An Educational Approach for an Era of Profound Technological Change

An Educational Approach for an Era of Profound Technological Change

Barton Kunstler, Ph.D.

The way industry treats these human minds [who] walk through the personnel door is equivalent to IBM dropping its computers from its highest windows just to test Galileo’s law of falling objects…[Let us develop] a new art and a new science which…examines the question of ‘How do you use human minds?’” 1

Dr. Edwin Land, one of the greatest inventors in history and successful corporate visionary, made this statement 40 years ago and it still is relevant today.  It also applies as definitively to our schools as it does to business and industry.  But a revolution in education and learning may well be forced upon us as we undergo the most dramatic technological transformation in history.  Current educational policy debates, driven by those two uncooperative yoke-horses, politics and budget, will become ever more irrelevant as trends in technology, society, and our understanding of learning itself will produce profound shifts in the way we train and educate all members of society.

Society’s learning structures have always been closely linked to its dominant technologies.  The conservatism of tribal societies in transmitting the legacies of wisdom, survival skills, and social expectations reflected a conservative technology comprising tools with only one moving part that functioned as an extension of the human body.  Spears and digging tools extend the reach of the arms and stone points their power.  Domesticated dogs extend awareness of the surrounding environment and speed in the hunt, and provide fangs and claws in place of rather paltry teeth and nails.  In such societies, one passes from childhood to adulthood during an extended initiation in which the initiate assumes a new relationship to simple, “Level 1” technologies.  The training received in skinning animals and turning their pelts into clothing and shelter was the Stone Age equivalent of our software training.

Our current educational model developed through several rapidly effected world-changing technological transformations.  While Level 1 technologies were in place for millions of years, pre-dating even hominids, succeeding technologies came in quick succession.  Level 2 technologies include the ancient discoveries of wheeled vehicles, levers, pulleys, sailing ships, screws, etc., that coordinate more than one mechanical component to leverage previously unachievable power and efficiency.  For several thousand years, Level 2 machines progressed through wind and water mills, furnaces, early clocks, and complex looms.  Level 3 was launched in the early 18th century with the invention of engines, which, fueled by coal, oil, steam, or gas, direct the movement of intricate Level 2 machines.  The 20th century’s power-and-energy grids, the force behind the telegraph, electronics, radio and TV, and fuel pipelines exemplify Level 4 tools.  (Pre-computerized autos and planes are advanced Level 3 tools; each Level continues to develop through successive eras).  The age of computers ushered in Level 5.  The computer runs Level 4 power grids, and manufactures and tunes Level 3 and Level 2 devices with unprecedented speed, accuracy, and efficiency.  Level 5 machinery is highly abstract, information- rather than material-based, flexible, and quick as light.

Our educational systems and learning modes have not advanced much beyond those that evolved to serve the late medieval world (Level 2), which gave birth to the modern university, and the Industrial Revolution (Level 3), which ushered in mass public education.  One can argue that the outstanding contributions of innovative educational thinkers and practitioners has kept step with the information age, but that gives too little credit to the political, educational, and intellectual inertia that still governs practice and policy in most learning environments.

This techno-educational model is complicated by parallel “abstractional” technologies such as language, kinship systems, spiritual practice, narrative, agriculture, social organization, healing, ethics and law, financial systems beyond barter, the arts, writing, mathematics, problem solving, and abstract and logical thought.  Each of these exists as a web of abstractions, the transmission of which requires far more complex modes of communication than the showing and telling adequate for training in the use of specific tools.  As tools became more complex, the two “parallel” technologies converged, probably intersecting at Level 5.  The intimate symbiosis between mind and machine tips increasingly in favor of the machine as the human environment becomes increasingly dominated by the activity, rhythms, output, and landscape of machines and as society allocates more and more energy to cultivating the machine.  How we structure time and space, the textures of our world, our experience of life, and our mental models all are molded into reflections of the patterns embedded in the technologies that we interface with at almost every moment.  The very nature of educational discourse, our notions of what is valuable to know, and our epistemologies – what we consider “true” and how to identify it – reflect mental structures profoundly influenced by technology, which has – superficially at least – superceded nature as the pre-eminent environmental ground of our lives.

