the big gap

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The source of all of today's problems is the gap between how we think and how nature works.

By Antônio Sales Rios Neto*

“The obvious is easy, what is not obvious is for Nobel Prizes and the profound is complex” (Mitchell Feigenbaum)

If there is something that the coronavirus pandemic should awaken in each of us, it is the way in which we relate to the world around us and, on a global level, how our civilization has modeled itself throughout its millennial history until reaching this situation. of permanent social tensions, which only get worse over time. Anyway, how did we get here, in a globally so conflicting and contradictory world? We have generated phenomenal knowledge in recent decades, which exceeds all the knowledge ever produced in human history and, however, we have not been able to avoid the successive social and environmental crises and disasters that threaten us, much less generate learning and qualitative changes in our way of working. to live. The history of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of this century confirms this. In order to inspire and guide our reflection, I bring in this brief article some elements to try to improve our worldview and, at the same time, propose a return to a distant way of life in which the illusion of man-nature separation did not exist.

The crisis situation generated by the pandemic is so dramatic for humanity (and therefore also so potentially generating new forks, for better or worse), that the French sociologist Alain Touraine, a thinker who made valuable contributions to the understanding of the crisis of modernity, in an interview published by El País on 28/03/2020, when confronted by the interviewer with the idea that we were facing a war against the coronavirus, as understood by Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez and Donald Trump, declared that “today, there are neither social nor political, nor global, nor national, nor class actors. Therefore, what happens is the complete opposite of a war, with a biological machine on one side and, on the other, people and groups without ideas, without direction, without a program, without strategy, without language. It's the silence. Hence, his fear and that of other thinkers that we have a development similar to that of the 1929 crisis, a time when “the void was quickly filled by Mr. Hitler”. My fear is that this void will be filled not by a despotic leader or an extreme authoritarian state regime, but by the reestablishment of the forces of predatory, competitive and exclusive Capital, enhanced by the advent of digital hypervigilance awakened by the coronavirus pandemic, which it can undermine, in the medium and long term, what still remains of the State, democracy and citizenship.

I have repeatedly said, through other articles, basing myself on world-renowned thinkers, that, in order to overcome the malaise of our civilization, we must observe, question and transcend the mental models that sustain the hegemonic worldview today. represented by the economic vision of the world, which has its greatest expression in neoliberalism. That is, we need to reflect on the conditioning lock that prevents us from changing our way of perceiving and relating to the world. Basically, this is what the English biologist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson said: “the source of all today's problems is the gap between how we think and how nature works”. That is why we urgently need to “reform thinking” as defended by the French sociologist Edgar Morin, or overcome the “disease of thought” as recommended by the American physicist David Bohm, just to name two exponents of the so-called complex thinking (a concept I will explain below), one from the social sciences and the other from the exact sciences.

For a better understanding of the reader, I will use here some definitions used by the psychotherapist Humberto Mariotti, who is perhaps the scholar who has most spread complex thinking in Brazil, through several books and articles that deal with this subject in a very didactic way. I propose, therefore, to reflect on three modes of thought: the linear, the systemic and the complex, which I will describe very succinctly, as the topic is very vast.

1) Linear thinking (focus on fragmentation, control and predictability): this is Aristotelian (or Cartesian, or binary) logic, a necessary and indispensable approach to the practices of mechanical life, but extremely limited in dealing with feelings and emotions inherent in the human condition. This is the hegemonic mental model that supports our way of thinking, and today it is easy to see that it is not capable of understanding and dealing with the totality of human life and, especially, of the planet, which is already seriously deregulated due to our actions. This model of thought forms the basis of the patriarchal culture (not to be confused with machismo) that has been installed throughout the history of mankind and that has brought us here, forcing us to live, in recent decades, with serious commonalities (issues of global scope unresolved within national borders), the main ones, according to the last update of the Copenhagen Consensus (2012), are: armed conflicts, threats to biodiversity, chronic diseases, climate change, education, hunger and malnutrition, infectious diseases, natural disasters, population growth, water scarcity and lack of sanitation.

2) Systemic thinking (focus on sets, patterns and totalities): emerged in the XNUMXth century, this is thinking that takes into account the dynamic relationships between parts. It proved to be a valuable tool for improving our understanding of the complexity of the natural world. However, it has been used more as a tool in the world of management and economics, especially in the US, to produce better operating results. As Mariotti says, “systemic thinking can provide good results in the mechanical-productivist sense of the term, but it is certainly not enough to deal with the complexity of natural systems, especially human ones”. Seen in this way, systemic thinking, in terms of human development, ends up producing almost the same effects as linear thinking, that is, it is also limited in dealing with the complexity of the human condition.

