It is becoming clear to almost anyone who thinks critically about it that science as we have long understood it is no longer equipped to address the challenges of the future. This is not to say that researchers and innovators in laboratories around the world may never come up with a carbon-neutral replacement for gasoline or a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste, or that the age of medical breakthroughs is behind us. But the notion of traditional science as the dynamo of something called "progress" feels pretty much used up. Utopian visions of societies operating justly and efficiently on the ball bearings of technology are artifacts of the past, and there isn't a school child alive who doesn't see that the old mechanistic ideas of scientific thought are as responsible for our current crises, human and environmental, as they were useful in eradicating the pestilences of old.
We are in the midst of an unmistakable evolution of consciousness toward higher orders of compassion, cooperation, and love. This statement may seem willfully foolish given the intractable woe that exists everywhere, be it warfare, displacement, human trafficking, state-sanctioned rape, mass poverty, or any of the other countless horrors around the globe. Yet life is governed by laws of polarity, and the more monstrous humanity behaves, the more urgent becomes its need and response. The rise in a collective movement toward compassion is inspired in part by the crises of sustainability we as a race and a planet face. As populations grow and the biosphere depletes, as resources dwindle and distorted power structures appear to exploit them, people in every part of the world are waking up to the failure of the old systems and the imperative for a new way based on different values.
Shadyac begins by going back to Darwin, whose concepts of natural selection were popularized to assert the influence of competition over caring, a claim that was quickly extended into the spurious realm of "social Darwinism." Darwin made no such cultural claims himself, and many after him have observed that successful mutual aid among animals and humans is as much a definition of "fitness" as individual dominion. The idea that humans are wired as much to cooperate as compete has been bolstered by the discovery of mirror neurons, tiny brain receptors that make empathy possible, and the action of the vagus nerve (actually a pair of nerves) which, when we witness an act of kindness, releases oxytocin, a hormone related to nurturing and orgasm.
Shadyac ups the ante when he visits the Institute of HeartMath, a research organization that has, through controlled experiments, amassed evidence that the heart truly is one of the body's centers of intelligence. One of the film's memorable moments comes when the director's negative emotions apparently cause a dish of yogurt to emit its own negative feedback. It's the humorous illustration of a serious point, that emotions are physiological as well as psychological, and that kind thoughts alone can impact the behavior of others. I Am evokes the notion of quantum entanglement—the fact that atoms at an infinite distance react to certain stimuli simultaneously—to demonstrate the level at which all living stuff is quite literally connected. There is no separation, not of distance or time; in tracking the inert element argon, a part of earth's atmosphere, scientists have even concluded that we all breath the same air, and have since time out of mind.
The conclusion is inescapable: unity is our essence. This idea is supported by a growing weight of fact, and to believe it is no longer the stance of the dreamer, but of the enlightened thinker. This is Shadyac's conclusion and his film's manifesto. The movie ends by asking how we can change society; the answer: through a change in consciousness. Knowledge is transformational. Shifts in awareness produce changes in attitude. The process is natural and inevitable.
Here is where the artist becomes key. Artists, with their ability to express the subtlest and most complex truths, are called now to the forefront of the new consciousness, called to clarify, to illuminate, and to express. What is "art for art's sake" beside this vocation? The Dalai Lama, asked to name the most important meditation of our age, answered, "critical thinking followed by action." More persuasive than propaganda, this is how art will change the world.
Michelangelo, Phaeton, British Museum
Vaclav Havel, c. 1990, Council of Europe