Sustainable Development Course Contributes to a PhD Thesis

The Wilmette Institute staff is often amazed at the unexpected ways in which students use what they learn in its courses. But this may be a new use: In his doctoral dissertation, Check Woo Foo is “summarizing some of the discussion and insights” that he learned in Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind 2017.

Check Woo FooBefore his retirement, Check Woo worked for thirty-two years for Nestlé in research and development, co-authoring two books on poetry as well as the proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Food Science and Technology Congress, publishing a number of papers, and being the co-inventor of a patent. He now teaches part time at the Singapore Polytechnic for the Earn-and-Learn program and is pursuing a PhD in international law on climate change at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. After he retired, he signed up for the course on Sustainable Development (faculty, Arthur Lyon Dahl, Christine Muller, Peter Adriance) to understand better the Bahá’í perspective on sustainable development.

Aside from incorporating some his learnings in the Sustainable Development course in his doctoral thesis, Check Woo “developed the first approximation of a multi-staged, multi-level sustainable development process,” based on evolution, game theory, and ethics; he says it is still speculative and needs more evidence. He has also “worked out the detailed steps at the individual level for a sustainable-development process” based on direct reciprocity and asymmetric payoff to encourage cooperation; for this process, he says “there is plenty of literature” (Bahá’í and otherwise). But he has not yet “worked out in detailed steps the processes for the community and the institutional levels respectively.” This will require combinations of other mechanisms of cooperation, including indirect reciprocity, kin selection, spatial selection (structure), and multi-level selection. He thinks the Bahá’í approach to structure is of special significance.

Check Woo feels that “Neither the Bahá’í world (other than perhaps the Universal House of Justice) nor the outside world currently has a true grasp of the enormity of the global problems that have beset the world.” He observes that “The path ahead might well be two-track: The pattern for a more sustainable way of living at both the individual and community levels will probably come from the least developed and developing countries. It is not because the Bahá’ís in these countries are spiritually superior but because this new pattern is diametrically opposed to that to which the developed countries are accustomed. The Bahá’í friends in the developed countries will have to learn from the former and learn it very quickly.”

He goes on to say that, “What the Bahá’ís in the least developed countries and the developing countries do not have is good access at the institutional level—for example, international organizations.” Hence Bahá’ís in the developed world should make “strenuous efforts” to influence the search for the spiritual solution to this economic problem.

Check Woo has started a personal correspondence with Alvaro Martino, a learner in France who also took the Sustainable Development course, to discuss “the process of logical reasoning on sustainability.”

After the course ended, Check Woo said he was going back to “finishing” his PhD thesis. We will be looking forward to seeing that dissertation.

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