A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. It makes unthinkable changes suddenly possible.
—Book review of Melvyn Leffler’s For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War
IN 1968, ANTHROPOLOGIST GREGORY BATESON organized a week-long conference in Austria on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation, under the auspices of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. He assembled world leaders in the science and humanities, such as biologist Barry Commoner, to spend this time in reflection and dialogue. He asked them to consider the question “whether human consciousness perhaps especially as it is shaped in modern western culture, ‘might contain ...