3) Complex thinking (focus on interactions, uncertainty and unpredictability): this is the approach that results from the integration or complementarity (from the embrace, in Edgar Morin's view) of linear and systemic thinking. This approach enables the elaboration and reconnection of knowledge and the adoption of practices that allow the search for new ways of understanding the complexity of the real world, including human beings and their cultures. It is a relational worldview, in which everything is connected to everything else (the term complex comes from the Latin complexus, which means “what is woven together”) where the natural world is made up of forces that are at once antagonistic and complementary (the yin and yang of the Taoist tradition well represent this condition of existence). One of the main benefits of complex thinking is to perceive, with more clarity, extension and depth, the problems around us and improve our ability to make decisions of greater amplitude and long term, consequently more sustainable and more integrated to their contexts.

It is important to say that both linear and systemic thinking are important and, therefore, should not be eliminated, as they also constitute cognitive operators of complex thinking. However, for them to be effective and potential, they need to be used without losing the link with the idea of ​​complexity. Finally, complex thinking is, as Mariotti says, about “something that can mitigate a way of life according to which the word is very often separated from the real, justice is less concerned with the suffering of men than with the letter of the law, and this search for truths that have little or nothing to do with it. do with everyday life”. He explains all these concepts much better and in a very didactic way in the article “Complexity and Complex Thinking: Introductory Text” (available at

To exemplify the application of complex thinking, we can observe the recent interview that the American writer David Quammen gave to the InfoAmazonia website, on 03/04/2020, about the coronavirus pandemic. He predicted, eight years ago, in one of his books on nature and biodiversity (his area of ​​study), that we were at high risk of facing a major pandemic that he called The Next Big One (the next big one), based on conversations that he had with some scientists who studied zoonoses that became human diseases. Quammen assesses that diseases such as the coronavirus correspond to a spillover situation, when the virus passes from an animal to its first human host as a result of situations generated by major environmental degradation in areas rich in biodiversity, which are also places that harbor many viruses. For him, “It's almost as if our large ecosystems have a trap set in place to prevent interference. As we go into them and destroy them, we set these traps against us”. Throughout the interview, we noticed that Quammen establishes an idea of ​​a circular relationship (feedback), non-linear, between cause and effect (the main characteristic of complex thinking) to explain the pandemic, while common sense sees the issue through linear logic, pointing as the cause only the fact that there was direct contact between humans and the animal (supposedly a bat, host of the virus) in live wild animal markets in the city of Wuhan, China. Quammen also warns us that, just as Ebola, Marburg, Zika and other frightening viral diseases emerged in the Congo, home to a large tropical forest ecosystem, it is only a matter of time before the Amazon becomes the epicenter of a epidemic in the future.

The reader must be wondering: is it possible, then, the transition from linear thinking to complex thinking at the global level? I would say that even among those who understand that the linear mental model (or patriarchal culture) is our greatest obstacle to human development and civilization, there are those who think that such a transition is impossible, also because it has been a long time since complex thinking was conceived and systematized by the new complexity sciences (chaos theory, autopoiesis, catastrophe theory, logic fuzzy, fractals, among others). This thought reform, as defended by Morin in his essay “The Seven Necessary Knowledges for the Education of the Future”, should occur especially through teaching. However, it has been centuries since the educational system around the world was appropriated by the patriarchal culture and, therefore, operates from merely training and utilitarian foundations, a “banking education”, as denounced by Paulo Freire, which only reinforces even more the individual, the competition and property, exacerbating individualism. Our children are naturally born with complex thinking: they are creative, curious and extremely relational and cooperative, until they go to school and then to the world of work, where they are shaped for linear thinking.

The fact is that this shift in the civilizational paradigm towards a complex view of the world, although the scientific bases that support it already exist, is not an easy task, much less a quick one, because it concerns the need to abandon principles, beliefs and values ​​marked with iron and fire in our minds (the imprinting culture, according to Edgar Morin). To reinforce this diagnosis, as we are currently so lacking in a Keynesian State, I recall here the thought of the British economist John Maynard Keynes: “The elaboration of new ideas depends on the liberation of the habitual forces of thought and expression. The difficulty is not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which branch out in every corner of our minds.” Or, looking from the point of view of the drama we are facing at that moment, as the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci says, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. This is the core of the civilizational dilemma in current times, which is now even more accentuated in the face of the pandemic that afflicts humanity, urging us to urgently think about another possible world.

