So it begins…
I would like to start out by admitting that I know next to nothing about anything. Yet like any other self-respecting human being I feel I know enough to tell others that they are doing it wrong.
If anything differentiates me from the masses around me, it's my interest in the future. Almost everyone I know prefers to live in the moment. Some might go as far as to wonder what they will have for dinner tomorrow, sometimes they might even plan a vacation a year from now but they seem unwilling to expand their horizons further, to really think about what lies ahead of them. Not only on a personal level, like contemplating your own death or what your life might look like in 20 years, but also on the much grander cosmic scale. Thinking about how you, me, all the others and even the people not yet born will be affected by dramatic changes in society, culture, technology, science, ethics, ... can be both liberating and suffocating. The exploration of deep time is an adventure like no other. Where most seem to be of the opinion that speculation on which possible futures might be made real is downright boring and a waste of time, there is nothing I love more and I consider it to be quite important as I am of the opinion that it's absolutely necessary to do so if we want to survive the next few centuries.
We have trouble imagining the world being different from today's. We think of social, economic, cultural and technological change as change that happens slowly, akin to the speed at which continental plates drift across the earth's oceans of molten rock. We tend to think ideas erode stubborn beliefs at about the same rate wind erodes rock but this is quite obviously wrong. In the 50 years it took Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift to go from being ridiculed to being recognized as a scientific revolution, North America and Europe had drifted only 4 meters further apart but in the same span of time man developed both the first plane and the first rocket. Most human triggered change appears slowly only because of our perspective. Unlike mountains we don't have eons and must instead experience change as we hurtle towards a death that is unlikely to lie more than 80 years from the day you first saw light. If you imagine encountering a clock for the first time but only being allowed to look at it for a bit less than a second, you might conclude that the silly round thing is decoration or that, if it has a purpose, it might be broken. If only you would have been given the chance to watch that clock a second longer and you would have been able to see that it does in fact do something. The more time you get to spend with the clock the more you will discover. You would never have known that there's a whole system behind its face driving its mechanics! Given enough time, you will eventually figure out that that is what it tracks. You would have changed your mind from looking at it as a static non changing piece of decoration to an intricate mechanical device that keeps time. The longer you live, the better your perspective on human induced change and the faster you will perceive it to be taking place.
Our distorted perception of time fools us into thinking that things are stagnant, unchanging. We can't see the majestic forces at work that shape the earth's surface. It would be quite a show to see mountains magically grow out of the ground where tectonic plates press against each other or to see the tree of life explode by continuously sprouting new branches. If you take a step back from the perspective offered by a typical human life and drop our tiny timescales to instead look at the big picture, you can see that the world and everything on it is ever-changing. It's unfortunate that many of the opinions we cling to are shaped by our inability to perceive the world as a dynamic system. Concepts like normal, natural, balance, are quite meaningless and very often used in a way that does not really make sense. On planet earth as well as beyond, change is the only constant. Not only are landscapes, creatures or the climate in constant flux, even our behavior, our values and culture can all change rather fast. Just think about the more recent changes brought about by advances in science and technology. The more we go back the slower things change and, depending on your point of view, the weirder and more alien either the past or the present becomes. Ancient cultures like those of the Egyptians, the Romans or cave people had views and thoughts that are far removed from today's. Going back further, it gets crazier still. Everything was bigger and more bad-ass before we humans came along. Big elephants, big tigers, big chickens, big rodents, big everything. As you go back further you end up in an era that still fuels nightmares to this day, in an era in which for literally hundreds of millions of years HUGE monsters like dinosaurs, giant insects and early sea creatures roamed this planet. Going back further you get to life so small that we couldn't even truly comprehend its existence or grasp its abundance until we had invented the microscope. There was a time before life, a time when our planet didn't exist yet, and even a time where the first star had yet to light up the universe. Only when we developed the telescope could we begin to gaze into the abyss of time that resides between the stars and truly make some sense of it. Our lives and minds don't allow us to truly comprehend the vast ocean of time that stretches out billions of years into the past and future.
You should probably keep this in mind so that next time you hear someone say "that will never happen", you can put him in his place and tell him that he shouldn't be so sure of himself. Even if it sounds quite outlandish, if it's physically possible you can say that stranger things have happened and you would be right. Just think of the fact that dinosaurs first swam in our oceans as fish, crawled onto land as amphibians and then took to the sky as birds! This should tell you something about the kind of change that's possible. Besides the forgiving restrictions put in place by the laws of nature, there doesn't seem to be any limit. Even our wildest imagination is no match for reality.
I think we've established that although biological and geological change appears to unfold slowly to us, both truly are dramatic drivers of enormous changes. If we look at change on a societal or cultural level, we don't really need to go back that far. As we get older we start to notice that the world we were born in is no longer the same as the one we are living in right now. Where an adolescent might not believe world changing transformations will take place in his lifetime, his opinion is likely to change as he grows older. Just ask your grandparents if they believe in globe spanning change and how they perceive it. they might be more inclined to compare the rate of change with a roller coaster ride. Your average 20 or 30-year-old might not have seen many changes yet although you could argue that these days technology is moving so fast that even they will have experienced some revolutions, but your grandparents have experienced massive transformations. World Wars, countries come and go, people landing on the moon, social revolutions that overturn economic systems and demand the instantiation of new rights, changing views and opinions on morals and ethics, horseless carriages we now call cars, people speaking to you in your living room through TV, mechanical brains that will calculate things for you, a vast web of interconnected networks that beams information through cables as light and through space as radiowaves which allows everyone to connect with anyone anytime anywhere simply by picking up a phone, ... A 100 years is nothing, yet it is apparently enough to overhaul our entire culture!
