“Snap out of it, we are going to Mars.”

Elon Musk looks into the future for humanity and calls for us to see the troubles facing our blue planet as a wonderful opportunity to explore the possibilities of life on a new planet. A visionary, he sees that life is adapting with or without awareness. As an engineer, Elon Musk wants to wake up people to perceive threats without anxiety and simply plan for a better future. 

Society has always rejected and at the same time used visionaries like Elon Musk, Jack Calhoun, and Murray Bowen. These men use images to wake people up. 

 For Elon it is Mars, for Jack Calhoun, it is a mouse universe, and for Murray Bowen, it is the family diagram. The family diagram provides a visual way to see the emotional system, where a change in one has an impact on all who are emotionally important. By using the family diagram, we can chart shifts in the family, to understand the influence of the past, and to make stronger connections with those who are emotionally important.

Each of these pioneers are creating more conceptual space by exploring the unknown future and offering a way to increase value for relating well to one another. 

Murray Bowen was aware of the regression in relationships systems. Observing families, he noted that one parent would attempt to take a stand only to fold when opposition arose. Back in the seventies, Bowen saw that family life was in regression. There was increasing concern and inability of parents to plan and follow through due to anxiety as to who is responsible for what. There was a similar emotional process around depleting recourses.

The family as a system is constantly enduring significant change, which can lead to frustration. Increasing frustrations in relationships leads to increasing divorce rates, an increase in drug use and violence – to name a few. There is always increasing frustration, but what to do about it? Universe 25 warns of a future of increasing frustration, as crowding leads to the loss of basic social behaviors. [i]

Studying Animal Behavior to Predict Human Behavior

Working at the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) Calhoun allowed mice to reproduce at will. He provided the mice with a clean environment and plenty of food and water.

Jack B. Calhoun could imagine the future of humanity based on how mice manage increasing populations in The Rise of the Beautiful Ones—Science on the Web. [1]

As overcrowding became an issue the mice lost behavioral competence, increased aggression, loss of identity, withdrawal, difficulty with reproduction, and the raising of children. There was nowhere to go, no new frontier for the mice. There was no Mars. There was only each other.[ii]

Therefore, Calhoun called for an evolutionary-based redesign of the environment to increase the mice’s ability to notice and to cooperate with one another. Calhoun showed that even mice can deal with stress by learning to adapt to new values which could alter their behavior.[iii]  

Both cooperating or dis-cooperating behavior required that mice identify the other animal and perform a task, either alone (dis-cooperative) or as a pair, (cooperative) in order to have a reward, water. 

Learning this new behavior became a protective value allowing the mice to manage eight times the density before the universe would collapse. Calhoun offers us a way to avoid a negative outcome.

Can a vision of the future reduce your anxiety?

Yes, according to Elon Musk we need a mission to make a better future. To get to Mars, we need to know how to relate to one another and cooperate in close quarters over eighteen months―a longer time than any human has ever spent in space. 

Consider the relationships challenge: we need a bunch of humans to live together, in close quarters just to get to Mars. Then consider that humans have to live and work together on Mars, build cities, frame a constitution, etc.

What does cooperation look like on a spacecraft? Will there be some way to notice if there is a balance between cooperation and frustration? What kind of life will await a newborn? 

Left to right: My grandmother (holding me), my father, my grandfather, and my mother looking at me.

I Was Born Eight Days Before Pearl Harbor—And That Changed My Family.

Parents and children born into WW II were faced with the challenges of war. Can we learn from history the impact of the era that you were born into?   

Being born eight days before Pearl Harbor, did this lead me to be more thoughtful because of witnessing war and its impact on my family, or was I destined to become overly responsive to the anxiety in society?

Bowen had the ability to observe and describe the variation in families over the generations. The cornerstone of his theory was the concept of differentiation of self.  One goal was how to manage to be more separate and yet connected to emotionally important others.

The effort to be more differentiated is one way to develop greater inner space to relate to and understand others. How vital will this be for those who leave earth and venture outward to space, to Mars? What kind of families or relationships will be nurturing and problem-solving on Mars? 

Changes in Family Functioning over the Generations

I encourage you to read David Brooks’s piece The Nuclear Family was a Mistake. Here he features the five brothers that came to America from Eastern Europe around the time of World War I and built a wallpaper business, only to move away from one another by the third generation. Brooks notes, “in many sectors of society, nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, single-parent families into chaotic families or no families.”[iv]

Instead of family we now have loose friendships or tribal affiliations.

Starship is a fully reusable vehicle designed to hold as many as 100 passengers and carry heavy payloads.[v]  Will this be a group of non-related people who can form cooperative tribes that will go to Mars? Will their family relationships matter, will they know their family history?  Does history matter? What will Elon Musk suggest?

My father on the left, going to war with unrelated people.

The way we currently staff spaceships they are full of unrelated people. Is that the way to go? This worked in war times. But now Elon Musk has to wonder should he take his family or other close friends, as he will probably not return to mother earth.

Either way, to go to Mars with others, I suggest that we need a better way to build relationship models, to show how to reduce emotional reactivity, and to understand the importance of a balance between frustration and pleasure. At the extremes, there is not enough ability to learn and adapt. Managing self in relationship to others will be crucial if there are only 100 people in that first spaceship.

Skills important in choosing a team for the flight to Mars

Clearly, some knowledge about differentiation of self or being more separate from the emotional system will be crucial. A mature leader would be able to be separated emotionally but not cut off from others. 

Bowen suggests getting to know and understand your multigenerational family had more growth potential than dealing with your nuclear family.

A leader in this new venture to Mars will have to know more about both the strength and the weakness of emotional reactivity. Before liftoff we might have to ask, do you, Elon Musk, know how to make a reasonably accurate science out of human behavior?

As humans, we have evolved from the primal ooze with the promise that we can use our big brains to understand how the surrounding system is influencing us. Will our big brains help us see the future that is possible for mankind, or will our overspecialized brains continue to want to win wars and dominate others?

Can it be that systems knowledge will enable us to make better decisions and discoveries as to the unknown potential for the human? Apparently, there is a need to understand all the variables that go into human behavior, to free us from repeating the past and to manage to relate well to others. 

Snap out of it, understand the past, be emotionally separate to some degree, and welcome to your new future full of ideas and possibilities.

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[i] Jack B. Calhoun could imagine the future of humanity based on how mice manage increasing populations in The Rise of the Beautiful Ones—Science on the Web.

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecgnky8D9r0

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Kqti3tDz-M

[iv] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/

[v] https://www.spacex.com/vehicles/starship/