Conversations on the Literacy of the Plurality for Futures and the Role of Pluripotency (≠ fixed developmental potential)
Interdimensional Futures refers to a cable box called interdimensional cable that has access to all of the surreal absurdities of TV shows in the entire multiverse of the cartoon series Rick & Morty. The intertextuality of this reference allows us to point out that apparently when people are asked, if they would like to try out cannibalism, to eat another human being, most (not all of them) reply ‘No!’ with disgust and horror. It seems puzzling, why many of us would not do the obvious thing and eat another human being, as Magnus Söderlund suggested since we have already manifested an extreme form of intergenerational and planetary injustice anyways. Older generations consume the life energy and the future of younger generations. We all collectively consume the life energy and the future time of all those generations that are supposed to come after us. Rich countries prosper and flourish, due to an ongoing history of slavery, extraction, exploitation, and land grabbing. We stick to an ideological version of an economic growth paradigm of which we already know that it causes pain, suffering, and irreversible consequences that endanger the survival of many species. So, why does cannibalism then seem so outlandish, if we are already doing the very exact same thing, just in a different manner? Why does ‘The Road’ from Cormac McCarthy seem to us like the most horrifying dystopian future, when in fact, everything described in this post-apocalyptic future has very concrete indications, describing the dynamics of our current time?
What I am trying to do here is a transgressive interrogation and exploration, and what I would term ecocide montage, a stylistic device, utilizing a creative production of a rapid succession of inconvenient images of the future in a text to illustrate an association of ideas. However, if we want to be very precise, it is probably less a montage, rather we would need to depict the technique as a one-shot or continuous shot, having that seamless feel of a real-time experience, which to the subjectivity of the individual would rather feel like an infinite zoom, an endless zoom shot through time and space. In addition to that, we are moving from a centralized Chronos culture to a diverging, distributed Kairos culture with a multiverse of personal realities; a multi-temporality as Venkatesh Rao explains. And multi-boxing, playing as multiple, distinct characters in this MMORPG is part of it as well. The Sequence of Time (previous blog post), is illustrating the whole design of the prospective sequence of post-normal times, which serves as the foundation of the deliberations here for IF.
Interdimensional Futures attempts to investigate the underlying assumption of Futures Literacy that there are pluralities in Futures. Interdimensional Futures is neither a commentary on modal realism, nor is it specifically referring to the multiverse. IF is critically illuminating the non-existence of an anti-reality that delimits Futurists or any other self-ascribed rulers over the conjectural knowledge about the futures from actually seeing an alternative. Without an anti-reality that could hint at a different consensual future reality, we all lack the imaginative capacity to grasp the sheer potentiality for differences in social atmosphere, differences in modes of thinking, in interaction, in systems dynamics, in economic dogma and paradigms, differences related to our whole being, our species-specific perception, our environment, our futures. This inadequacy is covered up by an ideological claim that paints Futures Studies for promotional reasons as a discipline heavily invested in pluralities of futures, inaugurating the narrative that pluralities in Futures Studies exist.
Thoughtcrime; unorthodox, heterogenous, divergent, enigmatic, and iconoclastic thoughts, however, often contradict the tenets of Futures Studies, while unquestioned assumptions remain the predominant authority of the discipline. Futures Literacy in a broader sense attempts to challenge a paradigm-resistant narrative and self-identification of an institutionalized Futures Studies. Not only mentally disturbed people and criminals get institutionalized, disciplines can get institutionalized as well.
It is not possible to teach methods without problematizing the whole structure in which these methods will be used. No program of literacy-training can exist—as the naïve claim—which is not connected with the work of human beings, their technical proficiency, their view of the world. Any education work whether the educator is an agronomist or not, which only means discoursing, narrating, or speaking about something, instead of challenging the capacity of reflection and knowledge of the educatees about it, not only neutralizes this capacity for knowledge but merely skirts the problems. The educator’s action encourages “naivete” rather than conscientization on the part of the educatees. Thus, authenticity of technical aid depends upon its becoming educational actions […], transcending the procedures of purely technical “assistentialism” (Freire, 2013).
