For all you change makers, young and old, I offer this advice:
If you want to change the world, study more cognitive science.
When I left grad school almost a decade ago with a strong desire to address climate change and trained as a climate scientist, I knew that another physicist wasn’t going to make it or break it. The fundamental challenge was and remains large-scale human behavior. Human civilization is on a crash course with oblivion if we prove incapable of designing our urban landscapes, political systems, and market economies with foundational understandings of:
- Evolutionary Psychology :: Our deep biological legacy of primal emotions, herding behaviors, brain structures, and more — all that makes us the kind of animal we are today;
- Cognitive Semantics :: The human mind is fundamentally a “meaning-making machine”. Changing our cultural narratives will require that we understand (a) how language is processed in the brain; (b) the role of frames and conceptual metaphors in constructing meaning from our bodily experience; and (c) why emotions shape how we reason through the coupling of neurological processes with language comprehension;
- Cognitive Neuroscience :: To fully understand how human behavior works, we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with the different ways our brains process fear, disgust, hope, despair, and the stresses of personal change;
- Cognitive Anthropology :: Grasping the universals of humanity across cultures will demand that we combine ethnographic research with experimental studies in psychology. This is how we’ll finally understand the nature of belief in religious communities, the adaptive fit of various cultural ideals with sustainable living, how to collaborate across cultures, and much more.
Cognitive science offers us much more than this brief sample, but already it should be clear how essential it will be for designing social change efforts in a manner that increases our chances for ultimate success — rigorously and systematically.
I set out to learn all of these things as an independent scholar and became an innovation strategist along the way. (Watch my story in this video) And now I want to train others, which is why I started offering workshops and consulting on the process of social change to non-profit organizations, government agencies, and social entrepreneurs.
I’ll be teaching some of the most important take aways in my workshop series on How To Bring About Large-Scale Behavior Change and incorporating them into the Designer’s Manual for Large-Scale Change that is currently being crowdfunded.
I hope you’ll join me and help spread the word! As more people learn what cognitive science has to offer, we’ll really start to see progress on a global scale.