Three Dimensions
Three Models of Civilisation

The Three Dimensions are a simple framework that describes the structure of cultural evolution on a global level. They are not dimensions in the geometric sense, like height, width, or depth. Nor are they dimensions in a metaphorical sense, i.e., aspects or facets of a situation. Instead, each of the Three Dimensions consists of a set of attitudes, behaviours and belief systems held by the majority of individuals in a society. 

The First Dimension is the dimension of the present: it’s our current model of civilisation, with all the ideas and institutions that define it—things like a free-market economy; inquiry based on the “scientific method”; impartial and evidence-based justice; a largely democratic system of governance; free and compulsory education; the widespread use of digital communications technologies; and so forth. 

The Second and Third Dimensions, on the other hand, don’t exist yet. They represent more enlightened ways to organise ourselves. They are social paradigms that will hopefully exist in the future, once we have made a conscious decision to work towards them.

The First Dimension is the Dimension of Cause and Effect, the Second Dimension the Dimension of Interdependence, and the Third Dimension the Dimension of Transcendence.

As we transition from one Dimension to the next, the previous Dimension continues to exist and to remain relevant to particular situations. To visualise the relationship between the Dimensions, imagine for a moment that they are like three concentric spheres. The First Dimension is completely encompassed by the Second, which, in turn, is surrounded by the Third Dimension.

First Dimension ways of thinking are not necessarily wrong. They are, in fact, the foundations of much modern-day prosperity upon which further advances can be built. But they are not necessarily applicable to new circumstances. When we feel the pressure of new insight forcing a change in us, the temptation may be to cling harder to what has worked before, to what we know. But that is actually just the moment to let go, to abandon the older model, and allow something better suited to our current reality to emerge. 

A simile may help to clarify all this. Consider the aerodynamic principle of lift. At high speed, the flow of air over and under an aircraft’s wings causes an uplift that enables it to fly. The air is necessary for this to happen, and the more of it there is (i.e., the greater the air density), the more lift can be generated. Close to the Earth, where air density is higher, lift is strong. Higher in the atmosphere, the air is less dense, so lift starts to weaken until, in the uppermost reaches, it ceases to work altogether. Thus the very principle that worked so well at lower altitudes is actually a hindrance higher up. At this point, in order to keep progressing, a different set of principles must be used. If we continue to rely on lift alone, we will stall and plummet out of the sky. To go even higher into space, we need a more advanced technology, such as rocket propulsion.

The Three Dimensions work in a similar manner. Ways of thinking and interacting that emerge in a certain historical context become obsolete when that context changes. In the face of new challenges, we must let go of old tools that worked in the past in favour of better ones.

The Dimensions and the Development of Consciousness

So, the Three Dimensions are organisational paradigms that shape the way societies are structured and function, now and in the future. They can be viewed as ‘operating systems’ that govern the way we relate to each other in a structured environment. Yet each of the Three Dimensions reflects not only a set of organisational principles, but also an individual, internal state of being. Each Dimension is the result of a certain level of consciousness—a degree of understanding and awareness about ourselves and the world around us.

Let’s pause here and define this term—consciousness. For the purposes of our Movement, we’ll define it in a very simple way: when fully realised, consciousness is the ability to recognise an omnipresent reality. It is the ability to see everything, including ourselves, our fellow human beings, our communities and societies, the natural world around us, and life itself, with clarity and detachment, and to recognise that all these elements and actors form an indivisible whole. Achieving full consciousness is difficult, of course. More realistically, consciousness is a journey—any evolving effort to attain a higher state of awareness. 

There are many obstacles to the development of consciousness. Most of them are forces within us that hold us back—all kinds of mental baggage that lies within our subconscious mind, including what we experienced in childhood, what we absorbed from our parents and from social interactions. Some of it is even older and more difficult to grasp because it has been passed down to us from ancestors who lived millennia ago. In a narrow sense, we can say that developing our consciousness means being increasingly able to recognise and understand these silent forces that condition our behaviour and the behaviour of others, and ultimately to transcend them. 

The Three Dimensions are intimately related to the overall level of consciousness of the societies that inhabit them. In other words, the First Dimension is an expression of the overall level of consciousness held by global society nowadays, whereas the Second and Third Dimensions as aspirational, future societies that will be capable of spawning more enlightened social paradigms.