An excellent way to make progress is to focus on solving forward-looking problems that challenge the groupthink orthodoxy of the status quo. The problem that appears to be extremely complicated from our individual and subjective perspective is that we are facing a prolonged, constructed situation in which we are deliberately losing complexity. The loss of biodiversity is reducing complexity in our world while making the accelerating loss simultaneously an acceleratingly intricate and convoluted challenge. We argue that collapsing ecosystems imply an exponential rate of losses in species and thus of losses in complex, interdependent systems. Additionally, Sapolsky (2017) points out, evolution itself does not necessarily select for more complexity as the case of an RNA virus demonstrates. From Kropotkin (1972) to Margulis (1998), we know that any unsocial species that consumes its foundations for existence is doomed to decay. We are consequently not confronted with more complexity. Instead, we see less complexity and more intricate (tangled parts) and convoluted (twisted and thus difficult to follow) problems. Futures Literacy thus plays a crucial part in further imagineering our civilizatory, pedagogical project for a phase shift that goes above and beyond the baseline of the current status quo that tends to deliberately annihilate complexity.
Futures Literacy challenges the assumption of the wickedness of problems. A problem that is too difficult or impossible to solve, because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements, is a fictional problem. Actual problems only become wicked problems, when unquestioned assumptions and ideologies predominate as authority. Futures Literacy, however, where “the purpose of anticipation is for sensing and making-sense of emergence in the present” (Miller, 2018), should enable playful thinking including Monod’s indeterminism (Monod, 1970), and Burke’s primordial negative. While indeterminism allows us to consider that the cause of events, or events of certain types, must not necessarily be caused, nor caused deterministically, which does permit an acknowledgment of purpose without appealing to a final cause, the latter, primordial negative, allows us “to distinguish among the myriad of items and actions named in the symbolic” (Stevenson, 1998).
According to these two arguments, there is room to haggle whether we experience an accelerating expansion of knowledge or whether we are just witnessing an accelerating realization of how little we know about the world, our universe, and the multiple selves we have to enact upon the futures. While the first argument is a typical assumption of those within the Ivory Towers in academia, fraudulent and exploitative relationships within an orthodox economy that optimizes for revolving door politics, the latter argument constitutes the challenge of these institutionalized assumptions, championed by non-parliamentary oppositions and non-affiliated members of society. Meanwhile, apart from the self-serving career ladders, the unconditional/unrestricted warfare techniques exacerbate the finite game. It is true that over the last decade, we have learned more about the human brain than the last previous thousands of years throughout history. It is also true that we are evolving technologies that can vastly outperform the human brain in various associative learning tasks, built on the design of neural networks, replicating what our brain can do. These developments go along with the co-evolving potentiality to unleash new individual capacities that were previously inert or inept. We can hypothesize that the bridge in-between exponential technologies and novel forms of individual agency, might be a successful integration of collective human intelligence, serving as highly anticipatory and highly adaptive, reciprocal and dynamic organism in and for our context-dependent infrastructure. In order to build this bridge, we see an emerging importance to actually become futures literate.
Futurists very often refer to Marshall McLuhan for good reasons, as he “liked to emphasize the mesmerizing effect that familiar ideas and habits have in preventing us from recognizing the truly novel” (Ulanowicz, 2009). If Futurists refer to McLuhan, there are usually two well-known quotes that stand out. We want to emphasize another McLuhan quote that we should take into consideration for furthering our understanding of the role Futures Literacy can play. “One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in” (McLuhan, 1989).
Trying to explain to a fish what water is, is the same as trying to convince a human being that there could be another future reality for which we can already change our routines, habits, actions, and behavioral patterns today. It is not primarily about an image of the future as an event that has an impact, nor is it about a technological disruption that appears ridiculous from today’s standpoint. It is about the social atmosphere, the thinking, the interaction, the dynamics of the system, our whole being that might reveal a very different reality and perception of reality within the transcontextual reality of an unfamiliar future. We do not have an anti-reality that could hint at a different consensual future reality. This fact essentially delimits us from genuinely grasping the notion of the sheer potentiality of different and alternative futures.
We know that the architectural design factors of systems of radical exclusion and the politics of disaffiliation play into the outcome of future biographies; while censorship, symbolic punishment, stochastic terrorism, liminal, unconventional and unrestricted warfare prevail. It illustrates that articulated critique, evident runtime errors, revealed glitches in the matrix, or depicted future consequences of actions, seemingly do not enable us to change the trajectory or path dependencies away from the already-set-in-motion-future.
