THE FUTURE OF THE FUTURE
by Robert Anton Wilson, PhD.
from TRAJECTORIES Newsletter - Vol. 1, No. 3,
There was a Fundamentalist Futurist back in the 1890s who demonstrated that New York City would be abandoned as unfit for habitation by the 1930s. His argument was based on projection forward of population trends, and he correctly estimated that population would grow from 4 million to over 7 million in 40 years. (He didn't guess it would reach over 12 million by now.) It was then obvious, he said, that the amount of horses necessary to provide transportation for that many people would result in a public health hazard of incredible dimensions: there would be horse manure up to the third floor windows everywhere in Manhattan.
This illustrates the most frequent fallacy found in Future projections: the "elementalistic fallacy" named by Alfred Korzybski. The elementalistic fallacy, as Korzybski noted, seems to be built into our very language. We can talk about Joe Smith in isolation from his (or any) environment; we can therefore think about Mr. Smith in such fictitious isolation; and in such "elementalistic fallacy," we will almost always draw wrong conclusions, because Mr. Smith cannot exist without some environment. (He will explode in a vacuum, and without a social world his mind will similarly explode--or implode, or at least mutate shockingly, as isolation experiments have shown.)
Projecting population forward without projecting other factors forward has produced numerous elementalistic fallacies similar to thinking of Joe Smith without an environment. Malthus, for instance, "proved" that population will always increase faster than resources, but this was disproven by technological history, and we now understand that "resources" only exist when identified by analysis and each new discovery in pure science shows us new resources everywhere.
Whenever I project one trend forward, I then. . . project at minimum five other trends forward also
One example: the Newtonian system alllowed us to tap 0.001 per cent of the energy in a glass of water; 19th Century thermodynamics showed us how to tap 0.01 per cent of that energy; we can now tap 1.0 per cent. Nobody knows how much we'll be able to tap in 50 years.
Elementalistic fallacies abound in Future projections (including my own). We are only gradually and gropingly learning to think "non-elementalistically" (in Korzybski's phrase) or "synergetically" as Bucky Fuller liked to say. I have found one quick way to avoid the more obvious elementalistic and Fundamentalistic errors, which is this:
Whenever I project one trend forward, I then re-analyze the situation, projecting at minimum five other trends forward also.
For instance, lifespan and population have both been increasing in the past 200 years. Projecting these trends forward elementalistically (in isolation) has led to some notable Doomsday scenarios in which humanity overcrowds itself to death. An entirely different picture emerges, however, if one projects these trends synergetically along with five other trends, such as:
1. The effect of industrialism on population. As documented by Fuller(in Critical Path), a nation's population only rises rapidly in the transition from feudalism to industrialism, then levels off when industrialism is well established in a country.
2. The emergence of Feminism and self-choice among women, beginning with the 18th Century radicalism of Mary Woolstonecraft and now including Women's Liberation movements in all parts of the world--even dawningly in Islamic nations.
3. The movement of communication technology into space, with clear trends indicating that "industrial" (or, more likely, post-industrial) technology will follow, with workers and then families and then schools and grocers and museums, etc., moving into space colonies.
4. The continued improvement in birth control technology and the fading line between contraception and abortion. There is already heated debate, for instance, about whether certain devices--e.g., the IUD--"are" or "are not" abortifacients.
5. The neuroscience revolution (or H.E.A.D. Revolution) with its increasing promise that humans in the near future will achieve more freedom from mechanical conditioned reflexes (both "physical" and "mental") than ever before.
Whenever I try to project all five of these trends even 40 years into the future, I find the "overcrowding" problem seems less likely than New York being buried in horse manure. To get a feel for synergetic thinking, try your own projection, "guesstimating" what the next decade will bring in each of these fields, and the decade after that, and so on, to 2029.
For instance: How will encroaching industrialism effect third world birthrates by 1999? How will this interact with the Feminist meme, and space colonization projects, and improved contraception, and brain-change technology, in that ten years? How will all these interact in the 20 years before 2009? In the 30 years be- fore 2019? By 2029?
Another safeguard against Fundamentalistic fallacies in Future projection is to remember the unpredictable.
Another safeguard in Future projection is to remember the unpredictable.
Millions of people sincerely believe that superior beings from Outer Space are going to land any day now and solve all our problems for us. Whatever one thinks of that New Age faith, one should consider that something equally astounding could happen at any time, throwing all Future scenarios into a totally new Gestalt.
Consider the foremost critic of Fundamentalist Futurism, Sir Karl Popper. In The Open Society and its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism, Popper has written an absolutely devastating critique of those classical Futurists (Plato, Aristotle, Hegel and Marx) who thought they could predict the future exactly and in detail. (Historicism was Popper's name for what I call Fundamentalist Futurism.) The strongest of Popper's many arguments against that Fundamentalism can be condensed thusly: even if we collected every possible fact about the past and present, and projected trends with the best statistical techniques, we could not predict those "Eureka" experiences in which a solitary philosopher or scientist suddenly sees a new paradigm which reorganizes all our habitual ideas.