Post-computer technology, Level 6, will result from a convergence of such rising stars on the technological horizon as bio-engineering, applied neuroscience, photonics, super-computing, and nanotechnology.  Integrated functionality will further compress these technologies until they effectively merge.  As scientists learn more about the brain and identify the brain areas activated when we perform different tasks or experience different feelings, it will become possible to vastly enhance mental capacity.  Techniques such as interfacing protein- and quantum-based semi-conductors with the brain itself, speeding up the brain by chemical enhancements, or providing it with extra processing power in the form of an external or internal “drive”, will become commonplace.  Brainwaves can be translated into universal code able to record ideas, feelings, and mental and physical processes.  Eventually, our minds will solve problems by interacting directly with computers, and Level 6 evolves into a network of digital/mind interfaces.  Thought itself becomes an open-source network of participating minds.  We may access deeply instinctual processes pertaining to lost cognitive skills, the brain’s pleasure or perceptual centers, and profound spiritual or empathic experiences.  Certainly, we can expect some people to turn to the “dark arts” and use these skills for their own advantage, and whether humanity’s moral equations are shifted by Level 6 will perhaps be the most fascinating question to be answered.

The mind, unencumbered by physical limitations, becomes its own technology.  In effect, human beings will have broken down every traditional boundary that has defined us to this point in history:  mind and matter, self and other, thought and action, and, if our thought-dreams and genetic codes can be linked up with clusters of other individuals, life and death itself.

The new technologies lean to extreme miniaturization combined with extraordinary power and the ability to interface with mind and body.  The dominant paradigm for the first wave of 21st century technologies will be osmotic, saturating, and explosive, with machines literally seeping through our bodies and performing previously unfathomable operations such as restoring damaged organs, granting us extraordinary physical abilities, and opening the “doors of perception”.

Let us admit that all this Level 6 speculation may be far removed from any reality we can anticipate.  (In fact, it is not.  It only requires that the technologies in question accelerate their development at the past decade’s rate.)  Whether or not Level 6 occurs precisely as envisioned here, it is certain that barring major societal disruption, dominant technologies will out-strip the support structures, mechanics, and purpose of all previous devices and systems, and the cognitive structures we’ve evolved to cope with them.

Core Assumptions

These people coming in at random are carrying in the greatest marvel of all times – the human minds that took hundreds of millions of years to make.  We as technologists in industry do not use these minds at all.” 2  – Dr. Edwin Land

The following six assumptions inform this article’s argument:

  1. We are in the midst of the greatest technological explosion in human history and education has to change because the world won’t let it stay the same.
  2. Our survival depends upon whether our educational methods can help the human race solve the “big” problems:  war, ecological suicide (ecocide), and severe and widespread injustice.
  3. Education’s primary goal is to actualize and mobilize all facets of the psyche, whether intellectual, emotional, moral, intuitive, or artistic.
  4. Our goal is to teach and train the mind to be as powerful and magnificent a functioning organ as it is designed to be.
  5. All learners are creators and moral agents and all people are learners.
  6. All individuals must learn to operate effectively in a tech-based world rather than being subjected to machine-driven efficiencies that serve agendas of profit and control.

Learning for the Third Millennium

Let us now examine nine “domains” of educational activity that address the coming educational crisis.  Each domain description includes learning objectives, the domain’s impact on learners, teaching activities, and a “Tech Links” section considering that domain’s connection to Level 6 technologies.

1.  Movement/Sensory


Develop sensory and perceptual acuity.

Stimulate thought through focused physical activity.

Develop fluency in the “secret language” of space and gesture.


Stimulate awareness embedded in the imagination, senses, muscles, and nerves that often lies dormant for lack of stimulation.

Create intuitive rapport among group members based on awareness of their physical rhythms, sub-verbal cues, and thought patterns.

Establish deeper awareness of surroundings and the forces – individual energies, group dynamics, environmental stimuli – operating within them.

Tech Links

Stimulate brain areas usually dormant in standard learning processes.

Develop channels for open source thought processes.

Instill a collaboration style already foreshadowed by instant messaging and wireless texting, i.e., instantaneous, with multiple simultaneous partners, and along several synchronous tracks.


