There is a lecture by Peter Joseph which ranks among my favourites called “When Normality Becomes Distortion.” My fondness for it stems from the fact that it critiques our current methods of doing knowledge and calls into question our assumptions of what is empirical. Among all of the interesting ideas presented, there is a simple yet profound one which screams to me every time I hear it: “The projections of thought in any point in time can only reflect the state of knowledge at that point in time.” This idea is illustrated with reference to the constellations and the forms they represent. “Spoons, oxcarts, scales and common animals” are the pictures astrologers see in the sky, not “space shuttles, TVs, and laptops.” This bespeaks “the cultural characteristics of the period of origin” of these constellations and shows how the conceptions of primitive man were extrapolated and applied to all he saw. The important realization here is that we still do this and we need to recognize that the cultural fixtures we conceive of as permanent have no actual permanence or empirical basis.
Think about our current mainstream conceptions of the future from The Jetsons to Looper to Firefly to Alien. Notice how the characters in these examples inhabit a world (or space) which is fundamentally like the one we exist in now? People go to work and school, exchange currency for goods, and have a lot of the same problems and trials that we have now but with a futuristic twist (i.e. Instead of a car breaking down, a hovercar breaks down). I think this is because while we can paint a picture of the future which takes into account the possible future trends and direction of current technologies (and posits new technologies) it is a lot harder to predict how ways of life, cultures and taken-for-granted assumptions about contemporary life would change in the future.
“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic that they originally predicted.”
While Peter Joseph’s quotation is well-stated and well-received, I have paraphrased it into the words, “We must not let our projections of the future be bound by our conceptions of the present.” This is where I think is the real challenge lies and where overused terms like “paradigm-shift” actually have merit. In the box solutions like augmenting/expanding obsolete infrastructure, the passage of more laws, and the exchange of currencies when we have the technological ability to live in a post-scarcity world, are so many examples walking ass-first into the future, looking backwards to lead the way forward. These ideas have no empirical value only represent the attempts of primitive people to deal with things they didn’t fully understand. And we’ve been taking their word as gospel from our governments to our mediums of exchange to our ideas about work and incentive.
When we think about possibilities for the future and what we are capable of we must try not to assume too much about how permanent today’s fixtures are. For one, its depressing to think that way, and more importantly its just plain inaccurate. Just like paleo-lithic man could not conceive of inter-continental travel, much less conceive of the idea of continents, we too don’t really know what our future capabilities are and we shouldn’t get too attached to the way things are now.