Integrating the Future
With all the emphasis we see in spiritual communities about the importance of
being in the NOW, it can be easy to forget how important it is to keep a careful eye
on the future. After all, aren’t our thoughts about the future just another way to
distract ourselves from connecting to our “true self” in this present moment? Here’s
what Ken has to say: “The way you approach the present isn’t just determined by
the way you approach the past, but by the way you approach the future. The richer
conception of the future you have, the richer your life in the present becomes.”
Listen as Ken sorts out the various schools of futurism, what each has to offer from
an integral view, and how it’s just as important for us to integrate the future in our
awareness as it is to integrate the past and present.
Century there were two main schools of futures thinking. One was
characterised by positive extrapolation, the other by negative extrapolation. The
positive school focused on the good things that had emerged from modernity:
liberal progress, continual improvement etc. It focused on the dignity of
modernity. The negative school reflected the disenchantment of the world:
flatland, environmental degradation, the notion that modernity had devalued
feelings and emotions – basically a Blade Runner future. It depicted the disaster
of modernity. Both tended to concentrate primarily upon the sciences and to
omit any consideration of spirituality.
Then in the 1960s a third school emerged. This focused on transformation and
was essentially green. It saw some truth in both the positive and negative views.
It focused on a coming transformation of world consciousness, new paradigm
thinking, a new view of the universe and world. It was generally positive and
‘New Age’ but in terms of its background was closest to evolutionary schools. It
took the view that things could get better. It was romantic and spiritual. It
remained close to science in part because the evolution of science and
technology is easier to appreciate (than with, e.g. spirituality). Technology
becomes more and more powerful. It continues to grow. Even now we expect to
see rapid growth of, e.g. robotics, genomics and nanotechnology.
Then people like Bill Joy pointed out in ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’ that
new technologies were likely to create their own calamities (such as the ‘grey
goo’ problem emerging from nanotech). He suggested banning research into
potentially dangerous lines of enquiry. But countries like China and the
Philippines would continue them anyway (so that strategy would not work).
Overall, there have been times when futurists have included notions of a spiritual
transformation or new paradigm (both LHQ concerns). It is, however, important
to think of developments in science and technology (RHQ) as well. A key figure
here is Kurzweil and his account of a coming ‘singularity.’ He asserts that this
will ‘change the rules’ of existence. It’s a result of extrapolating technical capacity
year after year, as in Moore’s Law. Machines become smarter than humans. The
point is, we simply don’t know what will happen. In a negative view we could be
living in The Matrix. In a positive view ‘intelligent machines’ could help us to
solve major problems.
My concern is to consider phenomena such as the singularity through an integral
lens. That is, to ensure that all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all types and all
states are included. In this process we’ll consider technical issues and hopefully
integrate them with spiritual ones. It’s an all-quadrant view of what the future
could be bringing our way. We need to meet those developments with integral
For example, what kinds of problems might we expect the machines to help
solve? (Not only) global warming and food shortages (but also) how to increase
the amount of interior development? How to include states and structures in our
education systems? How to help cultures evolve from egocentric to ethnocentric
to worldcentric? If we fail to do this, technology will be in service to wherever
humanity finds itself (i.e. in terms of its interior development). Currently 70% of
humanity appears to exist at ethnocentric or lower levels.
Futures studies are relatively new to the integral scene. About a decade ago
Richard Slaughter edited a special issue of Futures on this. (N.B. It was in fact
only 4 ½ years ago, in 2008.) There are now some eight schools of futures
thought (Dennis Morgan has developed this view in recent work – see his recent
post). So we’re still looking to bring them together in a more integral approach.
This could be considered a wild card, but the consequences would be enormous.
Currently spiritual and integral voices are not part of the global dialogue. They
need to be included. The fact that they are still ignored is as much of a disaster as
anything for the future. An integrally informed evolutionary view opens up (a
hitherto overlooked) door to the future.
Final comment: the way you approach the present is not merely determined by
the past but also how you approach the future. The richer conceptions of the
future that you have the richer your life in the present becomes.
Retrieved and transcribed 14
Foresight International, Brisbane, Australia.