A sudden loss or lack in positive reinforcement, in case of systems aggressively prohibiting emancipatory ambitions for change, silencing voices, strategically withdrawing any reaction to concerned non-affiliated members of society, leads to a symbolic foreclosure of the future and thus to a perceived transcendental futureslessness. Additionally, with learned helplessness, since our education system deliberately does not provide instruments, tools, and techniques to overcome asymmetric power imbalances, which are specifically manifested by our education system, we additionally set in motion a downward spiral that fuels the emergence of Neofeudalism. Of course, there are more than just mono-causal factors playing into these observation and it would demand a more thorough analysis to elicit the conditions we find ourselves immersed in.
However, the point here refers to the thought experiment that Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive. This popular thought experiment illustrates that quantum mechanics has a measurement problem. As a matter of fact, Futures Studies has a measurement problem too. The pluralistic futures exist in theory and simultaneously they don’t exist. It’s a paradox and it can become a dilemma too. We are essentially dealing with a superposition of multiple parallel timelines. Whether any of those futures might eventually become our present reality, is currently unanswerable, since it relates to our inability to objectively observe any of those high-dimensional state-spaces of manifold possibilities. Any person who became the symbolic figure of Cassandra’s Curse will be able to verify this statement. We could, therefore, deny that the measurement problem in Futures Studies actually exists and that any particular future might happen, and instead we could buy into the idea that we might eventually soon live in one of infinitely many possible future realities. But that would be an unsatisfying denial of the problem itself.
“10106 simple events could have transpired” (Ulanowicz, 2009, p. 44) in the past. While the cone of time is expansive, meaning, we inhabit a “two-tendency universe,” where thermodynamics and genetics evolve in opposite directions (Hodge 1992), the futures allow for dynamics to occur. (Ulanowicz, 2009, p. 36) This could substantiate the argument that many more surprises are awaiting us in the near future than the number of surprises we have already encountered in the recent past. Path dependency, Hauntology, the used future, Pre-validity, and Pre-mediation of the futuristic play their part in our stories as well. Therefore, our suggestion here in Interdimensional Futures is the following.
We could deliver upon promissory stories – multi-authored and always heterogeneous mosaic of stories – that depict other world systems as xeno-geopolitical aesthetics, built on different sets of values, emphasizing alternative directionalities of co-evolutionary timelines, which could offer new forms of realities in terms of market dynamics, social interactions, and interpersonal coherences.
We dive into the potential of Forceful fiction – the power to open up space for action. “Foreseen consequences that influence present deliberation” (Dewey, 1921, pp. 71–72) should be given a forum for discussion, where we outline and visually depict non-linear narratives; multi-step, multi-correlative argumentations as opposed to mono-causal ideologies. Such storytelling should ideally be guided by anticipatory design principles, including a prospective structure, where the expectations about possible (technological) developments (van Lente & Rip, 1998, p. 205) can lead to design interventions.
As Prigogine points out (Prigogine, 1997, p. 113) we need both equilibrium and non-equilibrium physics to describe the world around us. But with Futures Literacy, we are not describing the world around us per se. We are describing our capacity to subjectively make sense of a hypothetical future world in which we might eventually find ourselves immersed in. We, 1. the multiple selves, as 2. the strange loop within a tangled hierarchy are informed and defined by our 3. biochemical condition of a brain-gut microbiome interface, 4. our species-specific perception, 5 highly interdependent on our environment, where we 6. proactively attempt to jailbreak our prospective brain (to remove restrictions in order to imagine differently), 7. that is embedded within a technological culture, illustrated by the extended mind hypothesis, 8. While we remain in an infinite loop of anticipation and actualization of imagined futures as a sort of existence in 9. multi-temporality, which should through the deciphering of the signals-noise-ratio, enable us to get a grip on systemic transformation and social mutation, but only if we can 10. embody the change we want to see in the world and 11. translate this embodied knowledge as a systemization as second and third-order effects to unleash the transformative capacities that were previously inert or inept within 12. the design of our cultural governance of creative evolution that itself illustrates 13. the telescopic nature of 14. the extended evolutionary synthesis paradigm.
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