Of course, the level of consciousness of both an individual and a group is not set in stone. It fluctuates constantly; it can leap forward but it can also retreat. Imagine that you come home after a long and stressful day at work. The children want to play with you and your spouse has lots to discuss with you. But your fatigue and frustrations boil over and you end up yelling at the children and quarrelling with your spouse. We can say that you’re exhibiting a low level of awareness, because you’ve allowed certain emotions that have accumulated over the day to sneak up on you and make you behave in a way you had not intended. Later that evening, you’re able to calm down and think about what just happened. Why, you ask yourself, did I rage against my family? Had they done anything to deserve it? Was I just bringing home emotions and worries from work? Was it this emotional ‘baggage’ that caused me to act that way? Do I owe my spouse and kids an apology? In the greater scheme of things, is what happened at work really so dire that it should ruin my time with the family? Now, after some introspection, you can be said to have regained a higher level of awareness, and you feel guilty for having slipped up earlier, for having lost control of your emotions and lost sight of what is important.

Just like self-awareness in this example, consciousness can rise and fall. Just because we are capable of a high level of consciousness doesn’t mean that we can maintain it all the time. Conversely, just because we operate at a low level of consciousness most of the time, doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of moments of great insight or empathy.

The level of consciousness of entire societies can also ebb and flow. We have defined the Three Dimensions as models of civilisation that are fixed in time: the First Dimension consists of everything humanity has experienced and achieved till now, while the other two dimensions are visions of the future. But this neat, linear progression does not apply to the rise of consciousness. Indeed, there have been times in the past, even in ancient history, when civilisations have experienced surges in consciousness, only to plunge back into more primitive behaviour later on. 

A great example of this is the promulgation of the Edicts of Ashoka in the third century BCE. Ashoka—an emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent from 268 to 232 BCE—converted to Buddhism, possibly because he felt remorse over the carnage that his wars of conquest had caused. Soon afterward he began a systematic programme to spread his new beliefs among his subjects using a number of formal inscriptions etched into pillars, rock faces and cave walls throughout his vast empire. Known as the Edicts of Ashoka, these inscriptions were meant to be read by everyone. One of their goals was, of course, to propagate and legitimise the Buddhist faith, but the Edicts also focused on social and moral issues. They were a genuine attempt to solve some of the problems that a complex society like the Mauryan empire faced, by introducing Ashoka’s extraordinarily enlightened vision of benevolent governance and proper behaviour. Far ahead of their time, the Edicts strike us as progressive even today. They say, for example, that all religions share a common truth and should be tolerated. They contain ultra-modern ideas like the call for humane treatment of prisoners and criminals, and the need to preserve the natural environment, especially wildlife.

Clearly, Ashoka was able to see the world around him with the clarity and unity that comes with heightened consciousness. His Edicts represent a tremendous—if temporary—rise in consciousness, one that inspires admiration even millennia later. This historical episode illustrates two things. First, history is full of instances of heightened consciousness. These occurrences may have been brief or enduring, and they may or may not have had important social outcomes. But they do show that both individuals and societies have often been capable of expressing a higher level of consciousness than what existed around them. 

Second, there is a clear connection between the paradigms that govern complex societies and the level of consciousness that brought about those paradigms. That’s why the Three Dimensions are not merely a set of societal rules and institutions, but more deeply, they are the inner conditions and beliefs out of which arise the rules and institutions on which societies are based. 

Throughout much of history, the paradigm around which a society was organised was reflective merely of the level of consciousness of its ruler, and sometimes of the social elite that surrounded him. With the advent of democratic forms of government, however, the level of consciousness of the general population begins to matter. In the First Dimension, our organisational and social structures reflect a relatively low level of consciousness. We perceive ourselves as separate individuals, disconnected from other individuals and often oblivious of our impact on them, or their influence on us. We are governed mostly by our own primal interests and agendas. As our consciousness expands, we begin to see ourselves as part of a greater whole, connected with one another and all forms of life. From this more expanded perspective, the impact of our actions upon others becomes increasingly evident. 

The Rise of the First Dimension

Much of the world we live in today is operating according to First Dimension principles. These are embodied by a system of ideas that evolved over many centuries of civilisation, from our time as nomadic hunters and gatherers through the intellectual and practical innovations brought by the great civilisations of antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times. This model of civilisation is the sum of all we have achieved and learned as human beings. For better or worse, it is largely a Western model of civilisation, which Europeans forced upon the rest of the world during centuries of colonialism and cultural hegemony.

