Sunday, 25 February 2018

The smile of... 'The Imaginator'

New complexities, irritating disruptions of trusted practices, and accelerating change seem to characterise our times. Uncertainty about the future is acknowledged by many. The rate of change is unmeasured; hence it is felt. Curiously, artists, intellectuals and laypersons, each seem self-de-rooted.

Hence, what is 'The New' that is up to us, in a world of somehow self-driving cars, subsistence fishermen and first climate refugees? Our views focus' on the next corner, the next turn of a road. Where are the signposts? Who has a sketch of the roads ahead? Does vision lack? What marks the debates? The technology-fascinated disagree. Yet, their vision is just 'scale-up', massively to reach a singularity. Does this change in quantity leads to new quality? Hence, is Mr Hegel calling?

Questions to the participants at #SGSCULTURE #593:
What will our planet look like in 2050 or 2100?
Who or what will control our lives?
What will it mean to be human?

Let's drop the big stone, the rock, the landslide into the deep water, and observe the waves. What to envision for the years 2050 to 2100, times when my children and grandchildren will be getting old, respectively?

Ten statements are offered here. Each implies a considerable alteration of the present state of people's dealings; some deem clear-cut some are underlying. How would artists, designers and culture-activists anchor them in emerging trends? What seeds they could plant to give them lives.

  1. People overcame the multiple societal-environmental emergencies of the 2030-ties; then life-expectancy had stalled globally. During this crisis, luckily the use of arms of mass destruction got hindered; although some 'conventional warfare' occurred.
  2. By 2050, collaborative Earth System Governance has emerged and the life-expectancy (number of healthy years) of people started to increase again.
  3. In most regions, the species extinction rates got capped. The deterioration of the vital global ecosystems has halted.
  4. In 2100, the global human population has stabilised at little less than 11 Billion people; slow decline seems possible now. Open societies have led to about equal levels of development in all urbanised regions.
  5. Networks and circular supply-chains enforce participatory handling of societal-environmental problems including large-scale migration of people.
  6. Joint efforts are ongoing to relocate people from the ocean shorelines (and some other now uninhabitable zones); 'managed human retreat' because of sea-level rise and 'rebuilding of (coastal) urban areas' is a global policy.
  7. The rate of change of societal-environmental systems has been capped, and the diversity of the 'human niche' is made a 'species goal'.
  8. Most production systems use processes that are derived from synthetic biology with embedded quantum-technologies.
  9. Since 2050, emotions emerged spontaneously in complex information systems, and since then they consolidated into stable societal features. Since then, such 'feeling systems' and the various (collective and individual) 'people-tool systems' got a dedicated legal status in most countries.
  10. Our outpost on Moon and Mars may be reopened soon after the burial of the bodies of the early colonists on Earth.

Such a new may stretch our imagination to the breaking point. Hence, Irritation! That's the purpose. The eyes stay shut, facing 'The New', listening to the orange clockwork.

For many of our fellow citizens, 'The Future', with capital "F", is the march towards "About-the-Same". It may be a bit more of the same. For most people, The Future is nothing that is 'made'. It is something to be endured. And, disasters or war deem ready to disrupt its regular gait. It is this aeon-old view, "Nihil sub sole novum" (nothing new under the sun) that for many provides a sense of security. Astonishingly, 'The Future' is a reference frame. It embeds our myopic starring at the next turn of events. Yet, what to do when this reference frame seems to change, to wobble and, hence gets uncertain. Then, menacingly, 'The Unknown' frames the stages of our plays. Irritatingly, 'The Counter-Intuitive' seems to consolidate out of our plays. Threateningly, they block the way back. The horsemen of the modern apocalypse, 'The New', 'The Unknown', and 'The Counter-Intuitive' threat with insecurity, loss of competences, altered divisions of societies, and lost sense!

Some people relish the 'The New', 'The Unknown', and 'The Counter-Intuitive'. Artists, Explorers, Scientists feel a deep sensual pleasure when confronting them, as a person and as citizens. The artist's psyche, the explorer's spirits, the innovator's minds, the researcher's souls are resources vibrating with imagination and passion. Hence, nutured by them the citizenries may confront Quantum-Technology, Earth System Sciences, Artificial Intelligences, and Synthetic Biology. Then the citizenries will draft the new 'guides to these galaxies'. They will tell, whether '42' is still the right answer, why your towel might be sufficient, and who moved the restaurant(s) at the end of the universe(s)? [**]

Only as citizens, the artists, cultural practitioners, inventors and scientists can push the boundaries of the human imagination. As citizens, jointly they may move beyond the familiar and transcend the borders towards the future. But, are they ready to assume this task? Do they invest collaboratively in path-changing discoveries, different fates of our planet, and charting pathways to liveable futures? Only then, 'The New', 'The Unknown', and 'The Counter-Intuitive' will face the broad, vigorous smile of 'The Imaginator' - Surrender!

[*] This post is the second 'modulation' of the scene setter for the Salzburg Global Seminar #593 "The shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future" (Salzburg, 20-25 February 2018). This text was drafted after the seminar during my travel home. The first 'modulation' of the scene setter had been published as the post “The New, The Unknown, and The Counter-Intuitive” before the seminar. Hence, borrowing a notion from music, these posts may be seen as a prose-variations of the theme of the seminar.

[**] See plots in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams.


  1. You really are quite the optimist. You make a good point about "the future" being systematically myopic. You also are right that artists, scientists and culture folks can glimpse the non-obvious. But the histories of art and science are not encouraging: they are symbiotic to power, and almost always use their talent to celebrate and consolidate whoever wields it. Any subversion is unintentional (the printing press for the Catholic church etc.). I do not think it is wise to just assume that artists and scientists are impartial, benevolent agents.

    1. Indeed, I find 'optimist' to be a more effective stance. Indeed, when you depend on the sponsoring (by the powerful) the artist's and scientist's talents are used to strengthen the power position; one example, Voltaire moving from France to the Court of the Prussian King. However, as science and art in contemporay times is a 'mass / popular process' the links to power are less tight. Beyond such reflections on content, this piece is a 'variation in prose' to the outline of the seminar; hence it reflects and the tune you are looking for is somewhat hidden (e.g. citizenries).