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My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher

Photo credit: Netflix

A reflection on 2020 by Boma co-founder, Michel Lévy-Provençal

Finding Meaning in the Model of the Octopus

It is hard to be optimistic

If some still doubted the instability of the contemporary world, the year 2020 should have convinced us.

In 9 months, our economies have accelerated their digital transformation like never before. All sectors combined, dematerialization is galloping and the long-awaited return to normal social life should not slow down the process.

The labor market has started its revolution. Freelancing and digital nomadism have rarely gained ground, not without consequences in economic, social and environmental terms. This prepares us for long and painful debates on future social safety nets, universal income, sovereignist policies and new financial and carbon taxes.

The confinements and the resulting frustration produce rebellion, of which we only perceive the beginnings. Clandestine parties, wild gatherings, spontaneous demonstrations should generate, as social life normalizes, even more authoritarianism and even less security.

In the heart of the richest cities, urban dwellers, worn out in their cramped apartments, tired of confinement, have started to leave their "habitat" to discover space, the great outdoors ... hunting, the noises and the smells of diesel engines , quads, mowers and tractors. The impact of this pandemic on the real estate market is starting to be felt. As well as the tension between old and new.

Health and economic crises have set in. They should logically result in a financial crisis. How can so much liquidity pouring into the economy and a high growth in debt have no consequence on the value of money? Logically, the stock market should suffer, real estate becomes a safe haven, and cryptocurrencies suffer very lucrative fluctuations for speculators. Who knows, 2021 may be the year we will see the end of the dollar's supremacy in favour of Bitcoin or the digital Yuan?

The social crisis has been brewing for several years now, but it has rarely reached such an acute stage. The threat of a “global spring” is real against the backdrop of increased inequalities, renewed tensions between past empires and new rational vs. emotional and pro-science vs. anti-science divides.

How to find meaning

Let us stop this depressing list here and imagine for a moment that, on the contrary, this umpteenth crisis is the opportunity for a new start.

  • What if it offered the opportunity to stop acting exclusively in our individual interests?
  • What if it encouraged us to blindly stop delegating all moral demands to an increasingly powerless collective (the state)?
  • What if we swapped the crowd of selfish individuals for a sum of responsible individuals in search of a meaning to give to their existence?

It does not matter whether we are resigned to living happily in a preserved environment, or rebellious in favour of unlimited growth. It does not matter whether we are Epicureans converted to the moderation of modern ecology or overwhelmed by the hubris of the conquest of the universe and of a chosen biological evolution. The coming months will invite us, more than ever, to preserve our sanity, to adapt to permanent changes, to cultivate our good will and to find meaning in our individual existence in the service of the collective interest.

The model of the octopus

No need to lie to us, you too have failed to use the precious time of confinement to read this pile of books which has continued to grow month after month! On the other hand, your recovered brain time will have allowed you to tour the Netflix catalog...

Don't beat yourself up, have you seen this amazing documentary on the wisdom of octopuses ? Three hearts, eight arms, nine brains, five hundred million neurons - the mouse tops out at 200 million. The animal is capable of rare adaptability. It can live in the icy waters of the poles or the warm seas of the tropics. It has a genome comparable to that of humans but its genetic adaptability is unique: it can edit its RNA at high speed to survive a constantly changing environment - which humans have only just learned to do.

These characteristics make them a model of hyper-adaptation. An extraordinary machine, stealthy, decentralized, resilient, capable of learning at high speed. In short, he is the archetype of the contemporary hero. Finally, we thought he was lonely and yet we discovered a species that evolves in a community: octopuses capable of a social life!

A wish

So let's be realistic, the coming months will not be the happiest. To wish you health, success and prosperity would have been distressingly lazy, bordering on disrespect. I prefer to wish you to take your share of the octopus, for your good and that of your neighbour.

The past year has been an opportunity for me to have a series of fascinating encounters with many personalities from very different backgrounds. Looking back, all were models of octopuses and octopus, trying to learn to unlearn and relearn, to constantly adapt to our new environment, each doing it in their own way: artists, economists, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, researchers ... I leave you with a selection of these meetings that will have marked this very special period.

May 2021 make you grow four more limbs, eight new brains, two hearts and preserve our fragile neurons. Here is the playlist that will teach you:

  • to unlearn and relearn
  • what is sense-making
  • to counter fake news
  • to protect you from your cognitive biases
  • that there is nothing static about ethics
  • that a false truth is better than nothing at all
  • that vulnerability is the quality of new leaders
  • what an OODA loop is
  • and much more...

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