Such "Eureka" insights or creative breakthroughs always change statistical trends. A new philosophic idea may become a political ideology quickly, with earth-shaking results. (Consider what happened when the subtle philosophy of Nietzsche collided with the unsubtle brain of Adolph Hitler, or when Lenin read Marx.) A new scientific idea inevitably leads to new technology--which changes the habits and trajectories of entire cultures even more radically than politics or ideologies.
A million people working in universities or labs (or outside them) are developing new insights every day, and we cannot predict which of these will be the philosophical or scientific type of "Eureka" that will change everything as radically as mass landings of alien spaceships would.
A sane Futurist must think synergetically, not elementalistically, and must avoid Fundamentalism by remembering the unpredictable nature of the creative process.
Does it begin to sound as if a sane Futurist would avoid making any predictions at all? Not necessarily. Most Futurists have learned to make contingent predictions, or "scenarios." A scenario, like a mathematical proposition, says "If X happens, then Y will also happen." Only experience in time ("existential experience") will tell us if X will happen, but one can very often calculate the probability of Y following X with high precision.
If X is the present-day international banking system, for instance, and Y is a domino-like series of defaults by the leading debtor nations, then Y seems to be virtually inevitable, as numerous commentators have noted. This does not mean that the defaults must occur. It is still possible that the banks may change X, the rules of the money-and-debt game, before it is too late, or that some other group or coalition of groups may combine to force the bankers to change the rules. Considering what Roosevelt and Hitler did to the bankers in the 1930s, government intervention again may well occur--or a coalition of governments, such as the European Parliament, or even the United Nations, may act decisively before the default process sets the dominoes crashing.
A sane Futurist must think synergetically...
Still, it seems the current rules of the currency game cannot long continue, without the unpredictable "Eureka" occurring. It is hard to imagine a gimmick that will perpetuate international debt as the cotton gin perpetuated slavery after Jefferson thought slavery was about to be abolished -- but some such gimmick may come along. "Doomsday" scenarios or even "October 1929" scenarios about world currencies must always be tentative, not dogmatic. Otherwise, we cease to be Futurists and might inadvertently launch another Fundamentalistic (if Godless) religion like Marxism.
My guess is that the rules of the money-creation game are going to have to be changed. After all, banks only acquired the monopoly on currency issue in the 19th Century: before that, every nation created its own coinage. (Lord Coke even defined sovereignty as "the right to coin money.") The control of money fell into the hands of the bankers, we must remember, only when nations developed such a habit of degrading their moneys that none of them would trust any other for long. Now that the banks have created a world when no major debtor nation can ever hope to pay its debts without Divine Intervention, the rules of the money game will very probably mutate again as they did when control slipped from kings to bankers.
Whether money will become a United Nations prerogative, or we will replace money entirely with computer notations, is not something that can be predicted. Most likely, we will bump and blunder our way into some new system that cannot be predicted in advance.
Here are some other trajectories that seem "high probability scenarios" to me:
The interaction of Space, Feminism, radical changes in money-and-debt creation and market economy, the neuroscience revolution with its promise of better mental functioning for all (and its threat of enslavement for all...) and the ongoing longevity revolution can only synergetically produce a total "Eureka" experience for all humanity within 30 years and perhaps within 15 years or sooner.
In my travels, I am often asked what I think of the Cosmic Transformation scenarios of Terrence McKenna and Jose Arguelles. Sadly, I regard that sort of thing as Fundamentalist Futurism and look at it skeptically. Nonetheless, I am bemused by the odd "coincidence" that, working on the basis of mystical theories and in total isolation from each other, both of these prophets fixed on the year 2012 as the time when humanity mutates utterly and enters a new relationship with space-time. I don't believe this literally, but I can't help suspecting that this is a message from the collective unconscious --like the quite opposite "Apocalypse" scenarios of Fundamentalist Protestantism.
Visions of that order of magnitude, I think, indicate that at a deep psychic level people everywhere are beginning to suspect that we are entering the most radical period of evolutionary change since life migrated out of the oceans onto the land. Without being Fundamentalistic about it, I think "Harmonic Convergence" is a metaphoric way of approximating toward awareness of where the remorseless forces of social evolution are carrying us.
The mother or father of 2012, I think, will find it very hard to explain to their children the primitive customs, and even more primitive beliefs, that held sway on this planet back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s...
For security purposes, this space intentionally left blank.
"IF YOU THINK
WHAT THE HELL
IS GOING ON,
YOU'RE PROBABLY FULL OF SHIT"