The movement/sensory domain can be integrated into any learning situation.  The key is not to view it as an “icebreaker” or add-on, but rather as a primary driver of the learning process.  Learning activities in this domain call upon multiple skills and modes of behavior.  Juggling, for example, is enjoyable and easy to learn.  It opens the breath, sharpens hand-eye coordination, and – as its weaving patterns indicate – stimulates several parts of the brain at once.  In fact, recent research indicates that juggling stimulates the growth of brain cells, especially in areas devoted to the processing and storing of visual memory.3  And passing objects builds intuitive rapport among juggling partners.  Another activity involves slow motion athletic movement using an invisible ball.  I have students gather in a circle and pass around an invisible (non-existent) beach ball in slow motion; each person follows the path of the ball with their eyes.  As the game progresses, I introduce several more balls, one at a time, so that the group ends up simultaneously tossing four imaginary beach balls around the circle.  We then discuss the implications for learning and group dynamics, and the use of visualization, imagination, movement, subtle awareness of others’ cues, and willingness to initiate new patterns.

This intuition and anticipation of others’ intentions can promote a pooled awareness in which each individual works with a virtual sixth sense towards fulfilling the group’s objectives.  An individual’s fluency in the “secret language”, to use anthropologist Edward Hall’s term,4 of gesture, sign, and spatial presence plays a powerful role in determining such important social elements as our standing in a group, the acceptance or rejection of our ideas, and the over-all functionality of a group and its members.  Interestingly, English scientists recently discovered the intuitive “sixth sense” and located its seat in the brain.5  This first domain prepares people to utilize that sixth sense in learning, in the situations in which they’ll apply that learning, and in delving deeper into the actual content with which they work.

Sensory awareness is part of this education.  At the Bauhaus, the German art and design institute that flourished from 1919-1933, class meetings often began with exercises aimed at developing acute awareness of sound, texture, light, color, rhythm, and pattern.6  Such approaches contain an implicit assumption:  that “thought” is not simply a matter of stringing together logical connections, but emerges from an experiential ground embedded in nerve, muscle, and sense.

2.  Strategy/Systems


Develop high-level analytic skills.

Become fluent in shifting point-of-view across the entire spectrum of perspectives, from local to meta-systemic.

Learn strategic and tactical principles applicable to a wide range of situations.

Understand the governing assumptions, motivations, calculations, etc., of which the strategic “move” or tactical maneuver is but the final expression.

Develop facility with systems thinking.


Become a powerful “mental athlete” in any endeavor.

Shift perspective easily and incisively among “the hierarch(ies) of organized wholes”7 that define the numerous systems that, taken together, comprise reality.

Develop sensitivity to the constituent forces of any situation, and to their level of integration, momentum, and intentionality.

Apply strategic and tactical concepts to any situation.

Tech Links

In a networked, global environment, the ability to think in sophisticated systems terms is a crucial professional and managerial skill.

The ability to shift perspectives easily and rapidly places one in synchrony with the era’s dominant technologies.

Codes are central to computer and genetic technologies; fluency with codes enables us to see past the surface of operating technologies and into the systems that both drive and depend upon them.


While this curriculum might seem suitable only to sophisticated learners, its goal is to create sophisticated learners, and it can be applied from kindergarten through graduate school and professional training.  In my children’s public elementary school, first graders learned how to use strategy in diverse situations and studied metaphors and literary techniques such as “foreshadowing” in first and second grades.  The concept of strategic thinking was reinforced throughout their elementary education (though subsequently lost sight of in middle school).

Strategic thinking is not limited to the sorts of 7-step methods discussed in strategic management textbooks, nor to game theory or decision making algorithms.  It involves sensing, observing, identifying, and acting upon the energies that govern a set of circumstances.  Students would learn strategic systems such as Colonel John Boyd’s OODA system (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act), and ideas adapted from such seminal strategic thinkers as Liddell-Hart and von Clausewitz.  My own approach includes metacognitive training based on what I call the “strategic narrative”.  Behind every strategic “move” and tactical maneuver lies a narrative used to organize the assumptions, calculations, objectives, operational considerations, and perspective shifts intrinsic to the design and implementation of strategies or tactics.  The narrative exists in words, images, impulses, feelings, beliefs, desires, etc., and is not easily accessible to our conscious mind.  Gaining access to the strategic narrative from which operational strategies and tactics emerge enables us to review and refine our plans; examine and alter our guiding principles and drives at a vital, formative level; and learn about our own mental operations, especially if we also examine the interface between our root impulses and emergent strategies.  Simple games such as tic-tac-toe and “which hand has the marble?” work beautifully as tools for teaching basic concepts.  Strategic games such as chess, go, backgammon, and bridge; training in persuasion techniques; the study of war and combat; and mediation and negotiation techniques, all offer areas for exploration, depending on the objectives of a particular course.

