It’s not likely that Thomas Jefferson meant to disparage study of the past, it’s just, like Albert Einstein’s missive that imagination is more important than knowledge, he meant that it is our dreams of the future that enable us to build a better world.
I’ve been dreaming about the future since I was a kid. Daydreaming, my parents would have said, and my wife certainly would say. But that’s OK. Somebody has to do it. If humankind is going to survive the the challenges that lie ahead, somebody needs to be thinking further ahead than the next pay check, the next quarter’s profit, and the next election. Let’s do it together.
On Seeking Delphi, the podcast, I’ll address many of the myriad uncertainties that lie ahead, some of them with existential consequences. Some of them just for fun. But all of them the stuff that imagination–and dreams–are made of.
“The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.”–Alvin Toffler
The world lost its foremost futurist in the past week, a man who was one of my heroes. Alvin Toffler taught the world how to think about the future some 45 years ago. It’s a lesson the world should relearn. I read Future Shock way back in 1973–and have been thinking about it–and the future–ever since.
The quote above describes the cause of the disease–the human psychological malady–he calls future shock. He made me think about the implications of a future that comes too fast and too hard for most people to comprehend or tolerate. It made me think about the dangers of thinking improperly about the future–or avoiding the thought of it at all. I’ll go into detail on these issues–and the potential remedies thereof–in future posts. In the meantime, I take off my virtual digital hat to the man who just may have been the foremost futurist of all time.
Writing in the New York Times on July 6, Farhad Manjoo lays out clearly and concisely why Toffler’s ideas are so relevant today. I highly urge you to read this piece, and to read Future Shock if you’ve never done so. I intend to reread it now. We have never needed foresight more than we do today.
Note: This is the second part of an article originally posted in 2012 on my first blog, The Millennium Conjectures™. Now, it’s time to invent a future in which I figure out what to post next.
I Conjecture: Every Possible Future Exists
Part Two: Quantum Mechanics and The Future
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”–Alan Kay
Note: In case you had not surmised it, the most literal title for this conjecture would be “Every Physically Possible Future of Our Universe Exists.” There is probably not a future in our universe where the laws of physics will change to allow Harry Potter to cast a patronus spell on demontors.
Inventing the quantum future at NASA
Alan Kay’s proposition suggests a philosophical viewpoint that emerges from this conjecture. But for a better quote to describing its why and wherefore, I harken back to the E.B. White words from Conjecture #2. Everything that is not forbidden is mandatory. It all boils down to Quantum Mechanics. Many physicists have latched on to this notion; given enough time, every physically possible combination of matter and energy is bound to occur. It’s all just a matter of probability. That said, there are clearly at least two distinct ways of looking at it, depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics you ascribe to: Copenhagen or Many Worlds. Although there are other interpretations, these two have garnered the lions share of advocates in the scientific community, and the notion that every possible future exists can emerge from either one of them. (See Quantum Weirdness102 and 103 in The Millennium Conjectures™ for an explanation of both ideas.)
The difference between the two as pertains to the future can easily be stated as virtual vs. actual. The Many Worlds interpretation asserts that every physical possibility will become an actual reality in an infinitely expanding sea of parallel universes. Every possible future is, or at least becomes, physically real. On the other hand, Copenhagen implies that there is no absolute physical reality until the quantum wave function breaks down, that there is only probability on the sub-atomic level until we observe it. From this we can infer that every possible future exists only as a statistical probability, and only the one we ultimately experience will actually exist.
So what’s the difference? There isn’t any. It makes no difference, from the practical experience of entities conscious in a single one of them, whether the futures are real or virtual; we can’t tell the difference. Every one of those physical realities is still a real possibility. The good news? There most certainly is a future out there where you win the lottery! The bad news? The only sure way to “invent” that future is to buy every possible number combination. I don’t recommend quitting your day job. 😦
Foresight? Forethought? What’s the difference? Maybe with better forethought, Napoleon would have had the foresight to avoid Waterloo. Maybe.
But really, the two words are practically synonymous, so we are more in the province of semantics. Just take a look at how Dictionary.com defines them. Its first given definition of foresight is care or provision for the future. The first definition for forethought is thoughtful provision for the future. Practically the same thing, no? But for the purposes of this blog, I’ll come down on the side of none of the above.
Slightly paraphrased, the 4th definition of foresight given by Dictionary.com is knowledge or insight gained by looking forward. This is foresight as I see it, and for that matter, I believe it is how the true professional futurist sees it. We cannot really predict the future, but we can be better prepared for it by adroit use of foresight. This type of insight is the aim of Seeking Delphi.™
Moving forward then (what other direction is there?), posts herein will fall into two broad categories. Posts in the How to Think About the Future category will discuss the theory and practice of forethought–they will cover the basics for the layman. They will also delve into some of my heavier philosophical and scientific views on how we ought to think about the future. Posts in the Seeking Delphi category will delve into the future of various domains of human endeavor, including, when possible, interviews with experts in the fields covered. There will be obvious subjects, such as biotechnology, information technology, education, politics and the like; there will also be less obvious explorations into narrower areas. A podcast is targeted for a July launch.
Up next will be a reprise of two posts from my other blog The Millennium Conjectures,™which provide my rather physics imbued philosophy of the future.
“Never predict anything, especially the future.”–Casey Stengel
The Ol’ Perfessor knew what he was talking about. Well, maybe he didn’t, but the advice is sage nonetheless. It is notoriously difficult to predict anything in the future with consistent accuracy. So why in the world would anyone want to become a futurist? Why bother? Well, to be blunt, that is exactly why! Ignoring the opportunities and dangers of the future is what I like to call The Ostrich Syndrome.Go ahead, hide your head in the sand. The future is not going to go away; it will get here. And if we can’t predict it, there are certainly ways to prepare for it. To prevent bad outcomes, or at least make them less likely. To create good outcomes, or at least make them more likely. And to be better prepared to deal with whatever does come.
The sad fact is, we live in a short-term oriented society with a short attention span. So what is the antidote to this malady? It is more thoughtful foresight. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Kurt Vonnegut compared science fiction writers like himself to the proverbial canary in the mine shaft, warning of weak danger signals before others perceive them. That’s what futurists do, though those weak signals can signal opportunities as well as dangers as the world changes. That’s what I aim to do with the rest of my life. I’ve enrolled in the University of Houston’s Masters in Foresight program. I’m adding a foresight element to a friend’s existing market research business. I’m becoming an advocate for taking a longer view of everything. Economics. Education. Environment. Government. You name it. This my second blog, aptly named Seeking Delphi after the famed Oracle of Delphi. We can’t predict the future, but we can anticipate the possibilities, avoid the catastrophes (or some of them) and create the opportunities.
See the about page for my background, and see the link below for a book review I published in 1999 in the Reed Elsevier journal Futures. It provides a very succinct view of my personal philosophy on how we should view the future. Here goes something. See you tomorrow and beyond…