Modeling A Conscious Evolution: The Role of Reflexivity In Film & Sustainability

Achieving sustainability is rapidly becoming our society’s greatest challenge. As Buckminster Fuller says in Critical Path (1981), “Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe.” 1 How does this boundary-crossing social movement coincide with other trends in art, particularly filmmaking? And how do art and the sustainability movement relate to evolving consciousness?

Release: I cannot claim to be a scientist, but I do claim to be an inquirer.


Recently, I had the pleasure of holding a pre-interview with Aleco Christakis, co-founder of Institute for a 21st Century Global Agoras and cybernetician/social systems thinker extraordinaire, for Sust Enable: The Metamentary, my feature-length experimental documentary about the meaning of sustainability. I was excited to speak with Aleco about his understanding of sustainability in terms of human organizations. He was excited to speak with me, however, about the content of my film.

“The Metamentary, huh? What a good name. Did you think of that?” he asked. I conceded that I had, but with some embarrassment, commenting that it was only an unwieldy working title. “You do know what meta- means, don’t you,” he probed. I asked him to enlighten me.

“Meta- comes from the Greek word for beyond. It was first used to describe metaphysics, a field of study that went ‘beyond physics,” he replied. “Your film is so exciting because it is trying to go beyond documentary. No?”

I was floored. What did Aleco mean? What does it mean to go “beyond” traditional filmmaking? What would that look like, and why try? This essay is an attempt to reconcile emerging movements and social trends with a parallel movement in cinema, and to explore how my own film, Sust Enable: The Metamentary, may contribute to this socially and creatively significant moment in time.

How does consciousness evolve?

What is the hallmark of a sentient being?  What differentiates human consciousnesses from other life forms?  In what ways is human consciousness an evolution of consciousness in general?

These are some of the questions addressed in Douglas Hofstadter’s boundary-smashing literary fugue on meaning between forms (and indeed, between minds), 1989’s Godel Escher Bach.  Still a classic, many who have read it will remember it for its fascinating explanations of how learning, meaning, and creativity occur, using a special style in which careful exposition is paired with narrative examples that embody the concepts discussed.

Hofstadter holds that all learning–whether done by a human or by a computer–consists of essentially the same process.  Forming analogies, using symbolic language, and an increasing capacity for reflexivity (self-reference) are hallmarks of a developing consciousness.  Then halfway through the book, Hofstadter delivers a shockingly anti-climactic climax.  After painstakingly building his case for how the human brain understands anything at all, reinforcing Turing’s theories about critical size, he suddenly reveals that once a certain level of complexity of associative connections is made within a brain, the brain becomes self-aware.

…This does not elevate consciousness or awareness to any ‘magical’, nonphysical level.  Awareness here is a direct effect of the complex hardware and software we have described.  Still, despite its earthly origin, this way of describing awareness–as the monitoring of brain activity by a subsystem of the brain itself–seems to resemble the nearly indescribable sensation which we all know and call ‘consciousness’.  Certainly one can see that the complexity here is enough that many unexpected effects could be created.2

It’s a tremendously intriguing claim.  No matter whether it’s a brain or a computer, once a certain level of complexity is reached, the entity becomes aware of its own processes (by creating a “self” subsystem within the complexity of symbols it utilizes to understand the world).  This is what distinguishes humans from animals–the knowledge that we exist–and this is what amplifies our pleasure and our pain–our deductive knowledge that we will, in all likelihood, die.  One could argue that the purpose behind Buddhist spiritual practice and transcendental meditation is to abide in that “meta-cognitive” realm, by directing one’s concentrated attention to one’s own processes, simply observing but not identifying with the emotions, thoughts and sensations that pass through the body.  The underlying faith is that nourishing one’s awareness in this way provides inherent, if unpredictable, rewards.

So when we talk about our hope for “evolving consciousness,” is this intrinsically but mysteriously rewarding process what we want?  What we relate to?  What we mean?

1Fuller, Buckminster. Critical Path. 1st ed. New York: St. Martin’s, NY. Print.