Our society is very focused on the now. our culture is familiar with sayings like "you need it now", "seize the moment", "this second matters", "live it day by day", "whatever comes next", "live in the moment",... And I agree that this is good advice because, you know, all of our physical actions take place in the now and you should probably pay attention to your surrounding if you want to make it to your expiration date. Evolution most likely even wired our brains this way. Most animals don't posses the ability to think about the far future and definitely not in an abstract way that doesn't directly concern them in person. There was no need for it either, most creatures were strictly concerned with surviving the next 30 seconds and this required all their attention. Why would a frog care about anything taking place tomorrow when he needs food today and needs to constantly check his surroundings for predators.
We however, are different and I think it's time we start using this remarkable special ability of ours a whole lot more. The ability to travel through time in our mind and run simulations of various events and their possible outcomes can be a very powerful tool for weighing one future against another. If people would look more beyond their own lives and give our billion year past some thought once in a while, it could instill appreciation for everything that surrounds us and might equip us with a more realistic view of the present and what might be possible in the future. We truly do need to start actively thinking about the future. The future is by definition unknown, adventurous, an explosion of unlimited possibilities hurtling towards us. Both exciting and maybe a bit scary. We need to start thinking about it because it's time we realize that the future is in our hands. We are the masters of our own future. It has to be done with this "I ll see whatever comes next" attitude that so many of us have. We have to start actively debating what kind of future we want and then design it ourselves. We have to make it happen and we shouldn't just sit around and wait to see what chance throws in our lap.
With revolutions in every field from robotics and nanotech to genetics and information technologies, with social unrest in nations around the world, global warming, pandemics, wars, new discoveries and breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, neurology, biology and astronomy on a weekly basis, we have to be mindful that the future is not without danger and approaching rapidly. These changes will all without a doubt shake the foundations of our civilization. We have to start thinking about what the world of tomorrow will look like and what we want it to look like. The technology of tomorrow that scientists are dreaming up in their labs today will grant us powers that were unimaginable to people living just a few decades ago and perhaps even to many people alive right now. Some of the stuff scientists and engineers are working on today already sounds like science fiction and looks like magic but I assure you that it's very real.
It's important to think about the immediate future 50 or a 100 years out. But we should probably also start wondering about the far future. What does the human species want to achieve if anything? Do we have any ultimate goals that we should start planning for today? What will the human race be doing in 10 million years time? We might not even resemble anything we look like now, maybe by then we won't even be calling ourselves humans anymore? Even further out what might we be doing in the next Billion years and beyond? Our planet is more than 4 billion years old and has a few billion years left. We have a lot of time to master our crafts, to expand our knowledge and sharpen our tools. We will become a space fairing race, we will venture outwards and spread amongst the many planets in our galaxy. We will live out our dreams among the stars. If we don't, we won't have a future at all. Either we become a space fairing race or we go extinct.
On this blog I would like to present multiple possible futures, futures that might shock you. The future is coming and its driven by science, technology and emotion. We should probably get behind the wheel and pay more attention to the road. The road ahead is looking more treacherous by the mile. 21st century technology is and will become so far-reaching that most people are choosing to ignore its implications, preferring to bury their head in the sand in order to keep living in their comfort zone as long as possible. This is not likely to change until they are hit in the face by the consequences of their inaction when the change in question, change they never asked for, is knocking on their doorstep. 21st century technology will draw into question the meaning of life and what it means to be human. In the end, large parts of our man-made reality, will get deconstructed. Which parts do you want to hang onto?
I hope that in time this blog might become a platform for thought, a place where we can all pool our ideas about the future, where we think out scenarios and how they might unfold. In most cases we will be wildly off the mark but for every 1000 wishful thoughts or doomsday scenarios that never play out, we might score 1 that will help us anticipate one that does manifest itself, allowing us to strategically analyze possible outcomes and countermeasures ahead of time. Everyone has to realize that society always has and will continue to change and that this rate of change is picking up serious speed now that technology has entered the game. In the next 100 years society is likely to change even faster than in the previous 100. Time stops for no man and we know we are pretty bad at perceiving change on scales that stretch beyond a few years. We must train ourselves to move away from biologically inspired "now" thinking to more future oriented risk analysis.
If I had to describe this up and coming blog in one word it would be wonder. I want to show you how insane reality really is. How wondrous the past was, the now is and the future will be. How will the future affect our lives? What amazing mysteries lie in wait for us to discover and unravel? How will our society evolve and cope with all the dramatic change that's heading its way? One day I might be talking about nuclear fusion or how quantum mechanics plays a role in everyday life, the next I could be talking about the effect of Chinese values and ethics on western culture or question our current behavior in light of new developments.
One thing is for sure. We can't predict the future with absolute certainty. Still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. If we can shoot down or reinforce each other's scenarios logically, we might just spawn some practical applications or strategies that could very well prove to be crucial if one of the scenarios brought up does eventually play out as we hoped or feared. I hope this place will foster serious debate about far-out topics, that other minds will come to defend their own views when they conflict with mine and that in doing so they might make me reconsider my thinking and see things anew. I hope to learn. Only by building on top of thoughts formed on sturdy foundations can ideas evolve and grow more robust. Since transhumanism hopes to create a future increasingly steered by conscious thought instead of chance, the shape of things to come will be determined by the battle between brains. You change a mind, you change the future.