The Future Looms

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Is consciousness real? Intuitively we answer easily – of course, where would these thoughts come from if it wasn’t? But if it is real where does it sit, where does it come from, where does it take us? These are serious questions that people far more serious than me have struggled to answer for years. It might seem obvious but it isn’t.

If you are, like me, an empiricist you know that mind is simply what the brain does. There is no part of mind that exists that isn’t rooted in neurons and axons and the wash of brain chemicals and electrical fields that run through our head. We are driven in so many ways by the genes and their actions that make us human.

One theory put forward by Michio Kaku is that consciousness – self-aware consciousness that seems to be the primary distinguishing feature of human beings come from our ability, indeed our necessity, to envision the future. Precisely because we can simulate many possible outcomes to any situation, we become aware of our own selves (and its mortality). Everything else flows from this obviously evolutionarily advantageous ability. Not just consciousness but religion, social structures, science and art.

I suppose I read and write science fiction because it is at its heart a simulation of possible futures, a way to hold a mirror to the present day and ask the questions what if, if only and if this goes on. It may not be the most important way one can contribute to the world but it certainly isn’t the least. The past is over, the present is out of control and only the future holds out the promise of a better world. I say better rather than not merely different world because the future will be different whether we imagine or simply let it happen to us.

Future thinking is not easy; it takes more than simple predictions from existing trend lines. It requires a theory of why things change, how things might branch from simple lines of causality. The future is not the past with better gadgets but rather a thing unto itself. How to get there is the tricky part. But get there we will nonetheless.

We also have to understand what chains the past has forged on all of us. All those remnants of superstition, tribalism, self-loathing as individuals and societies weight down on us like a dead sea bird in a bad poem.

And that’s ten minutes

 

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