While the development of the First Dimension began very long ago and has been shaped by contributions from many periods of history and many different cultures, it owes its identity especially to the intellectual and scientific revolution of the early modern period. This revolution began some 400-500 years ago and radically re-shaped our worldview, eventually coalescing into the set of beliefs, value systems, and cultural norms that constitute modernity. It is the world ushered in by Descartes and Galileo, by Luther and Machiavelli, by Hobbes and Locke, and above all by the discoveries of Isaac Newton. It was Newton who brought the heavens down to Earth by demonstrating the compatibility of celestial and terrestrial laws of mechanics. Under the simple law of gravity, the entire universe could, in principle, be reduced to a mathematical identity. 

Not only did Newton explain the workings of objects falling in space, but the awesome persuasiveness of his physics also suggested that everything in our experience was implicitly explicable. Nothing might lie outside our capacity to comprehend, through empirical analysis. Suns, planets, people, objects in our hands—all could be measured and understood by the same underlying forces. Newton’s first law stated that for a body to change its state of motion, a force must be acting on it. In other words, for every effect there must be a measurable cause. Newton had thus managed to confirm through mathematical modelling the absolute certainty of scientific knowledge first posited by Descartes—the idea that only those phenomena that can be measured, predicted and defined empirically should be accepted as real and considered important. After Newton, when we observe a distinct effect in the world, we no longer have space for the existence of mysteries and magic, for the unknown; we search for unique and measurable causes, and absolute certainty. 

This scientific, reductive, and individualistic approach to the world constitutes the First Dimension, the Dimension of Cause and Effect.

Its scope is so vast and its influence so pervasive that it is hard to conceive as something distinct; or indeed that there could be other ways of viewing reality. We have, since the rise of Newton and his fellow luminaries, recreated the world in our image. This reshaping has flowed down two streams of knowledge: science, which proceeds on the basis of observable and verifiable proof; and our political and social systems, which are based on the rights of the individual, and on the conviction—as Adam Smith formulated it—that individual self-interest can appropriately organise society. The application of these beliefs led to rapid specialisation in early modern societies. This specialisation was made possible by the abundance of surplus that freed a greater number of people from the daily burden of feeding themselves. 

Specialisation of professional skills helped to build sophisticated institutions and problem-solving mechanisms, which, while they were complex in their engineering, were simple in what they sought to achieve. If the variable was profit, the system generated more and more complex structures to increase profits. If it was the concern over our safety and the desire to subdue others, we developed ever more lethal weaponry. If it was comfort, we built machines and products that would make our daily lives more pleasant, predictable, and manageable.

Who can doubt the benefits this history has heaped upon us? Order, governance, better  relations between the social classes, technological innovation, economic growth, and the codification and protection of individual liberties under the rule of law—no realm of learning or experience has been untouched. Furthermore, the application of technologies, coupled with the political and economic rights of individuals, has ushered in an age of prosperity, a higher standard of living and quality of life on a scale never before experienced by humanity. 

Shortcomings of the First Dimension

Yet, amidst all this material prosperity many of us feel we have lost something precious; a closer connection to each other and to nature that we had in the past. We feel that the world is more than the sum total of what can be itemised. Science and personal liberty allow us to pinpoint physical and human nature, respectively, with unprecedented exactness. But the very nature of this measurement creates a world of limited variables, separate components, and hence restricted values. Inevitably we measure what can be measured. That which lies outside the reach of our instruments of measurement tends to be dismissed as worthless, or ignored altogether as unreal. The potent but simple-minded First Dimension has given us mastery over whatever can be manipulated mechanically. No one would dream of doubting the efficacy of electricity or the assembly line. But more and more, we feel the the limitations of our scientific rationalism. While enriching us materially, it has created a deep spiritual impoverishment.

This loss is not difficult to notice. Our schools practice learning for the sake of career advancement, our hospitals practice medicine for profit, our banks and stock markets fund only those who can promise hefty returns, our politicians are concerned only with remaining in power, our governments busy themselves attracting voters or suppressing opposition, while they destroy, without a thought to their value, what is most precious: our natural resources, our desire for inner fulfilment and harmonious coexistence. 

The spiritual impoverishment that the First Dimension has brought about is accompanied by signs that the vast edifice of the First Dimension is crumbling around us. Everywhere we look, in every news programme we watch, the evidence of failure at a systemic level is overwhelming. Climate change is progressing at an alarming rate, each year now hotter than the last. Economic inequality, as every new Oxfam report tells us, has reached such staggering proportions that a few individuals now own more wealth than half of the world. Various nation states around the globe—Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, Somalia and Venezuela—seem to have collapsed, or are on the verge of implosion. Mass migrations by desperate populations escaping poverty, persecution and war threaten stability on every continent and fuel ethnic and racial violence. The oceans hold more plastic than fish, while tropical forest cover is being cut down or burned faster than ever. Corruption and incompetence among politicians and government administrators are rampant. Cherished democratic systems have shown themselves powerless to avert decisions that are so plainly wrong-headed, or the election of candidates who are grossly unqualified to lead. Chronic disease, the spiralling costs of healthcare and increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics are threatening to undo the advances that medicine has made in the last century. Natural resources are being extracted and consumed at unsustainable rates, often with disastrous environmental consequences, while global biodiversity is in steep decline, with over a quarter of all species having been lost in the last 35 years.