3.  Visualization


Tap the power of the unconscious mind.

Develop visual literacy.

Sharpen ability to read situations visually.

Enhance ability to envision new and alternative possibilities.


Connect to emotions that affect our thinking about a situation.

Activate the imagination which, as the word itself suggests, resides largely in the mind’s imaging capacities.

Maintain personal integrity in the face of a constant barrage of media images.

Tech Links

Improve visual literacy, especially in an era that relies more and more on visual modes of communication.
Become more adept at envisioning the possibilities inherent in computer, genetic, and nano-technologies, as all three draw heavily on visual models for their ongoing development.

“Program” the unconscious, which operates visually, to problem-solve during sleep or via stream of consciousness techniques, a sort of parallel processing, as though the 80 gigabytes of storage in a PC could actively process information while its 512 megabytes of RAM run “conscious” applications.


Visualization is one of the most powerful mental tools that human beings have ever devised.  Every major religion has its techniques of meditation related to internal vision, and visualization has been shown to have a cross-over effect upon physiology as well.  It is used by athletes, artists, and inventors (most notably by the greatest inventor of all, Antonio Tesla); and for healing and meditation.  A host of activities can stimulate the ability to hold and manipulate visual images in the mind, including solving spatial puzzles, participating in any visual art, and practicing visualization techniques.  One fascinating method is the “art of memory” that dates at least back to ancient Greece and flourished during the Renaissance.  This consists of constructing a theater or other spatial structure in one’s mind and, for instance, placing each bit of information one is memorizing (vocabulary words, a sequence, etc.) in a given seat in the theater of memory.  As an exercise, it not only improves memory, but exercises and strengthens all the mind’s ordering functions.

4.  Proprioception


Teach the mind to sense the internal workings of body and brain in order to expand consciousness.

Utilize yogic and shamanic awareness to fully actualize human functioning.


Deepen access to the unconscious and its creative power.

Gain competitive advantage by learning how to think “multi-dimensionally”.

Establish the basis for more powerful collaborations.

Tech Links

Use nano-technology and post-silicon computer technologies to develop proprioceptive thinking and implement Level 6 technologies.


The obvious question here revolves around the practicality of introducing proprioception into an educational setting.  It may seem too far out to students, teachers, and administrators.  But that is precisely the point.  It has become profoundly tedious to consider educational reform in terms of politically restricted, often retrograde half-steps.  We know the magnificent potentialities of the human mind – it is time we educated to those potentials.

Shamanic and mythic systems often produced highly encoded maps of the brain, and one visualization I do in my creativity courses attempts to do this in a perhaps primitive way.  I ask the class members to envision a peak experience from their past and to recapture what it felt like.  I then have them identify where, inside the skull, they experience the feeling or see the image of that experience, the goal being to recall that state in order to act at peak performance.  It does not matter whether students identify the actual brain areas involved; in these first steps, a subjective sense of where one actually feels the brain to be operating is sufficient as an introduction to proprioceptive practice.  Another approach involves directing attention and energy to those areas of the brain that scientists have identified as contributing to a particular operation.

The ultimate pathway to proprioception will be through implanted mind-machines8, which already show great promise in enabling quadriplegiacs to turn their thoughts into action.9  As knowledge of the brain’s electrochemical and neural functioning increases, and as the sophistication and miniaturization of quantum- and protein-based semiconductors proceeds, we will come to access all our brain centers.  That will be, of course, only the beginning, as implants of various applications (everything from translation services to virtual reality tours of the universe), wireless networks linked up to other minds, and nano-engineered materials that respond instantly to whatever thoughts we transmit to them, will enter our world.

5.  Structure


Conceive and construct new curricula, methods, formats, and institutions to support the emergence of innovative educational methods.

Develop learning methods that speak to all learning styles, and train individuals in those learning styles in which they are weakest.

