in Germany and the USA, graduated medical school and studied socioeconomics in tandem (student of Lord R. Dahrendorf). Multiple international visiting professorships. MA, MD, Dr med habil, Dr rer. soc., Two board-certified specializations (psychiatry, psychosomatics) and over 12 clinical sub-spezializations. Special clinical interests in psychotraumatology, chronic pain syndromes, addictive and affective disorders. Integral approach, including mind-body medicine, naturopathy and conventional medicine. Special management skills in human resources (development and recruitment, work & health-life balance), corporate social and sustainability scripts; further activities in post-growth scenarios, risc-analysis, psychology of sustainability, monetary ecosystems and transformative societal processes. Over 300 publications and presentations. Member of the European Academy of Science and Arts (EASA) and the World Academy of Arts and Science (WAAS). An evolutionary and integral approach in economics and psychology has been providing several academic appointments; Former visiting fellow/member at the C. G. Jung Institute (CH), Club of Rome (Austrian Chapter), PPKE (HU), MAYO, UCLA (USA), Beijing (CN) among others.

Currently medical director and chief medical officer in Saxonia (GER) and vice-chairman of the European Institut of Health (EiH). These memberships afford the opportunity to combine theory and practice and provide a more interdisciplinary and translational approach to scholarship, science and politics. “International Scientist of the Year 2003”; “Living Science Award 2004”; “International Peace Prize 2004”; Scientific advisor to the EU-Commission (2009); Founding member Alma Mater Europeae (2011); Senator (elected 2015-) of the European Academy of Science and Arts (EASA).

As a practicing Buddhist and Catholic, professional activities are embedded into the mystical traditions and practices of the perennial Eastern and Western philosophies.