The First Dimension way of operating has clearly reached its limits. It has given us so much—everything from light bulbs and vaccines to human rights and universal suffrage. But it also remains deeply enmeshed in primitive forms of consciousness that result in a focus on personal advantage over common welfare, hoarding of wealth rather than equitable distribution, corruption and power-seeking rather than good governance, competition over collaboration, and the strip-mining of nature rather than its preservation. 

The Second Dimension

At the heart of the First Dimension is a loss of connection with ourselves, with nature and with life as a whole. Many of us feel an internal sense of discomfort with the ‘way things are’, knowing that the values and belief systems that dominate the First Dimension are unable to address the complex issues we confront today. So we look forward to, and hope for, something else—a Second Dimension.

The Second Dimension is a radically different way to organise ourselves and relate to each other that will re-align our goals and priorities as a race, and that will make it possible to do away with inequality, violence, poor governance, pollution, and excessive consumption. This new paradigm, this Second Dimension, must start with a new way of thinking, or a higher level of consciousness. Attaining it will require great personal engagement from each individual—a personal transformation that begins by acknowledging everything that connects us to (rather than divides us from) our fellow human beings. Because if we let go of our ingrained First Dimension notion that we are isolated beings concerned only with our own survival and prosperity, then we can begin to see that the world (the amalgam of natural world and man-made world) is deeply interdependent. Our thoughts, our physical bodies, our forests, our biospheres, our politics, our cities, are all complex systems that are interacting with one another continuously. Once we begin to see the complex interplay of thousands of variables, within and around us, we’re on the brink of a breakthrough in consciousness.

One way to attain this inner transformation is through a consistent practice of meditation. Meditation allows our mind to develop great subtlety and insight as it uses human faculties which, though they have lain dormant for lack of use, can help us comprehend the nature of interdependence. Insight acquired through meditation enables the observer to cultivate a profound understanding of what is observed; it can bring us to a different vantage point. 

Whether through meditation or another means, we can arrive at a breakthrough, just like a scientist who finds a new theory to explain something better than the previous theory. The advent of a higher level of consciousness is just such a shift, and it allows us, each, and collectively, to usher in the Second Dimension. As we move from a world based on the reductionist notions of utility and self-interest to one based on a profound understanding of the interdependence in which everything is rooted, we naturally develop ways of being and interacting that are more inclusive, holistic and liberating.

This new intellectual paradigm is the motor behind a fundamental re-organisation of society—the Second Dimension. In the pages of this site, we offer a tentative blueprint of a Second Dimension world. Our proposals show how society could be restructured to function in a more harmonious, connected, and egalitarian way, in everything from justice systems to healthcare management, from corporate governance to education. Some of these proposals are entirely novel, others are refinements of ideas already in the public sphere. Some are quite detailed, and others are more general. All, however, are logically consistent with a vision of reality that we have labelled the Second Dimension, and in keeping with the theory of consciousness outlined here. All are invitations for dialogue and exchange, and are intended as departure points for shared exploration and coordinated action.

The Third Dimension

Eventually, even the Second Dimension will prove to have its limitations. Beyond it lies something even more sophisticated and powerful: the Third Dimension, or the Dimension of Transcendence. While the Second Dimension will have taught us to embrace and act upon the interconnectedness of all life, it will still be a dimension in which the phenomena that we observe, as well as those we create, remain separate and distinct from the mind of the observer. This duality of thought creates the artificial distinctions upon which the First and Second Dimensions are built. But somewhere beyond this way of perceiving the world, and somewhere in our deepest selves, there is a dimension defined by the unity of thought and of all observed phenomena.

In the first two Dimensions we make sense of the world and organise what we see in ways that attempt to cope with the complexity of our lives. In the Third Dimension we realise that all phenomena are but constructs of our minds, and as such they can be remade. As our consciousness evolves to bring the Dimension of Transcendence into our awareness, a moment occurs where the duality of thought that creates distinctions ceases to be relevant. This journey of deepening and reconnecting to our truest selves is the ultimate goal of existence. 

 

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