Test whether the increasing incidence of diagnosed learning disabilities and mental illness such as bipolarity and schizophrenia among young people might be counteracted by whole-mind learning.


Renew interest in learning among millions of bored students.

Enable more people to access high-level learning experiences.

Tech Links

Decentralized learning to accommodate today’s extraordinary access to information.

Restructure learning to get students out of their seats, into collaborations, and interacting with the global community of students, activists, and experts.

Revise curricula with a view towards redefining discipline-based content to accord with challenges of a radically changing world and enhanced mental and research capabilities.


The Reggio Emilia model pioneered in that Italian city, has demonstrated the power of using art to facilitate learning in any subject.  As I described in my book The Hothouse Effect, Edwin Land designed the library of the Rowland Institute for Science so that it fostered a dynamic flow of information even in the paper-based environment of the 1980s.  Let us design schools so that information travels in specific paths that maximize its creative and intelligent use.  Millions of people use the Internet for research every day, yet very few use it to maximize their own learning potential.  Any learning program should raise technological literacy in such areas as accessing, managing, absorbing, and utilizing information.

Another important structural transformation de-emphasizes the on-site class while adopting more independent, project-based learning formats.  As holographic and computer technologies develop, it will be possible for a hologram of oneself to visit distant places or people, act on one’s behalf and store the experience on holographic film.  Once the World Wide Web becomes a virtual reality experience, the entire structure of learning will devolve into an individually, self-sufficient experience and, paradoxically, at the same time, a collective orgy of mind-sharing.  Again, the necessary technologies are only years away, and if our educational institutions do not adapt to them, newer institutions will come along to fill the vacuum.

6.  Heuristics and Hermeneutics


Learn content areas and interpretive approaches in history, art, literature, philosophy, social sciences and other liberal arts.

Deepen interpretive abilities by emphasizing the resonant aspects of information and knowledge.

Ground the experience of learning in the human and the humane.

Take up eternal questions of meaning, significance, balance, and the nature of “the good life”.


Humanize us as an antidote to the pervasive presence of technology.

Assert moral authority over machines and those who would abuse their power.

Tech Links

Meet the moral challenge posed by technology.

Take up concerns regarding privacy, social control, social engineering, and loss of civil liberties.


Dialectic inquiry, phenomenological analysis, and moral reasoning would exist side by side with more intuitive, open-ended approaches to exploring the substance and structure of the humanist traditions, as well as examining their inherent contradictions and assumptions.  Cultural scanning, or taking in a wide range of cultural expressions in search of odd but telling associations, patterns, and trends, will be encouraged not only for its own sake but to train students to look everywhere and anywhere for solutions, and to weave patterns of insight out of the stuff the world is made of.  Students would immerse themselves in a sequence of topics over the course of a month, giving several full days to each, and “force fit” connections among the various topics as they study them.  Using a wide range of materials, learners would develop extended metaphors and maps that illuminate subject areas, whether in history, mathematics, management, etc., and that train one to think along several “axes” of thought at once.

7: Extension, 8: Social, and 9: Science/Math/Techne

We can only briefly summarize these three domains.  Extension stretches the mind into areas that it might not otherwise go.  The mind’s energy always travels where directed, but the instructions it receives are usually limited by habit, carelessness, and other restrictions.  The great innovative jazz musician, Eric Dolphy, used to sit in his parents’ back yard in Los Angeles and play his flute along with the birds, finding notes that did not belong to the usual musical scales and directing and extending his grasp of structure beyond the boundaries of traditional western harmonics.  Often simply deciding – with no other indication that it is possible – to “make this theory brilliant”, “turn every scene in my play into a polished gem”, or “find another path to this proof” opens our minds to myriad new possibilities.  Futurist thinking is essential to Extension:  learning to write scenarios, incorporate contradictory trends into one’s forecasts, developing 500-year scenarios for a particular industry while understanding the practical value of doing so, and analyzing the convergence of multiple trends (such as the combined impact of two developing technologies), generates ideas and associations that normally would go unexplored, and trains students to extend their thinking into unaccustomed regions.

