• Fiona Prior

Axial Age 2.0

Updated: Aug 11

Axial Age 2.0

COVID, climate change, economic uncertainty. We are presently in a period of ‘so what will happen next?’, the likes of which the majority of us have not experienced; maybe similar to our parents and grandparents involved in the war years, when which side would be victorious was anyone’s guess.


Unprecedented times trigger changes in the way we view ourselves, our communities and world, and this brings me to the Axial Age (approximately 500–300 BCE).


The original Axial Age, (much of the below shamelessly ‘appropriated’ from the online Britannica), “(was) the period when, roughly at the same time around most of the inhabited world, the great intellectual, philosophical, and religious systems that came to shape subsequent human society and culture emerged — with the ancient Greek philosophers, Indian metaphysicians and logicians (who articulated the great traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism), Persian Zoroastrianism, the Hebrew Prophets, the “Hundred Schools” (most notably Confucianism and Daoism) of ancient China ...


The above are only some of the representative Axial traditions that emerged and took root during that time. The phrase originated with the German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers, who noted that during this period there was a shift — or a turn, as if on an axis — away from more predominantly localized concerns and toward "transcendence”. ‘Transcendence’ being defined as ‘beyond’.

Are we in Axial Age 2.0?

There is no doubt that technology has radically transformed the ways that people, both individually and communally, live their lives, interact with culture, communicate, and perceive the world around them.


Disruptions to the way we do things (Zoom anyone?), to the way we view things (our parents and grandparents would have viewed the world’s resources as close to ‘inexhaustible’), to what we believe is possible within our lifetimes (I’m looking at you Messrs Bezos, Branson and Musk) have opened up our understanding of what is probable and definitely blown away pre-conceived notions of the possible.


I don’t think any of Henry’s readers would believe that human beings as a species have completed our evolutionary journey. I'd like to propose that our Axial Age 2.0 is more about the further awakening in us that every decision, every interaction, every moment counts and has extraordinary significance; that we are hyper aware of our interdependence with each other, the world and its environment.


So much is happening in regard to community and cultural structures, genetics, artificial intelligence, creation and discovery … for example the Higgs Bosn, CRISPR, AlphaGo, Layla’s gene therapy, Denisovans and a whole lot more (courtesy of New Scientist).


Our understanding of ourselves and our universe is still so full of mystery.


If you are intrigued by the Axial Age, you may wish to read 'The Axial Age and Its Consequences', edited by Robert N. Bellah Hans Joas. Bellah and Joas make the claim that "intellectual sophistication itself was born worldwide during this critical time."


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