Speaker: Jeremy Lent

Patterning Instinct

"Hope, by contrast, is not a matter of estimating the odds. Hope is an active state of mind, a recognition that change is nonlinear, unpredictable, and arises from intentional engagement."  -- Jeremy Lent

As an author and founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, Jeremy Lent investigates how humans' search for meaning throughout history has led our civilization to its current crisis of sustainability. His acclaimed book The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning (published 2017) draws on nearly 10 years of personal research that explores how cultures rely on the identification of patterns to bring meaning to their existence, revealing the hidden layers of values that dictate today's cultural norms. A reviewer in The Guardian called the book "the most profound and far-reaching book I've ever read.”  Focusing on crucial questions such as, Is it our true nature to be selfish and competitive, or empathic and community minded? and What are the root causes of our modern culture of rampant consumerism and is there a way we can change it?, Lent is on a mission to discover how we can shape humanity's destiny by consciously forging our own structures of meaning into our lives.

Born in London, England, Jeremy Lent received a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Initially pursuing a career in business, he founded an internet startup during the internet bubble year of 1999 and took it public. However, during this time, Lent's wife developed serious health problems, and he left the company to look after her. Within a couple of years, the company was collapsing and his wife's health had deteriorated further, leading to her eventual death.

"The structures that had given my life meaning had shattered," Lent says. "But along with the loss, I noticed a glimmer of possibility: here I was in midlife, with the ability to consciously redirect my future. To where? I knew, above all, I wanted my life to feel meaningful – but based on what foundation? I was determined to sort through the received stories of meaning until I came across a foundation I could really believe in."

Beginning around 2005, Lent began an inquiry into the various constructions of meaning formed by cultures throughout the world from hunter-gatherer times to the present day. His award-winning science-fiction novel, Requiem of the Human Soul, was published in 2009, offering a frightening glimpse of an imagined future in which "our human race is on trial. Our own sordid history – the devastation we’ve caused to indigenous cultures around the world, the destruction of our environment and of other species – becomes evidence in the case against our continued existence."

Lent has come to believe that "our global society needs a transformational shift in our underlying values if we want a sustainable and flourishing future for the human race." The Liology Institute (est. 2012), derived from the Chinese word "li" which means "the organizing principles" and "ology" which is the Greek-derived word for "study", strives to foster a worldview that could enable humanity to thrive harmoniously and sustainably. Its objectives include integrating science with life's meaning; living the "Tao of complexity"; embodying the source of meaning; living sustainably on the earth; understanding humanity's cognitive history; and experiencing ourselves as an integrated organism. "Instead of the conventional view that our human existence is split between mind and body, liology sees our human organism as an integrated whole, where our thoughts are embodied and our bodies possess an intrinsic intelligence."

Lent posits that the human race is currently on an unsustainable trajectory, pursuing material progress at all costs and feeding its insatiable appetite for consumption, ransacking the world’s natural resources at an ever-accelerating rate. The primary reason for this "headlong fling toward disaster," he believes, is that our economic system is based on perpetual growth, with transnational corporations accounting for sixty-nine of the world's hundred largest economies. Lent regularly blogs at Patterns of Meaning, where he writes, " As long as there are people at risk, as long as there are species struggling to survive, it’s not too late to avert further disaster."

Lent is currently working on his next book provisionally entitled The Web of Meaning: An Integration of Modern Science with Traditional Wisdom, which combines findings in cognitive science, systems theory, and traditional Chinese and Buddhist thought, proposing a framework that unites both science and meaning in a coherent whole. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Lisa Ferguson, and holds regular workshops to explore these topics through contemplative and embodied practices.

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