2Godel Escher Bach, pg. 388



Sust Enable:  The Metamentary Begins Filming July 30th With Author & Professor Charles Eisenstein

On July 30th a new Pittsburgh-based film collective, headed by director Caroline Savery, officially launches production of feature-length documentary “Sust Enable: The Metamentary” at the University of Pittsburgh’s William Pitt Union, Lower Lounge, 5:00pm, documenting a lecture and subsequent interview with author and professor of sociology Charles Eisenstein.

Eisenstein has written extensively on personal, social and ecological sustainability in his books The Yoga of Eating and The Ascent of Humanity.  He will be visiting Pittsburgh to give a presentation on his latest book, Sacred Economics:  Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition.

Sacred Economics, releasing July 12th, explores the economics of separation and consumption, while offering hope of transition to a new monetary system.  Sacred Economics is being touted as the baseline for a ‘meta-book’ – each chapter is posted online, and all comments and responses informing the ‘meta-media’.

“Sustainability is the first step toward a new way of thinking,” says Charles. “As we come to understand that we are not, in fact, separate from the rest of the planet, we want to create a society that contributes to a healthy planet. What is it that we want to ‘sustain’? Not only ourselves, but all of life in the fullness of its beauty. The question is not, ‘How can we live sustainably?’ as if survival were the only goal, but rather, ‘What do we want to create?’ and, ‘How shall we apply the gifts that make us human?’”

Sust Enable: The Metamentary is pioneering similar concepts in film.  Called ‘The Metamentary’ after the ‘meta’ filmmaking movement of recent years, SE:MM will attempt to embody its story’s core question–what does sustainability mean, and what does it look like to embody sustainability?–not just on the level of their story (which will bring together interviewees from academia to radical activism to spiritual leaders) but within the stylistic construction of the film itself–and, radically, the film’s own production processes.

“By considering how successfully our production incorporates the wisdom of sustainability principles, such as adaptability, holism, diversity, and dynamic balance, we will strive to innovate a model for authentic sustainable filmmaking through the creation of this engaging film,” say director Caroline Savery. “While telling the story of the struggle to define sustainability, we will be applying what we learn to the film itself.”


If you’d like more information about Sust Enable, or to schedule an interview with Caroline Savery, call Aaron Fraser at 412-608-7389 or e-mail Aaron at



A Letter to Our Fans, Friends and Family

To Everyone Who Has Supported Us,

THANK YOU for helping to make Sust Enable: The Metamentary possible!

Thank you for believing in our commitment to a holistically sustainable film, thank you for wanting to join us on this journey to discover deep truths about sustainability, thank you for sharing this message with your friends. You are an integral part of the dialog we are hoping to create through our film.

Lots of things have been happening. I have some big news to share…

  • Sust Enable: The Metamentary will be officially kicking off production on July 30, 2011 with an interview with author Charles Eisenstein. Charles is the author of “Sacred Economics,” “The Ascent of Humanity,” and is a popular contributor to He is in the process of writing a “meta-book” that incorporates comments and critiques from readers into the book’s story. Check him out at
  • We have also just made a big purchase of the film’s main video camera! This is a commitment toward starting production, and I’m very proud of our decision. We will continue to explore how buying and renting film equipment contributes to unsustainable systems. Please explore our NEW and improved blog-style website for our ongoing reflections on our process.
  • Our first ever Sustainability Jam on July 14 was a wonderful success, with about 20 people turning out to learn about jam and sauerkraut making. Video and photo gallery coming soon! Stay tuned on our website to find out what the next Sustainability Jam will be about, or suggest a topic! Always the 2nd & 4th Thursdays, 7-9pm.

And in preparation for production, Sust Enable is hiring for crew positions! Please get in contact with us if you would like to volunteer or work for Sust Enable by emailing

We have come a long way since the naive Sust Enable episode series in 2008. After three years of development, I couldn’t be more proud of how far this project has come. But we still are shy of our $5,000 that will truly help us be ready for our production launch. Please share this site with your friends and encourage them to donate! We are dedicated to a flexible, transparent and inclusive filmmaking process. We believe that by committing to a sustainable process, we ensure that we can tell the fullest possible story about what sustainability may mean. Your engagement at this time is critical!


Caroline & The Metamentary Crew