“Understanding Complexity Is As Important As Knowing How To Read And Write.”

Danilo Oliveira Vaz is the initiator of Emergir, a Brazilian media platform taking a decentralised, natural systems approach to media creation.

Danilo Oliveira Vaz is the creator of Emergir, a Brazilian media platform promoting a worldview inspired by natural ecosystems.

Since his upbringing in the sprawling outskirts of São Paulo, Danilo has been exploring decentralised organisation. He was the first in his family to go to University, attending São Paulo State University for two years before receiving a full scholarship to Minerva — a University that invites students to live in a different city each semester. He worked at Complexity Labs in Barcelona studying the science of complex systems and in 2017 he presented a TEDx talk about Emerging Patterns in Time of Change.

Danilo is a proponent of the idea that we are currently experiencing many paradigm shifts and, since moving back to Brazil two years ago, has dedicated his time to ‘living in complexity’. In this conversation, Maria Clara Parente speaks with Danilo about what this means in practise, the possibility of creating decentralised digital media, the future of work and using ritual to heal trauma. 

Watch a short video from this interview on IGTV or YouTube, or watch Danilo’s Deep Dive conversation with Philip Franses as part of the What is Emerging series.

 Note: Some of the questions in this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity.
“When I talk about living complexity, it means to let life unfold without trying to control it, and being ready to improvise."
Maria Clara: You are the creator of the Emergir platform, so naturally there are a lot of synergies between your work and Emerge. Both platforms are about bringing a more complex perspective to the way we perceive our reality. What does it mean to live complexity, and why is this lens so important right now?

Danilo: I think there are a combination of factors that make this an important lens. One is the fact that we cannot deny that we are living in a time of sometimes scary connectivity. As we merge communities, our distances - at least in the digital realm - shrink significantly. I think complexity helps us to have a better perspective on this phenomena. This is one of the factors. Another one is about how we live our lives. I have experienced many things that I could relate to the function of a healthy ecosystem, things that happen in a seemingly spontaneous, unpredictable and nonlinear way — like in a living organism. These events all contribute to a system that is perfectly self-regulating. When I talk about living complexity, it means to let life unfold without trying to control it, and being ready to improvise.

Maria Clara and Danilo at FioCruz Foundation, in Rio de Janeiro, where Danilo is involved in a bioconstruction project.

Maria Clara: Can you give an example of that?

Danillo: For example, how I met you and Camilla Cardoso [partner in the project This is not the truth]. Camilla and I have a mutual friend, and so when Camilla told her about This is not the truth she recommend that we connect in Barcelona. After meeting in Spain, our networks merged and I was invited to do several talks here in Rio, where I met my current partner. Now I’m living in Rio and you and I are sitting here talking about this. There’s just no way I could have planned for this to happen!

Intuition plays a role for sure. You have to believe that what you’re doing is the right thing because, ultimately, there's no right or wrong, right? I guess this is why complexity is important for me. If you ask me why it’s important for other people, understanding complexity in a world that is hyper-connected is as important as knowing how to read and write in a world based on text.
Emergir is a blog turned into a community study of complexity. I actually like to think about it as a common good for the platform."
Maria Clara: What is the difference between the mainstream media and channels like Emergir in the way they approach the systemic crisis we face today?

Danilo: Just a bit of context before I get to the heart of the question, or ‘the heart of the matter’ as Capra says. Emergir is a media platform that produces articles, videos and a podcast. It started because I wanted to produce and translate complexity related content into Portuguese because at that time, two years ago, I couldn't find a lot of translated resources. It started as a blog, then became a website, videos and a podcast. Nowadays I tend to see it as a community, because people gather around this material. It’s a blog turned into a community study of complexity. I actually like to think about it as a common good for the platform.

In answer to your question, in some ways Emergir has a structure similar to a traditional media platform in that it has a website, social media and so on. However, we don’t have a structure for how we create content. The most up to date content we have is actually on the WhatsApp group. I guess that’s one main difference. The other is more subtle, because Emergir is not organised or structured like a traditional organisation, it’s a really open environment for people to collaborate. We write articles and conduct research together because there is no organisational structure. We don’t have a mission statement and there is no shared narrative or crystallised definition of what complexity is. There is a multitude, a multiplicity of perspectives. 
People have been experimenting with decentralised organising for much longer than blockchain has existed.
Maria Clara: We were talking the other day about DAOS [Decentralised Autonomous Organisations] and podcasts, and how you think a new, nonlinear way of creating content could unfold in the next few years. Where do you already see this happening?

Danilo: I just want to say what I usually say before talking about DAOs, and that is that they are not what people usually think. People think that we are talking about something so new it’s almost alien, but it's not. DAOs have become associated with the crypto realm, but people have been experimenting with decentralised organising for much longer than blockchain has existed.

Maria Clara: Anything that’s autonomous and created in a decentralised way could be considered to be a DAO, no? Even something like fire.

Danilo: Yes. There you go. We could go as far back as that. Yeah, I agree. I guess what’s new is the mixture of technology and the culture around it, in the sense that people who are engaged with DAOs share a cultural background — it comes from those kinds of cultural niches where decentralisation, distribution of power and individual sovereignty are present values. 

Again, I just want to make the parenthesis that this is not all new. So with that said, I’ve been working with podcasts in different contexts. There’s Radio Emergir but there’s also this podcast called DAOcast, which I started right after I stopped working for a DAO company. In this intersection of podcasting, DAOs and open networks there are some amazing conversations happening - not necessarily in the context of a project, it could be just between friends - so imagine what it would be to arrange all of these conversations around the people who are participating in them, so as to have a broad mosaic of audio based content.

