The Age of Transcendence and the Revolution

Firms%20of%20Endearment.jpgThe dawn of a new era in human history is upon us all. Perhaps more so than any previous era that inspired historians to give it a name signifying its import, looking back hundreds of years, thousands of years, say some, this new era may be unmatched in the scale of its effect on humankind. Numerous credible authors have testified in their writings that something this big is happening. Francis Fukuyama declared the end of a major cultural era in his famous and controversial essay “The End of History” (1989). A little later, Science magazine editor David Lindley foretold the demise of the Holy Grail of physics—the general unified theory— in The End of Physics (1993). The next year, British economist David Simpson claimed that macroeconomics had outlived its usefulness\ in The End of Macroeconomics (1994). Then, science writer John Horgan ticked off legions of scientists with his provocative book The End of Science (1997). That same year, Nobel laureate chemist Ilya Prigogine told us in The End of Uncertainty (1997) of an imminent broad-reaching shift in scientific worldview that will make much of what stands as scientific truth today scientific myth tomorrow.

So many endings must mean so many new beginnings. Since the start of the last decade, virtually no major field of human endeavor has been spared from predictions of its ending, perhaps not literally, but certainly in terms of past conceptualizations of its nature. The world of business is no exception. It is experiencing far reaching changes in conceptualizations of its fundamental purposes and how companies should operate. Indeed, looking at the magnitude of change in the business world, it is not overreaching to suggest that an historic transformation of capitalism is underway.

Barely a dozen years ago as the Internet was going mainstream few could have credibly predicted the scale of this transformation. This era of epochal change is referred to in the book Firms of Endearment as the Age of Transcendence . The dictionary defines transcendence as a “state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond usual limits.” Associated with this Revolution is shift in the zeitgeist of contemporary society; for example, Columbia University humanities professor Andrew Delbanco says, “The most striking feature of contemporary culture is the unslaked craving for transcendence.” This craving for transcendence could be playing a strong role in the erosion of the dominance of scientifically grounded certainty, which has marked the character of worldviews in Western societies since the dawn of modern science. In recent times, subjective perspectives based on how people feel have gained greater acceptance. More and more, it is acceptable to see life through a worldview shaped more by how individuals feel than by how or what the external world thinks.

We stand at what physicists call a bifurcation point; an interregnum between the poles of death and birth or rebirth, when an old order faces its end and a new order struggles to emerge from its fetal state. At such times, the future becomes more uncertain than usual because events within the time and space boundaries of a bifurcation point have infinite possible outcomes. This is why Valentine declares, “The future is disorder,” but challenges us to join efforts to bring forth a new order with the yeasty lure, “It’s the best possible time to be alive when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”

Humankind is entering a realm where no one has gone before. Its landscape is as unfamiliar to us as the world that we have known until now would be to a time traveler from the eighteenth century.