Jun 8, 2010


Posted by in category: futurism

King Louis XVI’s entry in his personal diary for that fateful day of July 14, 1789 suggests that nothing important had happened. He did not know that the events of the day-the attack upon the Bastille-meant that the revolution was under way, and that the world as he knew it was essentially over. Fast forward to June, 2010: a self-replicating biological organism (mycoplasma mycoides bacterium transformed) has been created in a laboratory by J. Craig Venter and his team. Yes, the revolution has begun. Indeed, the preliminaries have been going on for several years; it’s just that … um, well, have we been wide awake?

Ray Kurzweil’s singularity might be 25 years into the future, but sooner, a few years from now, we’ll have an interactive global network that some refer to as ‘global brain.’ Web3. I imagine no one knows exactly what will come out of all this, but I expect that we’ll find that the whole will be more than and different from the sum of the parts. Remember Complexity Theory. How about the ‘butterfly effect?’ Chaos Theory. And much more not explainable by theories presently known. I expect surprises, to say the least.

I am a retired psychiatrist, not a scientist. We each have a role to enact in this drama/comedy that we call life, and yes, our lives have meaning. Meaning! For me life is not a series of random events or events brought about by ‘them,’ but rather an unfolding drama/comedy with an infinite number of possible outcomes. We don’t know its origins or its drivers. Do we even know where our visions comes from?

So, what is my vision and what do I want? How clearly do I visualize what I want? Am I passionate about what I want or simply lukewarm? How much am I prepared to risk in pursuit of what I want? Do I reach out for what I want directly or do I get what I want indirectly by trying to serve two masters, so to speak? If the former I practice psychological responsibility, if the latter I do not. An important distinction. The latter situation suggests unresolved dilemma, common enough. Who among us can claim to be without?

As we go through life there are times when we conceal from others and to some extent from ourselves exactly what it is that we want, hoping that what we want will come to pass without us clarifying openly what we stand for. One basic premise I like is that actions speak louder than words and therefore by our actions in our personal lives directly or indirectly we bring to pass what we bottom line want.

Does that include what I fear? Certainly it might if deep within me I am psychologically engineering an event that frightens me. If what I fear is what I secretly bring about. Any one among us might surreptitiously arrange drama so as to inspire or provoke others in ways that conceal our personal responsibility. All this is pertinent and practical as will become obvious in the coming years.

We grew up in 20th century households or in families where we and other family members lived by 20th century worldviews, and so around the world 20th century thinking still prevails. Values have much to do with internalized learned relationships to limited and limiting aspects of the universe. In the midst of change we can transcend these. I wonder if by mid-century people will talk of the BP oil spill as the death throes of a dinosaur heralding the end of an age. I don’t know, but I imagine that we’re entering a phase of transition-a hiatus-in which we see our age fading away from us and a new age approaching. But the new has yet to consolidate. A dilemma. If we embrace the as yet ethereal new we risk losing our roots and all that we value; if we cling to the old we risk seeing the ship leave without us.

We are crew-and not necessarily volunteers-on a vessel bound for the Great Unknown. Like all such voyages taken historically this one is not without its perils. When established national boundaries become more porous, when old fashioned foreign policy fails, when the ‘old guard’ feels threatened beyond what it will tolerate, what then? Will we regress into authoritarianism, will we demand a neo-fascist state so as to feel secure? Or will we climb aboard the new? Yes, we can climb aboard even if we’re afraid. To be sure we’ll grumble, and some will talk of mutiny. A sense of loss is to be expected. We all feel a sense of loss when radical change happens in our personal lives, even when the change is for the better. I am aware of this in my own life, I clarify meaning in life. There are risks either way. Such is life.

But change is also adventure: I am old enough to remember the days of the ocean liners and how our eyes lit up and our hearts rose up joyfully as we stood on deck departing into the vision, waving to those left behind. Indeed we do this multiple times in our lives as we move from infancy to old age and finally towards death. And like good psychotherapy, the coming change will be both confronting and rewarding. Future generations are of us and we are of them; we cannot be separated.

What a time to be alive!

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