Maria Clara: So a collective sense-making of the conversations happening in the podcasts?
“If you look at what it takes to maintain the bitcoin network we are talking the entire energy consumption of a country like Denmark for a year."
Danilo: Yes, that would be definitely one aspect of it, to analyse and map what comes out. The other thing would be to get people involved so they can make collective decisions. For example, say this mosaic of conversations becomes interesting to another media platform. How do the people who contributed decide how to interact with this other platform? So there is this layer of decision making where current DAO technologies could help.

It’s funny, because in the past two weeks I’ve had conversations with people about this emerging vision for media and content. For example, if you think about all the Zoom calls, webinars and online classes going on… there are many communities where people are coming together over video call to discuss topics in depth, and this in itself could be treated as audio content. The question is how to organise that content.

Maria Clara: How can we deal with this complexity and money? How do you create and then attach value to a job that maybe doesn't even exist yet?

Danilo: Recently I stopped trading cryptocurrencies, which was something I’d done for a while. I never made a lot of money in that way but honestly, I have a very cheap lifestyle. I stopped with crypto because I was trading with assets that were very energy consuming. If you look at what it takes to maintain the bitcoin network we are talking the entire energy consumption of a country like Denmark for a year. Trading also affects your emotional state and you can become anxious and even greedy. So that’s why I stopped. I’m now working to frame myself in a way that people can more easily understand what it is that I can offer as a freelance consultant. 

When we talk about money, I think there’s this broader question of how much do you actually need? This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Maria Clara: And how do you see this working in the future? Work will keep changing a lot with technology, so do you have any advice?

Danilo: Me and you are examples of this because we are freelancers. My feeling is that in the future more and more people will be in this position and I think it's an opportunity for this whole network concept to come into play more. These guys I know in Brazil are building a network initiative which is basically a system to allow other people to benefit from your projects, and then you also benefit from other people's. It's more complicated than that, but what I’m trying to say is that there are technologies being created which show a change of mindset in how we think about work.

Maria Clara: As humans, the idea of predicting the future has always fascinated us. In this moment, when we are facing a crisis in the perception of reality, the quest for answers becomes even bigger. We have talked about precognition experiences before. What made you want to explore that?
“I’ve been doing theatre inspired by the work of a Brazilian doctor called Nise da Silveira, who was a student of Carl Jung."
Danilo: We talked about precognition as a more esoteric, subjective experience. The way I see it nowadays - and how I perhaps connect to the thing you’re mentioning - is that I see that we are in this material world where we have our bodies, and we touch, see and sense things. At the same time, there is this immaterial realm which is more subjective and connected with symbolism. You can access this realm through things like substance induced states, meditation and breathing techniques. My experience in this realm tells me that it has great potential for bridging the future and the past, because it’s timeless.

Maria Clara: Is there something in your life emerging now where you experiment with that?

Danilo: For the past three to four months I’ve been doing theatre inspired by the work of a Brazilian doctor called Nise da Silveira, who was a student of Carl Jung. She started doing art therapy work and noticed that many of her patients were expressing their traumas through art, and there were sometimes patterns in how they expressed it. What she realised was that those patients were accessing the symbolic realm, the place Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’. 

The kind of theatre I’m describing came out of this. We've been doing this theatre practise in a public space in Rio with a psychiatrist who is almost a shaman of the whole thing. It’s music led theatre which is ritualistic in that it has its own process and deals with some very powerful symbolic images.

Maria Clara: What do these rituals look like?

Danilo: A few days ago we were at a beautiful place here in Rio near the ocean. We were performing there, dancing and singing in an open ritual where passersby could just join in or watch. Around 5pm the sun started to go down, so we started to salute the sun. At the same time, the moon came up and it was huge, one of the biggest moons I’ve ever seen. Everybody came onto the beach to look at the moon, so we started to salute the moon, and then a lot of people started to join us. 
“We really need to start dealing with our individual and collective traumas so as to stop passing them along as a culture."
There was a drum and everybody was dancing, everybody was singing. I don’t know how to describe it other than that I entered a trance from being in movement. My body was the movement. We had the moon on the one side and the sun on the other side and we all had this feeling that we had really accessed a different kind of realm. When we stopped we all looked at each other and were like where did we go?!

One example of how this has played out in my life is that when I’m in this space I have been able to connect with my grandma, who was murdered. I interpret my grandma, and I interpret the trauma she suffered. That was very symbolic to me, and I felt connected to this person who I’d only heard stories about. The clinical way of looking at this would be to see it as a mental health wellbeing practise. I’m trying to cure the trauma my grandma suffered, which affected my mum and then affected me. If it wasn’t addressed, from what we know about epigenetics it would probably affect my offspring too. 

So back to your question of how do we look into the future, we really need to start dealing with our individual and collective traumas so as to stop passing them along as a culture, because that's what we've been doing so far. Perhaps this is the most valuable thing we can do for the future of humanity right now, and having more awareness of and access to this other realm could help us to do that.

The photos for this article were taken at the Terrapia space, with the Apema Permacultura team and many other collaborators. 
Words by Maria Clara Parente
Maria Clara Parente is a Rio de Janeiro based journalist, artist and documentarist. She is the co-founder of This is not the Truth, a platform for Emerging Narratives that explores possible futures in the present.
Photos by Lucas Zomer
Lucas is a Rio de Janeiro based photographer and film director.