Linear thinking is the cognitive operator of patriarchal culture. However, this has not always been the way humanity has conducted its long history. It all began when, it is not quite known why, the patriarchal culture took hold approximately seven thousand years ago, around 5000 BC, among the Indo-European peoples, according to studies by the Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, which were synthesized in the book The Chalice and the Blade (The Chalice and the Sword) by the Austrian writer Riane Eisler. This event is considered the starting point of the long process of molding the human mind by the linear or Cartesian mental model, the one that favors the left side of the brain (rational, logical, objective, repetitive) and suffocates the right side (emotional, intuitive, subjective). , creative). This patriarchal culture has as its main characteristic the idea of ​​appropriation, understood as man's will to power and domination over himself, over the other, over the truth and over nature. It was from this moment that man began to see himself separated from nature. Before patriarchal culture, there was a culture called matristic (not to be confused with matriarchal or feminist), characterized by a sense of participation, spirituality, interactivity, trust and conviviality – a life highly integrated with nature.

If we consider that the Homo sapiens emerged 350 years ago, the seven thousand years of patriarchal culture can be understood as a behavior not sedimented in the natural trajectory of human evolution, which gives us some hope in the possibility of a correction of course. Therefore, a gradual transformation in this moment of global crisis towards a neomatristic model, as defended by the Chilean neurobiologist Humberto Maturana, seems to me quite plausible, considering that the rupture of the man-nature relationship constitutes the core of the civilizational crisis that we are experiencing today. What, then, would be the vectors that point today to this change based on the applications of complex thinking? I recently wrote two articles entitled “Forty More Years of Folly” e “What will we inherit from the coronavirus”, published on 25/3/2020 and 01/04/2020, respectively, by the digital newspaper GGN, in which I seek to do precisely this investigation. In these articles, the background of the approach is the change of time (change of civilizational paradigm) that we are living. To do so, I seek support in reading the world of the French historian Jacques Attali, one of the thinkers where I found the clues to the most likely outcome on how complex thinking could become hegemonic, thus rescuing a neomatristic model of society.

In the last 400 years, the history of humanity has been driven by two main forces: the State and the market. However, apart from these two forces, there has always been a third force that is integrated by the set of civil society entities with public and non-profit purposes, the so-called third sector of the economy, a kind of hybrid between State and market, whose operating principle supports voluntary participation, such as: Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, Care, Greenpeace, WWF and many others. Of these three forces, the third sector is, in my opinion, the one that is closest to complex thinking in its way of operating and that represents a true growing and sustainable global force. It is the type of corporate arrangement that is most closely associated with the definition of community given by Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa, considered one of the references in the application of complex thinking. For hock, “the non-monetary exchange of value is the heart and soul of the community, and the community is the essential, inevitable element of civil society… In a non-monetary exchange of value, giving and receiving is not a transaction. It is an offer and an acceptance. In nature, when a closed cycle of give and take becomes unbalanced, death and destruction soon follow. That's how it is in society.” These seem to me to be the bases for the functioning of the third sector: creativity, humanism, cooperation and evolution.

Attali, in his book “A Brief History of the Future” (2006), states, based on the different functioning patterns that he identifies in the evolution of the long history of market democracy, that the “most believable face of the future” will be that, by 2060, three waves of the future will burst one after the other: 1) the hyper-empire (between 2035 and 2050), where the State will be suppressed by market forces, represented by transnational corporations; 2) the hyperconflict (between 2050 and 2060), in which “regional ambitions”, “pirate armies and corsairs” and “Anger of Laity and Believers” they will trigger wars of all kinds, on a world scale; and 3) planetary hyperdemocracy (around 2060), whose main actors, already active today, will be what Attali calls transhumans and relational companies. In my view, this is where the third sector agents I mentioned earlier fit in, with the UN as the global leadership body responsible for promoting these initiatives and ensuring a civilization policy in this regard. These would be the new altruistic and universalist forces, with a complex vision of the world, which could assume protagonism in the near future, due to an ethical, cultural, political and, especially, ecological urgency.

Thus, in this phase of planetary hyperdemocracy, a biocentered civilization would emerge, with a new relational economy directed at the public interest, which would provide gratuity to all domains essential to life, generating, at the collective level, the “universal intelligence” and, on an individual level, the "good time", as designed by Attali. In short, a world that is difficult to understand from the references we have today to describe it. As Attali says, a world in which “The market and democracy, in the sense in which we understand them today, will become outdated concepts, vague memories, as difficult to understand as cannibalism or human sacrifices are today”. Although undesirable in terms of the metamorphosis of the crossing of the first two waves (the hyper-empire and the hyper-conflict), this seems to me to be the most likely course of human history if it manages to overcome the imponderable XNUMXst century.

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto is a civil engineer and organizational consultant.

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