The Social domain examines how values govern society, considering where values come from, their relationship to value in society, and their relativistic and universal aspects.  In this area, we would examine practical models of value-driven communities including  Charles Landry’s “creative city”, Pierre Levy’s “collective intelligence”, the impact of the science of networks, Prahalabad’s theory of social renewal in the developing world based on stimulating entrepreneurship among impoverished people, Aries de Geuss’s “living companies”, and the hothouse effect.  On-site experience of grass-roots social initiatives would be a critical part of the curriculum.  Students would also develop and implement programs aimed at achieving a just, sustainable economy in various locales, and assess these programs for potential global impact.  The goal is to establish community structures that can nurture and sustain Level 6 technologies while empowering and enriching humanity and the human condition.  In turn, the communities will draw strength and direction from those same technologies.

The Science/Math/Techne domain would seek to re-establish the open learning and inventing systems of Plato’s Academy, Edison’s laboratory, the Bauhaus, and Edwin Land’s Polaroid Corporation and Rowland Institute.  All were immersed in the experience of materials and possessed a profound philosophy of what it meant to be institutions of learning, experiment, and, as Land always insisted, “pure science”.  This curriculum would call upon the other domains to infuse explorations in science and “techne” – engineering, invention, tinkering, artisanship – with their methods and resources.


In the context of a school, the activities of the nine domains can, with some commitment and creativity, be applied to subject areas such as history, math, science, writing, literature, and foreign languages.  In the case of a particular training program, with specific, limited objectives, they may not be relevant at all.  However, in terms of how organizations manage their intellectual capital, training would benefit from shifting towards an educational model aimed at enriching employees’ thought processes.  Whatever a company decides to do, however, individuals should, for their own sakes, seek out learning experiences that build the skills we have described, as those will better prepare them to survive and hopefully flourish in a rather perplexing future.

The combination of looming ecological devastation, global violence, and technologies that will allow human beings to dissolve some of our most deeply engrained limitations, will occasion severe institutional change at every level of our society:  nation state, organizations, family, and generally, the relationship of the individual to civil society.  It is doubtful that purely economic or political solutions will work due to the usual reasons:  entrenched power, lack of will and desire, etc.  But the most potent force for change lies in transforming the mental structures within individuals that ultimately shape our political, social, and economic institutions.  That is why education is always at the core of a society’s identity and functionality, and a determining influence upon the character of its leadership and the uses of its technologies.

Of course, many students today still thrill to discovery under the guidance of talented teachers.  Many graduate well-prepared for their chosen professions.  But my point is a broader one.  Our natural tendency is to view our own state of technological development as the crest of a wave ready to subside into a calm in which we harvest the benefits of new inventions.  However, the past 30 years or so represent only the very beginnings of a technological epoch that will utterly transform our relationship to society, each other, and our machines.  Level 5 technologies have changed the world but their impact only hints at the impending level of institutional turmoil.  The Level 6 technologies, arriving as they are during a period of global compression and volatility – military, demographic, economic, and environmental – will test our abilities to resolve crises and devise new social forms to sustain us during and beyond this transitional era.  It is time to stop educating only a fraction of our minds.  The world – and humanity – require a more ambitious effort that summons to the task the entire span of human intelligence.


1.  Edwin Land, “The Second Great Product of Industry:  The Rewarding Working Life,” in Science and Human Progress (Pittsburgh:  Mellon Institute, 1963), pp. 14-15.

2.  Ibid.

3.  “Juggling Good for the Brain, Study Shows”  January 22, 2005.

4.  Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language.  (NY:  Fawcett World Library, 1959).

5.  Ed Edelson, “Science Points to a  ‘Sixth Sense’”, on Health Day.  Feb. 17, 2005.

6.  For a general discussion of this approach at the Bauhaus, see Barton Kunstler, The Hothouse Effect:  Intensify Creativity in Your Organization Using Secrets from History’s Most Innovative Communities”.  (NY:  The American Management Association, 2004), pp. 139 ff.

7.  Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General System Theory.  (NY:  George Braziller, Inc., revised edition, 1968, 1993) p. xxii.

8.  See Michael Hutchison, Mega Brain:  New Tools and Techniques for Brain Growth and Mind Expansion.  (New York:  Ballantine Books, 1986) for the classic introduction to this topic.

9.  Richard Martin, “Mind Control”, in Wired, March, 2005, pp. 114-119.

Originally published in Foresight, Innovation, and Strategy: Toward a Wiser Future, edited by Cynthia Wagner. World Future Society, 2005.


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